Cover Image

Not for Sale



View/Hide Left Panel
Click for next page ( 80


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright Β© National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 79
4 The Government C~zIls upon the Academy ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (~863—iS67) The method by which the Academy intended to carry out its stated purpose, to investigate and report on any subject of science or art when so requested by any department of the government, had been devised by Bache. In his first report to Congress he described how he had arrived at it: It was obvious that the only effective and prompt mode of action by members scattered over the United States, as were the fifty named in the charter, must be through committees. Action must originate with committees and be perfected by discussion in the general meetings of the academy or in the classes or sections—decisions to be finally pronounced by the entire body. . . . LI]n important cases, where consultation and discussion must be had, there will be little difficulty in effecting meetings, while in most cases corre- spondence amply suffices for the settlement of the questions involved, and to bring out the results in the form of a report with suggestions. NAS, Annual Reportior 1863, p. 2. 79

OCR for page 79
80 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (1863—1867) Alexander Dallas Bache, Presi- dent of the Academy, ~863- ~867 (From the archives of the Academy). Early Problems and Activities A formal letter from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, received shortly after the organization meeting had adjourned, April ~4, ~863, asked the Academy to report on the feasibility of achieving "uniformity of weights, measures, and coins, considered in relation to domestic and international commerce." Was there some way of com- bining the convenient decimal system of coinage with the largely arbitrary and irrational weights and measures of this country so as to establish a uniform system and uniform nomenclature of weights, measures, and coins? On May 4, Bache appointed Joseph Henry chairman of a commit- tee of eight, with the metrologist John H. Alexander, Fairman Rogers, Wolcott Gibbs, Arnold Guyot, Benjamin Silliman, Jr., William Chauvenet, and John Torrey as members. At its subsequent meetings the committee made plans for an extended survey of the weights and measures of the principal commercial countries of the world, ex- pressed itself strongly in favor of adopting the French metric system, unanimously agreed that an attempt be made to arrive at an interna-

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 {3 ~ tional or universal system of weights and measures that all nations might accept, and requested more time for its studies.2 The question of uniformity of weights and measures had first been raised in Colonial America, and later by Presidents and Secretaries of the Treasury of the young Republic, but without resolution. After almost three years, Henry's committee had found no universal system more practicable or possible than the metric system; and on ~an- uary 27, ~866, it recommended to the Secretary of the Treasury the introduction and use of that system in this country, the preparation and distribution to the custom houses and the states of metric stan- dards of weights and measures, and authorization of its use in the Post Office Department. On July 28, Congress enacted the first of the legislation that authorized, but did not make mandatory, all three recommendations of the committee. On a subject influenced as much by emotion as by mechanical science as committee member John H. Alexander observed not even the tireless efforts of the National Bureau of Standards in the years after its establishment in egos were to achieve more than the Academy had.3 Nine other requests were made by federal agencies that first yearn On May 8, ~863, the Navy Department, through Adm. Charles H. Davis as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, asked the Academy to investigate protection for the bottoms of iron ships from injury by salt water. Wolcott Gibbs's committee, appointed the next day, reported to the Academy seven months later that a metallic coating or alloy was commonly used to prevent or arrest corrosion of the metal, and that poisonous substances in paint or varnish were used to destroy ac- cumulations of plants or animals on ship bottoms. It pointed out that no reliable systematic experiments had ever been made to determine more effective materials or methods. The Smithsonian was willing to provide a laboratory to make such experiments and tests if the Navy Department or Congress defrayed the necessary expenses. The com- mittee was discharged early the next year.5 2 Ibid., pp 3-4, i~-~2 ~ NAS, Annual Reportfor 1866, pp. 3-4; J. H. Alexander, Report on the Standards of Weight and Measure for the State of Matyland, and on the Construction of the Yard-Measures (Baltimore: John D. Toy, printer, ~845), p. 2. 4 A resume' of the organization and resolutions of these Academy committees appears in the Annual of the National Acaclemy of Sciences for 1863-1864, pp. 34-4~, with their deliberations and correspondence; in Frederick True, A History of the First Half-Century ofthe NationalAcademy of Sciences, 1863-1913 (Washington: ~ 9~3), pp. 20~ 95.; and in the Academy register, "National Academy of Sciences, Committee Papers, ~863-'64." 5 NAs,AnnualReportfor 1863, pp. 4-5, 2 ~-23. See also Nathan Reingold, "Science in the (Continued, p. 84)

