Address on the subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition
to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas.

By J. N. Reynolds

Southern Literary Messenger,
January, 1837


It is the opinion of some, as we are aware, that matters of this description are best left to individual enterprize, and that the in-interference of government is unnecessary. Such persons do not reflect, as they ought, that all measures of public utility which from any cause cannot be accomplished by individuals, become the legitimate objects of public care, in reference to which the government is bound to employ the means put into its hands for the general good. Indeed, while there remains a spot of untrodden earth accessible to man, no enlightened, and especially commercial and free people, should withhold its contributions for exploring it, wherever that spot may be found on the earth, from the equator to the poles!

Have we not shown that this expedition is called for by our extensive interests in those seas--interests which, from small beginnings, have increased astonishingly in the lapse of half a century, and which are every day augmenting and diffusing their beneficial results throughout the country? May we not venture on still higher grounds? Had we no commerce to be benefited, would it not still be honorable; still worthy the patronage of Congress; still the best possible employment of a portion of our naval force?

Have we not shown, that this expedition is called for by national dignity and honor? Have we not shown, that our commanding position and rank among the commercial nations of the earth, makes it only equitable that we should take our share in exploring and surveying new islands, remote seas, and, as yet, unknown territory? Who so uninformed as to assert that all this has been done? Who so presumptuous as to set limits to knowledge, which, by a wise law of Providence, can never cease? As long as there is mind to act upon matter, the realms of science must be enlarged; and nature and her laws be better understood, and more understandingly applied to the great purpose of life. If the nation were oppressed with debt, it might, indeed, it would, still be our duty to do something, though the fact, perhaps, would operate as a reason for a delay of action. But have we any thing of this kind to allege, when the country is prosperous, without a parallel in the annals of nations?

Is not every department of industry in a state of improvement? Not only two, but a hundred blades of grass grow where one grew when we became a nation; and our manufactures have increased, not less to astonish the philosopher and patriot, than to benefit the nation; and have not agriculture and manufactures, wrought up by a capital of intelligence and enterprize, given a direct impulse to our commerce, a consequence to our navy? And if so, do they not impose new duties on every statesman?

Again, have we not shown that this expedition is demanded by public opinion, expressed in almost every form? Have not societies for the collection and diffusion of knowledge, towns and legislatures, and the commanding voice of public opinion, as seen through the public press, sanctioned and called for the enterprize? Granting, as all must, there is no dissenting voice upon the subject, that all are anxious that our country should do something for the great good of the human family, is not now the time, while the treasury, like the Nile in fruitful seasons, is overflowing its banks? If this question is settled, and I believe it is, the next is, what shall be the character of the expedition? The answer is in the minds of all--one worthy of the nation? And what would be worthy of the nation? Certainly nothing on a scaled that has been attempted by any other country. If true to our national character, to the spirit of the age we live in, the first expedition sent out by this great republic must not fall short in any department--from a defective organization, or from adopting too closely the efforts of other nations as models for our own. We do, we always have done things best, when we do them in our own way. The spirit evinced by others is worthy of all imitation; but not their equipments. We must look at those seas; what we have there; what requires to be done;--and then apply the requisite means to accomplish the ends. It would not only be inglorious simply to follow a track pointed out by others, but it could never content a people proud of their fame and rejoicing in their strength! They would hurl to everlasting infamy the imbecile voyagers, who had only coasted where others had piloted. No; nothing but a goodly addition to the stock of present knowledge, would answer for those most moderate in their expectations.

But, not only to correct the errors of former navigators, and to enlarge and correct the charts of every portion of sea and land that the expedition might visit, and other duties to which we have alluded; but also to collect, preserve, and arrange every thing valuable in the whole range of natural history, from the minute madrapore to the huge spermaceti, and accurately to describe that which cannot be preserved; to secure whatever may be hoped for in natural philosophy to examine vegetation, from the hundred mosses of the rocks, throughout all the classes of shrub, flower and tree, up to the monarch of the forest; to study man in his physical and mental powers, in his manners, habits, disposition, and social and political relations; and above all, in the philosophy of his language, in order to trace his origin from the early families of the old world; to examine the phenomena of winds and tides, of heat and cold, of light and darkness; to add geological to other surveys, when it can be done in safety; to examine the nature of soils-if not to see if they can be planted with success-yet to see if they contain any thing which may be transplanted with utility to our own country; in fine, there should be science enough to bear upon every thing that may present itself for investigation.

