The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear H.

I have just got settled in a very suny room in the St Charles Hotel[1] and before I go to bed I must devote a few moments to you. After due consultation it was concluded that it was best for me for the present to take lodgings at a Hotel rather ↑than↓ at ↑a↓ private house on account of the Persons I would be obliged to see until after the meeting of the board of Regents. The room I now occupy is much plasanter than the one I had at the other Hotel on my former visit.[2] I dined this afternoon at Mr. Bache's with Mr. Owen[3] and Mr Ingersol.[4] We had quite a pleasant[B] party and after dinner I remained with Bache until within a few mintes. I have very little news I have been so much engaged in lectioneering for the Smithsonian and with Mr. Owen in the preparation of his report to the Regents[5] that I have heard or seen but little. The Regents meet on Wednesday next when the important affair of the building will be descided. Such are the conditions of things that I fear it will be impossible for me to prevent a large expenditure in the way of a building. This must be the case unless the Smithsonian affair be returned to congress and there the fear of its friends is that instead of an amendment the whole matter will be thrown over board on account of the war.[6] The Regents are all, who are on the ground, in favour of my plans but they think themselves tied up relative to the building and hope that they will be able to get farther assistance from Congress since the act of this body obliges them to put up the building.
I have been so much occcupied that I have not had time before this evening to be home sick but I now feel that I would be much gratifed to have you and our little ones around me; not that your company would not have been a source of comfort and pleasure to me continually since we parted but I feel just now particularly in want of you.
I have been at Bache's continually since I came to Washington and have been treated by Mr and Mrs B with their usual hospitality and kindness. Also I have been treated by marked attention by almost every person with whom I have come into communication since I came to washington.
I am very anxious to hear from home it appears instead of five days since we parted[7] almost as many weeks— How did you get home and how did you find all the little ons and Poor Aunt Louisa.[8] Perhaps your letter has miscarried so that in your second you must recapitulate what you said in your first. The passage over the chesapeak has been stopped up with ice so that for several mails there has been no intelligence from the north an[d][C] to this I have attributed the long delay of y[our][C] letter. I have nothing new—you can lea[rn][C] more about Washington by looking at the papers than by residing in the city. I found to day in passing through the rotunda that the new picture of Vanderlin—the landing of Columbus had been put up in its pannel.[D] It is a very beautiful picture and leaves but one pannel of the rotunday unfilled.[9] It is I think one of the best of the group and with the exception of the landing of the pilgrims[10] the best. Among the many letters I have received lately is one from our old acquaintance Prof Jager dated Eatown[E] N.J. asking from me no less a favour than that of procuring for him the situation of a Foreign charge defair—the one to France on the whole he would prefer but if this cannot be had he will take the one to Belgium or some other place[11] very I am a man of much more consequence than I though of.[F]
Sunday evening 9 o'clock your letter of Friday[12] the first I have received has just come to hand. It has given me a melancholy pleasure. I am happy to learn that you had so pleasant a time in getting home—the faces of Mrs & Mr Green[13] must have given you pleasure indeed. Poor Louisa & Stephen how sad is their condition and yet their is much in their case to be thankful for. I am glad to learn that the children are all well. Tell Will that he must write to me and I will answer his letter.[14] Tell Mary that I would like to receive a communication from her new desk if for nothing else to see how well she can write from it. Let the letter contain a piece of paper with something on it from Helen and also from Puss.[15] I have attended Dr Smiths church[16] to day. I[G] went with Mr & Mrs Stansbury[17] who are my next door nabours their room and mine is only seperated by a partition. Mrs Stansbury is a very pleasant and apparently good woman and I sat in her room for some time after church to day. This letter will start early in the morning—I did not get it into the mail last night & hence it has remained until to night.
I shall go to bed very soon after taking this down to the letter bag but not until I have commended you and our dear little ones to the protection of that kind providence which has been so bountiful to us—which has caused us to rejoice while others have mourned. Adieu my dear little Wife and be assured that while life remains you & our dear little[H] ones will be the first & last objects of my affection.[I]
Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Located near the Capitol, this hotel was popular among members of the Senate and southern visitors. James Goode, Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings (Washington, 1979), pp. 164–165.
