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James Alfred Pearce and the Question of a National Library in Antebellum America

Carl Ostrowski
Libraries & Culture
Vol. 35, No. 2 (Spring, 2000), pp. 255-277
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25548814
Page Count: 23
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James Alfred Pearce and the Question of a National Library in Antebellum America
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Abstract

The question of a national library received much attention in antebellum America, with a number of writers calling for one to be established either at the Library of Congress or the new Smithsonian Institution. An overlooked but very influential figure in the national library debate was Maryland Senator James Alfred Pearce, who chaired the Joint Library Committee of Congress and also sat on the Smithsonian Board of Regents. Pearce's position on a national library underwent a dramatic reversal between 1845 and 1854, from advocating to strongly opposing the so-called library plan for the Smithsonian. This essay discusses several factors that appear to have contributed to his change of heart and examines Pearce's important, and hitherto undocumented, role in the national library debate.

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