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Home > History > Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress

This article describes Thomas Jefferson's incredible book collection and the formation of the Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was a man of many talents and interests, one of which was his passion for books and learning. He was a prolific reader and a collector of books, and his library was one of the largest and most comprehensive in the country.

Devastating Fire

In 1814, a fire broke out in the U.S. Capitol building, destroying the Library of Congress, which at the time was the largest collection of books in the United States. The destruction of the library was a significant loss to the country's cultural heritage, and the need for a new library was urgent.

What to do?

In the aftermath of the fire, President James Madison appointed a Joint Committee on the Library to oversee the rebuilding of the library. The committee approached Thomas Jefferson, who was then retired from public office, to offer his assistance in rebuilding the library.

Jefferson Agrees to Sell his Collection

Jefferson, who had one of the largest personal libraries in the country, agreed to help, and he offered to sell his entire collection of books to the government to help rebuild the Library of Congress. In 1815, the government purchased Jefferson's library of over 6,500 books, which was used as the foundation for the new Library of Congress.


The books that Jefferson had collected over his lifetime were diverse and covered a wide range of subjects, including history, science, literature, and law. His library also included many rare and valuable books, including several first editions of works by Shakespeare, Galileo, and Newton.

A Contribution to Our Cultural Heritage

The purchase of Jefferson's library marked a turning point in the history of the Library of Congress and the country's cultural heritage. With the addition of Jefferson's books, the Library of Congress became one of the largest and most comprehensive libraries in the world.


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