Saturday is the 270th anniversary of Thomas Jeffersons birth (April 13, 1743). And, the Library of Congress owes much to this esteemed third president. After the British invaded Washington in the War of 1812, they burned down the Capitol building, including the Library of Congress collection housed there. Jefferson, an avid book collector, sold his 6,487 volumes the largest personal collection in the United States to help restart the Library.
Jefferson was renown for being many things: author of the Declaration of Independence, father of the University of Virginia, founding father of the nation, respected scholar and prolific inventor.
The Library has original letters, cartographic materials, drawings, manuscripts and other items as part of its Thomas Jefferson Collection.
Several letters from the Librarys Manuscript Division reveal insight into Jefferson, who was a faithful public servant, powerful advocate of liberty, skilled writer and advocate of knowledge and learning.
In a letter to James Madison on Dec. 20, 1787, he defined what he did and did not like about the new federal Constitution, which was still being ratified by the states. He was captivated by the compromise of the opposite claims of the great and little states. However, Jefferson was disturbed by the lack of a bill of rights, which is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth. Despite his criticisms, he would support a ratified Constitution in hopes that they [the states] will amend it whenever they shall find it works wrong.
January of that same year, Abigail Adams had corresponded with Jefferson, expressing her concern about the uprising led by Massachusetts farmer and Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shay over pain caused by the states postwar financial policies. Calling the protestors ignorant, wrestles desperadoes, Adams believed they were without cause for their grievances. Jefferson disagreed and responded with a little daring: I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.
Jeffersons correspondence wasnt limited to letter writing alone. When he sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark off to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, he hoped for periodic reports along the way. To keep it all a secret, he gave Lewis a cipher. Suppose the keyword to be Antipodes, Jefferson wrote in his explanation for how to use the key. On the back he revealed a real keyword: Artichokes.
The Louisiana Purchase was a major coup in Jeffersons presidency, and several maps from the Librarys Geography and Map Division highlight the Lewis and Clark expedition, whose primary purpose was to explore and map the newly acquired territory. A pre-expedition map is believed to be a chart that the intrepid explorers carried on their journey at least as far as the Mandan-Hidatsa Villages on the Missouri River, where Lewis annotated in brown ink additional information obtained from fur traders. In addition, the first printed map of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1810) was the first published map to display reasonably accurate geographic information of the trans-Mississippi West and was the landmark map that laid the foundation for the future mapping of the West.
Considering Jeffersons varied interests in geography and natural history, it should come as no surprise he dabbled in cartography himself. Jeffersons only published map (1787) features the area between the Albermarle Sound and Lake Erie. It was prepared as a fold-out illustration for his sole book-length publication, Notes on the State of Virginia.
The Librarys Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds perhaps the most significant piece of printing produced in the 18th-century colonies, the Dunlap Broadside. This was the first printing of the Declaration of Independence. It was produced in the evening following the final vote of the session.
According to the National Archives, interest in reproductions of the Declaration increased as the nation grew. An unusual copy features the document printed on silk, known as the Ingraham 1823 Declaration, in honor of the three surviving signers: John Adams, Charles Carroll and Jefferson.
Another item is a rare satin broadside of Jeffersons 1801 inaugural address. It is embellished with a portrait of Jefferson at the top, the only known broadside edition to be illustrated in such a way. Jefferson had actually requested the copy from printer Mathew Carey.
Other items include the first-known draft of Jeffersons inaugural address, a survey in his own hand of his Elk Hill Plantation and a catalog of his library reflecting Jeffersons preferred book organization into the categories of history, philosophy and fine art. (For many years, this manuscript was mistakenly labeled as a catalog of the University of Virginia library but was rediscovered in 1980 and properly identified.)