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The Acade~ny7s An/;ecedents The European Academies and the Royal Society The founding in ~863 of the National Academy of Sciences repre- sented a momentous event in the history of science in the United States. It fulfilled a need felt by patriotic men of science since the early years of the Republic for "an institution by which the scientific strength of the country may be brought, from time to time, to the aid of the government, in guiding action by the knowledge of scientific principles and experiments." Yet it received little recognition at the time. Five men, possibly six, are said to have presided over the genesis of the Academy; few others among the fifty individuals named as incorporators were even aware that its founding was imminent. The antecedents of the new organization in American science were the national academies in Great Britain and on the Continent, whose membership included the principal men of science of the realm. ' Report of the National Academy of Sciences for the Year 1863 (Washington: Government Printing Office, ~864), p. I. 1
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2 I The Academy's Antecedents These men saw science as the handmaiden of the state and the organization of scientists in honorific bodies as a stimulus to their achievements. The chartering of academies under the auspices of a sovereign lent the prestige and elements of support arid permanence the scientists sought, and in return they made their scientific talents and counsel available to the state. These were also the motivations of the founders of the National Academy of Sciences. Its establishment in the midst of a great civil war was fortuitous, perhaps, and its early existence precarious; and in this it mirrored the state of science at that time. Nevertheless, it shared with the scientific societies and academies abroad their heritage from the seventeenth century the century of genius that had called forth Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Christian Huygens, Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke, Benedict de Spinoza, and Wilhelm von Leibniz;2 the century that witnessed the development of the telescope, microscope, and pendulum, the thermometer, barometer, and air pump, as well as calculus and the calculating machine. The institutions from which the National Academy of Sciences derives constitute distinguished antecedents. Distant forebears in- clude the early seventeenth century academies formed in Italy: the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome and the Accademia del Cimento in Florence, both of which came under the influence of Galileo.3 Most famous and longest-lived of the Academy's ancestors is Eng- land's Royal Society, which received its charter from Charles II in ~ 662. The Society had its origins among a small group of scholars who were interested in the new natural philosophy. They met informally, first in London, then in Oxford, and were the "Invisible College" referred to by Robert Boyle, who wrote: "the corner-stones of the Invisible, or . . . the Philosophical College, do now and then honour me with their company...."4 The King's Charter of Incorporation decreed that the Society's 2 The limitation of seventeenth-century men of genius to the number of twelve is that of Alfred N. Whitehead in his Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan Co., ~925), P 57 ~ Martha Ornstein, The Role of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century' ad ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ~938), pp. 74 95.; Essays of Natural Experiments [of the Accademia del Cimento], tr. Richard Waller, ~ 684, with an introduction by A. Rupert Hall (New York and London: Johnson Reprint Corp., ~964), p. ix; Stillman Drake, "The Accademia dei ~ incei," Science 151: 119~1200 (March ~ I, ~966). Louis Trenchard More, The Life and Works of the Honorable Robert Boyle (New York: Oxford University Press, ~944), p. 62.
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The Academy's Antecedents 1 3 studies were "to be applied to further promoting by the authority of experiments the science of natural things and of useful arts, to the glory of God the Creator, and the advantage of the human race."5 The men of science in the Society, including Robert Boyle, Sir Kenelm Digby, Sir William Petty, John Wallis, John Wilkins, Dr. Jonathan Goddard, Sir Christopher Wren, and Robert Hooke, com- prised much less than half the ~ ~ 9 Original Fellows. The rest were the amateurs of science, noblemen, men of letters, doctors of divinity, merchants, and businessmen, whose duties and donations were neces- sary in the absence of royal largesse. That indefatigable diarist and one-time Secretary of the Royal Society (~67~), John Evelyn, makes innumerable references to the Society in his famous Kalendar~um, including his own election on August 20, ~66~: "I was this day admitted, & then Sworne one of the present Council of the Royal Society, being nominated in his Majesties Original Graunt, to be of this first Council, for the regulation of Ethel Society, & making of such Laws & statutes as were conducible to its establishment & progresse: for which we now set a part every Wednes- day morning, 'till they were all finished."6 A second royal antecedent was the Academie Royale des Sciences, established in Paris in ~666, enjoying both the patronage and the financial support of Louis XIV. The French Academy also had had its origins in a small group, formed about two decades earlier, which included Pierre Gassendi, Rene Descartes, and Blaise Pascal and his father, Etienne.7 In Germany, it was Wilhelm von Leibniz who led the effort for an academy. He had spent four years, ~6~2-~676, ir1 Paris with full opportunity to observe the work of the Academie, and he had also visited London, in ~6~3, where he met with the scholars of the Royal Society. Finally, in ~700 Leibniz obtained a charter from Frederick I of Prussia for the establishment in Berlin of the Societas Regia Scientiarum (later, the Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften). Fi- nancial support derived from a calendar monopoly conferred by the s Sir Henry Lyons, The Royal Society 1660-1940: A H:st`~ nf [ic Ad.m.inict7.n~inn q`~n3D~r Its Charters (Cambridge: The University Press, ~944), p. 329. 6 E. S. De Beer (ed.), The Diary of fohn Evelyn (London: Oxford University Press, ~ 959), ., ~ ~ _ v. - - vv. ~vvV#v we v~ P. 443 7 Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in Seventeenth Century France, 1620-1680 (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Co., ~934), pp. 3 ~-32, ~ ~8-~ ~9; Ornstein, The Role of Scientific Societies, pp. 121, ~39 95., ~55; Pierre Flourens, "Historical Sketch of the Academy of Sciences in Paris," in Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1862, pp. 337-357; Lyons, The Royal Society, pp. 68-69.
