Thursday, April 24, 2014

Happy Birthday, Library of Congress!

It was 214 years ago today that President Adams taught the band to play...

I mean, signed a bill providing for the establishment of the Library of Congress.

Text of 2 Stat. 56, establishing the Library of Congress.

Indeed, on April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed a law providing $5,000 (close to $100,000 in present-day U.S. dollars) "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." 2 Stat. 56.

These books were originally housed in the Capitol building itself, but eventually moved to a separate building.  Quite a "suitable apartment," wouldn't you say?

The Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, DC, the oldest of the Library of Congress buildings
The Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, DC, the oldest of the Library of Congress buildings.
While President Adams got the ball rolling on the Library, it was really President Thomas Jefferson who got serious about making the collection of books into a library.  In 1802, President Jefferson signed a law providing for presidential appointment of a Librarian of Congress (who is to be paid "a sum not exceeding two dollars per diem"), a committee for developing regulations governing the Library, a committee for purchasing materials, and a home for the Library's collection.  2 Stat. 128.  Thus, it is not surprising that the beautiful building shown above is named the Jefferson Building, while this rather bland annex is called the Adams Building:

The Adams Building in Washington, DC, housing part of the Library of Congress
The Adams Building in Washington, DC.
Just another piece of trivia in the always interesting Adams-Jefferson rivalry.

And in case you were wondering, it was President Andrew Jackson who established a separate law department within the Library of Congress on July 14, 1832. 4 Stat. 579.

For more information on the fascinating history of the Library of Congress, check out Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress.

And the Library of Congress is so much more than just some big buildings in that other Washington with a bunch of books in them.  They have a lot of interesting collections to peruse on their website, including maps, photographs and prints, sound recordings, and the vast American Memory collection (among others).  Check it out.  Make them feel special on their birthday.

Images courtesy of HeinOnline, Wikipedia, and, respectively.

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