“ … it’s essential to read what they read. You then begin to understand not just their vocabulary, but how they thought … ”
By 1823, James Monroe had assembled a significant library of approximately 3,000 books. This number likely did not include his substantial collection of pamphlets, a popular medium for making shorter publications available at a more affordable cost as compared to books. He acquired books throughout his lifetime, from his earliest days as a junior congressman in the 1780s to his final retirement years after the presidency. His titles drew from a wide range of topics – including definitive works on political philosophy and science, ancient and modern history, economy, religion, the arts, and works of popular fiction – and represent the library of a well-read, well-informed republican gentleman of the early Founding Era.
The known contents of his library are now available via LibraryThing. The information draws from several sources:
- Monroe’s handwritten catalogues, made at various stages of his career
- titles mentioned in correspondence
- extant copies that bear his signature or bookplate
We invite you to begin to discover Monroe, his career, and his world through the contents of his bookshelves. In addition to browsing by author, title, topic and sources, users are able to link to digital copies of the publications, or compare Monroe’s library to that of other prominent early Americans such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. An exhibition further exploring the contents and significance of Monroe’s library and featuring his personal copies of books is on display through February 2020 at the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.