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Thomas Jefferson

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago

Thomas Jefferson was our third President of the United States. (1801- 1809) He was considered a “silent member” of Congress. At the age of 33 he drafted the Declaration of Independence. He also is well known for the bill establishing religious freedom. After his presidency he retired to his home at Monticello, Virginia and set his sights on creating the University of Virginia. The university became one of his greatest achievements. He conceived it, designed it and planned it, as well as, hired the faculty that initially worked there. He was considered to be an exceptional botanist, architect, as well as, author. His many travels carried him to the furthest reaches of the world and he collected many items of interest. He was involved in many aspects of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. They, Lewis and Clark, had collected plants while pioneering the West and had given him many specimens, to which are planted and still grow to this day at Monticello. Much controversy has surrounded Jefferson as to his holding of slaves when he spoke against slavery. He was also in debt most of his life.

Throughout his life he was an avid book collector. He held the largest collection of books by anyone, at this time. He collected these books on his many travels throughout the world, as well as, while he was the United States Minister to France in the 1780s. Within his private collection, which he had established at his residence at Monticello, many books and documents were held that previously belonged to Benjamin Franklin. Two important titles from Benjamin Franklin’s collection have become the basis for what Thomas Jefferson was trying to create at the newly formed Congress Library. Those titles were, “Reflections Moral and Political on Great Britain and Her Colonies,” by Matthew Wheelock and “Thoughts on Origins and Nature of Government,” by Allan Ramsey. This goal, of preserving any documents relating to the history of the United States, was of utmost importance to him. Upon selling the books to Congress he mentioned that he does not know that the collection “contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from his collection. . .there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

Also contained within his collection are many maps, charts and historical accounts of the era. Once acquired and placed within the established library a method was needed as to the arrangement of these items. It was popular at this time to arrange books alphabetically, but Jefferson preferred arrangement by subject, as well as, an arrangement loosely based on Sir Francis Bacon’s organization of knowledge. Bacon’s method was divided into categories of “Memory,” “Reason,” and “Imagination,” in which Jefferson interpreted as, “History,” Philosophy,” and “Fine Arts.” Interesting to note, Jefferson not only used this as a primary arrangement, but in fact also preferred to shelve the books by size. The purchase price was also based on size of each item.

Another fire threatened the collection on Christmas Eve 1851. Nearly two thirds of the books that Jefferson sold to Congress in 1815 were destroyed.

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