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4 I The Academy's Antecedents monarch. The Akademie was modeled on the French and English societies, but on a vastly larger scale; and so detailed was Leibniz's planning that more than ten years passed before the eighty fellows who had been appointed held their first meetings Leibniz is considered the spiritual father of other academies on the Continent, including those at St. Petersburg (~725), Gottingen (~75~), Munich (~759), and Stockholm (~7861. The new science that was to transform the modern world arose out of the search for a method of investigation that would produce true and useful knowledge about man and his world. It had been going on for a century when Francis Bacon set down his method for the pursuit of scientific truth by observation and experimentation and declared that pursuit inseparable from the improvement of the human condi- tion. In the New Atlantis he dramatized the age to come, an age of scientific cooperation, under the auspices of the state, wherein ap- pointed fellows called Merchants of Light harvested the fruits of learning from all parts of the world, from which others of their academy drew, as the end of their foundation, "the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible."9 The academies and the learned societies were the centers for the new science rather than the universities, because the latter were still largely locked into the medieval concept of the seven liberal arts: the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). The universities were there to prepare men for the professions, theology, medicine, and law, not for experimentation in laboratories that had as its only objective the search for new knowledge.~° Scientiae, which traditionally included all branches of academic learning, Bacon restricted to the sciences of nature, principally natu- ral philosophy and natural history, with mathematics their hand- maiden. By the time of the Royal Society, natural philosophy com- prised physics, chemistry, and astronomy; natural history comprised botany, zoology, geology, anatomy, and materia medica. The words "science" and "technology" appeared about the time the British Association for the Advancement of Science was organized in ~83~. 8 Ludwig Keller, Gottiried Wilhelm Leibniz and die deutschen .sozietatem de.s 17. jahrhundert. (Berlin, ~ 903), p. 2, quoted in Ornstein, p. ~ 78; see also pp. ~ 84, ~ 89- ~ 92, ~ 94. 9 Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., '963), p. ~69. 'a Ornstein, The Role of Scientific Societies, p p. 24 ~ -246.
