Saturday, February 2, 2013

Patrick Magruder and the Burning of the Library of Congress

 Patrick Magruder (1768-1819) was the second Librarian of Congress and served in that capacity from 1807-1815. He served both as the Clerk of the House and as Librarian of Congress as had his predecessor. Magruder had the misfortune of serving in those capacities at the time the Capitol of the United States was burned by the British during the War of 1812. At the time of the burning of the Capitol in August of 1814 Magruder was absent from Washington, D.C. for health reasons. He left the Office of the House and the Library of Congress in the charge of his brother George Magruder and two assistants. In addition to the books in the Library of Congress Patrick Magruder's office records which included the financial records of the House of Representative were destroyed. A Congressional investigation into Magruder's handling of Congressional funds found discrepancies including a shortage of $20,000. Although Magruder managed to avoid prosecution for his actions, he resigned on January 28, 1815. I have in my collection an 1814 government publication which contains a letter from Patrick Magruder to the Speaker of the House in defense of his actions which in turn includes an account by two office assistants of the events leading to the destruction of the Office of the House and the Library of Congress. Their account says in part, "every thing belonging to the office, together with the library of congress, we venture to say, might have been removed in time, if carriages could have been procured, but it was altogether impossible to procure them, either for hire or by force." After Magruder's resignation the positions of Clerk of the House and Librarian of Congress were separated. The source of the information in this post is the Library of Congress website.

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