OCR for page 79
82 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (~863—~867) < : < it, I: ~ ~ :: (: .=Ct : /~ ::: . . ~ ~? Off_' ~~ ~ ~% :~ i. : :: : :~:: :: :~ a~ , ~ ~ it, stem; i: ~4~\ _; : ~ ~ ~~ ~ . - _ ~ : ~ ~ ~ :~: ,_ ~ ~ ~ ~ : ::~:: '"I ~:~:~ ~ ~~ :~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~: ~ ~ ~ a, ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ : : : : ~:~: :~ - f: ~ :: ::: ~~ ~ ~~ ~~,,,~: ,`~ i: ~ ~ : ' i: i I: i: ~~: :~ :: ::::: ~~ :t~::~:~:~:~:~ I: :~ ~~ ~~I~:~ :~— ~ :: l..:~: ~~ :::::~::~C . ~ i, ' ~~ :~: ~ of: ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ I,` ~: ~~ ~~'~:~ct;£~:~ ~~£(~C~ : : : : : i:::: : :: :: :::: : :: :: : ~ :~ : / ' : ~ : :~ ~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ :~ ~ ~ ~~, :, :~ A,,,— ~ ~ ~ : ~~ ,~ i: all' i- ~# ~_- : ::: ~ ~~—- ::J: ~ ~~ ~~ :~ ~~ ~4~ ~ ::`— it_ :: ~ :~ ~ : :: ~ : : : ad, , ~ , I:: :~ . i: lo:: _ :: :: , ~ : ::: : : :~:::~ ~~ :~ ~~:<,~?~ ~~G_~,~ ~ :, a: ~ :~: i :: :-: :: :: : : : : in: : : :: : :: ::::::: :: : ~ :: ::: : ::::: ::: :::::: ::: :: :::: ::::: : : :~ :: :: ::::: :::: :£r :: ~ i: : :: ~ ~:::~: ::: :::: :::::~: :: ~ : ::: — : :::: :~ lo:: :: 45~ :~ ~~ :~ ~~:::~ ::~ ::::: ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ f ~ :: ~~: ~ ~_:: ~ :~:~:~A~ :,: ~_: MA ~ J ~ ~ { : ~ ~ ~ :~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~—Mar ~_, I:_ : :::: :: :::: : :~ ::: : : ::: : : I_ : :: :: ~ Off : ~ if: :: ~ ~ lo: : : ^,r i: : :: : : : :: ~~ <~ art: ,,-:. e: at.— a : : :: :: ~ : ::: ~ :~ '%^ :: ::: ::: :~:: ~ ~ : ~ : : :~- :~ ~ _ ~ I_; ~ :~ .. : ~ ' 0 / ~~ —~~ ~ :, : : :: : : :: . : ~ i:: ~ : i: ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ : : : ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~~ : : ~~ ' :: :: : , ~ i: ~ : : : ~~"~ 0~:~ , ~rct_e ~.~ The first request for an Academy committee came in this letter from Secretary of the Treasury Chase, asking for a report on the feasibility of achieving "uniformity of weights, measures, and coins...." (From the archives of the Academy).

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 83 I ~~ ' ~ it) At; I' MEL_ ~ ~~ ~ ~-~ : : :: , - hit- ,,~e ~k .6~W he? .: ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Be: ~ ~ I K ~ ~ ~ ~,! Cal ~ . ~ cap_ at- ~ ~~ -A ~~ ~ - ~ °~ ~g~ :: ~ ~ ~ ,,7 ~ .~ ~ ~ ^~c~ ~~ . . C - 'a,__ Go ~' TIC : , ~ :: ~ ~ Hi. ~ I- ~~ ~$ ~ ~ ~ : ~~ ~ /-::~’ :~,: WI-~ i: : i: ’' 8~ ~N :, :: ~~:~:~::~ ~:~:~::~ f — Amp: ~ W::~ ~ ~ - : : : ~ ~ :v '7 : : lo: : ~ : ~7 ~ i: ~~'

OCR for page 79
84 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (1863—1867) Another request was made that same day, May 8, through Davis as a member of the Permanent Commission. He asked for an investigation of magnetic deviations in iron ships and means for better correction of their compasses. Bache chaired the committee, appointed on May so, and made his report, with seven subreports, on January 7, 1864. A member of Davis's Bureau of Navigation, working with the commit- tee, suggested taking out one of the two binnacles in the pilot houses of the vessels, and this ended some of the interference. The deviation of compasses in iron-clad ships, and in wooden vessels as well, was further corrected when the degree of local attraction from adjacent engines, boilers, iron riming. and other metal items was accurately determined.6 ~~ a, The next request came on May As, from Bache as Superintendent of the Office of Weights and Measures in the Coast Survey. He asked for an evaluation of Joseph Saxton's new alcoholometer; and then, as President of the Academy, appointed {ohn Frazer to direct the project. Saxton's meter, which he freely offered to the government, proved to be simpler, more portable, and less liable to breakage than the standard Tralles instrument used by the Treasury in the assess- ment of revenues; and the Academy recommended its adoption.7 The Academy's report on Matthew Fontaine Maury's two publica- tions, Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions, was less favorable. Asked by the Navy in May ~ 863 for recommendations regarding their proposed discontinuation, the Academy reported that they "embrace much which is unsound in philosophy, and little that is practically useful," and recommended that they be discontinued in their current form. Although the report was fundamentally sound, the fervor of the committee's public condemnation of the volumes as "a most wanton waste of valuable paper" and the committee's refusal to concede that the "little" that was practically useful was nonetheless extraordinarily useful, revealed the depth of determination within the new Academy to nourish the nascent professionalism of American science.8 Civil War: The Permanent Commission of the Navy Department," Isis 49:312-313 (1958) 6 NAS, Annual Report for 1863, pp. 5-6, 23-96. 7 Ibid., pp. 6, 96-97 8 Ibid., pp. 98-112; True, A History of the First Half-Century of the National Academy of ~ - ~czences, pp. 219-225. The committee's recommendation in its draft report is even more severe: "much which is unsound in philosophy and devoid of scientific value, and little that is practically useful" (NAS Archives: NAS: Committee on Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions: 1864).

