Richard Rush, Diplomat Extraordinaire
A lawyer and a diplomat, Richard Rush spent two years in England pursuing the United States' claim in the Court of Chancery. The mother of the late Henry James Hungerford, Smithson's nephew and designated heir, filed a counterclaim. Nonetheless, Rush won the United States' claim in a remarkably short time.
The Court awarded Smithson's properties, valued at the equivalent of $508,318, to the United States on May 9, 1838.
Rush personally posted a $500,000 bond as insurance that he would not abscond with the Smithson bequest.
"A suit of higher interest and dignity has rarely, perhaps, been before the tribunals of a nation. . . . Benefits may flow to the United States and the human family not easy to be estimated."
"[Being in the Court of Chancery is like] being ground to bits in a slow mill; it's being roasted at a slow fire; it's being stung to death by single bees; it's being drowned by drops; it's going mad by grains."
In his letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Forsyth, Rush complained that the British Court of Chancery was overly complex and bureaucratic, with excessive fees and clerks to be paid at every step. Exasperation with the Court--which was more than 800 cases in arrears--was a theme of several popular novels of the period, including Dickens' Bleak House.
After winning his case on behalf of the United States, Rush sold
the properties that made up the Smithson bequest and converted the
proceeds into gold sovereigns.
"Somewhat worn down by fatigue since coming on shore, after an uncomfortable voyage of squalls, gales, and headwinds, I venture to ask a little repose at my home before proceeding to Washington."
Rush left London aboard the Mediator on July 17, 1838, with 11 boxes containing a total of 104,960 sovereigns, 8 shillings, and sevenpence as well as Smithson's mineral collection, library, scientific notes, and personal effects. The transatlantic voyage took six weeks.
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