Thomas Jefferson's Library: Making the Case for a National Library
Have these materials ready before the activity:
- Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Samuel H. Smith dated September 21, 1814 (print one copy for each student or pair of students, or prepare to provide Web access to the document) (PDF/1.03MB)
- Analyzing Persuasive Techniques (PDF/33KB) (print one copy for each individual student)
- Jefferson’s Library Book Gallery (print one copy of each PDF, or prepare to provide Web access to the gallery)
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Background for the lesson:
When the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, Congress lost its entire library in the flames. Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend, publisher Samuel H. Smith, asking him to offer Congress his personal library in replacement. Jefferson promised to accept any price set by Congress for his collection of more than 6000 books. Anticipating that some members of Congress might object to the notion of purchasing so many books not directly related to the business of legislating, Jefferson commented, "there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." After much debate, Congress purchased his library for $23,950 in 1815. Thus, the Library of Congress has grown from the seed of Jefferson's private library, universal in subject matter and format, into a national library that symbolizes the central role that free access to information plays in a knowledge-based democracy.