    [2] The National Hotel. Henry Papers, 3:134; 6:591.
    [3] Robert Dale Owen.
    [4] Most likely Joseph Reed Ingersoll, representative from Pennsylvania from 1841 to 1849, and a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. His brother, Charles Jared Ingersoll, was also a representative from Pennsylvania during the same period. Henry Papers, 6:19
[5] Owen's “Report of the Organization Committee of the Smithsonian Institution” was presented to the Board of Regents on January 25, 1847. This was a heavily revised version of the original report, presented to the regents on December 1, 1846, which, along with several resolutions introduced at the meeting of December 4, had been referred back to the committee of organization on December 21 (see Henry Papers, 6:557n–558n). While the revised report still appeared under Owen's name, it bore Henry's extensive input, similar in form to comments he had previously expressed in letters to Alexander Dallas Bache, Gideon Hawley, and James Henry Coffin, among others (for which see Henry Papers, 6:493–500, 610–615, and 623–624).
In contrast to the original, which dealt almost entirely with how the Smithsonian could diffuse knowledge, the revised report, reflecting Henry's strong convictions, made clear that the institution's mission was a dual one: ““For the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” were the words of Smithson's will—words used by a man accustomed to the strict nomenclature of exact science. They inform us, that a plan of organization, to carry into effect the intention of the testator, must embrace two objects; one, the calling forth of new knowledge by original research; and the other, the dissemination of knowledge already in existence.”The revised report struck much more of a balance between these two objects than did the original, fully describing how the Smithsonian should support research. Three resolutions embodied Henry's ideas for increasing and diffusing knowledge: premiums for publications and the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge; appropriations for original research; and periodic reports on the progress of knowledge in various branches. Two other resolutions appended to the report embraced elements from resolutions which had been introduced but not adopted on December 4; they called for popular lectures and the publication of tracts of general interest.
Adopted by the board on January 26, the revised report constituted the working plan of organization for the institution. (The regents adopted two additional resolutions at this meeting and another at the meeting of the twenty-eighth, relating to the “great compromise” between advocates of a large library and supporters of Henry's research-oriented programs; see below, Doc. 10.) It formed the basis for Henry's “Programme of Organization,” adopted in December 1847.
Report of the Organization Committee of the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 1847), reprinted in Rhees, Documents (1879), pp. 930–943 (quotation on pp. 930–931); Rhees, Journals, pp. 12–14, 19, 24–26.
[6] At the regents' meeting of December 5, 1846, Bache moved that Smithsonian chancellor George M. Dallas should appoint a committee of three members “to procure the introduction, if they deem it expedient, of a bill amendatory of the act establishing this institution” (Rhees, Journals, p. 15). The motion carried; Robert Dale Owen, William Jervis Hough (Henry Papers, 6:470), and George Evans (Henry Papers, 6:470) were named to this committee. (Hough was a representative from New York; Evans was a senator from Maine.) From Bache's (and Henry's) standpoint, the possibility that the act which had established the institution might be amended had much to recommend it. At the very least, Congress could specify a ceiling on the amount to be expended on a Smithsonian building or buildings. (On the provision for a building, see Henry Papers, 6:467–468.) Other possibilities presented themselves: Congress might relieve the Smithsonian of the burden of taking custody of the government's collections; it might agree to bear the cost of erecting the building, thereby reserving all of the accrued interest on the Smithson bequest for the actual operations of the institution; or it might replace the programs specified in the charter (a library, a museum, a chemical laboratory, an art gallery, and lectures), with measures closer to Henry's ideas for increasing knowledge.
On the other hand, recommitting the act was also fraught with risks. The bill had cleared the House of Representatives in April 1846 by a narrow margin (85 yeas, 76 nays), and a reservoir of distrust lingered against the institution. Among its most vociferous opponents was Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who attacked the “legal fiction” of a loan by the institution to the government at six percent interest. In fact, the federal government had invested the Smithsonian fund in state bonds on which the states had then defaulted and the government was spending the money out of its general revenues. Johnson saw this as egregious at a time when the nation was at war with Mexico. Indeed, on January 2, 1847, he had offered a resolution calling on the secretary of the treasury to report “as to the propriety of suspending” the act which established the Smithsonian “for the present, or during the existing war with the republic of Mexico, and thereby avoid borrowing, or taxing coffee and tea the sum of $242,129”; the resolution did not carry. Andrew Johnson, “Resolution on Appropriations for the Smithsonian Institution,” January 2, 1847, in The Papers of Andrew Johnson, ed. Leroy P. Graf and Ralph W. Hoskins (Knoxville, Tennessee, 1967), 1:349.
