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Passage of Act to Establish the Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Image is of Act establishing the Smithsonian Institution, August 10, 1846, Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number 96-1652.

Marc Rothenberg, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, The Princeton Years, January 1844 - December 1846, vol. 6. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 463.

Years of debate over the terms of James Smithson's 1826 bequest to the United States result in the passage of the "Act to Establish the 'Smithsonian Institution,' for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge among Men," Public Law 76, 29th Congress, 1st Session.

Facsimle of the Act to Establish Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Original document in the National Archives and Record Administration.

The accompanying PDF is a transcript of this document.

An Act to Establish the Smithsonian Institution, signed into law by President James K. Polk on August 10, 1846, created the Institution specified in James Smithson's bequest.

Amendments to the bill (S. 18) to establish the Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 245, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Section 1, line 24, strike out from "provided" to the end of the section, Section 3, line 16, strike out from "provided" to "appropriate". Section 7, strike out all after enacting clause and replace by saying that board should hire lecturers and fix regulations for the attendance of lectures and the payment of lecturers. Lectures may be printed at the discretion of the board. Strike out section 8 and insert that there should be a library and that a sum of the interest of the fund be applied annually for the purchase of books. Board should fix the compensation of librarians.

Amendment to the bill (S. 18) to establish the Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 245, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

In section 2, line 2, strike out all after the word "by" to the word "it" and insert "the National Institute, under such direction of Congress, from time to time shall prescribe". Throughout the bill, replace "managers" or "board" with "officers of the National Institute" or "National Institute".

Amendment to the bill (H.R. 5) to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 245, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Strike out all of the first section after the enacting clause and insert that the institution should be subject to the conditions and restrictions of this act. Strike out sections four and five and insert provisions for the location, size and design and expense of the building. Add provision for funds for the formation of a library.

Amendment to the bill (H.R. 5) to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, S. 245, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Strike out preamble except enacting clause and insert that the President requested to obtain the interest due and the principle when it is due from the governments of Arkansas, Illinois and Michigan for the purpose of enacting the Smithsonian Institution and that Congress shall make no appropriation for the Smithsonian Institution until the interest due has been received.

A Bill to invest the proceeds of the Smithsonian fund and establish the Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 245, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Mr. Preston from the Committee on the Library reported the bill which was read and passed to a second reading. There shall be a superintendent and no more than six professors. The number of curators and assistants shall be approved by the President. The board of management of the Smithsonian shall consist of the board on managers of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the superintendent of the Smithsonian. Powers of the board include to erect buildings, procure books, arrange collections etc. All works of art, books and all collections belonging to the United States should be transferred to the Smithsonian.

Amendment to the bill (H.R. 5) to establish the Smithsonian Institute for the increase and diffusion of knowledge

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, S. 245, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

This Amendment is a replacement for bill for the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution. It establishes a Board of Regents and states how the members are to be appointed. The initial duties of the board are to find a location for the Smithsonian Institution and to plan for the erection of the building which shall contain a library, space for the display of objects of natural history, a geological and mineralogical cabinet, a chemistry lab and lecture rooms. It instructs the board to have all objects of natural history, plants and geological and mineralogical specimens, and objects of art and of foreign and curious research belonging to the United States delivered to the Institution. The Secretary of the Board is to be in charge of the building and property, take on the duties of librarian, hire assistants. The Board should publish essays for the dissemination of knowledge.

A Bill replace Senate bill No 18 to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, S. 245, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

This version of the bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution, submitted by Mr. Pratt and committed to the Committee of the Whole, proposes that the Smithsonian Institution be a place to promote the improvement of common schools and to encourage useful inventions and discoveries. The building should only be used for offices for transacting the business of the institution and preserving records. It establishes a board of managers.

An Amendment to the Bill (S. 18) to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 245, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

This Amendment was proposed by Mr. Owen as a substitute for S. 18. It establishes the Smithsonian Institution and a board of managers. It sets forth the duties of the board, which include securing a location for the building and erecting the building, which should be large enough to include rooms for objects of natural history, a library, geological and mineralogical cabinets, a chemistry lab and a lecture room. The board should make arrangements for items of natural history, plants, geology and mineralogy to be delivered to the Institution. The board should appoint a superintendent who will be in charge of the building and grounds, be secretary of the board, and discharge duties of professor of agriculture. The board may appoint someone as professor of common school instruction, to give others knowledge of an improved common school system.

