The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dearest

I arrived here this morning a little past 8 o'clock after quite a plesant passage. I found a place provided for me in the prossession and that if I had not come on there would have been some dissatisfaction. The vice President expected me of course. The order of proceedings were published in the papers and it was expected that I would see them and the plase assigned me the celebration.[1] The whole affair has just closed and I have returned to my room at Gadsbys covered with dust and while the servant is brushing my coat I devote the minutes which are to elapse before dinner to you. The procession formed at the city Hall[2] then marched through the streets to the Presidents House where the President and the heads of departments were received. It then returned passed down 11 st to the site of the building on the mall.
On the cround near the corner of the new building was erected a stage decorated with evergreens on which the principal personages connected with the Institution were assembled. In front of this the masons went through the ceremony of Laying the corner stone—after which an address was delivered by the vice President[3] and then the whole adjurned. I should have mentioned that before the corner Stone was laid a very impressive and eloquent prayer was offered by the Rev Mr Evans of the methodist Church.[4]
The number of persons assembled was very great perhaps 10[B] thousand with a considerable proportion of Ladies.[5] All the masons for miles around were assembled together with the military— At the conclusion of the ceremony the a salute from canon was fired.
The speach of Mr Dalass was very well but had I seen him a litler sooner I think I could have given him a few hints which might have modified some parts.[6] Speaches and celebrations of this kind are however the mere flourish of the moment and produce no lasting effect. They are the relics of the ages before the invention of the art of printing when wh men could only act on men through the medium of the senses when pagentry and oratory were invoked to captivate the eye and ear of those whoes intellects were dormant. But in these tims exhibitions of this kind are not as necessary and I hope the time may come when oratory and all the employed to lead the judgement astray through the impressions on the imagination will be do away with. If all the discussions in congress were divested of oratory the truth would sooner be settle on.
I have just returned from dinner where I enjoyed myself very much not in very voracious eating but in rather nice tasting of many articles of savery character.
I have not as yet heard through the telegraph of your being worse and as no news is good news I shall cherish the idea though with some anxiety that you are better. I left home with considerable misgiving but in the cars I found the Rev Mr Burns of Schenectady who kept me in pretty close conversation until we reached Phild I did not have time to go to Dr Ludlows but was obliged to leave one boat for the other and had only an opportunity of getting a "hasty plate of soup" of oysters. On board of the steam I found a young midshipman who had just returned from Vera Cruse and gave me a goodly number of long yarns as to the War.
We arrived at about eleven O'clock at Baltimore and. I put up at the Eutor House[7] which I found a very plesant establishment. We started from Baltimore at ½ part 6 oclock and travelled over the distance to Washington in about one hour[C] and a half.
I found Mc Peak in great business in the way of attending to all the affairs of the ceremony. He expressed great pleasure at my appearan and has since been very attentive to my wants at the Hotel.
The weather has been quite plesant though rather cold to day— I was pleased with this for had the day been hot I would not have daird to walk as far in the sun as I have done to day. I had however an umberrella one belonging to Col. Totten withwhom I walked at the head of the civil part of the procession. The col. was very attentive to me and gave me some very minute and interesting accounts of the siege from which has lately returned. I was thrown a little into a state of mortification this morning when I arrived, covered with dust and one of the "pipes" of my nether garment dirtied with pitch, and expecting to be called upon in a few short time to join the procession or to go to the city Hall preparatory to joining to find on opening my trunk my clothes apparently missing. I afterwards recollected that you had informed me that the articles were put in the upper part. I was destined however to experience a little disappointment for when I came to put on my pants I found a wrong par had been put into the trunk namely a thin summer par instead of my new cloth ones. I put on the thin ones but found the weather so cool that I was obliged to take them off again not however until the cloath articles had been well brushed. I was alittle anoyed at first but the conclusion the occurrance fixed on my mind was the importance of the attention of my wife to all my affairs.
Without her I should be a lost man the world would be sad and life insupportable. The bell is ringing and I must close

Adieu my dearest

Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
[1] The National Intelligencer of April 30, 1847, published a notice of the upcoming ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Building. In the mile-long procession, Henry was paired with Vice-President Dallas, chancellor of the Smithsonian, immediately following President Polk and his cabinet and preceding the regents. The issue of May 3 reported the procession and ceremony at the site in detail.
Alfred Vail alleged in a letter to Samuel F. B. Morse that the building committee, irritated with Henry over his desire to contain building costs, insulted him intentionally by not inviting him: “Henry was not even invited by Building Committee to be present at the laying of the Corner Stone—and came on and witnessed it, in the capacity of a "loafer" as one of his friends terms it.”The minutes of the building committee, which organized the event, mention specific invitations only to the president and vice-president. In the same letter, Vail claimed that Henry refused to let Vail's American Electro Magnetic Telegraph (Philadelphia, 1845) be put into the cornerstone. Vail to Morse, May 17, 1847, Morse Papers, Library of Congress. Rhees, Journals, p. 674.
    [2] At the foot of Judiciary Square (Four-and-a-half St. and Louisiana Avenue, NW).
    [3] Dallas's address appeared in the National Intelligencer and was also separately published in Address Delivered on Occasion of Laying the Corner Stone of the Smithsonian Institution, May 1, 1847 (Washington, 1847).
    [4] The National Intelligencer reported that the lengthy prayer was actually delivered by Brother McJilton, grand chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. The Reverend F. S. Evans, of Ryland Chapel near the site of the Smithsonian, delivered the benediction. Washington City Directory, 1846.
    [5] According to the National Intelligencer, six or seven thousand people witnessed the procession and ceremony.
    [6] Dallas reviewed the origins of the Smithsonian and described the design of the building. In one section, he noted that certain functions of the Smithsonian, such as a museum, were dictated by the provisions of the act relative to the building: "Congress have stamped this character upon it, by prescribing and appropriating its vast interior compartments, and by other positive expressions of their will." In the same section, he explained: “It is the first duty of the Regents to obey the unequivocal behests of Congress—to carry them out faithfully, on the scale and in the spirit they obviously import; and to let their measures flow, not from their own discretion, but from the provisions of the law which they are empowered to execute.”
    [7] That is, the Eutaw House.
    [A] Altered from J
    [B] Alternate reading: 20
    [C] Altered from two hours