History Timeline 1800s

Indian petroglyphs mentioned in the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Nemaha River, Troy, Kansas. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Historic New Orleans wharf scene along the Mississippi River. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1800s

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  • 1800 Detail

    April 24, 1800 - The United States Library of Congress is founded.

    Library of Congress


    It was founded by the founders, who, with classical educations and access to books, thought that Congress, after moving to Washington, D.C. from their first homes in New York City and Philadelphia, would need a library. So, in the legislation approved by Congress and President John Adams that would allow the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new District of Columbia, five thousand dollars were appropriated for books. These books would form the basis for the Library of Congress. That library would be overseen by a joint committee of Congress and eventually, in 1802, the Librarian of the Library of Congress would be appointed by the President, for the first time by Thomas Jefferson.

    Although the Library of Congress is essentially just what its name denotes, it is, for significant purposes, the national library, and is the oldest federal cultural institution. The idea for such a library began with James Madison in 1783, and libraries were kept in relation to the first capitols. Upon the appropriation in the 1800 legislation, seven hundred and forty books were bought, plus three maps, and at first, housed in rooms of the new Capitol building. When Congress moved into the building on November 22, 1800, as directed by the letter of President John Adams on May 15, 1800, only the north wing of the building was complete.


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    Early Timeline of the Library of Congress


    January 26, 1802 - Thomas Jefferson signs bill establishing appointment by the President of the Librarian of Congress. President and Vice President also allowed, in the bill, to borrow from the collection.

    August 24, 1814 - Library of Congress and three thousand books, with few surviving, destroyed by the British in the War of 1812.

    January 26, 1815 - Congress accepts President Jefferson's offer to sell his personal collection of 6,487 books to reestablish the Library of Congress collection. They allocate $23,950 for the purchase.

    December 24, 1851 - Two-thirds of the collection in the Library of Congress, including the same percentage of Jefferson's collection, is destroyed by fire.

    July 8, 1870 - President Grant signs legislation that centralizes all copyright and deposit actions to the Library of Congress. Library is still located in the Capitol.

    November 1, 1897 - New separate Library of Congress building, now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building, opens after appopriation by Congress in 1886 for construction, $500,000, and land, $550,000. By 1897, the cost of construction had risen to $6,032,125. The Library of Congress now included eight hundred and forty thousand books.




    Text, Section Five, An Act to Make Further Provision for the Removal and Accommodation of the Government of the United States

    Section 5, And be it further enacted, That for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress at the said city of Washington, and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them and for placing them therein, the sum of five thousand dollars shall be, and is hereby appropriated; and that the said purchase shall be made by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, pursuant to such directions as shall be given, and such catalogue as shall be furnished by a joint committee of both houses of Congress to be appointed for that purpose; and that the said books shall be placed in one suitable apartment in the capitol in the said city, for the use of both houses of Congress and the said members thereof, according to such regulations as the committee aforesaid shall devise and establish.

    Photo above: Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress under construction with the Capitol in the background, 1890, Levin C. Handy. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Aerial view of Capitol and Jefferson Building, 2007, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: Library of Congress; "America's Greatest Library: An Illustrated History of the Library of Congress," 2017, John Y. Cole, Carla D. Hayden; National Archives; U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875, Statutes at Large, 6th Congress, 1st Session; Wikipedia Commons.


    Library of Congress



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