Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel A. Otis, 2 May 1801

From Samuel A. Otis

Washington May 2d 1801


I do myself the honor to enclose you a copy of the invoice of books for the public library. The packages being perfectly dry I shall omit opening them until further orders. Whenever they are opened some person should be made answerable for them or in my opinion the volumes will be immediately dispersed and lost.

I have the honor to be Sir your most humble Sert

Sam A. Otis

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of The United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 May and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Invoice of books ordered by William Bingham and Robert Waln from Cadell & Davies, dated 25 Nov. 1800, listing more than 150 titles, comprising over 700 volumes, with prices—including the “scarce” parliamentary debates in 104 volumes at the cost of £54.12.0—for a total cost of £489.7.0, taking into account a 5 percent discount of £23.15.0 for prompt payment and a charge of £37.18.0 for 11 hair trunks, a case for maps, and expenses for duties and fees, freight, and shipping (Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, 108:18452–4; at head of invoice: “copy”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 May).

See TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, printed at 25 Nov. 1800, for the establishment of the joint congressional committee in late April to procure books for the public library. On 20 June 1800, William Bingham and Robert Waln, committee members from the Senate and House, respectively, sent an order to the London firm of Cadell & Davies. The booksellers procured all but 12 of the books and maps ordered, at a cost of $2,200, and shipped them to Robert Gilmor & Sons at Baltimore on 9 Dec. 1800. After being stored at the custom house at Baltimore from 25 Feb. to 1 Apr., the first volumes for the Library of Congress were sent by packet to Otis, who informed TJ of the arrival of the shipment at Georgetown. On 7 Dec., the opening day of Congress, TJ called upon Otis to make a statement respecting the purchase. The secretary of the Senate requested that a joint committee be established to report on the “future arrangement of said books and maps” (William Dawson Johnston, History of the Library of Congress, Volume 1: 1800–1864 [Washington, 1904], 23–6; David C. Mearns, The Story up to Now: The Library of Congress, 1800–1946 [Washington, 1947], 8–10; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:156).

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