Graphical timeline from Smithson to Smithsonian
From Smithson to Smithsonian - The Birth of an InstitutionAll-American Compromise

Who Was James Smithson?
Sccepting Smithson's Gift
All-American Compromise
The Smithsonian Building
An Institution Emerges
A National Collection
Smithson's Legacy

A National Library?

Rufus Choate
Rufus Choate

At a time when the Library of Congress consisted of a small collection of books housed in the U.S. Capitol, some scholars and legislators argued for a true national library. Senator Rufus Choate maintained that a national library would fulfill Smithson's mandate to diffuse knowledge more effectively than would a national university.

"Why should a German or an Englishman sit down to a repast of five hundred thousand books, and an American scholar, who loves the truth as well as he, be put on something less than half allowance?"
—Senator Rufus Choate
(Massachusetts), January 8, 1845

A National University, After All?

Senator Asher Robbins
Senator Asher Robbins

Many people maintained their beliefs that the Smithson bequest should be applied toward a national university. Senator Asher Robbins, who had been a teacher, led a movement to consolidate several smaller colleges into a great national university.

"We have only to tread the path that led the Athenian to his glory, and to open that path to the youth of our country."
—Senator Asher Robbins
(Rhode Island), January 10, 1839

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