Thursday, July 2, 2015

Darkest Day for the Library of Congress?

It might be said that the darkest day in the long history of the Library of Congress was August 24, 1814 when the British army burned the U.S. Capitol including the collection of the Library of Congress which was housed there. I have written previously about this occasion and the role played by Patrick Magruder, Librarian of Congress, during this event. I’ve recently added another artifact to my collection related to Magruder’s role in the destruction of the Library of Congress. It is the December 12, 1814 Report of the Committee “To whom was referred the communication of Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House of Representatives, relative to the destruction of the library, &c.”. Magruder served in the dual capacity of Clerk of the House of Representatives and Librarian of Congress. The communication referred to was Magruder’s account of the actions of his office during the events leading up to destruction of the library and the records of the Clerk’s office.  In the report, the committee expressed the opinion, “that due precaution and diligence were not exercised to prevent the destruction and loss which has been sustained.” At the time of the destruction, Magruder himself was absent “on account of indisposition”. In the report the committee seemed skeptical about his indisposition and indicated that it “ought to have been, serious and alarming to have justified his absence under the circumstances which then existed.”  During the destruction of the Capitol the financial records of the Clerk were destroyed and the committee in reconstructing these came to the conclusion that a balance of $19,874 was unaccounted for and due the United States. Although Magruder managed to avoid being prosecuted for these missing funds, he resigned on January 28, 1815. The destruction of the Library of Congress led to the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s library to replace the destroyed collection. 

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