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`, Scientists and Scientific - Organizations in Mid-Century America Long before the National Academy of Sciences became a reality (somewhat fortuitously at the height of the American Civil War), a number of energetic and far-seeing scientists of the nineteenth cen- tury had seen the need for a central body of scientists that could render advice and assistance to the federal government. Some of the early attempts are described in the preceding chapter. The middle of the century witnessed the rise of the Smithsonian Institution and the creation of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), both of which were directly related to the creation of the Academy. The Smithson Bequest The history of the Smithsonian Institution, the first scientific research organization to be established by the federal government is, in fact, so closely linked with that of the National Academy of Sciences, which followed two decades later, that some knowledge of the former is 16
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 it 7 necessary to an understanding of the circumstances under which the Academy came into being. The early days of the two institutions were most closely interlinked by the personalities of the men who dominated both, particularly Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian and second Presi- dent of the Academy, and Alexander Dallas Bache, one of the Smithsonian's original Regents and first President of the Academy. Then, too, the "homeless" Academy occupied a room in the "Castle on the Mall," home of the Smithsonian Institution, for over fifty years. The story of the Smithsonian begins in England. On June 26, ~829, James Smithson, an English chemist and mineralogist of modest attainments but strong faith in the future of science, died in Genoa, Italy, at the age of sixty-four. Three years earlier he had made a will in which a nephew, Henry James Hungerford, was to be his heir, but in the event the nephew died childless, the whole of his very consider- able fortune was to go "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men." The reasons for this quixotic gesture with its far-reaching conse- quences remain obscure. Smithson never traveled to the United States and so far as is known was not thought to have been acquainted with any Americans, with the possible exception of Joel Barlow. Some speculation has centered upon the circumstances of his birth. He was the illegitimate son of parents of illustrious heritage. His father was Hugh Smithson, who later became Hugh Percy, the first Duke of Northumberland under the third creation of the title. His mother was Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie, a widow who was lineally descended from Henry VII through her great-granduncle, Charles, Duke of Somerset. Paul Oehser points out that Smithson wrote in one of his manu- scripts: "The best blood of England flows in my veins; on my father's side ~ am a Northumberland, on my mother's I am related to Kings, but this avails me not. My name shall live in the memory of men when the titles of the Northumberlands and the Percys are extinct and forgotten."2 Into this statement one may read an underlying note of bitterness 1 Paul H. Oehser, Sons of Science: The Story of the Smithsonian Institution and its Leaders (New York: Greenwood Press, ~968), pp. ~-~3. 2 Ibid.
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~ 8 I Scientasts and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America against the rigidity of the British class system. And since Smithson's nephew, the prior beneficiary of his estate, died childless in ~835, his fortune ultimately came to the United States. When news of the bequest reached this country in ~836, it precipi- tated a curious controversy. Congress was divided as to whether the United States could accept the money. The arguments over a national university were revived, and there were even those who felt that it was beneath the dignity of the United States to receive such a gift from abroad.3 The final vote in the House, however, was eighty-five yeas and seventy-six nays; the vote in the Senate was twenty-six to thirteen. President Andrew Jackson dispatched to England Richard Rush, the son of Dr. Benjamin Rush and a lawyer and former Minister to the Court of St. James's, to bring back the legacy. Rush returned to Philadelphia in September ~838 aboard the clipper Mediator, bringing with him £~o4,g60 in gold sovereigns, Smithson's library, and his collection of minerals. The sovereigns were recoined into $508,3 ~ 8.46 in American money. In ~867 a residuary legacy of $26,~o was re- ceived, and the total ultimately amounted to $6so,ooo, a great fortune in that day.4 Even before the initial funds had arrived in the United States, the Secretary of the Treasury, Levi Woodbury, was advertising that he would shortly have available for investment around a half million dollars. The funds were used to purchase state bonds, the largest amount going to Arkansas, with smaller sums going for bonds of other states. John Quincy Adams, Chairman of the Smithson Bequest Committee of the House, who had been dismayed by this proposal, introduced a bill that would have established an interest-bearing Smithsonian Fund directly within the Treasury. The bill was de- feated, however, and the states defaulted on the bonds, so that the funds were essentially frittered away. It was not until August ~846 that President James K. Polk signed into law a bill creating the Smithsonian Institution. The law also provided for full restitution of the original funds, along the lines of the Adams formula; namely that the original sum of the bequest be lent to the Treasury with interest, at 6 percent, from the date of the funds' arrival.5 Meanwhile during the eight years that had elapsed between the ~ A. Hunter Dupree, Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and al ctivities to 1940 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, ~957), pp. 67-68. Encyclopedia Britannica, lath ea., s.v. '~Smithsonian Institution," by Charles Greeley Abbot; Dupree, Science in the Federal Government, p. 79. 5 Geoffrey T. Hellman, The Smithsonian, Octopus on the Mall (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippin- cott Co., ~967), pp. 42-45.
