It is interesting and even fascinating to me how much respect and reverence our Founding Fathers had for books. Of course books were then very expensive and dear. And there was no modern technology to compete: no computers, iPads, internet, telephones, cars, refrigerators, radio or television. Still, they knew how important books were to their education, knowledge, getting ahead, and even sometime their very existence.
With apologies to Nancy Sinatra, the Founders of this nation knew “these books were made for reading, and that’s just what you’ll do. One of these days these books will make a scholar out of you!”
George Washington accumulated and read many books about agriculture, farming, fishing and even building. You may still see some of his book collection at his home, Mount Vernon.
Benjamin Franklin’s favorite books were the Bible and “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Franklin’s own book about electricity was the most popluar book in Europe and all the world for years. Ben was apprenticed to his brother, a printer, at an early age, which gave him an unusual access to a world of books. And he took advantage of it.
Patrick Henry didn’t take to books at an early age. He preferred fishing and hunting to learning. At least until he decided to study and become a lawyer. We know he borrowed Thomas Jefferson’s lawbook, “Coke Upon Littleton,” wherein he made notes for his most impressive “Brutus” speech, which he gave after only 5 days as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Thereafter books became much more important to him.
John Adams, our second President, love and acquired many books. When John and Abigail were moving from Braintree to Boston, they leased a house on Battle Street, ironically enough called the “White House.” John set aside one of the rooms there to be his study. He agreed that he wouldn’t attempt to move his whole library, only those books he should need. Abigail responded: “The books you don’t need have yet to be printed!”
When James Madison was preparing for the upcoming Constitutional Convention, he immersed himself in books about history, government, and nation building. At Madison’s request, his friend, Thomas Jefferson, then a minister to France, sent James two trunks of literary cargo from France. The trunks contained more than 100 carefully selected books. According to Jefferson these books were “the most useful reference books available.”
At that same time, John Adams, then a minister to Great Britain, wanted to have his impact on the Constitutional Convention. He wrote and sent to America his two volume work “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.” One scholar noted that “even a casual glance of the records of the Federal Convention will show that Adam’s book was used as a sort of reperatory by many speakers” at the Convention. Adams remarked to Abigail that every victory he had ever won had been through his word: spoken or printed.
The most prolific reader of books of all the Founding Fathers was undoubtedly Thomas Jefferson. Many thousands of books were stored in Jefferson’s library and throughout his home at Monticello. During the war of 1812, British troops had burned the city of Washington. Among other things, the Congressional Library was destroyed.
Because of this, Jefferson offered to sell his collection of books to the Federal government to become the nucleus for a new library of Congress. Jefferson’s was the finest collection of books in America, containing thousands of volumes which had been gathered over a period of 50 years. His collection was more than twice the size of the library which had been burned in the war.
Jefferson sold more than 6,700 books to Congress, but was paid only about half their value. It took 10 wagons to transfer the books to Washington.
Jefferson then began to collect books all over again. His new library grew to over 1,000 books before he died. He confessed to his friend and fellow Patriot, John Adams, “I cannot live without books!”
Jefferson had also written or compiled several books himself, including “Notes on Virginia,” “The Jefferson Bible,” and “The Life and Morals of Jesus.” He revered the Bible, as did all of our Founding Fathers.
Books are not only a great source of information and inspiration, they can also provide relief from toils and troubles. Through books one can escape to any place on the planet and beyond, take part in adventures and discoveries, provide entertainment, and even turn your self into a scholar.
I love books. Like Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” Even with the new tools and mediums such as “Kindle”, books give me diversion, delight and happiness. I should tell you that some of my favorite books are “Founding Fathers–Uncommon Heroes,” “Give Me Liberty,” “The Illegal Trial of Christ,” and “You Can’t Take It With You–So How Will You Leave It Behind?” all by Steven W. Allen.
These books were made for reading . . . and will make a scholar out of you!