How, it may be asked, is all this to be effected? By an enlightened body of naval officers, joining harmoniously with a corps of scientific men, imbued with the love of science, and sufficiently learned to pursue with success the branches to which they should be designated. This body of men should be carefully selected, and made sufficiently numerous to secure the great objects of the expedition. These lights of science, and the naval officers, so far from interfering with each other's fame, would, like stars in the milky-way, shed a lustre on each other, and all on their country!

These men may be obtained, if sufficient encouragement is offered as an inducement. They should be well paid. Scholars of sufficient attainments to qualify them for such stations, do not hang loosely upon society; they must have fixed upon their professions or business in life: and what they are called to do, must be from the efforts of ripe minds; not the experiments of youthful ones to prepare them for usefulness. If we have been a by-word and a reproach among nations for pitiful remuneration of intellectual labors, this expedition will afford an excellent opportunity of wiping it away. The stimulus of fame is not a sufficient movie for a scientific man to leave his family and friends, and all the charms and duties of social life, for years together; but it must be united to the recompense of pecuniary reward, to call forth all the powers of an opulent mind. The price you pay will, in some measure, show your appreciation of such pursuits. We have no stars and ribands, no hereditary titles, to reward our men of genius for adding to the knowledge or to the comfort of mankind and to the honor of the nation. We boast of our men of science, our philosophers, and artists, when they have paid the last tribute to envy by their death. When mouldering in their graves, they enjoy a reputation, which envy and malice and detraction may hawk at and tear but cannot harm! Let us be more just, and stamp the value we set on science in a noble appreciation of it, and by the price we are willing to pay.

It has been justly remarked, that those who enlighten their country by their talents, strengthen it by their philosophy, enrich it by their science, and adorn it by their genius, are Atlases, who support the name and dignity of their nation, and transmit it unimpaired to future generations. Their noblest part lives and is active, when they are no more; and their names and contributions to knowledge, are legacies bequeathed to the whole world! To those who shall thus labor to enrich our country, if we would be just, we must be liberal, by giving to themselves and families an honorable support while engaged in these arduous duties!

If the objects of the expedition are noble, if the inducements to undertake it are of a high order--and we believe there can be no difference of opinion on this point--most assuredly the means to accomplish them should be adequate. No narrow views, no scanty arrangements, should enter the minds of those who have the planning and directing of the enterprize. At such a time, and in such a cause, liberality is economy and parsimony is extravagance.

Again, if the object of the expedition were simply to attain a high southern latitude, then two small brigs or barks would be quite sufficient. If to visit a few points among the islands, a sloop of war might answer the purpose. But are these the objects? We apprehend they only form a part. From the west coast of South America, running down the longitude among the islands on both sides of the equator, though more especially south, to the very shores of Asia, is the field that lies open before us, independent of the higher latitudes south, of which we shall speak in the conclusion of our remarks. Reflecting on the picture we have sketched of our interests in that immense region, all must admit, that the armament of the expedition should be sufficient to protect our flag; to succor the unfortunate of every nation, who may be found on desolate islands, or among hordes of savages; a power that would be sufficient by the majesty of its appearance, to awe into respect and obedience the fierce and turbulent, and to give facilities to all engaged in the great purposes of the voyage. The amount of this power is a question upon which there can be but little difference of opinion, among those thoroughly acquainted with the subject; the best informed are unanimous in their opinion, that there should be a well-appointed frigate, and five other vessels-twice that number would find enough, and more than they could do. The frigate would form the nucleus, round which the smaller vessels should perform the labors to which you will find pointed out in all the memorials and reports hitherto made on this subject, and which may be found among the printed documents on your tables. Some might say, and we have heard such things said, that this equipment would savor of individual pride in the commander; but they forget that the calculations of the wise are generally secured by the strength of their measure. The voyage is long-the resting places uncertain, which makes the employment of a storeship, also a matter of prudence and economy. It would not do to be anxious about food, while the expeditions was in the search of an extended harvest of knowledge.

