The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear H.— The Board of Regents have appointed a meeting this evening, to agree on a plan of a building and thus complete the business of the session, and before they arrive, being alone, I drop you a line. This morning I was quite dispirited and had resolved that if things took the turn they appeared to be likely to take, I would tender my resignation. Bache was also much depressed, but providentially the whole matter settled down into a very harmonious and satisfactory arrangement and, the probability is now, that we shall all separate well pleased with the transactions. The only difficulty which remained yesterday, was that of the erection of a large and beautiful building. Bache and myself were exerting ourselves to defeat the building scheme, while all the Washington influence was against us. This was the state of things when Bache devised a scheme to harmonize each party with each other, which consisted in proposing to defer the completion of the building for five years, and to expend in the process of erection the interest which would accrue from the money the other party proposed to devote immediately to the building. By this plan a large surplus will be saved from the annual funds of the Institution. He proposed this plan yesterday, but no attention was given to it until this morning, and not then, until Bache had introduced a proposition restricting the sum to be expended for building to one hundred thousand dollars. The other plan was then taken up explained, discussed, and in all probability, will this evening be adopted.[1] I have kept myself quite cool and, though difficulties innumerable have beset my path, yet all things have gone as well as I could have hoped. I have told the men of Washington that I intend to adopt a new line of policy—that of straightforwardness and honesty. I have pressed my points with vigor but not officiously. There was an indication of a squall this morning, which however passed over very well. Mr. Choate and his friends stated that they had concurred in my appointment, with the understanding that the plan of a library, though not a large one, would not be entirely abandoned, and that Prof. Jewett would be appointed as my assistant. He further stated that he had been informed that I was not anxious to assume the responsibility of nominating the [assistant][A] secretary, and he hoped that the Board would recommend to me Prof. Jewett—whereupon the Board or a majority of them recommended the above named gentleman, and in compliment with the recommendation I nominated him. On the minutes of the proceedings, I saw this morning, that the fact of the board having requested me to nominate the gentleman, had been omitted. I then requested that the minutes should be amended in this particular, which gave rise to quite a discussion; I have insisted that the facts should be stated just as they occurred and finally the whole was adjusted to my satisfaction.[2]
8 PM— The Board has just adjourned, but inasmuch as Mr. Choate, who thought of leaving tomorrow, has concluded to stop until another day—the Board adjourned until tomorrow without doing any business. If nothing occurs to mar the proceedings which are now in a very favorable train we shall adjourn in harmony, and with a fair prospect of the Institution going into successful operation.
I am quite anxious to hear from you and Louisa. I have not heard from Princeton since the arrival of the package of letters from the little girls. The time seems so long, that the interval of a day or two appears like a week. I hope to get away next week, and be at home at the opening of the college.[3] The present is the longest vacation I have ever spent. It seems six months since my appointment to the Smithsonian took place.
The messenger is waiting to close this room, and therefore I must stop with the assurance that I am as ever

only yours

Mary Henry Copy, Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives. Mary Henry Copy: Two variant copies in same location.
[1] Bache's plan followed upon a resolution presented by Chancellor Dallas at the January 26 meeting, which stated that to preserve funds for Smithsonian programs, no more than $100,000 should be spent on its building; the resolution was tabled. The next day, Bache offered a similar resolution, limiting spending from the building fund principal ($242,129) to $100,000; it also was tabled. The regents then reconsidered Dallas's resolution, whereupon Bache offered as an amendment to it that "a plan of finance and construction can be adopted" (p. 28) under which no more than $100,000 of the building fund principal would be spent. After debate, the board decided to reconvene that evening.
A memorandum of understanding, dated January 27 and read to the board on January 28, outlined Bache's plan. It stated four principles. First, insofar as possible, the principal of the building fund was to be preserved. Second, the building's construction was to be spread out, with its wings completed in two years and the whole in five, at an average annual expenditure of one-fifth of the total cost (estimated at $202,000 to $217,000). Third, at least $15,000 per year was to be loaned, during the first two years, from the annual income of the Smithsonian fund and added to the interest on the building fund. Fourth, $252,000 was to be drawn from the treasury and set aside as a separate building fund. After five years, assuming an annual expenditure of $43,000 (from the new building fund, its annual interest, and the $30,000 to be borrowed from the Smithsonian fund), a balance of $129,384 would remain, to be added to the Smithsonian fund's principal.
The memorandum was never entered into the minutes, nor is there any record of its official adoption. As Robert Dale Owen noted, however, the "prospective plan of finance and scale of expenditure, throughout the years in which the building shall be in progress, . . . did, in fact, receive the sanction of the Board" (p. 448). Its details formed the basis for the method of financing the construction which appeared in the contract signed by the building committee on March 20, 1847. And, though they slightly modified its particulars, the executive committee adopted the plan in December 1847 as a "scale of expenditures for the next four years" (p. 447).
Rhees, Journals, pp. 25, 28, 447–455, 627–628. Four copies of the memorandum are found in the Smithsonian Archives: three (one in Bache's hand) in Box 5 of the Bache Papers, and the fourth in Box 30 of the Henry Papers.
[2] The board considered Jewett's appointment after first approving three resolutions offered by Henry W. Hilliard. The first set the salary of the assistant secretary acting as librarian at $2,000; the second requested the secretary "to nominate to the Board an assistant, who shall be the librarian," and whose salary would begin when the building could accommodate a library; and the third allowed compensation to the librarian for any services rendered for the institution in the interim. After the resolutions were adopted, Henry was recorded as remarking that "understanding Professor Charles C. Jewett, of Brown University, to be the preference of a majority of the Board," he therefore nominated him as assistant secretary acting as the librarian. George Evans then called on the board to approve Jewett's nomination "and consent to his employment"; his resolution carried. Rhees, Journals, p. 27.
The minutes thus left it unclear who actually appointed Jewett: Henry, acting with the regents' consent, or the regents, by confirming Henry's nomination? As Henry's comments to Harriet indicate, however, his immediate concern was simply to insure that the minutes reflected that he had nominated Jewett only after being requested to do so by the board.
    [3] Princeton's second term commenced on February 4. Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the College of New Jersey, 1845–1846 (Princeton, 1846), p. 22.
    [A] Missing from this and one of the variant copies, but present in the other.