The Smithsonian Institute

Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact

Narrow Your Results


Filter Your Results

Smithsonian Secretaries Information

Close Browse records and papers of the Smithsonian Secretaries, from 1846 until today. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by individuals who have held that office.

Expeditions Information

Close Browse records and papers documenting scientific and collecting expeditions either affiliated with the Smithsonian, or with which Smithsonian researchers participated. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by geographic regions predominantly represented in expedition records.

Professional Societies Information

Close Browse records of professional societies closely associated with the Smithsonian, that focus on areas of scientific research and museum studies. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by major topics and disciplines.


  • Article opens with an explanatory paragraph written by the editor stating that he had selected the subject of the Smithsonian Institute for discussion in this issue because the United States Congress was beginning to consider legislation implementing James Smithson's bequest to establish an institute for the "diffusion of knowledge among men." The editor views this action as one that will have great importance to succeeding generations and states that he had solicited an "accomplished friend" to comment on James Smithson's personal character, as well as the proposed Institution itself [the next issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. VI, No. 1, addressed the latter subject]. The remainder of the article is the unnamed friend's response, written in the form of a letter to the editor.
  • He considers it an honor for the country to have been given the important duty of establishing the Institute and voices his hope that the effort be successful for the sake of national integrity. Although the writer had not personally met Smithson, he suggests that an examination of the benefactor's correspondence and writings show an individual with a philosophic turn of mind, a man of few wants and a retired habit of life who had a passion for chemistry throughout his life. As evidence of this major interest, the writer uses excerpts from pieces of Smithson's communications with other scientists, and quotes extensively as well from a number of Smithson's published scientific papers which were then in the writer's personal library.


  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • United States Congress


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Article can be found online in the "Making of America" digital library collection.

Contained within

Southern Literary Messenger Vol.5, No. 12 (Journal)

Contact information

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


December 1839


  • Smithson Bequest
  • Benefactors
  • Act to establish the "Smithsonian Institution," for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge Among Men
  • SI, Early History
  • Philanthropists
  • Gifts

Physical description

pp. 828-832

Full Record

View Full Record