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 85 Maury, appointed Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments in the Bureau of Navigation in ~84~, had won interna- tional acclaim as the "Pathfinder of the Seas" with the publication of his Wind and Current Charts between ~847 and ~860. Based on a systematic compilation of data in naval and merchant ship logbooks, the Charts provided navigators with the first rational basis for comput- ing routes on an ocean whose winds and currents varied significantly with the seasons. Using Maury's Charts, mariners effected dramatic reductions in sailing times, and as a result saved millions of dollars a year. Between ~850 and ~858 Maury also published eight editions of Sailing Directions to accompany the Charts. The Sailing Directions con- tained several charts suggesting optimum routes between major ports computed from the data in the Wind and Current Charts. In addition, the Sailing Directions included almost nine hundred pages dealing with Maury's theories on subjects ranging from the laws of atmospheric circulation and rainfall to the effects of marine organisms on ocean currents. Much of the theoretical material had appeared originally in a popu- lar book that Maury produced in ~855, The Physical Geography of the Sea, which went through six editions in its first four years and was translated into six languages. Although it is still considered a mile- stone in the marine sciences, its amateurish approach to science, reckless generalizations, and careless contradictions have drawn nega- tive evaluations from scientists both here and abroad.9 With the outbreak of the Civil War in ~86~, Maury had resigned from the Depot to return to his native Virginia. Two years later, Academy incorporator Adm. Charles H. Davis, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, initiated the request that the new Academy evaluate the opinion of "hydrographers and scientific men" that Maury's "charts and sailing directions published . . . at the expense of the government, are . . . prolix and faulty, both in matter and arrange- ment, to such an extent as to render the limited amount of original information which they actually contain costly and inaccessible." In response, Bache appointed F. A. P. Barnard chairman of a com- mittee of twelve to prepare a report. Adopted by the Academy in January ~864, the committee's report more than fulfilled the Lazza- 9 NAS, Annual Report for 1863, pp. 98, ~ on- ~ ~ I; Frances L. Williams, Matthew Fontaine Maury: Scientist of the Sea (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, ~963), pp. ~78-~95, 693-698; Susan Schlee, The Edge of an Unfamiliar World: A History of Oceanography (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., ~973), pp. 38-40, 58-63.

OCR for page 79
86 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (~863—~867) roni's often-expressed hope that the Academy would serve as a watchdog against those they considered the "charlatans" of science.~° The committee found that "the original design of the work was simple, and was of a nature purely practical. In its prosecution, however, EMaury seemed] to have been tempted to extend his labors into higher and more varied fields . . . such as marine zoology . . . the form of the ocean's bed, the specific gravity of sea water in different latitudes, ocean climatology, and the like...." Referring explicitly to the wide circulation of Maury's works, which had given them "a kind of adventitious repute . . . as partaking as much of the nature of scientific inventions as of practical aids to navigation," the committee went on to denigrate nearly every aspect of the publications "in their present form." Maury's "fanciful" scientific pronouncements were unacceptable and contradictory. Further, the committee considered the more prac- tical sections of the works poorly organized and unnecessarily de- tailed. The publication of an "appalling mass of tabulated statistics," for example, was a waste of the government's money. The practical navigator had no use for them; he was interested only in the conclu- sions. ~ ~ Not mentioned in the committee's report or in any of the pertinent official correspondence was the Lazzaroni's bitterness toward Maury. The "savants," as he called them, resented his neglect of the as- tronomical potential of the Depot, his attempted jurisdictional in- roads on the programs of the Coast Survey and the Smithsonian, and, perhaps above all, the enormous success and scientific authority enjoyed by one "without scientific education or experience, and with small scientific pretensions." Thus the committee declined even to assent to the universally acclaimed value of Maury's practical work: "It is claimed for the routes . . . that they have served very greatly to shorten passages 'a True, A History of the First Half-Centur7 of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 2 ~ 2-2 23; Henry to Bache, August 9, ~838, in Nathan Reingold, Science in Nineteenth-Centu7y America: A Documentary Histoty (New York: Hill & Wang, ~964), pp. 8~-88. NAS,Annual Reportfor 1863, pp. 98-99, 102, coy, ~12. 12 M. F. Maury to W. Blackford, ~847, in Maury MSS, Letter Books, vol. 3 (Library of Congress, MS Division), quoted in Schlee, p. 36; Benjamin A. Gould, "Memoir of James Melville Gilliss," in NAS, Biographical Memoirs 1:155; Reingold, Science in Nineteenth- Century America, pp. ~45-~46; A. Hunter Dupree, Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, ~ 957), pp. ~ of- ~ o7, ~ 36, ~ 84; Lillian B. Miller et al., The Lazzaroni: Science and Scientists in Mid-Nineteenth Century America (Washington: Smithsonian Institu- tion Press, ~ 97 2 ), pp. 97- ~ o3.

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 87 between distant ports on almost every sea. Whether these claims are well or ill founded is not a question for this committee to settle." After pointing out that improvements in naval architecture had greatly shortened sailing times, the committee did acknowledge that it was "very possible that a happier choice of route may have contributed to the same end." If so, the valuable results "presumed" to have been attained should be placed within the reach of every navigator. Admiral Davis, on receiving the committee's report, discontinued further publication of both the Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions. When publication was resumed two decades later, it was in a greatly simplified form, Pilot Charts, as had been recommended in the committee's report.~3 On August ~7, ~863, the Secretary of the Treasury sought the Academy's advice on plans for preventing the counterfeiting of the new greenbacks, first issued the year before and since authorized in the hundreds of millions. The report of John Torrey's committee, ready on January 7, was not, as customary, read to the Academy, but presented confidentially to the Secretary of the Treasury.~4 In ~865 the committee became known openly as the Committee on Prevention of Counterfeiting; however, its reports, all confidential, continued to be submitted directly to the Secretary of the Treasury. Early in ~864, the Surgeon General, whose purview included re- sponsibility for the purity of whiskey, asked for a report on the tests used for that purpose. The committee, appointed on January ~4 under Silliman, Jr., was the first to seek and obtain an appropriation, in the amount of $3,500, for its investigation, only to find the funds unnecessary. As its report a year later explained, "in the present condition of chemical science," no tests were possible for determining the age of whiskey or other spiritous liquors as a condition of purity, and common adulterations were readily detectable.~5 ~3 NAS, Annual Report for 1863, pp. ~o7-~o8; 1884, pp. 58, 6~; Williams, Matthew Fontaine Maury, p. ~95. i. NAS, Annual Report for 1863, p. 7; 1864, p. 3. George C. Schaeffer, of the Bureau of Navigation, on this committee at the request of the Treasury, was the third non-Academy member to be appointed under Article II, Section 4, of the Academy Constitution: "It shall be competent for the President, in special cases, to call in the aid, upon committees, of experts, or men of remarkable attainments, not members of the Academy" See Secretary of the Treasury to Bache, August 3~, ~863, in "National Academy of Sciences, Committee Papers, ~863-'64." The first expert had been Samuel B. Ruggles, a New York lawyer, historian, and public servant, on the Committee on Weights and Measures. The second was William P. Trowbridge, Assistant Superintendent of the Coast Survey, then with the Corps of Engineers, on the Committee on Magnetic Deviation. t5 NAS, Annual Report for 1864, p p. ~ -2, 5.

OCR for page 79
88 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (~863—~867) On February ~9, ~864, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles asked that three Academy members (Fairmar~ Rogers, F. A. P. Barnard, and Joseph Saxton were named) join three members of the Navy Depart- ment and three from the Franklin Institute to constitute a commission to oversee experiments on the expansion of steam and submit a final report to the Academy for its judgment. At issue was the widely held belief that the expansion of highly compressed steam in engine cylinders would provide sufficient pres- sure to permit an overall reduction in the amount of steam required, thus reducing fuel costs. The Navy's request to the Academy grew out of a feud between proponents of designs incorporating this principle and Benjamin F. Isherwood, Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Steam Engineering. Isherwood, a pioneer in naval engineering research, had found through meticulous experimentation that, although the principle of steam expansion was correct, numerous practical difficul- ties, such as the loss of heat through cylinder stalls and condensation of the steam, would more than offset its theoretical advantages. Experiments under the commission's direction continued for many years but, owing to a curtailment of appropriations were never concluded. is At the end of March ~864, the Secretary of the Treasury again asked the Academy for another report, this time on the suitability of aluminum bronze and similar materials that had been suggested for the manufacture of cent pieces. At the request of the Secretary, Bache was appointed to a committee under John Torrey, which was set up on April ~ I. John Saxton, a member of the committee, at once began preparing a number of bars of copper-aluminum in varying propor- tions, sending them to the assayer of the Mint with instructions as to the experiments he was to make. But that summer a German journal published results of a study by G Moreau on the same alloys, so fully answering the questions that only the brief report of the assayer was necessary to complete the investigation.~7 Another committee that first year, on which Frazer, Fairman Rogers, and Rutherfurd served, was appointed on May 2 at the oral request of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, to report on the boiler explosion that had occurred two weeks before on the U.S. gunboat 16 True,A History of the First Half-Century of the NationalAcademy of Sciences, pp. 226-227; Edward W. Sloan Ill, Benjamin Franklin Isherwood: Naval Engineer (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, ~966), pp. 79-9~, ~39-~40; NAS, Annual Report for 1864, pp. 2, 5-7; Thomas Coulson, The Franklin Institute from 1824 to 1949 (Philadelphia: Igloo, p. ~4. 17 NAS, Annual Report for 1864, pp. 2, 7-9; G. Moreau, "Uber die Eigenschafter der Aluminiumbronze," Polytechnisches f ournal 171 :434-442 ( ~ 864).

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 89 Chenango in New York harbor. In the "very elaborate report" (as the Annual Report noted), presented to the Academy for transmittal on August 5, the committee made clear it did not think much of the design of the boilers on the Chenango but agreed that the failure to brace the boilers according to specifications had clearly been the primary cause of the explosion. If few of the Academy investigations that first year were truly scientific or exercised to any degree the special competence of the members it was because the problems reflected the uncertain rela- tionship between science and the federal government. In ~863 the Coast Survey, the agricultural elements in the Patent Office, elements of the Corps of Engineers, and the Naval Observatory were the only scientific departments in the federal structure. The Smithsonian had set up a useful weather-reporting agency and carried on other serv- iceable wartime tasks, and the Permanent Commission was handling possibly the only real scientific problem, that of sifting from the ideas of an inventive citizenry those of potential immediate use. It was not until the Academy was asked to study the organization of the geologi- cal surveys in ~878 that it was called upon for an evaluation within its . . specla. . province. The first annual meeting of the Academy (as distinguished from the organization meeting of the incorporators in April ~863), January 4-~2, ~864, was held in rooms of the Capitol made available by the President of the Senate, with two yeomen of the Coast Survey attend- ing the assembled members. Nineteen answered the roll call the first day and nine more arrived on the second and third days.~9 Most of the other members were kept away by their wartime duties, the distance to Washington, or their academic obligations. The opening session began with a brief visit from Senator Wilson and ended that afternoon with two invitations. One was from Secre- tary of the Treasury Chase to a reception for the Academy members NAS, Annual Report for 1864, pp. 3, lo- ~4. Bache might well have added himself to the committee in view of his monumental work as head of a Committee on Explosions of Steam Boilers appointed by the Franklin Institute two decades before. See Bruce Sinclair, Philadelph?a's Philosopher Mechanics: A History of the Franklin Institute: 1824-1865 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, ~ 974), pp ~ 7°- ~ 94 is "Minutes of the Academy," January ~ 864, pp. 24-54. At the opening session were Agassiz, Bache, both Barnards, Caswell, Chauvenet, Davis, Gilliss, B. A. Gould, Henry, Hilgard, Mahan, Newton, Peirce, I. Rodgers, F. Rogers, Rutherfurd, Saxton, and Totten. Attending for the first time the next day were John Alexander, A. A. Gould, LeConte, and Winlock, and on Wednesday, Hall, Humphreys, Silliman, Jr., Strong, and Torrey.

