We have obtained room in our paper today, for the interesting Report made by Mr. JOHN Q. ADAMS, from the Select Committee of the House of Representatives, on the subject of the Smithsonian Bequest, in which subject we hope there are very few of our readers who do not feel an interest.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DEC. 21, 1835.
The message of the President of the United States, in relation to the bequest of James Smithson, of London, for founding at Washington an "institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men," was referred to a select committee; and
Mr. John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts, Mr. Thomas, of Maryland, Mr. Garland, of Virginia, Mr. Pearce, of Rhode Island, Mr. Speight, of North Carolina, Mr. McKennan, of Pennsylvania, Mr. Hannegan, of Indiana, Mr. Garland, of Louisiana, and Mr. Chapin, of New York, were appointed the said committee.
The Select Committee, to which was referred the message of the President of the United States, of the 17th of December last, with documents relating to the bequest of James Smithson, of London, to the United States of America, for the purpose of founding, at Washington, an establishment, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men, respectfully report:
That, from the papers transmitted to Congress with the message of the President, it appears that James Smithson, a foreigner, of noble family and of affluent fortune, did, by his last will and testament, made in the year 1826, bequeath, under certain contingencies, which have since been realized, and with certain exceptions, for which provision was made by the same will, the whole of his property, of an amount exceeding four hundred thousand dollars; to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.
To the acceptance of this bequest, and to the assumption and fulfilment of the high and honorable duties involved in the performance of the trust committed with it, the Congress of the United States, in their legislative capacity, are alone competent. Your committee believe, not only that they are thus competent, but that it is enjoined upon them, by considerations of the most imperious and indispensable obligation. The first steps necessary to be taken for carrying into effect the benevolent intentions of the testator must be to obtain the possession of the funds, now held by the Messrs. Drummonds, bankers in London, executors of Mr. Smithson's will, and subject to the superintendence, custody, and adjudication of the Lord Chancellor of England. To enable the President of the United States to effect this object, the committee report herewith a bill.
But your committee think they would imperfectly discharge their duty to this House, to their country, to the world of mankind, or to the donor of this most munificent bequest, were they to withhold a few brief reflections which have occurred to them in the consideration of the subject referred to them by the House---reflections arising from the condition of the testator, from the nature of the bequest, and from the character of the trustee to whom this great and solemn charge has been confided.
The testator, James Smithson, a subject of Great Britain, declares himself, in the caption to the will, a descendant in blood from the Percys and the Seymours, two of the most illustrous historical names of the British islands. Nearly two centuries since, in 1660, the ancestor of his own name, Hugh Smithson, immediately after the restoration of the royal family of the Stuarts, received from Charles the Second, as a reward for his eminent services to that house during the civil wars, the dignity of a Baronet of England, a dignity still held by the Dukes of Northumberland, as descendants from the same Hugh Smithson. The father of the testator, by his marriage with the Lady Elizabeth Seymour, who was descended by a female line from the ancient Percys, and by the subsequent creation of George the Third, in 1766, became the first Duke of Northumberland. His son, and successor, the brother of the testator, was known in the history of our revolutionary war by the name of Lord Percy; was present, as a British officer, at the sanguinary opening scene of our revolutionary war at Lexington, and at the battle of Bunker's Hill, and was the bearer to the British Government of the despatches from the commander-in-chief of the royal forces announcing the event of that memorable day; and the present Duke of Northumberland, the testator's nephew, was the ambassador extraordinary of Great Britain, sent to assist at the coronation of the late King of France, Charles the Tenth, a few months only before the date of this bequest from his relative to the United States of America.
The suggestions which present themselves to the mind by the association of these historical recollections, with the condition of the testator, derive additional interest from the nature of the bequest--the devotion of a large estate to an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.
