SIA RU007058, National Institute, Records, 1839-1863 and undated

* required
Please succinctly provide us with any information pertinent to your inquiry. If you are writing to us about a research request, provide as much detail as possible about the collections in which you are interested (including collection numbers, box numbers, and folder titles).
(if known)
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Summary

Creator:
National Institute
Title:
Records, 1839-1863 and undated
Dates:
1839, 1839-1863, 1839-1863 and undated
Notes:
The National Institute was first organized as the National Institution for the Promotion of Science at Washington, D. C., in 1840. It was chartered by Congress in 1842 and called the National Institute for the Promotion of Science thereafter until its dissolution in 1862
The Institute was probably formed with a view to gaining control of the Smithson bequest. This hope was frustrated with the creation of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846, and the Institute never succeeded in getting government financing, even though it exercised an informal curatorship of various government scientific collections for a time in 1841 and 1842. Even though the Institute numbered such powerful figures as Joel Roberts Poinsett among its members and supporters, its case grew worse with passing years -- no space, no money, few and indifferent members. After a flurry of activity in connection with organizing the United States' participation in the Great Exhibition at London in 1851, it sank into a final decline and gave up the remainder of its collections to the Smithsonian in 1862
Summary:
These records, mostly 1840-1844, concern the founding and operation of the National Institute by Joel Roberts Poinsett, Peter Force, John James Abert, Francis Markoe, Jr., and others. Efforts to obtain federal subsidies, to provide space for its collections, and to gather support from the general scientific community occupied most of this time. There are also some records dealing with the Institute's care for a part of the collections of the United States Exploring Expedition
Topic:
Natural history
Subjects:
Abert, John James 1788-1863, Force, Peter, Markoe, Francis Jr, Poinsett, Joel Roberts 1779-1851, National Institute, National Institution for the Promotion of Science (U.S.), Smithsonian Institution, United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842), Great Exhibition (1851 : London, England)
Form/Genre:
Mixed archival materials, Collection descriptions
Local Number:
SIA RU007058
Physical Description:
2.4 linear meters

Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Record Unit 7058

National Institute

Records, 1839-1863 and undated

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at osiaref@si.edu.
Creator: National Institute
Title: Records
Dates: 1839-1863 and undated
Quantity: 2.4 linear meters.
Collection: Record Unit 7058
Language of Materials: English

Historical Note

The National Institute (1840-1862) was first organized as the National Institution for the Promotion of Science at Washington, D.C., in 1840 as a voluntary society interested in promoting study of diverse subjects, particularly natural history and the physical sciences. In 1842 Congress granted the body a federal charter, and it was known as the National Institute for the Promotion of Science thereafter until its dissolution in 1862. In fact, the National Institute could trace its origins to two earlier organizations. The Columbian Institute, founded in 1816, lost its federal charter in 1838 and joined the Institute in 1841, and the American Historical Society, created in 1835, attached itself to the Institute in 1840.

The National Institute was probably formed with a view to gaining control of the bequest of James Smithson, and it certainly pursued that goal until the Smithsonian Institution was created in 1846. However, despite its chronic lack of funds, the Institute did not wait for the Smithson legacy before pursuing its interest in science and the arts. An active program of collecting specimens of natural history and of corresponding with scholars and societies at home and abroad was begun immediately and soon created problems.

Joel Poinsett, the Institute's first president, arranged in 1841 for his organization to act as custodian for the advance collections of the Wilkes Expedition, and many other items were also received. To deal with this flood of specimens, the Institute had only a small space--in the Patent Office--and even less money for preservation, since it could not obtain government appropriations. The government's lack of interest in the Institute was further displayed when, in 1842, custody of the collections of the Wilkes Expedition was transferred from the Navy Department to the Joint Library Committee, which had no sympathy for the Institute's ambitions.

The Institute tried to improve its deteriorating position in 1844 by promoting a gathering of the country's leading men of science at Washington. From the gathering the Institute hoped to obtain resolutions of support which would influence the government to offer it financial aid. The meeting was held and a memorial adopted urging the Institute's claims upon Congress. The Congress remained unmoved and the Institute continued its decline, hastened in good part by the indifference of prominent scientists like Joseph Henry. Even though the Institute was responsible for organizing the American contribution to the Great Exhibition of 1851, its revival was short-lived. Finally, in 1862 the Institute transferred its remaining collections to the Smithsonian Institution and quietly expired.