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 ~ 9 arrival of the money at the Philadelphia Mint and the enactment of the law that made the Smithsonian Institution a reality, another kind of controversy raged over the use to which the funds were to be put. Perhaps the most active were the proponents for a national university, to be modeled on the best in Europe. John Quincy Adams, champion of utility and the exact sciences, wanted a great observatory, superior to those at Greenwich and Paris, to advance practical astronomy and prepare yearly nautical almanacs.6 Hassler sought a school for as- tronomers, under his own direction. The National Institute saw Smithson's bequest under its management enhancing a galaxy of scientific interests in the capital. Congress debated such proposals as the construction of a great national library, a normal school for the training of teachers, a farm school, and other "academical institutes of education."7 As signed into law, however, the Smithsonian's enabling act called for a museum of natural history, a chemical laboratory, a library, a gallery of art, and lecture rooms. The accumulated interest of $242,129 was to be used to erect a building for the Institution. From the income of the trust fund, approximately $30,ooo annually, not more than $25,000 was to be used to purchase books for a national library. Unable to agree further on Smithson's intentions, Congress left the spending of the balance of the income to the Secretary, who was to direct the Institution, and to its Board of Regents, which was to organize and oversee its functions. The latter was to consist of the Vice-President of the United States, George M. Dallas; the Chief Justice, Roger B. Taney; three members of the Senate, George Evans, Sidney Breese, and Isaac S. Pennybacker; three members of the House, Robert Dale Owen (who had wanted a normal school), William Jervis Hough, and Henry Washington Hilliard; and citizens-at-large Rufus Choate (proponent of the library), Gideon Hawley, Richard Rush, William C. Preston, Col. Joseph G. Totten, Alexander D. Bache, and the Mayor of Washington, William W. Seaton.8 Congress had directed that two members of the National Institute, as the leading scientific society in the capital, must be on the Board, 6 Wilcomb E. Washburn (ed.), The Great Design: Two Lectures on the Smithson Bequest John Quincy Adams, 1839 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, ~965), pp. 36, 70-7~. 7 Bessie Zaban Jones, Lighthouse of the Skies. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory: Background and History, 1846-1955 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, ~965), pp. ~3 ff. 8 William J. Rhees (ed.), The Smithsonian Institution: Documents Relative to its Origin and History, 1835-1889 (Washington: Government Printing Office, egos), Vol. I, pp. 429-438.
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20 I Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America The Smithsonian Institution cat ~860 (Photograph by A. J. Russell, Mathew Brady assistant, courtesy the Smithsonian Institution). and by joint resolution named Colonel Totten, one of the founders of the Institute and Chief of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and Bache, Superintendent of the Coast Survey and nephew of Vice-President George M. Dallas, Chancellor-elect of the Smithsonian. Bache and Henry Alexander Dallas Bache, great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin and grandson of Alexander l. Dallas, Secretary of the Treasury during Madison's administration, was born in Philadelphia on July ~9, ~806. At fifteen he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which was then offering, through its engineering and technical curricula, the first systematic study of science in the United States. Upon graduation he was assigned as an assistant in the engineering depart-
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 2 ~ ment of the Military Academy and later transferred to Colonel Totten's staff at Newport, Rhode Island, where Fort Adams was under construction. In ~828, Bache was unexpectedly offered the professorship of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and, on the strength of that prospect, resigned his commission and married Nancy Clarke Fowler, daughter of a prominent Newport citizen. He had read on his own in natural philosophy and chemistry before the University appointment, and, with the aid of textbooks on as- tronomy and optics and of compendia surveying the elements of electricity, magnetism, electromagnetism, mechanics, geology, and mineralogy, he prepared the lectures and experiments that com- prised the three-year course in natural philosophy at the University.9 Within a year he was elected to membership in the American Philo- sophical Society on the strength of his appointment at the University and his first research effort, "On the specific heat of the atoms of bodies." About that time he turned to the studies and experiments in terrestrial magnetism and meteorology that he continue`] intermit- tently to the end of his life. It was probably at the Philosophical Society that Bache first met Joseph Henry; for soon after coming to Princeton in ~83~ as Profes- sor of Natural Philosophy, Henry began visiting the library of the Society, some fifty miles distant, "to post up my knowledge of the current discoveries in science" and to revel in its "upwards of gooo volumes of books on the subject of science."~° Henry, then in his thirty-sixth year, was nine years older than Bache; but with their common interest in terrestrial magnetism the two became fast friends and joint experimenters. That interest seems to have developed independently, but almost simultaneously for them, in the autumn of ~830.~ Besides its usefulness in navigation and meteorology, geo- magnetics interested Henry because of its importance in surveying, "since boundaries of all estates were originally fixed and described by 9 Merle M. Odgers, Alexander Dallas Bache: Scientist and Educator, 1806-1867 (Philadel- phia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1947), pp. ~ 5, ~ 6, ~ ~ -a a, ~ o4. 10 Joseph Henry to his brother James, October 27, ~834, and January 23, ~835. [Unless otherwise designated, all Henry correspondence is from the Joseph Henry Papers, Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. For Henry's earlier years, see Nathan Reingold (ed.), The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. I, December 1797 October 1832. The Albany Years (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, ~ 97~).] Henry's first extant letters to Bache are dated from Princeton in July ~834 and concern magnetic observations. " See Henry's note in American f ournal of Science 20:203 ( ~ 83 ~ ). 1