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The Academy's Antecedents 1 5 "Scientist" and "physicist" were deliberate inventions of a decade r.l1 When science crossed the Atlantic it was taken by members of the Royal Society and academicians from the Continent, who went to see the prodigious natural wonders that had been described by the voyagers to and settlers of the New World. As a consequence, the fundamental and pervasive ideas in American science, as in education and in political and social philosophy, were for almost two centuries derivatively Baconian in inspiration. It is not without significance that the printing houses of Boston and Philadelphia in the first half of that century found a public for seven editions of the works of Bacon. Apart from the visits of European naturalists, the colonies' princi- pal link with the tradition of science abroad was the Royal Society. Among the colonial Fellows were John Winthrop the Younger, chemist, Governor of the Connecticut colony, and "Chief Corre- spondent of the Royal Society in the West," and William Byrd II, of Virginia, elected to the Society in ~696. In the next century almost fifty of the American colonists were elected Fellows, most of them living in or closely connected with the growing intellectual centers of Boston and Philadelphia and in the South. 12 By then the energies of the merchants, manufacturers, planters, artisans, craftsmen, and mechanics had brought a measure of wealth and, more important, of leisure, enabling many of them to join the professional men the ministers, educators, lawyers, and physicians in the pursuit of science. The American Philosophical Society On the assumption that "the first Drudgery of Settling new Colonies · twas now ~ pretty well over," a joint plan issued from Benjamin ~~ William Whewell, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences Founded upon Their History (Lon- don: J. W. Parker, ~840), vol I, p. cxiii. i2 Frederick E. Brasch, "The Royal Society of London and its Influence upon Scientific Thought in the American Colonies, Scientific Monthly 33:336-355, 448-469 (~93~); Brasch, "The Newtonian Epoch in the American Colonies (~680-~783)," American Antiquarian Society Proceedirgs 49:31~332 (~939); Margaret Denny, "The Royal Society and American Scholars," Scientific Monthly 65:415~27 (~947); Raymond P. Stearns, "Colonial Fellows of the Royal Society of London, ~66~-~788," Osiris 8:72-12 1 (~948); Stearns, Science in the British Colonies of America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, ~970); cf. Edward Eggleston, The Transit of Civilization from England to America in the Seventeenth Century (New York: D. Appleton & Co. ~ go ~ ).
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6 / The Academy's Antecedents Franklin's press in ~ 743 as "A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowl- edge among the British Plantations in America," by the formation of a "Society . . . of Virtuosi fir ingenious Men residing in the several Col- onies, to be called The American Philosophical Society win`' are t`' main- tain a constant Cc~rresp`'ndence." Seven members in Philadelphia were to undertake the c`'rresp`'ndence with the colonies t`' the north and south, as well as with the academies across the Atlantic' in their respective fields off medicine, botany, mathematics, chemistry, mechanics, geography, and general natural phil`'s`~phy, recording "all philosophical Experiments that let Light into' the Nature of things, tend t`' increase the P`'wer off Man `'ver Matter, and multiply the Convenience fir Pleasures off Life." With Franklin as Secretary, Thomas Bond the correspondent with physicians, and John Bartram the correspondent with botanists, members were sought thr`'ugh`~ut the colonies and the first papers solicited for the publication of a proposed miscellany. Then the early enthusiasm of the virtuosi declined. Without adequate encourage- ment and support of friends of science Furlong the merchants and landed gentry, the Society languished, and Franklin turned to new interests. In ~767-~768, however, the American Philosophical Society was revived around the self-taught astronomer David Rittenhouse. At the time, Franklin was not only abroad but had recently been elected president of a rival group, "The American Society Held at Philadel- phia for Promoting and Propagating Useful Knowledge."~4 In ~769 the American Philosophical Society doubled its member- ship to more than two hundred and fifty resident and corresponding fellows by absorbing the whole of the "American Society," including Franklin, who was to be its President to the end of his life. Well weighted this time with the political leaders of the province and with prominent merchants, after the manner of the Royal Society, it gained further support through a series of grants from the Pennsyl- vania assembly for its observations of the transit of Venus. "Franklin's Society," as it was known abroad, proceeded to take in outstanding men of science from the other colonies and to elect t, Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735-1789 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, ~956), pp. 68-72. A facsimile of the title page of the plan has prefaced the American Philosophical Society Yearbook since ~946. ~4 Another brief rival was the American Academy of Sciences, proposed in ~ 765 by Ezra Stiles with John Winthrop as President. See Hindle, The Pursuit of Science, pp. ~ 20- ~ ~ I, and "Draft of a Constitution . . . ," August ~5, ~765. in Ezra Stiles Papers, Yale University.