Top of Page

Introduction

This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women’s Committee.

Top of Page

Descriptive Entry

This collection consists of records, mostly 1840-1844, concerning the founding and operation of the National Institute by Joel Roberts Poinsett, Peter Force, John James Abert, Francis Markoe, Jr., and others, particularly efforts to obtain federal subsidies, to collect specimens of natural history and manufactures, to provide space for housing its collections, and to gather support for its programs from the general scientific community at a special meeting in 1844; correspondence among officers of the Institute about administration of its affairs; much incoming correspondence from members; minutes of meetings and committee reports; records dealing with a part of the collections of the U. S. Exploring Expedition; bills and accounts; and publications of the Institute.

These records display some operational confusion, due in part to John Varden, who worked, often simultaneously, for the National Institute, for Captain Charles Wilkes in the Exploring Expedition collections, and for Henry Leavitt Ellsworth in the National Gallery of the Patent Office, often keeping his records on these different jobs together.

Researchers should consult the Peter Force Papers in the Library of Congress, especially for information on the Institute's share in the Executive Committee, which organized American participation in the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.

Top of Page

Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7058, National Institute, Records

Top of Page

Container List

Series 1

INCOMING CORRESPONDENCE.

Box 1

"Letters to the National Institute, June 1, 1839, to December 17, 1843," bound volume; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; primarily relating to organization of the National Institute and to its efforts to write a chain of correspondents and collectors; a very few outgoing letters by Francis Markoe, Jr., mostly referring to his interest in minerals, before organization of the Institute.

Box 1 of 19

Boxes 2-2A

Box 1 of 19

["Letters to the National Institute, June 27, 1840, to May 26, 1842"], 2 bound volumes (Box 2: June 27, 1840-April 21, 1841; Box 2A: April 22, 1841-May 26, 1842). Incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; including a letter from Peter S. Du Ponceau, May 6, 1841, on the Institute's prospects and another, March 4, 1842, from Richard Rush agreeing that the National Institute may rightly believe itself a fit recipient for the Smithson bequest.

Box 1 of 19

Boxes 3-3A

Box 1 of 19

"Letters to the National Institute, April 22, 1841 to December 31, 1842," 2 bound volumes (Box 3: April 22, 1841-July 31, 1842; Box 3A: August 1842-December 31, 1842). Incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; consisting chiefly of acknowledgments of appointment to membership in the Institute and of letters accompanying natural history specimens; including a letter from Peter S. Du Ponceau to John Canfield Spencer, November 5, 1842, in which Du Ponceau gives his thoughts on the formation of an association of the friends of science and another from Du Ponceau in which he warns that the Institute may stir up resentment against itself among other bodies if it gives an impression of wishing to dominate scientific permits.

Box 1 of 19

Box 4

"Letters to the National Institute, January 6 to June 30, 1843," 1 bound volume; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; consisting of general correspondence and, particularly, remarks by Lewis Caleb Beck, June 5, 1843, on the Institute's plan to hold a general scientific meeting at Washington in 1843 in competition with planned meetings of other societies.

Box 4 of 19

Box 5

"Letters to the National Institute, July 1 to December 30, 1843," 1 bound volume; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; consisting of general correspondence; a paper on preparing nautical charts, July 4, 1843, by Matthew Fontaine Maury is of interest.

Box 5 of 19

Box 6

"Letters to the National Institute, January 1 to April 30, 1844," 1 bound volume; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; primarily concerned with arrangements for the April 1844 meeting, with copies of some papers delivered there.

Box 6 of 19

Box 7

"Letters to the National Institute, May 1 to December 30, 1844," 1 bound volume; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; contains a letter from Nicolas Marie Alexandre Vattemare, November 12, 1844, promoting his plan of scientific exchanges.

Box 7 of 19

Box 8

"Letters to the National Institute, January 6 to December 31, 1845," 1 bound volume; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically; consisting mostly of letters accompanying specimens, relating curious natural events, or acknowledging membership.