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. 22 I Scientists anti Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America the directions of the magnetic needle." By experiment and observa- tion he hoped to discover the law of variation of the needle. In ~836, Girard College, a school for orphan boys, was founded In Philadelphia, and Bache was named President and sent abroad to v ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ — ~ r—~ — . as . . ~ an. v ~ v `_ A . A V Ad. . I_ . . . _ `. . ~ ~ V ~ _ .. . ~ `^ _ _ _. ~ . . _~ ~ model. The College almost immediately became involved in civic controversy and litigation and did not open for another decade; Bache, on his return from abroad in ~838, retained his connection with the College, but accepted the direction of the new Central High School of Philadelphia, the first public school outside New England. Six years after having left the University of Pennsylvania, Bache returned, in ~84~, but remained for only one year. Upon the death of Hassler in ~843, he sought and obtained the post of Superintendent of the Coast Survey and its Office off Weights and Measures. In this he had the strong support of Henry and almost the whole of the scientific community on the Eastern Seaboard.~4 Bache, then living on Twentieth Street in Washington, had closely followed the last years of debate over the Smithson bequest, seeing in the Institution a scientific organization whose endowment would assure its permanence, that would have the force of the federal government behind it, and the prestige of its location in the nation's capital. It wanted only a strong-minded and dedicated man of science to preside over its establishment and shape its formative years. Shortly after his appointment to the Board of Regents, Bache wrote to Henry |2 Henry to James D. Forbes, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Edinburgh University, June 6, ~836 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). , Bache's trip to Europe marked an epoch in ocean travel. At the turn of the century, Jefferson reported that the winter voyage from France to New York by his friend Du Pont de Nemours had taken three months and five days [Du Pont do Nemours, N`z- tion~l Education in the United States, tr. B. G. du Pont (Newark: University of Delaware Press, ~923), p. xii]. Bache, crossing to Europe by test packet in the autumn of ~836. made the voyage in thirty-three days. His return on that marvel of the age, the steamer Great Western, in fourteen days, ended the terror of the Atlantic and prompter! Henry's reflection: "We will not now be so remote a province of Great Britain in reference to literature and science as we have been" [Henry to Dr. Thomas Thompson of Glasgow, September z8, ~838 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives) ]. i. See the letters from Bache to Henry, both dated November ~ I, ~843, in one of which Bache referred to his candidacy for the post just the year before, when Congress was considering a reorganization of Hassler's Survey; also Henry to Bache, December 6, 1843 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). For Henry's efforts on behalf of Bache to head the work of the Coast Survey, "the most important from a scientific point of view which has ever been undertaken by our government," see his correspondence in November ~ 843 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives).
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 23 at Princeton and asked his permission to propose his name to the Board. t5 Joseph Henry was born on December ~7, ~797, in Albany, New York, one of the first towns in the American colonies to be granted a city charter (~6861. Nathan Reingold has observed that: Early nineteenth-century Albany was not the American Frontier town one might expect but a fair-sized, wealthy, and vigorous city. In ~820, Albany was the ninth largest city in the United States; by ~830 it ranked eighth. It was the seat of state government and a trading and manufacturing center at the junction of the Hudson River and Erie Canal (after its opening in ~8~51.... In many respects Henry's experience foreshadowed his life and future role in Washington as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The two capitals were approximately the same size (Albany, in fact, was slightly larger in ~846), and Henry learned to move as freely among Washington's politicians as he had among Albany's. He may also have acquired here his later antipathy to mingling science and politics. Henry's Scottish parents were in such straitened circumstances that when he was seven he was sent to live with his uncle in a neighboring village.~7 Despite his meager elementary schooling, he found when he was twelve that he was a reader, and at sixteen, home again in Albany, he came upon his first book of science, Lectures on Experimental Philosophy, Astronomy, and Chemistry, by the English clergyman George Gregory, published in London in ~808. Certain at last of his course, Henry attended night classes in geometry, mechanics, and grammar at the Albany Academy, supporting himself by teaching the latter subject in the district school and by private tutoring. He assisted the principal of the Academy in preparing his chemical demonstrations and studied anatomy and physiology under local doctors when for a time he considered becoming a man of science by way of medicine. He gained some knowledge of mathematics out of books, and of chemis- try, geology, and botany by attendance at philosophical lectures given at the Academy. In ~8~4, upon the union of two local philosophical societies as the 35 By early November ~846 Henry was being urged from many quarters to seek the post, but on Bache's advice refused to commit himself, leaving his course entirely in Bache's hands. Henry to Bache, November 2 and ~6, ~846 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). ]6 Reingold (ed.), The Papers of Joseph Hens, Vol. I, p. xix. |7 In a letter to Miss Montague, April 4, ~872, Henry said his Scottish grandfather Hendrie (meaning "ruler of the home") changed his name to Henry when he came to America (loseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives).
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24 I Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America Albany Institute, Henry was appointed its librarian. About this time he began tentative investigations in chemistry, electricity, and gal- vanism; and in October of that year presented to the members of the Institute his first paper, "On the Chemical and Mechanical Effects of Steam." His second paper and first publication five months later, "The Production of Cold by the Rarefaction of Air," appeared in the Institute's Transactions. ~8 In April ~8~6, Henry was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the Albany Academy and that autumn began teaching its So pupils the rudiments of arithmetic, mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Franklin's experiments, Priestley's history of electricity, and accounts of the pioneer discoveries of Charles de Coulomb, Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, Hans Christian Oersted, Andre-Marie Ampere, and Francis Arago were available to Henry when, after his seven-hour day in class, he turned to the experiments in electricity and magnetism that were to bring him fame. Between ~ 827 and ~ 83 I, his development of Arago's electromagnet from a philosophic toy to an instrument with immediate industrial application brought him his first recognition, but he had to be prodded by reports of similar experiments abroad before he pub- lished his results.~9 In ~ 83 ~ he demonstrated at the Academy the first electromagnetic telegraph. To the end of his days he regretted that he had neither published nor patented the invention. A new and more powerful magnet, and a little engine that he also constructed that year, powered by alternate magnetic attraction and repulsion, antici- pated the modern direct-current electric motor.20 Henry's discovery of the principle of electromagnetic induction may have antedated Michael Faraday's announcement late in ~83~, but Henry did not publish his findings until seven months later, in pages hastily added to Benjamin Silliman's American Journal of Science and Arts (often called Silliman's journal). The last paragraph of that paper also reported what has been called Henry's greatest single 8 Thomas Coulson, Joseph Henry: His Life and Work (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 195O), pp. 14-18, 21-22. i9 Albany Institute, Transactions 1:22 (~827); Henry to Benjamin Silliman, December 9, ~83O [" . . . by delaying the principles of these experiments for nearly two years I've had the mortification of being anticipated...." Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives)]; AmericanJournal of Science 19:400 (1831); Coulson,Joseph Henry, . pp. 41, 4 - 47 20Amer7can Journal of Science 20:201, 340 (1831); Coulson, Joseph Henry, pp. ~2-53, 67-70.