As members of Congress, Owen, Hough, and Evans were doubtless familiar with the hostile views of Johnson and others. Rather than try to have the original act itself amended, they drafted a bill which would have enabled the institution to purchase, for $35,000, the lot and unfinished building housing Washington's City Hall. Under this plan, the institution could either complete the building or tear it down and erect a new one (presumably with monies appropriated by Congress). Evans presented the bill to the Senate on February 15, 1847, and it was referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia. A week later, however, the Washington Common Council overwhelmingly rejected the plan. The regents' committee thereupon dropped its efforts to pass the bill in Congress and, so far as can be determined from the minutes, abandoned any further attempts to amend the original legislation.
Rhees, Journals, pp. 15, 36–38; Rhees, Documents (1901), 1:438–439.
    [7] That is, in Philadelphia, to which point Harriet Henry had accompanied her husband on his return to Washington. See below, Doc. 6.
    [8] Louisa Meads Alexander, the wife of Stephen Alexander, was near death after a long illness. Henry Papers, 2:15n; 6:591.
    [9] John Vanderlyn's Landing of Columbus at the Island of Guanahani, West Indies, October 12, 1492, was hung in the Capitol rotunda on January 15, 1847, the seventh painting so installed. Art in the United States Capitol (Washington, 1976), pp. 134, 140.
    [10] Robert W. Weir's Embarkation of the Pilgrims at Delft Haven, Holland, 22 July 1620, installed in 1843. Henry first saw this painting when he visited Washington in July 1846. Henry Papers, 6:447–448; Art in the United States Capitol, p. 136.
    [11] Benedict Jaeger, an entomologist and former professor of modern languages and lecturer on natural history at Princeton, was now apparently connected with an academy in Eatontown, New Jersey. His letter of December 27, 1846, is in the Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives. He never received the diplomatic posts he sought. Henry Papers, 2:55n–56n; J. Thomas and T. Baldwin, eds., A Complete Pronouncing Gazetteer, or Geographical Dictionary of the World, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1858), s.v. “Eatontown.”
    [12] Not found.
    [13] Presumably James Sproat Green, a Princeton trustee and its professor of jurisprudence, and his wife, the former Isabella McCulloch, who were old family friends. Henry Papers, 1:440; Hageman, Princeton, 1:318.
    [14] See below, Doc. 12.
    [15] “Puss” was the Henrys' nickname for their youngest daughter, Caroline. The letter Henry requested has not been found, but see his replies to Helen Henry, January 30, 1847, and to Mary Henry, January 31, 1847, Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [16] John Cross Smith (1803–1878), who attended Princeton Theological Seminary during the mid–1820s, in 1839 became pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington. Edward Howell Roberts, Biographical Catalogue of the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1815–1932 (Princeton, 1933), p. 46; Washington City Directory, 1843.
    [17] Arthur Joseph Stansbury, formerly a trustee of the Albany Academy and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Albany, now worked as a congressional reporter and illustrator for the National Intelligencer. In 1803 he married Susanna Brown (1784–1852), a descendant of a founder of Providence Plantation. Henry Papers, 1:40; 2:443–444; Andrew J. Cosentino and Henry H. Glassie, The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800–1915 (Washington, 1983), p. 273; Frederick Howard Wines, comp., The Descendants of John Stansbury of Leominster (Springfield, Illinois, 1895), pp. 10–11.
    [A] From the postmark and internal evidence.
    [B] Altered from plessant
    [C] Paper torn.
    [D] Altered from f
    [E] Altered from Eaton
    [F] Henry left a 12.5-centimeter space between this paragraph and the next for the address.
    [G] Remainder written in left margin, beginning on first page.
    [H] Altered from littles
    [I] Altered from attentions