Box 8 of 19

Box 9

Letters to the National Institute, 1840-1849, 1852-1857, 1863, and undated, loose; incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically, largely routine correspondence, with a few interesting items, e.g. a letter of May 18, 1843, on the Joint Library Committee's reaction to the Abert-Markoe pamphlet urging that custody of the Exploring Expedition collections be vested in the National Institute; most of the letters fall into the period 1840-1845.

Box 9 of 19

Series 2

OUTGOING CORRESPONDENCE.

Box 10

Correspondence, 1840-1855, 1857, and undated, arranged chronologically, loose; mostly routine matters; includes a letter from Markoe to Lewis Caleb Beck, January 7, 1843, defending the Institute's efforts to summon a general conference of scientists to Washington in 1844; also a letter from Markoe and John James Abert to Senator Robert John Walker, March 10, 1843, defending themselves against Senator Benjamin Tappan's strictures on their earlier pamphlet advocating the Institute's control of the United States Exploring Expedition Collections.

Box 10 of 19

Series 3

MINUTES AND REPORTS.

Box 11

Journal of meetings of the National Institute, 1840-1856, arranged chronologically; bound; consisting of minutes of meetings.

Box 11 of 19

Vol. I: May 7, 1840-September 12, 1842

Box 11 of 19

Vol. II: October 10, 1842-December 17, 1849

Box 11 of 19

Box 11A

Box 11 of 19

Vol. III: May 21, 1849-March 17, 1856

Box 11 of 19

Box 12

Minutes and committee reports, 1840-1842, arranged chronologically; loose; consisting of copies of minutes, usually drafts, and reports of various committees to the Institute.

Box 12 of 19

Proceedings of the Medical Department of the National Institute, 1842-1845, arranged chronologically; bound; consisting of minutes of meetings of the Medical Department held separately from those of the whole Institute.

Box 12 of 19

Box 13

Minutes and committee reports, 1843-1853, and undated, arranged chronologically; loose; consisting of copies of minutes, usually drafts, and reports of various committees to the Institute.

Box 13 of 19

Series 4

RECORDS OF THE UNITED STATES EXPLORING EXPEDITION.

Box 14

Records of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1839-1854, and undated, arranged chronologically; bound and loose; consisting of lists of boxes received, bills and accounts, and invoices for upkeep of collections.

Box 14 of 19

Series 5

LEDGERS AND ACCOUNT BOOKS.

Box 15

"Catalogue of the Library [of the] National Institute," 1848, bound; consisting of a list of books in the Institute library, arranged by a topical scheme.

Box 15 of 19

Lists of the members of the National Institute, 1840-1842, and undated, bound and loose; consisting of a bound volume listing members during 1840-1842 and one folder of undated rough lists of members.

Box 15 of 19

Box 16

Accounts and receipts of John Varden [and others?] with the United States Exploring Expedition, the National Institute, and the Smithsonian Institution, 1842-1858, bound, consisting of:

Ledger of accounts of John Varden [and others?] 1842-1856, with the United States Exploring Expedition and the National Institute; Ledger of receipts and accounts of John Varden, 1847-1858, with the United States Exploring Expedition, National Institute, and Smithsonian Institution; Three notebooks recording miscellaneous transactions by John Varden in behalf of the United States Exploring Expedition, the National Institute, and the Smithsonian Institution, 1845-1854; "List of . .. Duplicate Shells of the Ex-Exp. .. . August 1845."

Box 16 of 19

Series 6

ACCESSIONS.

Box 17

Accessions, 1840-1848, 1853-1854, 1857, and undated, arranged chronologically; loose in two folders; consisting of letters and lists of specimens and objects received by the Institute.

Box 17 of 19

Series 7

BILLS.

Box 17

Bills, 1841, 1843-1845, 1851-1853, 1857, chronologically arranged; loose; consisting of bills and invoices submitted for payment.

Box 17 of 19

Series 8

MISCELLANY.

Box 17

Miscellany, 2 folders and one bound copy of John Cussin's "Birds and Animals of the U.S. Exploring Expedition," by an unknown copyist.

Box 17 of 19

Series 9

PUBLICATIONS.

Box 18

Publications relating to the National Institute, 1840-1859, 35 items, consisting of:

"Constitution and By-Laws of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, Established at Washington, May, 1840." Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1840; 3 copies; "Constitution and By-Laws of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science. Printed by Order of the Institute." Washington: J. and G. S. Gideon, 1849, 2 copies; Bulletin of the Proceedings of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science. Washington: various printers, 1840-1846; "Report of the Recording Secretary of the National Institute for the Year 1850...". Washington: Robert A. Waters, 1850; Proceedings of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, New Series, Volume I, Numbers 1-3, 1855-1857; "Constitution and By-Laws of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science...." Washington, J. and G. S. Gideon, 1849; "Constitution of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science...." Washington: Peter Force, 1841." Joel R. Poinsett, "Discourse, on the Objects and Importance of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, Established at Washington, 1840, Delivered at the First Anniversary." Washington: P. Force, 1841; "Reply of Col. Abert and Mr. Markoe to the Hon. Mr. Tappan, of the United States Senate. Washington: William Q. Force, 1843. All the above are bound in a single volume; Index to first and second bulletins; Second Bulletin of the Proceedings of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science.... Washington: Peter Force, 1842; Third Bulletin of the Proceedings of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science... Also, Proceedings of the Meeting of April, 1844. Washington: William Q. Force [1842, 1844], bound as one volume.

Box 18 of 19

Box 18A

Box 18 of 19

Second and third bulletins (bound together).

Box 18 of 19

Fourth Bulletin of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science . . . Washington: William Q. Force, 1846; Proceedings of the National Institute, New Series, Volume I, Number 1, 1855; Proceedings of the National Institute, New Series, Volume I, Number 2, 1856; Proceedings of the National Institute, New Series, Volume I, Number 3, 1857, 3 copies; "Report of the Recording Secretary of the National Institute for the Year 1850...." Washington: Robert A. Waters, 1850; Memorial of Walter R. Johnson, "Establishment of an Institution for Experiments in Physical Sciences, House Doc. 396, 25 Cong., 2 sess., 1838; Henry King, "Directions for Making Collections in Natural History.. . ." Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1840, 4 copies; Joel R. Poinsett, "Discourse, on the Objects and Importance of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science...." Washington: P. Force, 1841, 3 copies; John Wilkes, Esq., Synopsis of the Cruise of the U. S. Exploring Expedition, During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, & 1842; Delivered Before the National Institute.... Washington: Peter Force, 1842;

Box 18 of 19

Box 18B

Box 18 of 19

John Carroll Brent, "Letters on the National Institute, Smithsonian Legacy, the Fine Arts, and Other Matters Connected with the Interests of the District of Columbia." Washington: J. and G. S. Gideon, 1844, 2 copies; "Introductory Address of the Hon. R. J. Walker, of Mississippi, Delivered Before the National Institute at its April Meeting, 1844." Washington: William Q. Force, 1845, 3 copies; Levi Woodbury, "The Annual Address Delivered Before the National Institute in the Hall of the House of Representatives...." Washington: J. and S. Gideon, 1845; Peter Force, "Grinnell Land: Remarks on the English Maps of Arctic Discoveries in 1850 and 1851." Washington: R. A. Waters [1852]; Alfred Hunter, "A Popular Catalogue of the Extraordinary Curiosities in the National Institute, Arranged in the Building Belonging to the Patent Office...." Washington: Alfred Hunter, 1859.

Box 18 of 19

Address on Gov. William Henry Harrison. . . 1841 (2 copies)

Box 18 of 19

Publications - Mss. of articles printed in the Bulletin.

Box 18 of 19

Series 10

LARGE FORMAT MATERIALS.

Box 19

Ledgers of expenses incurred by the United States Exploring Expedition, 1843-1853; 1 item.

Box 19 of 19
Oversize

Plan of the National Gallery containing the collections of the Exploring Expedition, undated, 1 item.

Oversize

Watercolor of the Smithsonian Institution Building attributed to Robert Mills, undated. (SI negative number 85-797)

Oversize

Using the Archives' Collections

The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. Please cite the Smithsonian Institution Archives as the source of the content, and when possible, link to the Smithsonian Archives website (siarchives.si.edu). Please let us know how you are using our collections for your projects. For information on commercial licensing or other uses, visit Rights and Reproductions. More information available within the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use policy.