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America / 25 contribution to science, his discovery, two years earlier, of elec- tromagnetic self-induction.2i His burst of genius that year won Henry little recognition in Europe where Faraday reigned supreme, but it made his name known throughout the scientific community in the United States. In ~83s, at the urging of Dr. John Torrey, Professor of Chemistry at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, of Benjamin Silliman, and of others, the College called Henry to its chair of natural philosophy. With his characteristic candor, Henry in his letter of acceptance asked, "Are you aware of the fact that I am not a graduate of any College and that I am principally self-educated?" He admitted freely that he would be happy to escape the drudgery of teaching mathe- matics and the elements of arithmetic, for he was most anxious to establish "the reputation of a man of science." Upon the promise that he would teach but one or two classes a day and be free to continue his experiments, he came to Princeton that fall.22 In addition to the subjects of natural philosophy and astronomy, he was asked to lecture on architecture that first year, and took over Torrey's classes in chemistry, geology, and mineralogy while Torrey spent the year abroad. Somehow he also found time to build succes- sively larger electromagnets for his researches, out of which came the relay or circuit breaker, later so crucial to the success of the telegraph system devised by Samuel F. B. Morse.25 Henry's election to the American Philosophical Society in ~835 may have owed something to the dispute over the priority of Faraday's claim to the discovery of self-induction, but he probably would have been elected in any case, following his appointment to Princeton and the exhibition of his electromagnets by his friends. Both groups vigorously supported the American claim to priority of discovery.24 Furthermore, Henry was already friendly with some of the most 2t American Journal of Science 22 :403~08 (~832); Coulson, Joseph Henry, pp. 76 95., 897 Tog—~ To. 22 John Maclean, Vice-President of the College, to Henry, June ~8, ~832, and reply, June ~8; Maclean to Henry, August a, ~832 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives); John Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey, from Its Origin in 1746 to the Commencement of 1854 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., ~877), pp. 288-29~, 336-337 23 Coulson, Joseph Hens, pp. ~ o3- ~ o4, ~ o7- ~ ~ o, 2 ~ 5. 24 William Hamilton, Franklin Institute, to Henry, May 2~, ~834; Bache to Henry, January 3,~835 (]oseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives); Journal of the Franklin Institute 15: 169 ( ~ 835); American Philosophical Society, Transactions 5 :223, 229 (~837).
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26 I Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America active scientific members of the Society, including Bache, Silliman, and Robert Hare. Elected to the Philosophical Society with Henry were John Torrey, the physician, chemist, and botanist; meteorologist James F. Espy; and geologist Henry D. Rogers, all three destined to be good friends and close associates in the years to come. Between Henry's first meeting with Bache at the Philosophical Society in ~833 and the latter's offer to propose Henry as the head of the Smithsonian Institution, thirteen years had elapsed. Henry con- tinued to teach at Princeton and to publish his electromagnetic experiments, many of them related to discoveries subsequently made by Lord Kelvin, James Maxwell, James Joule, and Heinrich Hertz. He was to observe with chagrin their triumphs of theory and mathe- matical logic that deduced universal laws of electricity from experi- ments he too had made. Nevertheless, if Europe acknowledged his contributions only posthumously, he was regarded in his own time and country as the nation's foremost physicist and experimentalist.25 With Henry's growing fame came a long succession of offers, most of which he declined. In ~835 the University of Virginia, without asking if he would accept, elected him to its chair of natural philoso- phy at a salary "the largest in the United States." Fearful lest it lose him, Princeton countered with the promise of a new laboratory, a new home, and salary increases for himself and the professors associated with him.26 Another offer came the next year when Bache, appointed to head Girard College, entreated Henry to take the chair he was vacating at the University of Pennsylvania.27 But Henry was not ambitious for mere preferment; he was happy at Princeton, and could not be persuaded. A turning point in his life occurred in ~836-~837. He came to Washington for the first time, to secure letters of introduction for his pending trip to England, and then returned to Princeton for a month and a half to finish his entire year's course before sailing. 25 Coulson,.Joseph Henry, pp. ~40 ff Henry's name was given to the international standard unit of induction on a motion by the French delegate and a second by the British representative at the International Electrical Congress held at Chicago in ~893. 26 Henry to his brother lames, August 2, ~835 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 27 Henry to his wife Harriet, July 23, ~836; Professor R. M. Patterson of the University to Henry, August ~4, ~836 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). Again Princeton countered, offering improvements in facilities and a trip to Europe to obtain new apparatus and instruments for his laboratory Cohn Maclean to Henry, July 25, ~836 (ibid. ) ].
