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Gift of
Jerral and Gene Jones & James and Margaret Elkins

Reconstructing the Foundation:
The Jefferson Collection in the Library of Congress

The personal library of Thomas Jefferson forms the nucleus of the Library of Congress. Since the time it was sold to the U.S. Congress in 1815, it has been the inspiration behind a library that has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive in the world. Through fire and other misfortune, much of Jefferson’s library has been lost. We propose to rebuild this fine collection in celebration of the Library’s Bicentennial.

In 1814, the British burned the U.S. Capitol Building, which then housed the original Library of Congress. Soon after, Thomas Jefferson offered his own personal library to the U.S. Congress to begin a new congressional library. Jefferson was a man of encyclopedic interests and his library, then the largest and finest in the country, included books on architecture, the arts, science, literature and geography, and in numerous languages including French, Spanish, German, Latin, Greek and Russian. The Congress purchased Jefferson’s 6,487 volumes for $23,940, and the books were delivered by horse-drawn wagons from Monticello to Washington, DC. On Christmas Eve 1851, a catastrophic fire in the Capitol destroyed about two-thirds of Jefferson’s library. Because Jefferson had submitted a complete catalog of the library, today we know which books are missing. To replace these books, the Library has solicited the help of knowledgeable book dealers and private contacts in locating books and negotiating fair prices.

Reconstructing this landmark collection will provide new insights into the mind of Thomas Jefferson and the world from which he drew his revolutionary ideas. It will be a fitting monument to one of this nation’s deepest thinkers — the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, the third President, and a true visionary who helped create a new form of government. Perhaps most importantly, it will revitalize the principle on which the Library of Congress has been built — that knowledge and free access to it, by both leaders and the governed, are essential to a democracy.

Among the rare items we are seeking are Memoires de Voltaire (1785), written by the Baron de Servières; Chippendale’s Cabinet Maker’s Designs by Thomas Chippendale published in 1754; Russell’s History of Modern Europe (1786) by William Russell; and Du Halde’s History of China (1736) by Jean Baptiste Du Halde.




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