Library of Congress

Washington
DC

Jefferson’s Library recreated

QUICK FACTS
  • The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress and signed by President John Adams on 24-Apr-1800.
  • Established with $5,000, the original library was housed in the new Capitol.
  • In August 1814 (during the War of 1812) invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building and the contents of the small library was burned or pillaged.
  • Within a month, Jefferson offered to replace the libary with his person collection of books. In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer; he was paid $23,950 for his 6,487 books.
  • On 24-Dec-1851 the largest fire in the Library's history destroyed 35,000 books (from a collection of 55,000), including two-thirds of Jefferson's original collection.
  • Today the collection has more than 155 million items in 460 languages.
  • The Thomas Jefferson Building (opening 1897) is the oldest of the three Library of Congress buildings. The others are the John Adams Building (1939) and the James Madison Memorial Building (1976).
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Established in 1800 to serve members of Congress, the collection of some 3,000 books was burned or pillaged by the British in August 1814, during the War of 1812. Within a month, Thomas Jefferson offered to donate his own books as a replacement. The following year, Jefferson sold his entire library of nearly 6,500 volumes, for $23,940, to Congress as the foundation for a new Congressional Library.

In 1851 a fire destroyed much of the Library of Congress collection, including two-thirds of the books from Jefferson's donation 35 years before.

The remaining Jefferson books have been conserved, many have been restored or are under restoration.

Guided and self-guided tours available, including a recreation of Jefferson’s library in the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Associated People

Yet there is no doubt that his natural abilities were what most distinguished [John] Marshal from other lawyers and jurists. His head, said Senator Rufus King, is the best organized of anyone I have known. Marshal could grasp a subject in its whole and yet simultaneously analyze it parts and relate them to the whole. He could move progressively and efficiently from premise to conclusion in a logical and rigorous manner and extract the essence of the law from the mass of particulars. In the words of Justice Story, he had the remarkable ability to seize, as it were by intuition, the very spirit of juridical doctrines. Even Jefferson acknowledged Marshall’s talent, but he scarcely respected it. Jefferson told Story that when conversing with Marshall, I never admit anything. So sure as you admit any position to be good, no matter how remote from the conclusion he seeks to establish, you are gone. So great is his sophistry you must never give him an affirmative answer, or you will be forced to grant his conclusion. Why, if he were to ask me whether it were daylight or not, I’d reply, Sir, I don’t know, I can’t tell.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)