Today is Thomas Jefferson's birthday! Of course there's some argument over the actual date (April 13 or April 2 etc.) but I'm sticking with what my handy, dandy wall calendar says and that is today. Jefferson was a founding father, our third president, and the creator of one of America's greatest libraries.




Jefferson was born in Albermarle County, Virginia in 1743. The son of a wealthy surveyor and farmer, he attended William and Mary College and then read law (to read law was like law school in the early days). As a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and a member of the Continental Congress this thirty-three year old man drafted the Declaration of Independence.



In 1784, he was named Minister to France and in 1790, he accepted the post of Secretary of State under President George Washington.

















A copy of Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence.

This document is housed in Library of Congress and is available online at Image 1 of Thomas Jefferson, June 1776, Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence | Library of Congress






















Following substantial disagreements with President Andrew Hamilton over support of France and closer ties to Britain (Jefferson was a strong supporter of France and it's revolution and an equally strong opponent of Britain) Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State.


The disagreement led to the founding of the Democratic-Republican party and Jefferson as candidate for president in 1796. Losing by three votes he served as Vice President until 1800 when he was elected to the Presidency. He served two terms as President ending in 1809 with the inauguration of James Madison.


We could go on for thousands of pages about Jefferson, his presidency, his positions on foreign policy, and his legacy. But this is a blog about records. So enters the Library of Congress. You see, Thomas Jefferson's personal papers, his papers of the presidency, and his personal library; are the foundation for what is arguably the greatest library in America.


burning.jpgCapture and Burning of Washington by the British in 1814. Black and white film of original woodprint.

In the collection of the Library of Congress and available at Capture and burning of Washington by the British, in 1814


Established by an Act of Congress in 1800, the Library of Congress was to house books and reading materials so that members of congress could inform themselves on topics they felt important to leading the country. Which worked well until August of 1814 when the British army arrived uninvited and burned the building to the ground.


Jefferson wrote to Congress and offered his personal library. The Library of Congress notes that after fifty years of collecting Jefferson's "library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States." Congress gladly accepted in January 1815 and even paid the former president for his 6,487 books. The variety and breadth of the collection set the foundation for the future of collections at the library. As the Library of Congress notes, this collection established, "the Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature." This concept of universality "is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today's Library of Congress."


reading room.jpg

The main reading room of the Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress. Photograph from Library of Congress

Photographs and Prints Division. Available online at [Main Reading Room. View from above showing researcher desks. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington,…


The Library of Congress has the largest collection of Jefferson's papers amounting to approximately 27,000 items. From the online summary of the collection: "The Thomas Jefferson Papers consist mainly of his correspondence, but they also include his drafts of the Declaration of Independence, drafts of Virginia laws; his fragmentary autobiography; the small memorandum books he used to record his spending; the pages on which for many years he daily recorded the weather; many charts, lists, tables, and drawings recording his scientific and other observations; notes; maps; recipes; ciphers; locks of hair; wool samples; and more."


Thomas Jefferson's collections at the Library of Congress: About this Collection - The Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1827 | Collections | Library of Congress


Library of Congress website: Home | Library of Congress


Library of Congress Reference: Ask a Librarian | Library of Congress


Online Tour of the Library of Congress: Online Tours | Library of Congress


Thomas Jefferson papers at University of Virginia: The Thomas Jefferson Papers | Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library


Jefferson's home and museum, Monticello: