Saturday 10 October 2015

Thomas Jefferson: "I Cannot Live Without Books"

"I cannot live without books." (Thomas Jefferson to John Adams)

Before Monticello, the domed house that Thomas Jefferson designed and built in Virginia, there was Shadwell, the birthplace of the third president of the United States.  Shadwell burned in 1779, taking with it Jefferson's beloved collection of books.  

Jefferson spent the rest of his life trying to replenish his personal library.  By 1773, he owned 1250 books, and by 1815, over 6500 titles.  That year, the British Army burned both the White House and the Capitol, destroying the 3000 volumes inside.  The retired president, despite the fact that he loved his books, sold the collection to the Library of Congress for $23, 950.  The books were transported from Monticello to Washington D.C. in ten wagons.  

On May 8, 1815, after the packing and shipping of his collection of books, Jefferson penned a letter to Samuel Smith, stating:  "an interesting treasure is added to your city now become the depository of unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the U.S. and I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of our country." (

Once again, Jefferson rebuilt his library.  Although he had debts to pay, he continued to collect a plethora of books on every subject.  Upon his death, his books were sold to pay off outstanding debts. Today, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.

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