Friday, April 24, 2015
APRIL 24 = The Library of Congress is Born
"If Adams found any relief or pleasure to his duties, it was approving, on April 24, (1800) legislation that appropriated $5,900 to 'purchase such books as may be necessary' for a new Library of Congress. It was one of the few measures upon which he and the Vice President could have heartily agreed."
In this excerpt from his biography of John Adams, author David McCullough notes the strained circumstances both of the Adams presidency, and of our second president's relationship with our soon-to-be third president. But in this one area they found agreement. And although this library would go through many misfortunes in its life, this would prove to be an area on which all of the citizens of the new republic could agree. For the Library of Congress (pictured above, circa 1900) has grown to be a repository of knowledge that is unique in the world. But it all burned waaaay back near the beginning.....
The Origins of the Library of Congress
When the seat of our new national government was moved from Philadelphia to the Washington D.C., in 1800, a specialized collection of books for use by members of Congress was deemed a necessity. So on April 24, 1800 John Adams did indeed approve legislation which provided for "such books as may necessary for the use of Congress -- and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein." As noted, the price tag for this in those days came to $5,900, and some three thousand books were purchased over the next several years.
The Brits Burn the Library of Congress in 1814
The United States got wrapped up into the War of 1812 with Great Britain, and in 1814 the Brits swept into Maryland, and after quickly blowing away the disorganized defenses, marched into Washington on August 24. And they decided to sack the town and burnt it and all of our public buildings, including the White House, and the Capitol
Jefferson Comes to the Rescue
Into this breech stepped Thomas Jefferson. Living in retirement (below, circa 1821) he offered to sell his entire Library to the U.S. government to replace all of what was lost in the fire. Besides, he needed the money to pay debts. He wanted a library of broader appeal
The Library of Congress Since Then
The Library of Congress (pictured below as it looks today) since those early days has grown into the foremost collection of knowledge in the world. In the words of the website, "Jefferson's Legacy":
"The diversity of the Library of Congress is startling. Simultaneously it serves as: a legislative library and the major research arm of the U.S. Congress; the copyright agency of the United States; a center for scholarship that collects research materials in many media and in... (more than) 450 languages; a public institution that is open to everyone over high school age and serves readers in twenty-two reading rooms; a government library that is heavily used by the executive branch and the judiciary; a national library for the blind and physically handicapped; an outstanding law library; one of the world's largest providers of bibliographic data and products; a center for the commissioning and performance of chamber music; the home of the nation's poet laureate; the sponsor of exhibitions and of musical, literary, and cultural programs that reach across the nation and the world; a research center for the preservation and conservation of library materials; and the world's largest repository of maps, atlases, printed and recorded music, motion pictures and television programs."
"The Library, An Illustrated History" by Stuart P. Murray, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2009.
"John Adams" by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001
"The Sage of Monticello" by Dumas Malone, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1981
"The Adams - Jefferson Letters" ed. by Lee Cappon, Univ. of N.C. Press, Chapel Hill, 1988
"A Picture History of the U.S. Navy" by Theodore Roscoe and Fred Freeman, Bonanza Books,
New York, 1956