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32 / Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America The Institution would "stimulate men of talent to make original researches, by offering suitable rewards for memoirs containing resew truths; and . . . [would] appropriate . . . funds for particular re- searches," such as a system of meteorological observations for solving the problem of American storms; explorations in natural history; geological, magnetic, and topographical surveys; new determinations of the weight of the earth, of the velocity of electricity and of light; ethnological researches in the races of man in North America; and the exploration of mounds and other remains of the ancient people of North America.42 To diffuse knowledge, the Institution intended to "publish a series of periodical reports of the progress of the different branches of knowledge; and . . . publish occasionally separate treatises on subjects of general interest."43 This Henry was to accomplish through the worldwide distribution of his heavily appendixed Annual Reports, the quarto Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, and the octave Smith- son?an Miscellaneous Collections. Henry's "Programme," adopted provisionally by the Board of Re- gents at once, became the settled policy of the Institution, but owing to the broad phrasing of Smithson's will, not until ~86~ was he able to say that contention from Congress and the public over its operation had finally come to an end.44 Other objections took somewhat longer. In ~866 Congress relieved the Smithsonian of its library of some forty thousand volumes; in ~868 the national herbarium foisted on it was transferred to the Department of Agriculture. Two years later Con- gress appropriated full support for the museum.45 42 Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1847, p. ~ 74. 45 At., pp. ~ 74- ~ 75, ~ 79. For his special concern for original research, see pp. ~ 74, ~8~. Henry also also approved of specialization in science. As he said, "A life devoted exclusively to the study of a single insect, is not spent in vain" (Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1855, p. so). 44 Henry, "Sketch of the Organization and Operation of the Institution," in Smithso- nian Institution, Annual Report for 1865, p p. ~ 2- ~ 3. To answer early misunderstandings about the functions of the Smithsonian, Henry explained his program in the Annual Report for 1850, pp. 5-8. The contention continued, reaching a climax in ~855 when Rufus Choate, the proponent earlier for making the Smithsonian a national library, resigned as Regent and requested Congress to inquire into the management and expenditure of funds of the Smithsonian. Both the House and Senate committees of investigation exonerated Henry (Smithsonian Institu- tion, Annual Reportfor 1895, pp. ~3-~4; 1856, pp. ~-~6; SmithsonianInstitution Circular, 1855, "U.S. Congress, House Select Committee on the Smithsonian Institution"). Determined to make his policy prevail, Henry prefaced his Annual Report with the "Programme of Organization" from ~855 to ~872. 45 Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1872, pp. ~e, 4~; Dupree, Science in the Federal Government, p. ~ 55.
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 33 The meager income of the Smithsonian, fixed by its endowment and dissipated by the provisions Congress had stipulated, served to nullify Henry's plans for carrying out through the Smithsonian the "great design" for American science he had set down for Bache a decade earlier. Nevertheless his direction of the Institution did much to improve the scientific reputation of this country abroad and to make science better understood and respected at home. He saw that the Smithsonian supported worthy research to the limits of its ability, that it published costly works of abstruse scholarship or of limited appeal, and by its example made clear to the public the distinction between the increase, diffusion, and application of knowledge. The disquisition Henry wrote on that distinction in one of his reports concluded with Francis Bacon's dictum on the ends of knowledge and the purpose of the academy in the New Atlantis. It was a distinction he raised again when he became President of the National Academy of Sciences.46 Growth and Spread of Scientific Societies The impulse to form societies to satisfy "a nation of joiners," as the United States has been called, had been compulsive since colonial days. By the time ground was broken for the Smithsonian, in ~847, almost a hundred academies and societies for the promotion of science dotted the nation, most of them concentrated between Boston and Washington; but a number were located beyond the Appa- lachians and even one or two across the Mississippi.47 Some by their names proclaimed general philosophical interest in the sciences, or special interest in chemistry or mineralogy, but the overwhelming number were local academies of "natural history" or "natural science." Their proliferation, and the ascendancy of the naturalists, geologists, and explorers had, however, done little, in Henry's view, to raise the status of science or advance its cause. "There are," he wrote in ~84~, "very few in the United States engaged in original research although there are more interested in popular science among us than in any other part of the world." The geologists were attempting "to get up a society similar to the British Association Efor the Advancement of Science]." But Henry doubted "the expediency of forming a society of the kind to embrace all 46 Dupree, Science in the Federal Government, pp. 86-go. The dictum is quoted here in Chapter 1, p. 4, and in Henry's essay in his~4nnualReportfor 1859, pp. ~3-~7. 47 Ralph S. Bates, Scientific Societies in the United States, ad ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, ~958), pp. 37, 38.
