On the evening of August 24, 1814, during the second year of the War of 1812, British forces under orders from Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross set fire to the unfinished United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The congressional library, then housed in the Capitol’s north wing, was destroyed. To “replace the devastations of British Vandalism,” former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal collection of books, the largest and most comprehensive in the United States at that time. With some reservations, Congress purchased his library for $23,950 in 1815.
Visit the online Library of Congress exhibit, Out of the Ashes: A New Library for Congress and the Nation to learn more about this historic event.