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  • Article opens with an explanatory section written by the editor stating that he was publishing a second letter from a "correspondent" on the subject of the Smithsonian Institute, which he selected for discussion in the prior issue of the journal as 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 viewed this action as one that would have great importance to succeeding generations and stated that he had solicited an "accomplished friend" to comment on James Smithson's personal character, as well as the proposed Institution itself [the prior issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. V, No. 12, addressed the former subject].
  • Written in the form of a letter to the editor, the remainder of the article is the unnamed friend's thoughts and expansive musings on what form the proposed Institution should take. He makes an argument for using the bequest to fund an educational institution and suggests that only those subjects that come within the intention of the donor be taught. He translates Smithson's term "advancement and diffusion of knowledge" into "advancement and diffusion of science," as he has no doubt that since Smithson concentrated his investigations on the physical world, the intention was for the Institute to also focus its efforts in that subject area.
  • The writer suggests a Central School of Natural Science be established in Washington, D.C.; he recommends it be founded as a school of physical science with extensive mathematics instruction, and views it as the basis for what may eventually develop into a National University. Interest from Smithson's bequest would fund the school, along with amounts that may be appropriated by the U. S. Congress. The writer recommends care be taken to ensure no rivalries emerge between the school and other colleges and universities; he also offers additional observations to further elaborate on his proposal for the purpose and structure of the Smithsonian.


  • 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. 6, No. 1 (Journal)

Contact information

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


January 1840


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

Physical description

pp. 25-34

Full Record

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