Sunday, September 4, 2016

September 2016

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIII, Number 9                                                                     September 1, 2016

BOOKS:  Thomas Jefferson, as I wrote in Saving Monticello, had the largest private library in America. But Jefferson was forced to sell the entire collection because of his serious fiscal difficulties that escalated greatly his second presidential term ended in 1809. Not long after he came back to Charlottesville that year to live full time at Monticello, Jefferson decided to part with the books to try to pay off his mounting debts.

The sale took place in February of 1815 when Congress, after a spirited debate and by a small majority, agreed to buy Jefferson’s private, 6,500-odd book library for $23,950. He had offered the books to the nation after learning that British troops had burned the congressional library in Washington following the War of 1812 Battle of Bladensburg in August of 1814.

Because of his offer to expand the library, Jefferson has been known as the father of the Library of Congress, which had started in 1800. A 2000 Library of Congress exhibit on Jefferson (photo, above) included a replica of the library Jefferson sold to the nation in 1815. It filled twenty, twelve-foot high bookcases.

Soon after selling the collection, though Thomas Jefferson had seller’s remorse. “I cannot live without books,” he famously wrote to John Adams on June 10, 1815. So the Sage of Monticello began acquiring books for another personal library. When he died in 1824, Jefferson left more than $107,000 in debt to his heirs, along with instructions to donate his new library of some three thousand volumes to the University of Virginia.

But Thomas Jefferson Randolph, working to pay off his grandfather’s enormous debt, sold the bulk of the collection to a Washington, D.C., bookseller in 1829. That same year Jeff Randolph sold a historically important collection of his grandfather's printed books, bound volumes and manuscripts that dealt primarily with Virginia history to the Library of Congress.

Gromacki owns nearly 4,000 of the 6,700 books in Jefferson's Monticello library.
Sadly, in 1851 a fire engulfed much of the Library of Congress, destroying about two-thirds of the Jefferson collection. In recent years, the Library has worked diligently to find replacements. The good news is that the LOC has acquired hundreds of replacement copies from antiquarian book dealers all over the world, mainly through a large 1999 grant from Jerry and Gene Jones (yes, it’s the Jerry Jones who owns the Dallas Cowboys) in its quest to reassemble the collection as it was in 1815.
I just learned that a lawyer in Chicago named Joe Gromacki, has worked for years to assemble copies of every one of the books Jefferson donated to the Library of Congress in 1815 for his own library.  According to an article in Crain’s Chicago Business, Gromacki now owns nearly 4,000 of the books. You can read the whole story at

EVENTS:  We are very close to having a title and the cover design for my next book, the first ever biography of Barry Sadler, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” guy, which will come out in March of next year. I am doing more speaking on my books, including Saving Monticello. Just one event in September, though.
I’ll be doing a talk on the Marquis de Lafayette on Monday, September 26, as part of the Lynchburg College Senior Symposium in Lynchburg, Virginia. Seven others will give talks to the LC seniors in this program, which has the primary theme of “Knowledge, Justice, Leadership and Creativity.” I did at talk on the history of the American flag for the Senior Symposium in the fall of 2008, my daughter Cara’s senior year at Lynchburg.

Please email me if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including my Francis Scott Key, biography, What So Proudly We Hailed, and Lafayette: Idealist General, my concise bio of the Marquis de Lafayette—at For more details on other upcoming events, go to That’s the “Author Events” page on my website,

Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Or go to this page of my website: to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.  

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