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The Academy's Antecedents / 7 foreign members, particularly from the Academic des Sciences. In ~ 77 ~ it published the first volume of its Transactions, at once acclaimed abroad for its observations of the transit of Venus and extolled as an "earnest of the great progress the arts and sciences will one day make in this New World."~5 Except for the period ~77~778, when Philadelphia was occupied by British troops, the Society functioned uninterruptedly. As the new nation began to face the prospect of independence, the need for greater organization and activity in natural philosophy and in the mechanic arts engaged the thoughts of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. At the Continental Congress that met in Philadelphia in ~774, Adams rec- ommended that each colony establish its own society for the encour- agement of the useful arts and sciences. While Adams was in France in ~778, the praise he heard of the Philosophical Society and its Transactions spurred him on his return the next year to urge a similar society in his native Boston. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences There in ~80, seventeen months before the surrender of Gen. Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, the Massachusetts legislature passed the act incorporating the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The preface to its first volume of Memoirs, published in ~ 785, drew attention to the unique character of the new society. Inspired by the auguries of liberty and independence and avowedly modeled on the Academy in Paris, it had been founded, as the merchant James Bowdoin in his opening address as President of the Academy de- clared, to promote and encourage the knowledge of the antiquities of America, and of the natural history of the country; and to determine the uses to which its various natural productions may be applied; to promote and encourage medical discoveries; mathematical disquisitions; philosophical enquiries and experiments; improvements in agriculture, arts, manufactures and com- merce; and, in fine, to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest. . . of a free, independent, and virtuous people.'7 }5 Quoted from Gentleman's Magazine 41:417 (London, ~77~), in Hindle, The Pursuit of Science, p. ~44. ]6 Hindle, The Pursuit of Science, p. ~63. ]7 Preface and Bowdoin's "Philosophical Discourse" on November 8, ~780, in American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memoirs I :iv-vii, 3 ( ~ 785).
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3 I The Academy's Antecedents With its officers drawn largely from the Harvard faculty, sixty members including Samuel and John Adams and John Hancock were named in the charter and its luster further enhanced by the election of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison to membership. Jean d'Alembert and Georges de Buffon of the French Academy and Joseph Priestley of the Royal Society were among the first foreign members, and Franklin, then living in France, became an active corresponding member. Substantive matter in that first volume of the Memoirs consisted largely of astronomical and magnetic observations serving navigation and geography and numerous accounts of medical and meteorologi- cal curiosities. But pride of place went to Bowdoin's papers on optics and the nature of light, to the observations of the solar eclipse of ~80, and, of lasting fame, the account of the phenomenon later know as gaily's Beads. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia The physicians of eighteenth century America were also impelled to create their own learned societies, influenced by their famous pro- totypes in Europe: the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh (flog); the Royal College of Physicians of London (~5~81; and the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh ~ ~ 68 ~ ). Early records indicate a series of such societies in the colonies (and states), the first of which appears to have been called simply Medical Society in Boston, founded in ~ 735. Others included A Weekly Society of Gentlemen in New York (~749), the New Jersey Medical Society (~766), the Massachusetts Medical Society (~78~), and the Medico and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland (~7991.~9 One of the most famous of the early medical societies, and one that endures to the present day, is the College of Physicians of Philadel- phia, established in ~787. Its founding members were: John Redman, John Jones, William Shippen, jr., Benjamin Rush, Samuel Duffield, James Hutchinson, Abraham Chovet, John Morgan, Adam Kuhn, Gerandus Clarkson, Thomas Parke, George Glentworth, and thirteen junior fellows. The College's first home was in one of the early ]8 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memoirs 1:93 (~785). 19 lames Tyson, M.D., "Address of the President," Transactions and Studies of College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 3d Series 31 :368 (agog); Ralph S. Bates, Scientific Societies in the United States, ad ea., (New York: Columbia University Press, ~958), pp. ~6-~9.
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The Academy's Antecedents I g buildings of the Academy of Philadelphia, the future University of Pennsylvania, at Fourth and Arch Streets. The College was also housed for a number of years in the historic building now occupied by the American Philosophical Society. Its objectives, as set forth in its constitution, reflect an interesting awareness of health problems indigenous to this country: To advance the science of medicine, and thereby lessen human misery by investigating the diseases and remedies that are peculiar to our country, by observing the effects of different seasons, climates and situations upon the human body, by recording the changes that are produced in diseases by the progress of agriculture, arts, population, and manners, by searching for medicines in our woods, waters, and the bowels of the Earth....20 Like learned societies in other fields, the College of Physicians aspired to the publication of its Transactions, which in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was an important means of com- municating technical information, "because it was . . . almost the only way by which professional essays could be presented to the public. Now, periodicals, issued weekly, monthly, quarterly, are open to competent writers on every imaginable subject of special or general interest to society." The first part of Volume I of Transactions ~ Studies of the College of Physic~ans of Philadelphia was published in July ~793. Among other things it contained a discourse on the objects of the institution, read before the College by Dr. Benjamin Rush, February 6, ~787. A pamphlet entitled Proceedings of the College of Physicians of Philadel- ph~a relative to the prevention of the introduction and spreading of contagious diseases was published in ~798. Another, Facts and Observations relative to the nature and origin of the pestilentialfever which prevailed in this city in 1793, 1797, and 1798. By the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, was issued in 800.2 In the following century, S. Weir Mitchell, who was President of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia from ~886 to ~889 and from ~892 to ~895, was active in the affairs of the National Academy of Sciences and was also Joseph Henry's personal physician. 20 Francis C. Wood, M.D., "The College of Physicians of Philadelphia," Medical Affairs (University of Pennsylvania, June ~967), p. 4; "~80th Anniversary Reception: Presi- dent's Address," Transactions ~ Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 4th Series 35:134 (April ~ 968). 2] W. S. W. Ruschenberger, M.D., Art Account of the Institution and Progress of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia During a Hundred Years, From January 1787 (Philadelphia: Wm. J. Dornan, Printer, ~887), p. 160.