OCR for page 79
go / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (~863—~867) the next evening; and the other was for a second reception two evenings later at the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward. The members spent much of the first three days with little debate, making minor changes in or approving as printed the Constitution and Bylaws of the Academy that had been under revision since April.20 The assembly heard the first reports from the committees appointed the year before. The one on Maury's charts produced three days of discussion before it was approved. At the scientific session, Agassiz and Benjamin Peirce read long papers on "individual- ity among animals" and "on the elements of mathematical theory of quality." After greeting the twenty-two members assembled on Friday, ~anu- ary 8, Bache opened the meeting with the announcement of President Lincoln's invitation to a reception at the White House at 1:00 P.M. that day, brought by his adjutant, Col. John M. Hay.2i No record of that reception has been found, but other evidence suggests that the President had already met and formed a liking for Henry. The Smithsonian towers were being used by the Army for visual-signaling tests, and Lincoln, who often visited the building for these tryouts, had become friendly with Henry. "He has shown a comprehensive grasp of every subject on which he has conversed with me," Henry told Lucius E. Chittenden, the Register of the Treasury, in ~86z, while the President said of him, "I had the impression the Smithsonian was printing a great amount of useless information. Professor Henry has convinced me of my error. It must be a grand school if it produces such thinkers as he is.... I wish we had a few thousand more such men."22 The morning continued in accordance with the order of business prescribed in the Bylaws, ending near noon when Bache called on Benjamin Gould to prepare a biographical memoir of Joseph Hub- bard, Professor of Mathematics and leading astronomer at the Naval Observatory the first Academy member to die. Hubbard was only in his fortieth year, and his untimely death on August ~6, ~863, was attributed to the "miasmal" site on which the Observatory was located. On the sixth day of the meeting, after formal adoption of the 20 The Constitution and Bylaws adopted in January ~864 appear in NAS, Annual Report for 1863, pp. ~ ~ 3-~ ~ 8, and here as Appendix C. 2~ All twenty-two members, the largest day's assemblage, attended the President's reception. Davis, A. A. Gould, Mahan, Peirce, J. Rodgers, and Totten, at earlier meetings, were absent that day. 22 Quoted in Geoffrey T. Hellman, The Smithsonian, Octopus on the Mall (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., ~967), p. 83.

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 91 revised Constitution and Bylaws, the members proposed and elected the first foreign associates to the Academy, ten in number. Among them were Michael Faraday; the Irish mathematician Sir William Hamilton; and Sir David Brewster, physicist and correspondent with Henry for many years. From Germany were chosen Robert Bunsen, chemist and inventor; Friedrich W. A. Argelander, astronomer; and Karl Ernst von Baer, biologist. Three French scientists were honored: Michel Chasles, mathematician; lean B. Elie de Beaumont, geologist; and the entomologist Henri Milne-Edwards. The Italian astronomer Giovanni Plana was also elected. The next to the last day of the meeting had been declared an open date, and Gen. John Barnard took the members on a tour of the fortifications around Washington under his command. On the final day, Bache read to the Academy in assembly again the draft of the first annual report of the Academy, addressed to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House. Then, with the reading of scientific papers by Bache, Henry, Rutherfurd, both Barnards, and two read on behalf of the absent Stephen Alexander, the Academy adjourned. Benjamin Silliman, Jr., who had returned to New Haven several days before, wrote Bache of his pleasure in the sessions: The Washington meeting appears to me as a complete success .I enjoyed it exceedingly and such I found to be the feelings of all with whom I conversed. . . . As far as we have gone things are in an admirable train it remains for us to render ourselves indispensable to Govt. & to show them there is such a thing as disinterested expert advice and a pure scientific tribunal who will judge matters on their merits. The thing is I think hardly yet dawned upon the Secy. of State and is not firmly rooted any where in Official Soil. But it will become so if we do our duty ably & impartially on the subjects now before us.23 Henry too was pleased, but characteristically cautious. As he wrote in his private journal that week, the meeting had gone off very smoothly and more harmony prevailed than was expected.... The Academy, if well conducted, will produce important results in the way of advancing American science and also, in serving the government, but the fear is, that it will be governed by clerks and that unworthy members will exert an evil influence.24 23Silliman, Jr., to Bache, January lo, 1864 (NAS Archives: "National Academy of Sciences, Committee Papers, 1863-'64," Committee on Iron Ship Bottoms). 24 Joseph Henry's Locked Book, January 16, 1864, pp. 68-69. The Locked Book (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives) is a collection of over one hundred pages of extracts from a diary and copies of correspondence apparently made by his daughter Mary after his death. The originals presumably no longer exist. (Continued overieaf)

