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Thomas Jefferson's letter to Samuel Harrison Smith, September 21, 1814

On learning of the burning of the Capitol and the 3,000-volume Library of Congress, Jefferson wrote to his political ally Samuel Smith offering Congress his own personal library as a replacement. Jefferson promised to accept any price set by Congress, commenting that "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from this collection...there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson's letter to Samuel Harrison Smith, September 21, 1814

Establishing a Library for Congress - 1

The Library of Congress was established in the act that provided for relocating the federal government to Washington, D.C. That act also authorized purchasing $5,000 worth of books and the “fitting up of a suitable apartment for containing them.” Most of these books were destroyed when British troops burned the Capitol in 1814. To replace them, Thomas Jefferson sold to the government his personal library of over seven thousand volumes. The Library of Congress was housed in the Capitol until 1897, when the Library moved to its own building.