The expectations of the people of the United States from such an expedition, most unquestionably would be great. From their education and past exertions through all the history of our national growth, the people are prepared to expect that every public functionary should discharge his duty to the utmost extent of his physical and mental powers. They will not be satisfied with any thing short of all that men can perform. The appalling weight of responsibility of those who serve their country in such an expedition, is strikingly illustrated by the instructions given to Lewis and Clarke, in 1803, by President Jefferson. The extended views and mental grasp of this distinguished philosopher no one will question, nor can any one believe that he would be unnecessarily minute.

The sage, who had conceived and matured the plan of the expedition to the far west, in his instructions to its commander under his won signature, has left us a model worthy of all imitation. With the slight variations growing out of time and place, how applicable would those instructions be for the guidance of the enterprize we have at present in view? The doubts of some politicians, that this government has no power to encourage scientific inquiry, most assuredly had no place in the mind of that great apostle of liberty, father of democracy and strict constructionist! We claim no wider range than he has sanctions; including as he does, animate and inanimate nature, the heavens above and all on the earth beneath! The character and value of that paper are not sufficiently known. Among all the records of his genius, his patriotism, and his learning, to be found in our public archives, this paper deserves to take, and in time will take rank, second only to the Declaration of our Independence. The first, embodied the spirit of our free institutions, and self-government; the latter, sanctioned those liberal pursuits, without a just appreciation of which our institutions cannot be preserved, or if they can, would be scarcely worth preserving.

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To complete its efficiency, individuals from other walks of life, we repeat, should be appointed to participate in its labors. No professional pique, no petty jealousies, should be allowed to defeat this object. The enterprize should be national in its object, and sustained by the national means,--belongs of right to no individual, or set of individuals, but to the country and the whole country; and he who does not view it in this light, or could not enter it with this spirit, would not be very likely to meet the public expectations were he entrusted with the entire control.

To indulge in jealousies, or feel undue solicitude about the division of honors before they are won, is the appropriate employment of carpet heroes, in whatever walk of life they may be found. The qualifications of such would fit them better to thread the mazes of the dance, or to shine in the saloon, than to venture upon an enterprize requiring men, in the most emphatic sense of the term.

There are, we know, many, very many, ardent spirits in our navy--many whom we hold among the most valued of our friends--who are tired of inglorious ease, and who would seize the opportunity thus presented to them with avidity, and enter with delight upon this new path to fame.

Our seamen are hardy and adventurous, especially those who are engaged in the seal trade and the whale fisheries; and innured as they are to the perils of navigation, are inferior to none on earth for such a service. Indeed, the enterprize, courage, and perseverance of American seamen are, if not unrivaled, at least unsurpassed. What man can do, they have always felt ready to attempt,--what man has done, it is their character to feel able to do,--whether it be to grapple with an enemy on the deep, or to pursue their gigantic game under the burning line, with an intelligence and ardor that insure success, or pushing their adventurous barks into the high southern latitudes, to circle the globe within the Antarctic circle, and attain the Pole itself; yea, to cast anchor on that point where all the meridians terminate, where our eagle and star-spangled banner may be unfurled and planted, and left to wave on the axis of the earth itself!--where, amid the novelty, grandeur and sublimity of the scene, the vessels, instead of sweeping a vast circuit by the diurnal movements of the earth, would simply turn round once in twenty-four hours!

We shall not discuss, at present, the probability of this result, though its possibility might be easily demonstrated. If this should be realized, where is the individual who does not feel that such an achievement would add new lustre to the annals of American philosophy, and crown with a new and imperishable wreath the nautical glories of our country!

This selection is a straightforward argument for exploration of the polar regions typical in its appeal to patriotism and promised financial gain.

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