Smithsonian Infusion

U.S. Patent Office

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Population and Immigration

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Washington D.C. in 1846

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Territorial Concerns

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Mormon Exodus

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Westward Movement

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Mexican War

James Smithson

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Smithson's Will

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John C. Calhoun

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William C. Preston

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John Quincy Adams

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Richard Rush

Request for Declaration of Mexican War

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Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

James K. Polk

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National Institute

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Benjamin Tappan

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Rufus Choate

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Robert Dale Owen

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Henry Clay

First Bill

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Second Bill

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Third Bill

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Fourth Bill

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Fifth Bill

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Sixth Bill

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Seventh Bill

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Eighth Bill

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Bill signed into law

Bibliography

James Smithson died in 1829. His will bequeathed everything to his nephew with the stipulation that, should the nephew die childless, then the entire remaining estate should go to the "United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."

Henry James Hungerford, Smithson's nephew, died in 1835 without heirs, and the United States Congress was notified of the bequest. The gift was considered somewhat unusual, coming as it did from a man in no way connected to America, and his will initiated a flood of debate in Congress. For sometime it was undecided even whether to accept the money. Although for most members of Congress this was not a real problem, some representatives such as the pair of South Carolina senators, John C. Calhoun and William C. Preston, claimed that accepting the gift was "not consistent with the dignity of the country" (Preston, qtd. In 1846, p. 12). John Quincy Adams was particularly vocal in praising Smithson's benefaction.

Congress passed a bill July 1, 1836 accepting Smithson's bequest and began the process of acquiring the money. For this it was necessary to navigate the case through the English courts. In July, 1836, Richard Rush was appointed to the position of counsel for the United States of America in order to claim the bequest. Rush traveled to London, filed the suit on behalf of the United States and waited through 800 cases that had been filed before his. Two years later, an "unprecedentedly short time" (True, 4), the suit was settled and Rush packed 11 boxes of gold sovereigns onto the U.S.S. Mediator. He arrived in New York August 29, 1838, and went immediately to the mint at Philadelphia to deposit the gold. The gold was re-minted as native specie amounting to $508,318.46 (Account, 10). Later, this sum would increase to $550,000 from estate sums subsequently received (True, 4).

John Quincy Adams was appointed to head a House select committee on the bequest. He feared the money would be squandered and sought to protect the funds from "hungry and worthless political jackals" (qtd. in 1846, 12). As protector of the opportunity, one of Adams' tasks was to retrieve the money which had been invested in soon-defaulted bonds of Arkansas and Michigan.

There were numerous suggestions for how to fulfill Smithson's call to "increase and diffuse knowledge." These suggestions reveal contemporary attitudes about the definition of knowledge, and the perceived omissions of certain knowledge in America. Among the suggested possibilities were: a post-graduate university, colleges for specific areas of study, a lecture series, professorships, an agricultural and utilitarian school, a national library, increase of the National Institute, a natural history museum, botanical gardens, a normal school, art galleries, a school for the blind, a chemical library, a popular press, a physical research laboratory, a meteorological bureau, a women's college, and Adams' favorite, a national observatory.

The first bill to establish the Smithsonian was presented by William C. Preston on February 17, 1841 and allowed for a cooperation between the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Smithsonian Institution to preserve and exhibit with no fee, "all works of art, and all books relating thereto, and all collections and curiosities belonging to the United States, in the possession of any of the executive departments, and not necessarily connected with the duties thereof . . ." The Institution would be located on the Mall. The interest accrued on the fund would be reinvested in the Institution.

The second bill to establish the Smithsonian came from Adams, himself, April 12, 1842. Adams was determined that the principal of the Smithsonian fund be invested, and that only the interest be spent. The first installment of this interest was marked for the creation of an astronomical observatory. Adams' Board of Visitors would consist of two commissioned Army officers, two commissioned Navy officers, the mayors of Alexandria and Georgetown, and one citizen each from Washington, Alexandria, and Georgetown. Further money would go to the purchase of astronomical instruments, a library of "books of science and literature," constant acquisition of periodicals, and yearly publications from the observatory.

The third bill to establish the Smithsonian was presented by Benjamin Tappan, December 12, 1844. The bill would create a twelve person board of managers representing twelve different states and territories. Funds would install a "suitable building, of plain and durable materials and structure, without unnecessary ornament, and of sufficient size and with suitable rooms for the reception and arrangement of objects of natural history, a library, a chemical laboratory, and lecture room or rooms . . ." and grounds and greenhouse for "horticultural and agricultural experiements." The buildings would house "all objects of natural history belonging to the United States which may be in the City of Washington . . ." All of Smithson's effects, at that time displayed in the Patent Office, would be transferred to the new Institution and preserved separately. To be hired were professors of agriculture and horticulture, natural history, chemistry, and astronomy. Lecturers would be hired for "the arts and sciences." One responsibility of the agriculture and horticulture professionals would be testing and distribution of new vegetation.

