Contrary to certain elements of popular opinion, literature is actually crucial to American life. In 1800, the Library of Congress was created to serve as the first federal cultural institution in North America. Today, the Washington D.C.-based library is the largest in the world by shelf space and number of books.
In January 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed a law establishing the structure of the Library. The law granted a Presidentially appointed Librarian of Congress, a Joint Committee on the Library and the opportunity for the President and Vice President to borrow books.
Jefferson’s love for books and education is apparent in a number of stories, quotes and books. For example, at a meeting of the East Tennessee College Trustees in 1810, Jefferson said, “No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in it’s effect towards supporting free & good government.”
The Library of Congress was destroyed when British troops set fire the the Capitol in the summer of 1814. Luckily, Mr. Jefferson (as he preferred to be called) had spent 50 years accumulating a personal collection of 6,700 books which he graciously sold to the government to rebuild the Library.
Mr. Jefferson went on to found the University of Virginia in 1819. The University was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system. Leaving his legacy on education for all to remember, Jefferson’s epitaph does not mention serving as the President of the United States, doubling the size of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase or inventing a number of useful items. It does, however, read that he is the “Father of the University of Virginia.”
What pains have you taken to make sure you and others do not have to live a life without books?