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lo I The Academy's Antecedents Concern for a National University In ~ 800, the capital of the nation was moved to Washington, abandon- ing Philadelphia, the cultural center and most populous city of the nation, for the swampy, pest-laden banks of the Potomac. The new site would presumably provide a more central seat of government. To the new capital also came the issue of federal responsibility for promoting institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.22 The greatest concern centered on the establishment under the patronage of Congress of a national university that would afford, as Benjamin Rush said, advanced instruction in government and history, the practical arts and sciences, and "everything else connected with the advancement of republican knowledge and principles."23 The founding of such an institution, sought by Washington as far back as ~ 775, proposed by James Madison and Charles Pinckney at the Constitutional Convention of ~787, urged in Jefferson's annual mes- sage to Congress In ~806, elaborated by poet-statesmen Joel Barlow in his plan for a national institution that same year, and revived peri- odically over the next three decades, failed repeatedly because the states resisted the idea of granting so specific a power to the central government. All that was achieved in the field of science at the Convention of ~787 was to grant Congress authority to establish a mint, fix the standards of weights and measures, and "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writ- ings and Discoveries; . . ." Those who aspired to a closer conjunction of science with the central government fastened on that phrase of the Constitution, "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," but they con- fronted a Congress hesitant to implement even the elementary re- sponsibilities for science implied in that phraseology. The mint was set up with little delay under David Rittenhouse. Three years later Congress, at the urging of George Washington, passed the first patent act. Not until ~80e did it appoint a Superintendent of Patents (in the State Department); and a Patent Office was finally established in 836. Since it was responsible for the national defense, Congress in 1794 22 Constance Green, Washington: Village and Capital, 1800-1878 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, ~96~), pp. 7, 8, ~6 95., 68-69. AS David Madsen, The National University: Enduring Dream of the United States of America (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, ~966), p. ~6.
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The Academy's Antecedents l 1 1 set up a "Corps of Artillerists and Engineers" at West Point; but subsequently fire destroyed the building housing the Corps. In 1802 Jefferson directed its restoration as the U.S. Military Academy for the training of the Corps of Engineers ire civil and military engineering. Jefferson, not Congress, initiated the scientific explorations and sur- veys that led eventually to the establishment of the Geological Survey in ~8~9. On the recommendation of the American Philosophical Society, Jefferson created the Coast Survey in ~ 80' with the assistance of the skilled, irascible Swiss geodesist, Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, who served as Superintendent of the Survey during the years ~8~6- ~ 8 ~ 8 and ~ 83~- ~ 843. Establishment of even a minuscule Office of Weights and Measures, in Hassler's Coast Survey, did not occur until 1836 . In ~8~5, John Quincy Adams, the last in the succession of patrician presidents with strong inclinations toward science, declared in his first annual message to Congress that it had a constitutional obligation to create a national university and called for a national observatory, a naval academy corresponding to West Point, and a new executive department to plan and supervise scientific activities in the govern- ment.24 The violent reaction of the Congress placed in jeopardy during Adams's term even the few scientific offices it had activated. The intellectual and scientific center that Washington and Jefferson had envisioned in the nation's capital did not begin to emerge until after the founding of the Smithsonian Institution almost a quarter of a century later.25 The Columbian Institute An early attempt to create a learned society in Washington was the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of the Arts and Sciences, which had begun life in the spring of ~6 as the Metropolitan Society. Its founders were two of Barlow's friends, Josiah Meigs, former Yale Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, then in charge of the General Land Office, and Thomas Law, a London man of wealth and a leader of the intellectual life in the capital. When, two weeks after its first meeting, some ninety residents of the city 24 Samuel F. Bemis, John Quincy Adams am the Union (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ~956), pp. 65 ff. 25 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. 39-4~.