OCR for page 79
go / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE `~863—~867' The laziness and Death of Bache Henry was worried about Bache, who alone had the quality of leader- ship necessary to hold the membership together, and whose sick headaches, to which he had long been subject, had recently increased in severity, possibly as a result of pressure arising from his labors for the Permanent Commission and his many other offices and affairs. That spring, just four months after the Academy meeting and shortly before his fifty-eighth birthday, Bache fell seriously ill. His strenuous efforts had become, as Henry said, "too much for his physical endurance,j' and he was ordered to bed. His friends filled in for him whenever possible. Hilgard acted for Bache at the Coast Survey, and Henry took over supervision of the Permanent Commission, signing Bache's name to the reports, and by frequent visits or letters reassur- ing him and Mrs. Bache that all the institutions in which he was interested the Coast Survey, Lighthouse Board, the Smithsonian, the Commission, and the Academ~were prospering.25 To distract her fretting husband as he seemed to mend, Mrs. Bache considered taking him on an overland journey to California that summer, but was persuaded by Henry it was impossible "on account of the Indians" and because no military troops were going out as escort. Later in the year she took her husband to Paris.26 The trip offered distraction but no cure, and Bache remained an invalid for the next two years. The meeting of the Academy in New Haven that August, with Vice-President James D. Dana in the chair and twenty-one members present, provided the occasion for Henry to honor a promise he had made Bache after the organizational meeting the year before. Despite his misgivings about its manner of founding, he had written Bache, The quoted lines, in slightly different form, appear also in "Henryana," p. 2~6, a 2gs-page looseleaf volume of brief extracts from Henry's journals, Locked Book, notebooks, and correspondence, also presumably compiled by Mary Henry, and in the Joseph Henry Papers. 25 Henry to Bache, September 9, ~864 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). In a letter to Mrs. Bache on July ~6, Henry had told her that the reports of the Permanent Commission then totaled 228, all by members of the Academy ("Hen- ryana," p. 2~9). Besides countless queries briefly answered, formal reports, the last dated September ~865, totaled almost 300. Because of Henry's presence at the Smithsonian, and the location of the Permanent Commission there, government agencies developed the habit, deplored by Henry, of calling on the Smithsonian instead of the Academy. 26 Henry to Bache, July ~6, ~864; Henry to Mrs. Bache, July 30, ~864; Henry to Mrs. Bache, August 3~, ~864 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives).

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the academy I 93 I will however do anything in my power to advance the reputation and influence of the National Academy. I am sure with proper management it is capable of much good....27 All went well at the meeting until the third day, when nominations were made for three new members to fill the places of Joseph Hubbard and the two who had refused membership, Dahlgren and Boyden. One of the six names proposed was that of Spencer F. Baird, Henry's Assistant Secretary at the Smithsonian museum since Also and an indefatigable worker. Baird was, however, a descriptive rather than a research scientist, a point that some who opposed his nomina- tion held against him. Agassiz, as much for this reason as for Baird's competition with him for government specimens for their museum collections, insisted on his removal from the list.28 Agassiz felt secure in his privileged place in American science and certain of his influence in the Academy, and was therefore dismayed when, at Henry's intercession and with the support of Agassiz's col- leagues, Dana and Gray, Baird was elected on the third ballot. So heated had been the discussion that the next day A. A. Gould, Henry, Peirce, Gibbs, and Gray, hearing the Secretary read his notes, joined in a protest "against too elaborate minutes going on the records of the Academy"; and on Peirce's recommendation a motion was made and adopted to exclude all debates from the "Minutes."29 The angry Agassiz was only slightly mollified by the election of his fellow Swiss, the paleobotanist Leo Lesquereux, and John C. Dalton, physiologist at New York's College of Physicians and Surgeons. After the meeting Agassiz reproached Henry for his part in the "insult" to him, to which Henry, in a long and warm letter of good counsel, replied that he had sided with the majority of the naturalists who, fearing "that the few who organized the academy intend to govern it," would have resigned had Agassiz prevailed.50 Reporting the episode to Bache, Henry said he had urged Agassiz not to try 27 Henry to Bache, August At, ~863 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). ,28 Henry to Bache, August ~5, ~864 Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives); original notes for "Minutes" of August 5 (NAS Archives: Meetings: ~864); Edward Lurie, Louis Afgassiz: A Life in Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ~ 960), p 34 ~ 29 "Minutes of the Academy," August ~864, p. 67. 50 Henry to Agassiz, August ~3, ~864, in A. Hunter Dupree, "The Founding of the National Academy of Sciences A Reinterpretation," American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 101 :439 (October ~ 957).

OCR for page 79
94 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (1863 - 1867) single-handedly to elevate the standard of American science lest it endanger the Academy. As he told Bache: Drs. Torrey, Guyot, Alexander `>f Princeton, and many tither members of the Academy are true men, on whom you may always depend to do what is just and proper but they have said that they would rather leave the Academy, than be continually subjected to the annoyances off disputes as to the policy and government of the establishment. And he appealed to Bache to get well soon, for the Academy stood in need of his judicious direction. As the time for the Washington meeting in January ~ 865 ap- proached, Dana, pleading "imperfect health," could not bring himself to preside over the assembly; and in his absence Benjamin Peirce was elected President pro tem. Seven months later, at the August ~865 meeting, admitting to an abhorrence of"the labor and fatigue" of administrative duties, Dana submitted his resignation as Vice- President; and at the same meeting a colleague of Agassiz at Cam- bridge, Jeffries Wyman, long resentful of Agassiz's authoritarian ways, resigned his membership.32 Both meetings in ~865 had been otherwise uneventful, filled each day with administrative matters, minor revisions of the Constitution and Bylaws, committee reports, and expression of concern about the sparse attendance, which on occasion fell as low as eight and did not rise above twenty-two. The January meeting had been "slimly at- tended . . . because of the hard times," Henry wrote in his journal, and confessed to Bache that he had "looked forward to it with some anxiety.... considerably solicitous as to the course Prof. Agassiz was about to pursue in regard to the institution," but all had been harmonious and pleasant. Though in many ways he is impulsive and may in certain cases be some- what imprudent, yet his connection with this institution will result in good. He is a man of rare genius and is capable of giving us hints and suggestions of much value in the management of the establishment. ,~ Henry to Bache, September 9, ~864 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 52"Minutes of the Academy," August ~865, pp. ~os-~o6; Daniel C. Gilman, Life of fames Dwight Dana, Scientific Explorer, Mineralogist, Geologist, Zoologist, Professor in Yale University (New York: Harper & Brothers, ~899), pp. 329, 362-363; True, A History of the First Half-Cent1lry of the National Academy of Sciences, p. So and note. 55 Henry, Locked Book extract from journal, January At, ~865; Henry to Bache, January ~7, ~865 Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives).