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34 I Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America branches of science. We have among us too few working men and too large a number of those who would occupy the time of the meeting in idle discussion."48 The early years of the nation had promised better. The enthusiasm for science in the colonies and the new republic, fostered by patrician amateurs of science and by visiting academicians, had generated a large body of new and valuable natural history and made contribu- tions to the physical sciences, which, though peripheral to the great discoveries earlier in Europe, were still considerable. The period saw the beginnings of specialization in this country, as an indigenous botany, zoology, and geology emerged from natural history; physics, chemistry, and astronomy from natural philosophy; and as medical botany, medical chemistry, anatomy, and pathology became distinct aspects of medicine. In Henry's century a new revolution in science was gathering its forces as interest shifted from astronomy to geology and from physics to biology, from the sciences of nature to the . ,. sciences ot man. After the middle of the century, the colleges and universities began to produce small numbers of scientists and amateurs of science who swelled the ranks of the teaching profession and the philosophical societies and joined in the effort to advance scientific interests. The first graduate school, at Yale, was established in 1846, but did not award a doctorate in science until ~86~. More aware than most of the facilities and the prestige afforded men of science in Europe, Joseph Henry saw as typical his own experience in trying to make real contributions to knowledge. "We labor under many disadvantages in this country in the way of original experiments," he had written in ~836, "in the difficulty and delay of publication, and the problem of being anticipated; or of going over ground that has already been successfully cultivated."49 His trip abroad that summer confirmed his anxiety about American science. The serious men of science for whom Henry spoke probably numbered between five and six hundred in a population of about fifteen million, their strongest bond the vision of a nation enriched and strengthened by a growing stream of discoveries.50 The kind of 48 Henry to M. De La Rive, Professor of Natural Philosophy (physics) at the University of Geneva, draft letter, November 12, ~84~ Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 49 Henry to Prof. James D. Forbes, Edinburgh University, typed copy of letter of June 6, ~836 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 50 The total of scientists and serious amateurs at mid-century probably did not exceed eight hundred and forty. See Donald deB. Beaver, "The American Scientific Commu-
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America / 35 original experiments that Henry had in mind were those of Franklin in electricity and his own in electromagnetism, the latter made only with knowledge after the fact of the same studies being conducted abroad. A more recent instance of that lag in scientific communication had prompted him to write Bache asking whether he had "any information about the beautiful theory established by Ohm." Bache hadn't, though Georg Simon Ohm had published his paper in ~826, eight years before.5~ It was that kind of intelligence, beyond the province of Silliman's Journal, that Henry sought to make available in the reports and summaries of scientific progress in Smithsonian publications and in his plan, announced in ~848, for a vast continuing index to world scientific literatures It was a need met for a time by the publication, begun in ~850, of The Annual of Scientific Discovery, compiled from American, British, French, and German publications. An impulse was needed to give encouragement and direction to really serious scientists, but Henry did not see it in the National Institute in the capital. Nor did it seem likely to come from the new nity, ~800-~860: A Statistical-Historical Study" (Yale University: Ph.D. dissertation, 66), p. ~34 In ~853, Spencer F. Baird, Secretary of the AAAS and Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian, compiled a register of "Addresses of Scientific Men in the United States', totaling silo names (Baird Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). More than half the assembled form letters are from confessed amateurs: jewelers, watchmakers, attorneys, farmers, apothecaries, dental surgeons, clergymen, and high school and seminary principals. Internal evidence suggests that the volume had its origin in a canvass to swell the ranks of the American Association, and subsequently, with the addition of sheets having such names as Agassiz, Alexander, Caswell, Bache, Hilgard, and Maury (but not Baird himself or Henry), became a directory. A second Baird directory, similarly compiled in ~875, and lettered on its binding "Answers to Circular/Smithsonian Correspondents/Subjects in which Interested," with each questionnaire also asking for information on private collections, comprised almost three times as many names as the first, a large proportion of them physicians, lawyers, editors, teachers, and students. 5~ Henry to Bache, December ~7, ~834, and reply, January 3, ~835 Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). Although Ohm's paper, published in full in ~827, was known in Europe, his law was not established until Pouillet challenged it in ~83 I, whence it came to the attention of the Royal Society (Eugene Lommel, "The Scientific Work of Georg Simon Ohm," Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1891, pp. 247-256). 52 Henry's proposed index to nineteenth-century scientific literature, first described in Smithsonian Institution,AnnualReportfor 1847, pp. ~77, ~82-~83, for lack of Smithso- nian funds was actually undertaken by the Royal Society in ~858 and completed in ~925. See Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1851, p. dog; 1867, pp. 57-58; Lyons, The Royal Society 1660-1940, pp. 284-285, 287-288, 307, 309-3~ I.
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36 / Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America association proposed by the geologists.53 The prospective organization had its genesis in New York State's Geological Survey. Seeking a way to coordinate the efforts of its geologists with those of Pennsylvania and New England, whose work often crossed neighboring state bor- ders, members of the several surveys had met at the Franklin Institute on April 2, ~840, and, with fellow geologists invited from Delaware, Virginia, and Michigan, had organized the Association of American Geologists. To accommodate the interstate membership, subsequent meetings were held at Albany, Washington, New Haven, New York, and Boston, at which first naturalists and then chemists, physicists, and other men of science were admitted to membership. Within five years almost every prominent figure in American science was on its roster. Henry had joined in ~840; Bache after 1842. Louis Agassiz and His Influence on American Science The effort to organize science in this country was at low ebb when an event occurred that was to have far-reaching consequences for American science. In the early fall of ~846, the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz arrived in Boston to give the Lowell Institute lectures on "The Plan of Creation in the Animal Kingdom" and, with a two-year grant from Frederick William IV of Prussia, to make a comprehensive study of the natural history of the New World.54 Agassiz was not only famous as a naturalist, he was also a born projector of grand designs for science and a man of inexhaustible enthusiasm and drive. His energy and his compulsion to dominate made him dogmatic and sometimes ruthless, both as an associate and as a scientist, but he could also be the most agreeable and irresistible of friends and companions. Before he was thirty-six he had earned a reputation in Europe for his Recherches sur les po7ssons fossiles (~833- ~844), considered the most original and definitive work of its kind. His Etudes sur les glaciers (~84~) was equally original in its unique concept of the great Ice Age and was at once recognized as a classic of geologic literature.55 When Agassiz arrived in America, he knew only Silliman at Yale S. Henry to M. De La Rive, November 12, ~84~ Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 54 Edward Lurie, Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ~ 960), pp. ~ i4, ~ ~ 6, ~ ~ 9. 55 Ibid., pp. 79, 95.
