Thomas Jefferson Papers

Samuel H. Smith to Thomas Jefferson, 21 October 1814

From Samuel H. Smith

Washn Oct. 21. 1814

Dear Sir

I was this day invited by the Library Come to a conference with them.

They represented that in consequence of the amendment to their report, it became necessary to ascertain the value of the library & to obtain an authority from the two Houses to pay it, to enable them to do wch they enquired of me whether I could specify the sum that would be received for it. I replied that I was unable to state its value, and that I was certain that it would be much more agreeable to You that this should be done either by the come themselves or by disinterested persons; that I was persuaded that you would feel some delicacy, if not repugnance, to setting a value on Your own property, & that You might in forming the estimate from obvious motives1 be driven to the alternative of either depreciating its value, or of laying yourself open to the imputation of extravagance. I therefore proposed another course. That the Library should be estimated by some one sent for that purpose, or, wch I considered most advisable, that it should be brought to this place without delay, valued by the Committee, or by persons named by the Come, or by the Come & myself, that this valuation should be submitted to the Come, and if agreed to by them that2 a correspondent report & contract should be made to Congress, of whose approbation I did not entertain a doubt; that should, however, a different result ensue I would take the responsibility on myself.

To this the Come answered that they did not consider themselves authorised to take the proposed steps, & that having agreed to receive the library, even provisionally, Congress might be considered as committed in regard to a definitive agreement. They added that in ascertaining3 its value they did not wish any estimate, as made by you, to be submitted to them; that the information I might obtain would be entirely private & confidential; and that my proposition, that a certain sum would be received for it, wch sum they did not mean should be computed with close precision, would be accepted as the basis of a contract.

Our conversation conclusively exhibited their purpose not to proceed without a proposition analogous to that desired.

Upon the whole, although not insensible to the delicacy of the step, I would recommend that you authorise me to state that a sum not exceeding a specified amount will be received, & that to guard against any unjust imputation such sum within that amount will be taken as shall be the result of a valuation to be made after the library is on the spot.

Our political movements here, although as usual tardy, presage uncommon harmony.

I am, with great & sincere respect & esteem.

Sa H Smith

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esq.”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Oct. 1814 and so recorded in SJL. FC (DLC: J. Henley Smith Papers); internally addressed, initialed, and described as a “Copy” by Smith.

The amendment to the draft resolution proposed by the congressional Joint Library Committee required final approval by the two houses of Congress of the contract for the purchase of TJ’s library (editorial headnote on The Sale of Thomas Jefferson’s Library to Congress, printed above at 21 Sept. 1814).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Preceding six words interlined.

3RC: “ascertainig.” FC: “ascertaining.”

Index Entries

  • Library of Congress; and library committees of Congress search
  • Library of Congress; resolution authorizing contracting for TJ’s library search
  • Library of Congress; TJ sells personal library to search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; and sale of TJ’s library to Congress search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; letters from search