TODAY IN HISTORY: Founding of the Library of Congress (April 24, 1800)
President John Adams signed into law an act establishing the Library of Congress on April 24, 1800. The same act transferred of the seat of government of the United States from Philadelphia to the District of Columbia.
The law made available the sum of $5,000 “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress …, and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them …”
The vast majority of the books obtained for the original collection were published in and ordered from London, consisting of fewer than 800 volumes and two dozen maps.
The original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the capitol building during the burning of Washington, destroying the contents of the 3,000 volume library.
Within a month, Adams’ successor and third U.S. Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson’s library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States, as Jefferson had spent more than 50 years accumulating books. In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library.