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 37 Louis Agassiz lecturing at Penikese, the first American seaside laboratory (Photograph courtesy the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University). (who had sent him a complete set of the American Journal of Science and Arts), Augustus A. Gould of Boston, and, through correspondence, two other naturalists in Philadelphia and Boston. Then thirty-nine and a strikingly handsome man who exuded self-confidence and dedication to science, he charmed everyone he met and, as a superb and tireless lecturer and envoy of Old World culture, soon became a nationwide celebrity. Agassiz saw at once the insularity afflicting the efforts of American men of science "owing to their deference towards England." As a consequence, "the scientific work of central Europe reaches them through English channels," he wrote Henri Milne-Edwards, and announced his determination to "render a real service to them and to science, by freeing them from this tutelage, raising them in their own eyes, and drawing them also a little more towards ourselves."56 56 Agassiz to Henri Milne-Edwards, entomologist at the Jardin des Plants, Paris, May 3 I, ~847, in Elizabeth Cary Agassiz (ed.), Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., ~885), p. 435.
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38 / Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America In ~848 he was installed as Professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School. Eight years later, full of his projects for a great natural history of the United States and, simulta- neously, an epic series of volumes spanning the whole of American natural history, Agassiz made his decision to remain in America "under the conviction that I shall exert a more advantageous and more extensive influence on the progress of science in this country than in Europe."57 He became a citizen in ~86~. Even before his appointment at Harvard, he had met Bache, who at once put at his disposal a Coast Survey vessel under Lt. Charles Henry Davis for a cruise of exploration off Cape Cod and Nantucket. He had won also the friendship of Henry and subsidies from the Smithsonian when his grant from the Prussian monarch gave out.58 Agassiz's almost overnight assimilation into the world of American science, his acceptance as the authority on European professional standards and practices, and his capture of the American public through his lecture tours made him a force previously unknown in the intellectual community. As no one before him, he commanded attention when he deplored not only public indifference to science in America, whose investigators were better known in Europe than at home, but also the tendency of Americans to look to European authority rather than native achievement. As he wrote to geologist and paleontologist James Hall, in ~849, ". . . until there are men in America whose authority is acknowledged in matters of science there will be no true intellectual independence, however great be . . . political freedom."59 This lack of authority had been on the minds of both Henry and Bache for more than a decade, when friends of Samuel F. B. Morse in ~838 had claimed for him, without contradiction, "the entire origin" of the magnetic telegraph, and when, not long after, Henry had learned that a claim to the solution of the whole problem of terrestrial magnetism had been given unquestioning credence in a hearing before Congress. I am now more than ever of your opinion [Henry wrote Bache at the time] that the real working men in the way of science in this country should make common cause and endeavor by every proper means unitedly to raise their own scientific character, to make science more respected at home, to increase the facilities of scientific investigation and the inducements to scientific 57 Lurie, Louis Agassiz, p. 193. S8 Ibid., pp ~ ~5, ~25 ff Ibid., p. ~63.
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 39 labours.... At present however Charlatanism is much more likely to meet with attention and reward that true unpretending merit.60 And Bache had used as an argument the threat of charlatanry in persuading Henry to come to the Smithsonian. The dilemma had been much discussed at the meetings of the Association of American Geologists (later, Geologists and Naturalists). The Association had flourished from the beginning; and as its num- bers rose above four hundred, some of its members saw in it the nucleus for the central, comprehensive, and authoritative organiza- tion of science needed in the nation. The catalyst was Agassiz. When he was invited to address the Association on his current and planned research at its meeting in Boston in September ~84:, he remained afterward and was elected to membership. The same day he was appointed to a committee with Henry D. Rogers, Director of the New Jersey Geological Survey, and the mathematician Benjamin Peirce to plan the reorganization of the society. The American Association for the Advancement of Science At the September meeting a year later, the society of geologists became the American Association for the Promotion (later, Ad- vancement) of Science (AAAS), on the model of the similarly com- prehensive and peripatetic British Association. It intended to exert a broader influence than that possible to any of the established societies, and, by periodical and migratory meetings, to promote intercourse between those who are cultivating science in different parts of the United States; to give a stronger and more general impulse, and a more systematic direction to science in our country; and to procure for the labours of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness.6i 60 Henry to Bache, August 9, ~838 Uoseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 6~ AAAS, Proceedings I :8 (~848); Bates, Scientific Societies in the United Sates, pp. 73-77. The British Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in ~83~ to give greater systematic direction to scientific inquiry, arose out of criticism of the Royal Society, whose membership qualifications of wealth, as much as scientific merit, had reduced the Society, as some thought, to a social club. An attempt to organize a similar association in this country had been made earlier, in ~838, by a group under Dr. John C. Warren, Harvard Professor of Anatomy and Surgery and the finest surgeon of his time. Their effort to enlist the aid of the
