Spofford, Ainsworth Rand, 1825-1908

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Ainsworth Rand Spofford (September 12, 1825 – August 11, 1908) was an American journalist and the sixth Librarian of Congress.

Spofford was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Ill health prevented him from attending Amherst College. He instead, at age 19, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became a bookseller, publisher, and newspaper man.

In 1849 Spofford founded the Literary Club of Cincinnati with John Celivergos Zachos, Stanley Matthews (judge) and 9 others founded. One year later Rutherford B. Hayes became a member. Other prominent members included William Howard Taft and notable club guests Ralph Waldo Emerson, Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain, and Robert Frost. In 1850 prominent abolitionist and woman's rights activist John Celivergos Zachos named his son Ainsworth to honor Spofford.

In 1851, in response to the Fugitive Slave Law, he published the pamphlet The Higher Law, Tried by Reason and Authority, which argued that "Injustice is the only treason; no law can legalize it, no constitution can sanction it." Readers included Ralph Waldo Emerson, who shared Spofford's antislavery principles. In 1859 Spofford became associate editor of the Cincinnati Commercial. He was also active in Republican party politics and was a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention, at which John C. Frémont was nominated.

While in Washington D.C. in 1861, shortly after reporting on the First Battle of Bull Run for The Cincinnati Commercial, Spofford accepted the position of Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress. Once Spofford learned of the retirement of Librarian of Congress John G. Stephenson, Spofford gathered enough political endorsements for the job, which later led President Abraham Lincoln to promote Spofford to the post of Librarian of Congress in 1864.

Spofford served as the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, a tenure that saw the expansion of the Library's collections and notable changes in its methods of collection development. According to the Library's published history, Spofford contributed to the Jeffersonian vision for the library that a “democratic form of government depended on a comprehensive base of knowledge and information.”

Spofford is generally credited with overseeing the expansion of the Library from a Congressional resource into a national institution. During Spofford's tenure, the Library's collection expanded from over 60,000 items to more than one million. Among his more noted acquisitions was the purchase of a vast collection of early American archives from noted archivist Peter Force. Spofford's hopes were to follow the great library models of Europe, in which "the library would be a comprehensive collection of the literature of the nation." Beginning in the 1830s, the Library of Congress began to receive foreign governmental documents and publications. By the late 1860s, Spofford convinced Congress to allow the Library to become the repository for international documents. Spofford stated that "there is almost no work, within the vast range of literature and science, which may not at some time prove useful to the legislature of a great nation." Spofford's championing of the Copyright Law, passed on July 8, 1870, also expanded the Library's collection through the copyright registration deposit mandate. The law "centralized all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at the Library." and stipulated that two copies of every "book pamphlet, map, print, photograph, and piece of music registered for copyright be deposited in the Library." In arguing for the deposit requirement, Spofford suggested that the legislature would "provide a repository of American culture." In his argument for the copyright law to Congress, Spofford wrote that "the Public intelligence and welfare are promoted by every extension of the means of acquiring knowledge." The law established the Library as the de facto national library of the United States and "essentially resolved [any] debate over which institution would serve as America's national library."

Spofford had persuaded Congress to expand the Library's space within the Capitol in 1865. Its becoming the copyright depository happened at about the same time as two major acquisitions: Congress authorized the transfer of the Smithsonian Institution's collection to the Library of Congress and the purchase of the large private collection of Peter Force. Therefore, the Library quickly outgrew its new space. Spofford proposed construction of a new building for the Library in 1872. Congress quickly agreed, but the project got bogged down in bickering over details. As the collection outgrew the space for it, Spofford had books and boxes piled conspicuously on the floor. Members of Congress who used the Library could hardly find room to work. Although everyone recognized the need for a new building, it took more than a decade to resolve all the issues. Finally, Congress appropriated funds for the new building in 1886. A dispute with the architect delayed the start of construction until 1888. The building was finally completed in 1897 and is now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building.

In 1897, Spofford stepped aside in favor of a younger administrator, John Russell Young, and returned to his old post of Chief Assistant Librarian, where he remained until his death. Spofford also held a post as Professor and Department Head of Library Science at the Columbian University in Washington, D.C. During his retirement, Spofford wrote and published A Book for All Readers, and was described by the New York Times as "written from the fullness of knowledge and experience of a veteran librarian for the guidance of younger members of his chosen profession."