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~ 2 I The Academy's Antecedents expressed interest in joining the society, a committee headed by Edward Cutbush, a naval surgeon stationed ir1 Washington, Meigs, John Quincy Adams, and the architect and engineer Benjamin Latrobe drafted a constitution and gave the society its new name. Besides its principal aim, to organize the scientific talent in Wash- ington and put it at the disposal of the government, the Columbian Institute planned as long-term enterprises the propagation of plants "medicinal, esculent, or for the promotion of arts and manufactur- ers," and the preparation of a great topographical and statistical his- tory of the nation, describing its land features, navigable streams, varieties of climate, incidence of disease, agricultural products, min- eral waters, and such other "topographical remarks as may aid valetudinarians."26 With a membership in which congressmen and officers of the various federal agencies and departments were prominent, the Co- lumbian Institute obtained from Congress a charter of incorporation in ~8~8 and moved from Blodget's Hotel to City Hall and then in ~8~4 to the Capitol. Two years after incorporation, seeking national status, the Institute organized its activities into five classes (mathe- matical sciences, physical sciences, moral and political sciences, gen- eral literature, and fine arts), petitioned for federal funds to prepare a national pharmacopoeia, and sought authority to undertake the determination of the meridian of Washington, establish a national astronomical observatory, and fix upon a system of weights and measures.27 Congress balked at supporting such activities, and though it pro- vided 5 of the zoo acres asked for on the Mall near the Capitol for a botanic garden and museum, it granted no funds for the construction or upkeep of buildings. Yet for a time, under its successive presidents Cutbush, Meigs, Adams, and John C. Calhoun the Co- lumbian Institute flourished, numbering at its height So resident, ~~z corresponding, and 7 honorary members. Among its resident members were Andrew Johnson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Richard Rush, and Joel R. Poinsett; and among its correspondents, Nathaniel Bowditch of Boston, the Harvard historian Jared Sparks, lexicographer Noah Webster, Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (then liv- 26 Richard Rathbun, The Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences: A Washington Society of 1816-1838, which Established a Museum and Botanic Garden under Government Patronage, in U.S. Nati<,nal Museum Bulletin 101 (Washingt<,n: ~9~7), PP ~ 3, 67 27 Rathbun, The Columbian Institute, pp. A), ~ A, 6~-6~,, 7 i, 73.
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The Academy's Antecedents I ~ 3 ing in New York State), Benjamin Silliman of Yale, and Peter S. DuPonceau, President of the American Philosophical Society. Georges Cuvier and the Marquis de Lafayette were foreign members.28 It was a goodly company, but the Institute continued as it began, "an organization of gentlemen, who were for the most part occupied in laborious official or professional duties."29 Without enough force- ful men of science to stimulate and advance the Institute, interest in it declined rapidly, especially after its leading spirit, Dr. Cutbush, left the city in ~8~6. Eighty-five communications, over half of them on astronomy and mathematics, gathered dust as plans for their publica- tion came to nothing. In ~837, after a single meeting early that year, the Columbian Institute expired. The National Institute One member of the Columbian Institute unwilling to see it die was Joel R. Poinsett, who felt that the inferiority of American to European science was owing to the want of a stronger and more active center of science than the Institute. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Poin- sett served as a legislator and diplomat and in ~837 became President Martin Van Buren's Secretary of War. He had earlier studied medicine at Edinburgh, where he acquired a lifelong interest in natural science. He brought from Mexico, where he had been first U.S. Minister, the flower that bears his name. The Smithson bequest (described hereinafter) suggested to Poinsett a strong possibility that it might well be settled on an established organization of scientific activity in Washington. In May ~840, with encouraging prospects, Poinsett and some eight of his friends in the government service formed the National Institution (later Institute) for the Promotion of Science, in full expectation of administering the bequest.~° The cabinet members, congressmen, federal scientists, and promi- nent citizens who had been in the Columbian Institute were invited to join, and they brought with them its records and its museum of 28 John W. Oliver, "America's First Attempt to Unite the Forces of Science and Govern- ment," Scientific Monthly 53 :253-257 ( ~ 94 ~ ). 29 Rathbun, The Columbian Institute, p. 6. 5° For that expectation, see Bulletin of the Proceedings of the National Institution . . . ( ~ 84 ~ ), pp. Id, fig, 47 (NAS Archives: INST Assoc.: Nat'1 Institution for Promotion of Science: Proceedings: ~ 840: ~ 84 ~ ).
