Joseph Henry And The Smithsonian Institution

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Washington, May 1, 1847. The day the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution was laid. A grand ceremony was planned. Banners were strewn across City Hall. Large crowds gathered, in the size of thousands. People drove in from Baltimore and Philadelphia just to witness the event. There was an air of celebration. It felt like a public holiday. Yet, one important man was not officially invited to the event. The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry. This was by no mere accident. It was the building committee’s, constituting some politicians, ploy to irritate Henry. Henry had repeatedly clashed with the politicians on board regarding the building. He wanted to minimize the cost for the building as much as possible. Whereas …show more content…
Some of the ways their actions affected the Smithsonian is more subtle than others but political figures especially in the Congress as well as the Board of Regents, who managed the Institution, did play a significant role in shaping features of the Institution. I also claim that the Smithsonian Institution we recognize today would not be as well known amongst the public were it not for the involvement of these politicians. Most of the politicians involved with the Smithsonian were not scientists so they envisioned the Smithsonian in a different light from men like Joseph Henry who was a renown physicist. Today, the Smithsonian reflects the two halves of their vision: the public science of its museum and the private science of its …show more content…
The first obstacle that needed to be overcome was to accept and receive the money. While this may seem like a simple enough task, it was fraught with dispute. Many Southern Congressmen such as William C. Preston and John Calhoun were against accepting the bequest (Crusade p123). Some believed that it would be beneath the United States government to take the money and doing so would open up an opportunity for “Every whippersnapper vagabond that has been traducing out country [to] think proper to have his name distinguished in the same way”. Others argued that it would be a violation of Congress. One historian claimed that the motive behind the Southerners pushing back was for a political reason. They were against a government that was too centralized. Were it not for Adams persistence, Smithson money may have never been acquired. So the politicians had the power to squelch Smithson’s dream before it could have a chance to

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