Letter from John Silva Meehan, Librarian of Congress, to Senator James Alfred Pearce of Maryland, January 7, 1852
John Silva Meehan, head of the Library of Congress from 1829 to 1861, reported on the extent of the damage from the 1851 fire to Senator James Alfred Pearce, chair of the Joint Committee on the Library. Meehan cited items that were destroyed or saved. The titles represent knowledge in diverse fields, reflecting Congress’s broad collecting philosophy for its library.
The books that are saved, belong to Chapter 1, Ancient History…Chapter 5, Ecclesiastical History.—Chapter 8, Chemistry… Chapter 16, Ethics; section 1, Moral Philosophy…Chapter 17, Religion…
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Rebuilding the Nation's Library
In 1814 Thomas Jefferson sold Congress his personal library to replace the Library of Congress collection destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British burned the U.S. Capitol. On Christmas Eve 1851, a second fire decimated the library. It consumed approximately 35,000 of the 55,000 volumes, including about two-thirds of Jefferson’s books. In 1852, Congress authorized funds to repair and enlarge the Library and to rebuild the collection. A new, fireproof Library of Congress opened in the Capitol in 1853.