A Bill to repeal the sixth section of the act entitled "An Act to provide for the support of the Military Academy of the United States" and to prohibit the investment of funds of the United States in the stocks of the several states

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
See House proceedings for 09/03/1841, 09/08/1841 and 09/10/1841 and House proceedings for 09/11/1841

The further investment of any public or trust funds of the United States in the stocks of the several states is prohibited. Amendments to this bill refer specifically to the Smithson fund, interest on the investment of which should henceforth be invested in the stock of the United States

A Bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 245, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

This is a bill for the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution. It establishes a board of managers and states how they are to be appointed. The initial duties of the board are to find a location for the Smithsonian Institution and plan for the erection of the building. The building shall contain a library, space for the display of objects of natural history, plants and geological and mineralogical specimens, a geological and mineralogical cabinet, a chemistry lab and lecture rooms. It instructs the board to have all objects of natural history, plants and geological and mineralogical specimens belonging to the United States delivered to the Institution. The managers are also instructed to appoint a superintendent to care for the building and grounds, to be secretary of the board of managers and to perform the duties of the professor of agriculture.

A Bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, S. 245, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

This is a bill, introduced by Mr. Owen, for the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution. It establishes a board of managers and states how they are to be appointed. The initial duties of the board are to find a location for the Smithsonian Institution and to plan for the erection of the building. The building shall contain a library, space for the display of objects of natural history, a geological and mineralogical cabinet, a chemistry lab and lecture rooms. It instructs the board to have all objects of natural history, plants and geological and mineralogical specimens, and objects of art and of foreign and curious research belonging to the United States delivered to the Institution.

The board is also instructed to appoint a superintendent to care for the building and grounds, to be secretary of the board of managers and to perform the duties of librarian and keeper of the museum. The board is to appoint a separate professor of agriculture. This bill also includes the provision for a professor of common school instruction who will have the ability to grant certificates of qualification to common school teachers.

Bill to provide for the investment of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
States that all money received from Smithson should be invested by the Treasury at an annual interest rate of six percent. Certificates for the stock should be held by the President until the Smithsonian Institution is established by law

A Bill to provide for the disposal and management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 245, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 259, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Establishes board of trustees. No part of the fund shall be applied to a school of any kind. Appropriations by Congress shall be made only from interest on the fund. Establishes an astronomical observatory, which shall be under the direction of the board of trustees. All expenditures made by the board are subject to the approval of the President. There shall be a board of visitors consisting of nine members who will visit annually and inspect the observatory and the Smithsonian Institution and make a report to the President of the United States. The bill appropriates money for the salary of an astronomer assistants, laborers and other staff, for the purchase of astronomical instruments and library books, and for publications on the sciences.

A bill to provide for the disposal and management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
This bill is identical to S. 293. For other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, S. 245, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160,

Mr. Adams from the Joint Committee on the Smithsonian Fund reported the bill, which was read twice and committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union. The Vice President, Chief Justice, Secretaries of State and Treasury, the Attorney General, the mayor of Washington, three members of the Senate and four members of the House are the trustees of the Smithsonian Institution. The Trustees should appoint a secretary and a treasurer. No part of the fund should be applied to a school of any form. Congress will make appropriations for the Smithsonian institution from the interest on the fund but will retain the power to invest the principle. An astronomical observatory is to be established in Washington.

A Bill to provide for the management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 245, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Mr. Robbins from the Joint Committee on the Smithson Bequest reported the bill which was read and passed to a second reading. The Vice President, Chief Justice, Secretaries of State and Treasury, the Attorney General, the mayor of Washington, three members of the Senate and four members of the House are the trustees of the Smithsonian Institution. The Trustees should appoint a secretary and a treasurer. No part of the fund should be applied to a school of any form. Congress will make appropriations for the Smithsonian institution from the interest on the fund but will retain the power to invest the principle. An astronomical observatory is to be established in Washington.

A Bill to appoint trustees for the investment of the Smithsonian fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Mr. Linn brought forward the bill, which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Library. Names Secretaries of State, War, Treasury and Navy, the Attorney General and the Postmaster General as the trustees of the Smithsonian fund. All expenses for investment of the fund should be paid from the interest on the fund. Trustee shall have power to appoint a treasurer and secretary of the board. The Smithsonian Institution shall have a superintendent who will be nominated by the National Institution for the Promotion of Science. The land known as the mall is to be used for the Smithsonian Institution building. Objects of art and natural history, philosophical instruments, apparatus and collections should be kept there. Buildings, collections and ground should be under the supervision of the National Institution.

A Bill to provide for the disposal and management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 245, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 259, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Mr. Adams from the Select Committee reported the bill which was read twice and committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union. The bill establishes the Vice President, the Chief Justice, the Secretaries of War, State, Treasury and Navy, the mayor of Washington, three members of the Senate and four members of the House as the Trustees of the Smithsonian. It pledges the faith of the United States for the preservation of the fund. It asserts that no part of the fund should go toward a school of any kind. Congress shall make appropriations only from the interest on the fund. It establishes that there should be an astronomical observatory. All expenditures make by the board are subject to the approval of the President of the United States. It establishes a board of visitors whose job will be to inspect the condition of the observatory and the Smithsonian Institution generally.

A Bill to provide for the disposal and management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 245, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 259, H.R. 386, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

The bill establishes board of trustees. It invests fund in states of Arkansas, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. It appropriates funds to establish an Astronomical Observatory and for a salary for an astronomer and other staff, for books for a library and for publications.

Tappan Bill to Organize Smithsonian Introduced

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Image is engraving of Senator Benjamin Tappan, c. 1840, Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number 2002-32256.

Rhees, William Jones. The Smithsonian Institution: Documents Relative to Its Origin and History: 1835-1899, Vol. 1, 1835-1887. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1901, p. 303-319.

Rothenberg, Marc, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, V6. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, p. 206.

Ohio Senator Benjamin Tappan reports from the Committee on the Library an amended bill, S. 18, for the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution. He proposes a board of managers to conduct the business of the Smithsonian. The board is to consist of the Vice-President, the Chief Justice, three members from each House of Congress, and seven other persons not members of Congress, including two members of the National Institute who reside in Washington, and five members who are inhabitants of five different states. Joseph Totten and Alexander Dallas Bache, a close friend of the first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, are recommended as the members of the National Institute. On January 23, bill S. 18 is passed by the Senate.

A Bill providing for the disposition and management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
This bill is identical to S. 292. For other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, S. 245, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160,

Mr. Adams from the Joint Committee on the Smithsonian Bequest reported the bill which was read twice and committed to the Whole House on the state of the Union. The fund shall be managed by nine trustees. Three trustees shall be appointed by the House, three by the Senate and three by the President and each trustee shall hold office for one year. All expenditures are subject to approval by the President. The trustees are directed to prepare a charter of incorporation and plan for an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

A Bill providing for the disposition and management of the Smithson fund

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
for other bills relating to the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution see S. 18, S. 259, S. 293, S. 292, H. R. 5, H.R. 863, H.R. 386, H.R. 418, H.R. 1, H.R. 1160, H.R. 1161

Mr. Robbins from the Joint Committee on the Smithson Bequest reported the bill which was read and passed to a second reading. The bill states that the Smithson fund should be managed by a board of nine trustees, subject to regulations imposed by Congress. Trustees shall hold office for one year. All expenditures made by the board are subject to approval by the President of the United States. Trustees are directed to prepare a charter of incorporation and plan for an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

Benjamin Watkins Leigh's Report to the 24th Congress, Sess 1, Senate

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Leigh reports the details of Smithson's will and the opinion of the Committee on the Judiciary to whom the matter was referred. He reports that the Committee has no doubt that the United States government should act on behalf of the District of Columbia and that it is proper for the United States to prosecute its claim to the fund in the English courts.
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