Jefferson keeps an eye on Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

The Library of Congress across the street from the U.S. Capitol was created as a reference library for our politicians. Today, the public also uses it for research.

The three buildings are grand to see with their architecture and collections. Well worth a quick walk through or a long afternoon. But if you only have a few minutes, stop by the collection of Jefferson’s personal books in the main Jefferson building.

When the British burned the Capitol, White House, Navy Yard and Treasury in August 1814 as part of the War of 1812, it also torched the LOC. Jefferson’s personal library was the nation’s largest and was sold to Congress for $23,950 in 1815. Nearly two thirds of the 6,487 books were destroyed in an 1851 fire, but you can still see the remainder in glass-enclosed cases on the second floor.

I lingered past the shelves, wondering what types of books Jefferson read. Farming, Maryland law, medicine – practical reading. No Harry Potter novels, though there was probably some equivalent novel of the times thereabouts.

“I cannot live without books,” said Jefferson, who restarted his library after selling it off to Congress.

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