Of all the foundations of establishments for pious or charitable uses, which ever signalized the spirit of the age, or the comprehensive beneficence of the founder, none can be named more deserving of the approbation of mankind than this. Should it be faithfully carried into effect, with an earnestness and sagacity of application, and a steady perseverance of pursuit, proportioned to the means furnished by the will of the founder, and to the greatness and simplicity of his design as by himself declared, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men," it is no extravagance of anticipation to declare that his name will be hereafter enrolled among the eminent benefactors of mankind.
The attainment of knowledge is the high and exclusive attribute of man, among the numberless myriads of animated beings, inhabitants of the terrestial globe. On him alone is bestowed, by the bounty of the Creator of the universe, the power and the capacity of acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is the attribute of his nature, which at once enables him to improve his condition upon earth, and to prepare him for the enjoyment of a happier existence hereafter. It is by this attribute that man discovers his own nature as the link between earth and heaven; as the partaker of an immortal spirit; as created for higher and more durable ends, than the countless tribes of beings which people the earth, the ocean, and the air, alternately instinct with life, and melting into vapor, or mouldering into dust.
To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is, therefore, the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind. It prolongs life itself, and enlarges the sphere of existence. The earth was given to man for cultivation, to the improvement of his own condition. Whoever increases his knowledge multiplies the uses to which he is enabled to turn the gift of his Creator to his own benefit, and partakes in some degree of that goodness which is the highest attribute of Omnipotence itself.
If, then, the Smithsonian Institution, under the smile of an approving Providence, and by the faithful and permanent application of the means furnished by its founder to the purpose for which he has bestowed them, should prove effective to their promotion; if they should contribute essentially to the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men, to what higher or nobler object could this generous and splendid donation have been devoted?
The father of the testator, upon forming his alliance with the heiress of the family of the Percys, assumed, by an act of the British Parliament, that name, and under it became Duke of Northumberland. But, renowned as is the name of Percy in the historical annals of England, resounding as it does from the summit of the Cheviot hills to the ears of our children, in the ballad of Chevy Chase, with the classical commentary of Addison; freshened and renovated in our memory as it has recently been from the purest fountain of poetical inspiration, in the loftier strain of Alnwick Castle, tuned by a bard of our own native land; doubly immortalized as it is in the deathless dramas of Shakespeare; "confident against the world in arms," as it may have been in ages long past, and may still be in the virtues of its present possessors by inheritance; let the trust of James Smithson to the United States of America be faithfully executed by their Representatives in Congress; let the result accomplish his object, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men," and a wreath of more unfading verdure shall entwine itself in the lapse of future ages around the name of Smithson, than the united hands of tradition, history, and poetry have braided around the name of Percy, through the long perspective in ages past of a thousand years.
It is then a high and solemn trust which the testator has committed to the United States of America, and its execution devolves upon their Representatives in Congress duties of no ordinary importance. The location of the institution at Washington, prescribed by the testator, gives to Congress the free exercise of all the powers relating to this subject with which they are, by the Constitution, invested, as the local Legislature for the District of Columbia. In adverting to the character of the trustee, selected by the testator for the fulfilment of his intentions, your committee deem it no indulgence of unreasonable pride to mark it as a signal manifestation of the moral effect of our political institutions upon the opinions and upon the consequent action of the wise and the good of other regions, and of distant climes; even upon that nation from whom we generally boast of our descent, but whom from the period of our Revolution we have had too often reason to consider as a jealous and envious rival. How different are the sensations which should swell in our bosoms with the acceptance of this bequest! James Smithson, an Englishman, in the exercise of his rights as a free-born Briton, desirous of dedicating his ample fortune to the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men, constitutes for his trustees, to accomplish that object, the United States of America, and fixes upon their seat of Government as the spot where the institution of which he is the founder shall be located.
The Revolution, which resulted in the independence of these United States, was commenced, conducted, and consummated, under a mere union of confederated States. Subsequently to that period a more perfect union was formed, combining in one system the principle of confederate sovereignties with that of a Government by popular representation, with legislative, executive, and judicial powers, all limited, but co-extensive with the whole Confederation.
