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Report from the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress regarding the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library, November 28, 1814

The Joint Committee on the Library of Congress offered Thomas Jefferson $23,950 for his 6,487-volume collection, pending approval of Congress. Some members questioned whether books on the arts were relevant but were persuaded by Jefferson’s conviction that “there is…no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

The Joint Library Committee of Congress…have received from Mr. Samuel Harrison Smith, agent for Mr. Jefferson, precise terms of sale of his library,…and they have contracted with the agent…for the purchase of his Library…subject to the ratification of Congress.

Records of the Joint Committees of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration

Report from the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress regarding the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library, November 28, 1814 Report from the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress regarding the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library, November 28, 1814 The Joint Library Committee of Congress…have received from Mr. Samuel Harrison Smith, agent for Mr. Jefferson, precise terms of sale of his library,…and they have contracted with the agent…for the purchase of his Library…subject to the ratification of Congress.

Rebuilding the Library of Congress

When British troops burned the U.S. Capitol in August 1814, they completely destroyed the Library of Congress, which was housed in the building. To help replace the lost books, maps, and other items, former president Thomas Jefferson offered to sell Congress his personal library of 6,487 volumes. Encompassing a broad range of subjects, it was the largest private book collection in North America. After debating the offer, Congress purchased Jefferson’s library for $23,950 in 1815. Jefferson’s collection is currently on exhibit at the Library of Congress.