Rufus Choate added to this bill a provision for the creation of a large library. The Tappan Bill, with the Choate Library Clause passed the Senate January 21, 1845. When the bill went to the House of Representatives, Robert Dale Owen attempted to add his own provision for a teacher-training school. The bill was tabled.

The fourth bill was presented by Adams on June 7, 1844 and changed very little from his previous bill. It calls to establish a board of trustees including: the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice, the Secretaries of State, Treasury, War, and Navy, the Postmaster and Attorney Generals, and the mayor of Washington. The interest on the fund would go to the establishment of an astronomical observatory with staff, equipment, and a library. No part of the fund was ever to go for "any school, college, university, other institute of education, or ecclesiastical establishment." The board of visitors was to consist of nine members: 2 commissioned Army officers, 2 commissioned Navy officers, the mayors of Alexandria and Georgetown, and a citizen each from Washington, Alexandria, and Georgetown.

The fifth bill was introduced by Benjamin Tappan on December 12, 1844. The bill intends to invest the fund's capital and spend the interest first on a multi-purpose building. To be housed in the building were: displays for antural history, a geological and mineralogical cabinet, a library, chemical laboratory, and lecture space. There was also to be outdoor and greenhouse space for botanical and agricultural purposes. Smithson's effects were to be preserved separate from other collections. Professorships in natural history, agriculture, horticulture, rural economy, architecture, domestic science, astronomy, chemistry, and geology would be funded but no professorship in "law, physic, or divinity" would ever be supported. Professors were to be charged with tasks such as testing and distribution of new plants, soil anlaysis, history of domestic animals, mine exploration, domestic architecture including lighting, heating, and ventilation, and nautical navigation. Students would be accepted. Professors would publish "works, in popular form, on the sciences and on the aid the bring to labor. . ." to be sold at cost.

The sixth bill was presented February 28, 1846 by Robert Dale Owen. In it, only the interest earned on the Smithsonian fund would be spen. The board of managers would be made up of the Vice-President, the Chief Justice, 3 members of the Senate, 3 members of the House, 2 members of the National Institute, and 5 citizens, none of them from the same state. On grounds on the Mall there would be built "a suitable building, of plain and durable materials and structure, without unnecessary ornament. . . " to house natural history, and geological displays, a chemical laboratory, library, and lecture rooms. There would be land for botanical tasks and also for dwelling houses. A professor of agriculture, horticulture, and rural economy was to test and introduce new plants to the country. A normal school with a "professor of common school instruction" and other professors, chiefly of the more useful sciences and arts," would certify teachers and professors. The Smithsonian would never include a school of law, medicine, or divinity," nor any professorship of ancient languages. The Library would be accumulated gradually, of "the best works on the physical sciences, and the application of science to the arts of life, but without excluding valuable and standard works pertaining to other departments of human knowledge." Certain lectures would be printed and sold at cost, as well as other works concerned with agriculture, sciences, teaching, and "the rudiments of history, chemistry, astronomy, or any other department of useful knowledge."

The seventh bill came April 23, 1846, from Issac E. Morse, after a lengthy debate on libraries. It creates a board of managers consisting of the President and Vice-President, the Chief Justice, the foreign ministers, the mayor of Washington, members of the House and Senate, 2 members of the National Institute, and five citizens, all from different states. Morse sought to increase and diffuse knowledge through the publication of essays on "practical and useful" subjects and distribution to the governors, Congress members, and "literary universities" in America as well as selected European institutions.

The eighth bill, the final bill, was presented April 28, 1846 by William J. Hough. It arranged to spend interest accrued on the fund on the same "suitable building" for natural history displays, chemical laboratory, library, art gallery, and lecture rooms. The building could be a wing to the existing patent Office building. Smithson's possessions would be preserved separately. Authors of any new copyrighted material would be required to deposit one copy of the work with the Smithsonian, and one copy with the Library of Congress. The Board of Regents would consist of the Vice-President, Chief Justice, Mayor of Washington, 3 members of the Senate, 3 members of the House, 2 members of the National Institute, and 4 citizens, each from different states. After much debate and rewriting of clauses, no agreement could be reached and so the bill remained inactive until the last day of the 29th Congress, Monday, August 10, 1846, at which time the following version was signed into law by President Polk.