Today, the Library of Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin tells the story of the humble beginnings of the largest library in the world.
On this date 215 years ago, President John Adams approved an act for the federal government where just one small clause addressed the library:
CHAP. XXXVII–An Act to make further provision for the removal and accommodation of the Government of the United States .
SECTION 1 . Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States shall be, and hereby is authorized and empowered, to direct the various offices belonging to the several executive departments of the United States, to be removed to the city of Washington, at any time that he shall judge proper, after the adjournment of the present session of Congress, and before the time heretofore appointed by law for such removal .
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That for the purpose of providing furniture for the house erected in the city of Washington, for the accommodation of the President of the United States, a sum not exceeding fifteen thousand dollars be expended, under the direction of the heads of the several departments of state, of the treasury, of war, and of the navy .
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That for the suitable accommodation of Congress at the city of Washington, the secretaries of the four executive departments, or any three of them, shall be, and hereby are authorized and directed to cause suitable furniture to be forthwith provided for the apartments, which are to be occupied in the capitol at the said city, by the two houses respectively, and for the offices and committee rooms of each; and to cause the said apartments, offices and committee rooms to be furnished in a suitable manner, so as to be ready for the reception of Congress on the day fixed by law for the removal of the government to the said city; and that for defraying the expenses incident to the furnishing of the said apartments, offices, and committee rooms, and to the removal of the books, papers, and records belonging to the said offices respectively, there shall be, and hereby is appropriated a sum not exceeding nine thousand dollars .
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That for the greater convenience of the members of both houses of Congress in attending their duty in the said city of Washington, and the greater facility of communication between the various departments and offices of the government, there shall be made foot-ways in the said city in suitable places and directions; and that the said foot-ways shall he made by the commissioners of the said city, under the direction of the secretaries of the four executive departments of the United States, who, or any three of whom, shall forthwith take order therefore, and in such manner, at such places, and in such directions as they or any three of them shall judge most proper for the purposes aforesaid, and shall appoint; and that if the said secretaries, or any three of them, shall find on examination, that there is not in the hands of the said commissioners a sum sufficient for making the said foot-ways, over and above what may have been destined by the said commissioners, or may, in the opinion of the said secretaries, or any three of them, be necessary for the accomplishment of other objects necessary for the accommodation of the government, or its removal as aforesaid, then the said secretaries, or any three of them, shall be, and hereby are authorized and required to draw out of the treasury of the United States, and apply to the purpose of making the said foot-ways, any sum which may be necessary therefore, not exceeding ten thousand dollars; which sum is hereby appropriated for the said purpose . And all the lots in the city of Washington, now vested in the said commissioners, or in trustees in any manner for the use of the United States, and now remaining unsold, excepting those set apart for public purposes, shall he, and are hereby declared and made chargeable with the repayment of the said sum of ten thousand dollars, which shall be advanced in pursuance of this act, and the interest accruing thereon.
SEC. 5 . And be it further enacted, That for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress at the said city of Washington, and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them and for placing them therein, the sum of five thousand dollars shall be, and hereby is appropriated; and that the said purchase shall be made by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, pursuant to such directions as shall be given, and such catalogue as shall be furnished by a joint committee of both houses of Congress to be appointed for that purpose; and that the said books shall be placed in one suitable apartment in the capitol in the said city, for the use of both houses of Congress and the members thereof, according to such regulations as the committee aforesaid shall devise and establish.
SEC. 6 . And be it further enacted, That the several appropriations aforesaid shall be paid out of any monies in the treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated.
APPROVED, April 24, 1800.
After being almost totally destroyed by the fire set by the British, the Library with Thomas Jefferson’s help began to grow.
In his welcome message on their web site, the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, describes the Library:
The Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.
The Library’s mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.
As Librarian of Congress, I oversee the many thousands of dedicated staff who acquire, catalog, preserve, and make available library collections within our three buildings on Capitol Hill and over the Internet. I am pleased that you are visiting our Web site today, and I invite you return to it often.
The Library of Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against an artist’s view of the library building, circa 1873.