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4° / Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America Seeking the widest possible membership, the AAAS more than dou- bled its numbers in less than a decade, from 46 ~ original members to Too by ~854. The Association, by sheer numbers and the prestige of some of them, succeeded in representing organized science where previous organizations had failed. It proceeded at once to form special committees to study scientific problems of national concern and to establish communications with federal and state officials. A committee under fared Sparks, Harvard President, opened corre- spondence with the Secretary of the Navy to seek support for Lt. Matthew Maury's compilation of charts of winds and currents at the Navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments. Another, under Dr. Robert W. Gibbes, Charleston physician and chemist, petitioned the gover- nors of the states to expand their geological surveys. One, under Henry, sought congressional support for the formal establishment of standard weights and measures. Robert Hare and Agassiz's com- mittee urged the inclusion of scientific members on all boundary commissions and exploratory expeditions of the government. Still other committees undertook advisory assistance to the Coast Survey, establishment of a prime meridian, and an investigation of physical constants. Henry, as a subcommittee of one, was asked to prepare a code of scientific ethics for adoption by the Association.62 Through the many members of the AAAS connected with the surveying and exploring agencies of the War and Navy Departments and the General Land Office, and in tale Patent Office, Coast Survey, Naval Observatory, and the Smithsonian, the committees demon- American Philosophical Society in setting up an Association for the Promotion of Science was unsuccessful. See Warren to Joseph Henry, September z9, 1838 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives), and Edward Warren, Life of./ohn Collins Warren, M.D. Compiled Chiefly from His Autobiography and Journals (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860), vol. II, pp. 1-2. 62 AAAS, Proceedings 2 :vii-ix ( ~ 850); 3 :vi ( 1 85 ~ ); 5 :vii ( 1 853). Bache, speaking for the Association and inspired by Henry's address on ethics as retiring president on August as, ~850, requested him to set out "the clear principles laid down upon this subject" in the address [Proceedings 6:1ix, (1852) ]. "Unfortunately for our scientific morals," a historian of the AAAS commented later, "the subject was not elucidated by any report" [Science 59:386, (May 2, 1924)]. A fragment of Henry's address (four sheets), setting out in prosodic clauses the moral purposes and obligations of men of science, is in "Notes and Other Material" (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). The subject of ethics was very much on Henry's mind at the time, and three months after his address, he wrote Bache that in a recent interview with Lieutenant Maury, he had found him "rather I think indefinite in his views of scientific ethics" [Henry to Bache, November So, 1850 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives) ] . A sequel occurred thirteen years later when the National Academy reviewed Maury's chart work.
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Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America 1 4 ~ strafed their usefulness to federal agencies even though the Associa- -tion lacked national recognition and support. That kind of recogni- tion and influence had first been sought by the National Institute in Washington. Although it was granted a congressional charter, its linkage between government and science was superficial and de- pended mainly on the important politicians and government officials in its membership. And, unlike the AAAS, its members had no scientific expertise. By ~850, the membership of the failing National Institute was down to twenty-seven, and its influence was almost at an end. Neither the peripatetic and all-embracing American Association rotor the politically oriented Institute represented the kind of institu- tion that was needed in the nation's capital. In ~848, Henry had resisted renewed plans to revive the Institute, since he did not consider it well adapted to promote original research and felt that it was likely to remain little more than a museum. As he wrote Bache, In the first place I object to the name National Institute and would propose that of the national Scar with different departments. In the second place the movement should not be alone made by persons in Washington. Much more prominent men of science throughout the country should be allowed to participated Bache, in his address as retiring President of the AAAS at its meeting in Albany in August ~85~, proposed as a responsibility of the federal government the establishment of an authoritative tribunal for science and vehicle for the promotion and support of national science, taking as his models not the Royal Society but the vigorous British Associa- tion and the French Institute, the researches of the latter in abstract science then flourishing under the patronage of the Republic. The nation, said Bache, was making such rapid progress in material improvements owing to applied science that it was impossible for either the legislative or executive departments of our Govern- ment to avoid incidentally, if not directly, being involved in the decision of such questions.... [T] here are few applications of science which do not bear on the interests of commerce and navigation, naval or military concerns, the customs, roads, the light-houses, the public lands, post-offices, and post- roads, either directly or remotely. To assist in those decisions he envisioned an institution of science, supplementary to existing ones . . . to guide public action in reference to scientific matters. . . an institute of which the members belong in 63 Henry to Bache, May 27, ~848; Henry to Francis Markoe, August ~6, ~848 Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives).
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42 / Scientists and Scientific Organizations in Mid-Century America turn to each of our widely scattered States, working at their places of residence, and reporting their results; meeting only at particular times, and for special purposes; engaged in researches self-directed or desired by the body, called for by Congress or by the Executive, who furnish the means for the inquiries.... Such a body would supply a place not occupied by existing institutions, and which our own ~AAAS] iS, from its temporary and voluntary character, not able to supply.64 The great size of this nation made such "a central organization" and "permanent consulting body" necessary, to give advice to the gov- ernment, not only in new undertakings but also with respect to existing ones, and to advise on doubtful points. Without an authority, these decisions would not be made, or be left to influence, or to imperfect knowledge. Only an organization of counsellors preemi- nent in science would be competent to deal with such matters as standards of weights and measures and their regulation, the fixing of proper scales of the barometer and thermometer, and the determina- tion of the prime meridian. It would advise also on explorations that should be made on land and water, on systems of extended meteorological observations, on charts of navigation and nautical almanacs, and on plans for geological and geographical surveys. Moreover, said Bache, the time was approaching when matters involv- ing standards would be ripe for general settlement throughout the world, and only the recommendations of an authoritative national body similar to those abroad could lead to general and uniform adoption for world use.65 The speech was an extraordinary blueprint for a new National Institute writ large, to utilize, as an immediate source, the member- ship of the American Association and of its committees that were rendering service to federal agencies. The examples abroad and past experience here clearly demonstrated that the best and, perhaps, only hope for the advancement of science resided in the government, through its support of a permanent scientific council. Such recogni- tion would give character to true men of science, enable them to develop standards of high competency, and not least, put down the pretenders and charlatans in science who all too frequently had the ear of legislative and judicial bodies. 64 "Address of Professor A. D. Bache," AAAS, Proceedings 6:xlviii, 1-ii ( ~852). wind., pp. lvii-lviii.
Representative terms from entire chapter: