Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Baldwin, 14 April 1802

To Abraham Baldwin

Washington Apr. 14. 1802.


I have prepared a catalogue for the library of1 Congress in conformity with your ideas that books of entertainment are not within the scope of it, and that books in other languages, where there are not translations of them, are to be admitted freely. I have confined the catalogue to those branches of science which belong to the deliberations of the members as statesmen, and in these have omitted those classical books, antient and modern, which gentlemen generally have in their private libraries, but which cannot properly claim a place in a collection made merely for the purposes of reference.

In History I have confined the list to the Chronological works, which give facts and dates with a minuteness not to be found in narrations composed for agreeable reading. Under the Law of Nature & Nations I have put down every thing I know of worth possessing, because this is a branch of science often under the discussion of Congress & the books written in it not to be found in private libraries.

In law, I set down only general treatises for the purpose of reference. the discussions under this head in Congress are rarely so minute as to require or admit that Reports & special treatises should be introduced. The Parliamentary collection I have imagined should be compleat. it is only by having a law of proceeding, and by every member having the means of understanding it for himself, and appealing to it, that he can be protected against caprice & despotism in the chair. the two great Encyclopedies form a compleat supplement for the sciences omitted in the general collection, should occasion happen to arise for recurring to them. I have added a set of dictionaries in the different languages, which may be often wanting. this catalogue combined with what you may approve in those offered by others, will enable you to form your general plan, and to select from it every year to the amount of the annual fund of those most wanting. I have noted on it those which by the printed catalogue I find you already possess. in estimating, the amount of an annual selection, folios may be stated as costing 1½ guinea, quartos a guinea, 8 vos. 8/ 12 mos. 4/ in England, & in France three fourths of those prices, in neat but not splendid bindings. Accept assurances of my respect & friendly consideration.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr. Baldwin.” Enclosure printed below.

The act of 26 Jan. 1802, which authorized TJ to appoint a librarian for the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, also stipulated that the unexpended balance of the $5,000 appropriated by Congress in April 1800 for the purchase of books and maps be directed by a joint committee consisting of three senators and three congressmen. Baldwin chaired the group which was made up of fellow senators DeWitt Clinton and George Logan and congressmen Joseph H. Nicholson, James A. Bayard, and John Randolph (William Dawson Johnston, History of the Library of Congress [Washington, D.C., 1904], 35; E. Merton Coulter, Abraham Baldwin: Patriot, Educator, and Founding Father [Arlington, Va., 1987], 217; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:56, 128–9; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 11:196).

TJ NOTED, with check marks in the left margin of his enclosed list, the titles that corresponded to those in librarian John Beckley’s PRINTED CATALOGUE. This eight-page Catalogue of Books, Maps, and Charts, Belonging to the Library of the Two Houses of Congress, published by William Duane in Washington in April 1802, included a numbered list of 964 volumes consisting of 222 titles arranged by folios, quartos, octavos, duodecimos, and nine maps and charts. The list provided estimates of prices for individual titles and complete sets of volumes (Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 3259; John Y. Cole, For Congress and the Nation: A Chronological History of the Library of Congress [Washington, D.C., 1979], 5).

TJ also received a list of 94 additional titles recommended for the Library of Congress that John Dickinson sent to George Logan, his cousin, on 20 Apr. Among the books suggested were histories, memoirs, travel writing, and works on agriculture, crop cultivation, and animal husbandry. Some of the titles already appeared in Beckley’s catalogue (RC in DLC; addressed: “George Logan Senator in Congress”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ: “Library Committee on the Library”).

1Preceding three words interlined.

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