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Woodberry, George Edward, 1855-1930. Correspondence and compositions, 1859-1930. Houghton Library
referencedIn Literary Society of Washington (Washington, D.C.). Records of the Literary Society of Washington, Washington, D.C., 1873-1987. Library of Congress
creatorOf Spofford, Ainsworth Rand, 1825-1908. Papers of Ainsworth Rand Spofford, 1819-1970. Library of Congress
referencedIn Emerson family correspondence, ca. 1725-1900. Houghton Library
referencedIn Library Of Congress, Manuscript Division. Ainsworth Rand Spofford Papers.
referencedIn Draper, John William, 1811-1882. John William Draper family papers, 1777-1951 (bulk 1860-1882). Library of Congress
creatorOf Clemens, Samuel Langhorne, 1835-1910. Samuel Langhorne Clemens collection of papers, 1856-1938 bulk (1870-1938). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 7079: Philosophical Society Of Washington.
referencedIn King, Horatio, 1811-1897. Horatio King papers, 1832-1906 (bulk 1857-1891). Library of Congress
referencedIn Samuel Langhorne Clemens collection of papers, 1856-1938, 1870-1938 The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
referencedIn Cary, Thomas G. Thomas G. Cary papers, 1885. Library of Congress
referencedIn Wilberforce Eames papers, 1850-1937, 1900-1937 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Joseph Meredith Toner Collection of Manuscripts, 1741-1896 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Barringer, Paul B. (Paul Brandon), 1857-1941. Papers of Paul Brandon Barringer [manuscript] 1787- [1892-1967]. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Putnam, Herbert, 1861-1955. Papers of Herbert Putnam, 1783-1958 (bulk 1899-1939). Library of Congress
referencedIn Richard Rogers Bowker papers, 1856-1958 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1863-1879 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Vol. LXV ( ff. 334 ). 30 Oct. 1890 -20 Mar. 1893.includes:ff. 1, 38, 59, 63, 151, 237 (signed), 247 Freiherr Christian Bernhard von Tauchnitz, publisher, of Leipzig: Agreements with R. Bentley and Son: 1872-1897.: Germ.ff. 3, 3b, 90, 90b, 160-161,... British Library
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1865-1891 Smithsonian Institution Archives
creatorOf Hay, John, 1838-1905. Correspondence, 1854-1914, "Simpkins" to "Stanley". Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn Century Company records, 1870-1924 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Jeffrey family. Jeffrey family papers, 1818-1903, 1818-1893 (bulk dates). University of Kentucky Libraries
referencedIn Horatio King Papers, 1832-1906, (bulk 1857-1891) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn United States Constitution collection, 1787-1858. Library of Congress
referencedIn American Press Association. American Press Association correspondence, 1890-1899. Library of Congress
referencedIn Rhees, William Jones, 1830-1907. William Jones Rhees Papers, 1744-1907 The Huntington Library
referencedIn Ralph Waldo Emerson letters from various correspondents, ca. 1814-1882. Houghton Library
creatorOf Spofford, Ainsworth Rand, 1825-1908. Letter, 1898, September 1, Washington, D.C., to Horatio R. Storer. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960. Additional papers, 1880-1959 Houghton Library
referencedIn Harvard University. Autograph File, G. 1641-2009. Houghton Library
referencedIn Secretary Of The Interior. National Archives at College Park
referencedIn National American Woman Suffrage Association. National American Woman Suffrage Association records, 1839-1961 (inclusive), 1890-1930 (bulk), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Alcott family additional papers, 1820-1886. Houghton Library
referencedIn Nichols, George, 1809-1882. Correspondence, 1827-1885 Houghton Library
referencedIn Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882. Letters to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1761-1904 (bulk 1820-1888) Houghton Library
creatorOf House, Edward Howard, 1836-1901. Papers of Edward Howard House [manuscript], 1873-1901. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Henry Villard papers, 1604-1948 (inclusive), 1863-1900 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874. Correspondence, 1829-1874 Houghton Library
referencedIn National American Woman Suffrage Association. National American Woman Suffrage Association records, 1839-1961 (inclusive), 1890-1930 (bulk), [microform]. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Hamilton Library
referencedIn Page, Walter Hines, 1855-1918, recipient. Letters from various correspondents, American period, 1876-1937 Houghton Library
creatorOf Spofford, Ainsworth Rand, 1825-1908,. Receipt from A.R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress, to Augustin Daly [manuscript], 1868 January 1. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Autograph collection of American writers, 1808-1970. Temple University Libraries, Paley Library
referencedIn Autograph File, S, 1556-1996. Houghton Library
referencedIn John William Draper Family Papers, 1777-1951, (bulk 1860-1882) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Lossing, Benson John, 1813-1891. Letters of Benson John Lossing [manuscript] 1861-89. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Coffin, James H. (James Henry), 1806-1873. James Henry Coffin Papers, 1848-1884 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Howells family papers, 1850-1954 (inclusive). Houghton Library
referencedIn Foulke, William Dudley, 1848-1935. Papers of William Dudley Foulke, circa 1470-1952 (bulk 1868-1935). Library of Congress
referencedIn Searle, William S., b. 1833. William S. Searle scrapbook and certificate, 1872-1926. Library of Congress
creatorOf Parkman, Francis, 1823-1893. Francis Parkman papers, 1565-1903. Massachusetts Historical Society
creatorOf Library of Congress. Printed letters from the Library of Congress, 2 signed by A.R. Spofford, librarian of Congress, to Augustin Daly [manuscript], 1871-1892. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Toner, Joseph M. (Joseph Meredith), 1825-1896. Papers of Joseph M. Toner, 1741-1896. Library of Congress
referencedIn Library Of Congress, Manuscript Division. Library Of Congress Archives Collection.
referencedIn Spofford family. Spofford Family Papers, 1758-1887. Peabody Essex Museum
referencedIn Murray, Daniel Alexander Payne, 1852-1925. Papers of Daniel Alexander Payne Murray, 1881-1966 (bulk 1895-1930). Library of Congress
creatorOf Crook, William Henry. Papers, 1879. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Bowker, R. R. (Richard Rogers), 1848-1933. Richard Rogers Bowker Papers, 1856-1958. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Spofford, Ainsworth Rand, 1825-1908,. Autograph letter signed from A.R. Spofford, Washington D.C., to M.D. Conway [manuscript], 1885 September 24. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Office of the Secretary. Papers concerning publication of the transactions of the College, 1841-1879 (span), 1851-1858 (bulk). College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn Foulke, William Dudley, 1848-1935. Papers, circa 1470-1952 (bulk: 1868-1935) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Grafton County NH US
Gilmanton NH US
Cincinnati OH US
Washington, D. C. DC US
National Academy of Sciences
National Museum
Natural history
Patent Office
Recommendations For Positions
Scientific organizations
Scientific publications
Smithsonian Building
Smithsonian Exchange
Smithsonian Library
Smithsonian Publications
Surveys And Explorations, General
Treasury Department
Wilkes Expedition
Applications for positions
Ethnology Archaeology Anthropology
Exchanges Of Publications
Franklin Institute
Librarians of Congress


Birth 1825-09-12

Death 1908-08-11





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