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Thomas Jefferson's Library

Th. Jefferson. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The book collections of the Library of Congress were reestablished, after their destruction in 1814, by the purchase of the private library of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). At the time of the purchase, Jefferson's collection contained 6,487 volumes in the fields of politics, history, science, law literature, fine arts, and philosophy and was recognized as one of the finest private libraries in the United States. While several members of Congress object that the collection "was too philosophical, had too many books in foreign languages, was too costly, and was too large for the wants of Congress," as Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford wrote many years later, the purchase was authorized on January 26, 1815, for the sum of $23,950. The Jefferson Library forms the nucleus around which the present collections of the Library of Congress have been assembled. For nearly a century the subject arrangement that Jefferson developed from Sir Francis Bacon's division of knowledge was used to organize the Library of Congress book collection. Jefferson's statement, "There is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer," is still the guiding principle for Library acquititions.

While many of the Jefferson books were lost in the Library fire of 1851, the remaining volumes have been assembled as a unit in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Many books bear Jefferson's ownership markings as well as the original Library of Congress bookplates and classification. The contents of the entire 1815 purchase were reconstructed by E. Millicent Sowerby and described in a five volume set which is now made available digitally. (See links below.) Additionally, see Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order. This catalog reconstructs Jefferson's Library in his own order.


Digitized Material Available form the Thomas Jefferson Library Collection


Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson

Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson; Compiled with Annotations by E. Millicent Sowerby. Washington, D. C., The Library of Congress, 1952-59. (5 volumes).

Volume 1: History- Page-turner, PDF, (413.87 MB), Bibliographic Information
Volume 2: Philosophy- Page-turner, PDF, (319.83 MB), Bibliographic Information
Volume 3: Philosophy continued- Page-turner, PDF, (338.33 MB), Bibliographic Information
Volume 4: Fine Arts- Page-turner, PDF, (403.52 MB), Bibliographic Information
Volume 5: Fine Arts concluded, Addenda, Indexes- Page-turner, PDF, (341.82 MB), Bibliographic Information

The federalist. The Federalist: a Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, in Two Volumes. New-York: Printed and Sold by J. and A. M'Lean ..., 1788.
Volume 1 Page Turner - Volume 1 PDF (92 MB)
Volume 2 Page Turner - Volume 2 PDF (155 MB)
Bibliographic Information
Summary View Rights of British America
A Summary View of the Rights of British America: Set Forth in Some...
Williamsburg Va.: Printed by Clementina Rind, [1774].
Page Turner - PDF (11.94 MB) - Bibliographic Information



Catalogue of the Library of the United States : to which is annexed, a copious index, alphabetically arranged.

Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Catalogue, [1823].
Page Turner - PDF (39.81 MB) - Bibliographic Information

This manuscript copy of the catalog of the library of Thomas Jefferson was prepared by Nicholas Trist at Jefferson’s request, in an attempt to restore in concept Jefferson’s preferred arrangement. Inspired by Francis Bacon’s organization of knowledge, Jefferson divided his books into the categories of history, philosophy and fine arts. Within these divisions he carefully arranged them by chronological or analytical value. The 1815 printed catalog, prepared by Librarian of Congress George Watterston, alphabetized entries within the chapters, thus destroying Jefferson’s intended order. Transferred to the Library from Camp Wheeler, Georgia, in 1917 and for many years mistakenly labeled as a catalog of the University of Virginia library, this manuscript was only recently rediscovered and properly identified as reflecting Jefferson’s original order, thus offering a fresh opportunity to study his distinctive mind at work.

Bound with

Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Catalogue of the Library of the United States: to Which is Annexed, a Copious Index, Alphabetically Arranged. [Washington : U.S. Congress], 1815.
Page Turner - PDF (54.62 MB) - Bibliographic Information

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  December 10, 2015
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