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4 / The Academy's Antecedents minerals and zoological, botanic, and fossil specimens. Within a year the new Institute had more than ninety members and had secured the introduction of bills in the Senate to put the Smithson bequest under its management. With the hope that in the interim "the Government might extend its patronizing hand," the Institute sought and obtained its incorporation in ~84~.3' The patronage extended no further. Congress had been willing to grant a charter, but it withheld the funds that the Institute so desperately needed to sustain itself. As one historian has pointed out, "With firm backing by either leading politicians or scientists, the Institute should have been able to attain Congressional support; its aggressive handling of affairs, however, was shifting some politicians from neutral to hostile positions.... While not openly hostile, many politicians were simply apathetic toward science and the aspiring organization designed to promote it. Others were intent on securing the Smithson bequest for different projects...."32 Although the membership off the National Institute grew to 232, and included moire than a thousand corresponding members, it never rose above the level of a national museum. Domination of Institute affairs by politicians and amateurs led to the alienation of serious men of science and ultimately to its demise. It blazed briefly in April ~ 844, when it sponsored the first national scientific congress in this country, but its failure to enlist the participation of the Association of Ameri- can Geologists and Naturalists signaled the end of the Institute. In ~842 the Institute had issued a circular announcing plans for the congress and inviting, among others, the American Philosophical Society and the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists to attend. However, members of the Association, who had already planned an annual meeting of their own in Washington in April ~ 844, interpreted the proposal as an attempt "to upstage the Association or to absorb it completely," and they proceeded instead with plans for their own meeting, ultimately held in May ~844. Although the initial response to the Institute's circulars had been favorable, by late ~84e skepticism among scientists was increasing: ~ G. B. Goode, "The Genesis of the United States National Museum," in A Memorial of George Brown Goode (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum, Annual Reportfor ]897, Part II, Washington, egos), pp. boy, ~9 (hereafter cited as Goode, Memorial). 2 Sally Kohlstedt, "A Step Toward Scientific Self-Identity in the United States: The Failure of the National Institute, ~ 844," Isis 62 :346 ( ~ 97 ~ ). frigid., p. 353
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The ~4cademy's Antecedents 1 15 Mirrored in the private correspondence relating to the topic of the Institute from ~84e through early ~844 were several fears: the United States was not yet ready for such an extensive scientific organization; the Smithson bequest must give much-needed funding for the promotion rather than the diffusion of knowledge; government support must in no way imply governmental control over scientific projects; and scientific organization must be evolved in re- sponse to and on a pattern of need for scientific intercourse, not placed into a bureaucratic superstructure. Overriding these concerns was scientific re- sentment of the assumption of leadership by demi-savants and politicians.54 Despite this disaffection, the leaders of the Institute worked dili- gently to make the congress a spectacular event in the public eye. President John Tyler made the opening address, and Alexander Dallas Bache of the Coast Survey led off the forty-two papers with remarks "On the condition of science in the United States and Europe," regrettably never published. But the real purpose of the gathering was to present to the Congress a united appeal for funds for the National Institute, in particular, the Smithson bequest. It failed when Congress adjourned without taking any action.35 Although the Institute limped along until ~86z, it never regained its early momentum. Its political maneuverings had "only reinforced a conviction that aggressive politicians were not primarily concerned about advancing science.''56 The real source of its defeat, however, undoubtedly lay in the growing sense of professionalism on the part of serious scientists. Although not yet fully organized themselves, they saw in their own Association of American Geologists and Naturalists a forum for the presentation and discussion of scientific papers, unattended by the fanfare of politicians and flamboyant press coverage. They perceived quite clearly how easily science might become the tool of ambitious politicians, and they showed their apprehension by boycotting, for the most part, the ~844 meeting of the National Institute with its osten- tatious display of political support. s. Ibid., pp. 352-353 S5 G. B. Goode, "The First National Scientific Congress (Washington, April ~844), and its Connection ~ ith the Organization of the American Association," Memorial, pp. 46' 477; Goode. "The Genesis of the United States National Museum," Memorial, PP 97-98. log. S6 Kohlstedt. p. 36
Representative terms from entire chapter: