Art. I. - 1. The Last Will and Testament of James Smithson, London. 2. The Letters of John Q. Adams, F. Wayland, Thomas Cooper, Richard Rush, S. Chapin, to John Forsyth, Secretary of State on the subject of the trust assumed by the United States, under the will of James Smithson. 3. The Congressional Proceedings and Documents on the same subject

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  • In this extensive discourse published in 1842, the unnamed author attempts to decipher James Smithson's vague bequest to the United States to create "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The author, writing in a rambling and somewhat confusing style, gives background to support his belief that Smithson chose the United States as the beneficiary of his bequest because its founders exhibited wisdom and moderation in the use of power. He states that the wording in Smithson's will was intentionally vague, as Smithson did not want to openly state that Great Britain was incapable of executing his design to do good for mankind, and declares that Smithson's objective was political, not merely scientific or literary. Throughout many pages of musings, the author arrives at the conclusion that government is the one entity that can be used to improve the lot of mankind.
  • He goes on to say that the government of the United States is a good system despite all its shortcomings and believes that the art of government and "mystery" of legislation should be studied by the citizenry. To accomplish this end, he proposes that Smithson's bequest be utilized to establish a course of studies in nine specific areas, or "departments," all but one initially having a single professor, and be dedicated to the following subjects: the Constitution of the United States; the Constitutions of the states (two professors); government and legislation of England, Scotland, and Ireland; ancient legislation and forms of government; forms of government in modern Europe; theories and operations of commerce; statistics; bibliography of politics and political economy; and the law of nations, including diplomacy, history of treaties, and negotiations.
  • The professors would be appointed by judges of the United States Supreme Court, who could add professors as funds became available. One of the other stipulations calls for a report to Congress each year on the condition of the institution. The author recommends that the privilege of attending the lectures be apportioned among the citizens of each state, according to the ratio of representation in Congress. He concludes with the opinion that the Smithsonian Institute as proposed by him would do much to end ignorance and presumption, which would then allow solutions to be found to correct many blunders in legislation and government.


  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • United States Congress


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Although the title suggests this article consists of three parts, the author's view of James Smithson's bequest is the only subject discussed. The article can be found online in the "Making of America" digital library collection.

Contained within

The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review for the Year 1842 Vol. XIV, No. III (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


July 1842


  • Smithson Bequest
  • Politics and culture
  • Law
  • Political science
  • Act to establish the "Smithsonian Institution," for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge Among Men
  • SI, Early History
  • Philanthropists
  • Gifts
  • Philosophy
  • Legislation
  • Political science--Philosophy

Physical description

pgs. 359-407

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