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 95 In an effort to obtain greater attendance at the scientific meetings open to the public, the Academy began inviting distinguished as well as promising fellow scientists, many of whom later became academi- cians.34 A newspaper reporter described the liveliness of one of those sessions- -and the incomprehensibility of the papers he heard: The excitability of the scientific gentlemen, and their peculiar manners, do not seem to impress the unlearned spectators favorably. They discourse about subjects which its auditors little understand, in a manner which sounds to them like some of Munchausen's travels.35 The meetings did become more spirited, and as attendance rose, LeConte proposed that the Council of the Academy consider electing corresponding members to each of the sections to participate in all open sessions. Discussions of this proposal at the next meeting led Josiah Whitney to recommend successfully the appointment of a committee to consider enlarging the number of Academy members.36 Although it would be well, said the majority report of LeConte, Lesley, and Rutherfurd, "to avail ourselves of the labor and influence of many students of science who will otherwise not be in sympathy with the Academy," it appeared inexpedient to ask Congress to amend the charter, "as it would be entirely uncertain that Legislation would stop with the alteration desired by the Academy." Instead, they recommended that the increase be effected under that section of the charter authorizing "domestic members," who would not be con- sidered corporate or "ordinary members." A minority report by committee chairman Wolcott Gibbs and Hilgard demurred, consider- 54 For a listing of members' attendance at meetings during the Academy's first three years, see NAS Archives: Meetings: Attendance: ~863-~866. 55 New York Evening Post, August 30, ~ 865 (NAS Archives: Meetings: ~ 865). Academy members, too, had occasional difficulties at the meetings, as when "Benja- min Peirce, after writing, correcting and erasing equations on a blackboard for an hour, remarked that he was sorry that the only member who could understand them was in South America." He referred to B. A. Gould, who went to Argentina in ~870 to organize a government observatory and remained for fifteen years observing and photographing the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere [dames McKeen Cattell, "The Organization of Scientific Men," Scientific Monthly 14:574 (rune ~922)]. 56 "Minutes of the Academy," January ~865, p. 86; August ~865, p. ~ ~6. As Henry wrote to Bache on January ~7: "A proposition was made to admit at the next meeting a number of new associates among whom will probably be included some of those who have considered themselves wronged in not being named among the original fifty members. I think the proposition will increase the stability and efficiency of the establishment" ("Henry-Bache Correspondence, ~834-~867," Smithsonian In- stitution Archives). The roster of the fifty "associates" invited to open sessions appears in "Minutes of the Academy," August ~866, pp. ~54-~57; January ~867, pp. 2~8-223.

OCR for page 79
96 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (1863 - 1867) ing it inadvisable at that time to increase the membership. Tabled the next year, too, was a proposal to ask Congress simply to change the words of the charter from "not more than fifty members" to "not less than fifty members."37 And there the matter rested. Without presiding officers, owing to the protracted illness of Bache and the precarious health of Dana that had led to his resignation, Home Secretary Wolcott Gibbs opened the meeting in January ~866; and then, upon Joseph Henry's election as the new Vice-President, turned over the chair, "with the understanding," Henry insisted, "that he would be permitted to retire as soon as the President should be able to resume his duties, or his place could be filled by another." "I only accepted the Vice Presidency of the Academy temporarily," Henry wrote to his wife from Boston that August, "because there was no one except myself on whom the whole Academy at the time could agree." Since March, Bache had been "past hope.... We cannot wish his final departure be long delayed." There would probably be an election at the next meeting, on which "the future of the Academy will principally depend." Agassiz had already said he did not want the office, and Peirce declared he wouldn't accept it. Henry had therefore "suggested Dr. Barnard and probably either he or Rutherford will be the man."39 Henry's further concern at that time was Bache's Coast Survey, the most vigorous scientific agency in the government. In May ~865, hearing that the Survey was already under sedge from office seekers, Henry recommended Peirce to the Secretary of the Treasury, and "since the future scientific character of the work twould] depend upon his election," he urged Pearce not to decline the appointment lest it be "filled, perhaps, by a politician, as in the case of the Patent Office, the Mint, etc."40 On February ~4, ~867, Henry wrote Peirce that Bache's death was near and again asked him to accept if offered the appointment. On the twenty-third, he wrote in his journal that unless Peirce accepted, "there will be a violent struggle for the place."4t 37 '`Minutesof the Academy,"]anuary Mob, pp. ~47-~50; August ~866, p. ~56; August ~867, pp. 2~6-~7; correspondence in NAS Archives: Committee on Increasing Mem- bership of Academy, ~865-~866. 58 NAS, Annual Report for 1866, p. I. 39 Letter, August ~4, ~866, in Papers, "Harriet Henry, ~825-~878" (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives). 40 Henry to Wolcott Gibbs, May 30, ~865 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institu- tion Archives). 4t Extract from Locked Book. Henry reported Peirce's acceptance in a letter to Gray on March 8, ~867 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives).

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 97 No requests had been received by the Academy during the last year of the war, but committees labored that year and the next completing the last of the earlier investigations asked for, and in ~866 it received six new requests from the Treasury, War, and State Departments, several of them~n counterfeiting the new paper money, on gauging domestic distilled spirits, and on the provision of metric standards to the states~xtensions of earlier work.42 One of particular interest was the request of Secretary of State William H. Seward in July ~ 866 on behalf of the Minister of Nicaragua. It asked for a study of means to improve the navigability of the San Juan River and its port, in the hope that it might become the Atlantic terminus of an "interoceanic transit" across the country. If feasible, it would realize the dream of almost four centuries, a "Passage to India." The study had been proposed to the Nicaraguan Minister by Julius Hilgard, then Acting Superintendent of the Coast Survey, who with Gen. A. A. Humphreys of the Corps of Engineers, Adm. Charles H. Davis of the Naval Observatory, and Henry M. Mitchell of the Coast Survey as committee members, began an intensive study of a mass of maps and documents provided by the minister. The report that autumn found that the condition of the harbor and its continuous silting made the project virtually hopeless. A survey by a Navy ship sent there ire ~873 was to confirm the report. An isthmian canal would have to be constructed elsewhere in Central America.43 Although sufficiently occupied with these investigations and studies for the government, Bache's Academy, without Bache, continued to mark time. On February ~7, ~867, after three years of incapacitation, Alexan- der Dallas Bache ended his long labors for the advancement of American science. He was buried with impressive ceremony in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington. The meeting of the Academy in August ~867 convened with only ten members attending the first day: Agassiz, Caswell, Coffin, Gibbs, 42 True, A History of the First Half-Centu~y of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 239, 247, 33~ 4SNAS AnnualReportforl866, pp.-6. Despite the Academy and Navy reports, the Interoceanic Canal Commission of ~87~-~876, headed by Brig. Gen. A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers and Academy member, and the Isthmian Canal Committee of ~8gg-~go~, committed the United States to the Nicaraguan isthmus as the only practicable route, and only the French interest in Panama changed American policy. For the Academy committee that visited the troubled Panama Canal in ~9~6, see Chapter 8, pp. 204-206.

OCR for page 79
98 / ALEXANDER DALLAS BACHE (1863—1867) Henry, Hilgard, Newton, John Rodgers, a recently elected member, Columbia University physicist Ogden N. Rood, and W. D. Whitney. The following day they were joined by J. G. Barnard, Dana, Hall, Fairman Rogers, Peirce, Saxton, and Torrey. During the sessions Vice-President Henry made the formal an- nouncement of the deaths of Bache and of the Maryland metrologist John H. Alexander, and then informed the assembly of Bache's bequest of his estate to the Academy. Bache's original will, made in March ~86e, had left the estate, upon the death of his wife Nancy, to the administration of a "board of direction" comprising Henry, Agassiz, and Peirce. The income of the $40,000 estate was to be devoted to "the prosecution of researches in physical and natural science by assisting experimentalists and ob- servers," and administered by his designated representatives of physics, natural history, and mathematics and their successors, any two of whom in agreement might determine the subjects and sums for research. Four months after the founding of the Academy in ~863, Bache had revised his will, leaving his estate vested in the Academy, which he believed to be his most enduring achievement. The will named the Academy trustee of the estate, which was to be administered by the same board consisting of Henry, Agassiz, and Peirce.44 Bache's intentions were clear. When the incorporators of the Academy were selected, Bache had sought working scientists in the armed services and in federal agencies who would both strengthen science and elevate its role in the government. But he knew that unless the Academy could itself promote worthy research by actively supporting it, the wider influence and effectiveness of the institution would be jeopardized. His bequest and his choice of administrators declared his aims and his hopes for the future of the Academy. In the afternoon of the first day, proceeding with the principal order of business, the selection of a new President, each of the members present submitted names for the office. The tally showed Henry with 9 votes, Peirce 9, Agassiz 6, Chauvenet 6, Dana 5, F. A. P. Barnard 3, Rutherfurd 2, new member Gen. M. C. Meigs of 44 "Extract from the will ... March ~ 8, ~ 862.... Codicil, July ~ 5, ~ 863," NAS, Annual Reportfor1867, pp. to-do. In ~87~, a year after Mrs. Bache's death, the executors turned over to the Academy the sum of $40,s~s.o7, yielding an annual income of approximately $2,500 (initially, $2,423 in gold and $~62 in paper). See "Minutes of the Academy," August ~87~, pp. 348-35~; April ~873, p. 407; True, A History of the First Half-Century of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 33-34.

OCR for page 79
The Government Calls upon the Academy 1 99 the Corps of Engineers a, Gibbs a, and B. A. Gould and Rood ~ each. At once, the "Minutes" noted, "Mr. Henry positively declined the nomination," as did Agassiz a moment later. The next day Henry reiterated his refusal and resigned as Vice-President as well, in order to permit elections to both of the high offices. When the sessions ended, it had been agreed to delay further balloting until the January ~868 meeting.45 Over the next several months Peirce became the leading candidate for the presidency, and Henry reported "considerable unpleasant feeling among our friends in Cambridge." Any tension within the Academy was relieved at the meeting in January ~868, however. With a single vote for Agassiz, that of Joseph Henry, Henry was unani- mously elected to the presidency, and William Chauvenet to the vice-presidency.46 45 "Minutes of the Academy," August ~867, pp. 2 lo- ~ I, 224-225. 46 Henry to Barnard, October 9, ~867 (Joseph Henry Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives); "Minutes of the Academy," January ~868, p. 24~. Mary Henry wrote in her diary: "Jan. 23d Thurs. a rainy day.... While [Prof. Agassiz] was here, Dr. Gould came in & told us Father had been elected President of the Academy. The election was unanimous, only one vote for you, Prof. A., said Dr. Gould. Yes, said Prof. A., I had only one vote wh. probably came from the Prof. as he would not vote for himself. Father has come home tired. He has accepted the Presidency as the vote was so unanimous" ["Diary of Mary Henry, ~ 864- ~ 868," (Smithsonian Institu- tion Archives)].