Under this Government, a new experiment in the history of mankind is now drawing to the close of half a century, during which the territory and number of States in the Union have nearly doubled, while their population, wealth, and power have been multiplied more than fourfold. In the process of this experiment they have gone through the vicissitudes of peace and war, amidst bitter and ardent party collisions, and the unceasing changes of popular elections to the legislative and executive offices, both of the General Confederacy and of the separate States, without a single execution for treason, or a single proscription for a political offence. The whole Government, under the continual superintendence of the whole People, has been holding a steady course of prosperity, unexampled in the contemporary history of other nations not less than in the annals of ages past. During this period our country has been freely visited by observers from other lands, and often in no friendly spirit by travellers from the native land of Mr. Smithson. Their reports of the prevailing manners, opinions, and social intercourse of the People of this Union, have exhibited no flattering or complacent pictures. All the infirmities and vices of our civil and political condition have been conned and noted, and displayed with no forbearance of severe satirical comment to set them off; yet, after all this, a British subject, of noble birth and ample fortune, desiring to bequeath his whole estate to the purpose of increasing and diffusing knowledge throughout the whole community of civilized man, selects for the depositaries of his trust, with confidence unqualified with reserve, the Congress of the United States of America.
In the commission of every trust, there is an implied tribute of the soul to the integrity and intelligence of the trustee; and there is also an implied call for the faithful exercise of those properties to the fulfilment of the purpose of the trust. The tribute and the call acquire additional force and energy, when the trust is committed for performance after the decease of him by whom it is granted, when he no longer exists to witness or to constrain the effective fulfilment of his design. The magnitude of the trust, and the extent of confidence bestowed in the committal of it, do but enlarge and aggravate the pressure of the obligation which it carries with it. The weight of duty imposed is proportioned to the honor conferred by confidence without reserve. Your committee are fully persuaded, therefore, that, with a grateful sense of the honor conferred by the testator upon the political institutions of this Union, the Congress of the United States, in accepting the bequest, will feel, in all its power and plenitude, the obligation of responding to the confidence reposed by him, with all the fidelity, disinterestedness, and perseverance of exertion which may carry into effective execution the noble purpose of an endowment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.
The following is a copy of the Bill which accompanied the above Report:
A BILL to authorize the President of the United States to assert and prosecute with effect the right of the United States to the bequest of James Smithson, late of London, deceased, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.
Be it enacted, &c. That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to constitute and appoint an agent or agents, to assert and prosecute, for and in behalf of the United States, and in their name, or otherwise, as may be advisable, in the court of chancery, or other proper tribunal, of England, the right of the United States to the legacy bequeathed to them by the last will and testament of James Smithson, late of London, deceased, for the purpose of founding at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men; and to empower such agent or agents, so appointed, to receive and grant acquittances for all such sum or sums of money, or other funds, as may or shall be decreed or adjudged to the United States for or on account of said legacy.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the said agent or agents shall, before receiving any part of the said legacy, give a bond or bonds, in the penal sum of five hundred thousand dollars, to the Treasurer of the United States, and his successors in office, with good and sufficient securities, to the satisfaction of the Secretary of the Treasury, for the faithful performance of the duties of the said agency, and for the faithful remittance to the Treasurer of the United States of all and every sum or sums of money, or other funds, which he or they may receive, for payment in whole or in part of the said legacy. And the Treasurer of the United States is hereby authorized and required to keep safely all sums of money or other funds which may be received by him in virtue of the said bequest, and to account therefor separately from all other accounts of his office, and subject to such further disposal thereof as may be hereafter provided by Congress.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That any and all sums of money, and other funds, which shall be received for or on account of the said legacy, shall be applied, in such manner as Congress may hereafter direct, to the purpose of founding and endowing at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men; to which application of the said moneys, and other funds, the faith of the United States is hereby pledged.
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, To the end that the claim to the said bequest may be prosecuted with effect, and the necessary expenses in prosecuting the same be defrayed, the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to apply to that purpose any sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars, out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated.