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26th and 28th of January, 1847, and commonly called the “compromise resolutions.”
As these resolutions were adopted with great formality, after an animated discussion, in the Board of Regents, it would certainly seem imperative that they should not be abrogated, or varied from, without a full, free, and fair discussion, in which all who were originally interested in them should have an opportunity to take a part; that the action should be deliberate and formal.
The proposition of the secretary was made at the last meeting of the annual session of the Board for 1853, when it was not supposed that any important business remained to be transacted. There was not, it appears, a legal quorum of the Board in attendance. It was at this meeting, of four members of the Board, that this most important of all the measures proposed to the Board for the last six years was first formally introduced. Objection was made to hasty action; and it was proposed to refer the subject to a committee, who should report at the next annual meeting. It was then remarked that there would be ample time and opportunity for discussion, and that every one would be allowed freely to express his views.
The year, however, passed; the next annual meeting of the Board occurred; and no notice of the appointment of this committee had been given to the members of it. The annual report of that year was not printed till October or November. In that the record of the proceedings of the meeting of the 12th of March was not contained. It is true that the report had been presented to Congress before the date of the meeting; but it was returned to the secretary. The remarks of the secretary at the meeting were, in substance, inserted in the report when printed ; and on a previous occasion the proceedings of the Board of Visitors, at a meeting held subsequent to the presentation of the report to Congress, were printed with that report.
I cannot forbear to add that the acceptance of an officer charged with the execution of the provisions of a well-understood compromisein the formation of which he was actively concerned—seemed to furnish a strong guarantee of honor for the fair administration of it on the part of the secretary; and that no measures would be taken which would tend to increase the share of funds and influence of the department which he particularly advocated, (and which was thus placed in ascendancy,) to the injury and diminished usefulness of the other department. We should, therefore, be led to the conclusion that it must be in obedience to some overmastering necessity that a proposition to change the plan should come from the party whose views were to be furthered by the proposed change, and to whom the whole administration had been confided; and more especially that not only such a change should be proposed, but, without waiting for the authority of the Board, be actually commenced. The secretary, when he presented his last report, gave in the annual statement of accounts; which showed to the Board that nearly $5,000—(being more than one-fifth of the whole sum divided between the two departments)—$4,691-more had been exrended on one department during the year than on the other. The accounts of the previous year, as printed, showed an excess of nearly $3,000 in favor of the same department. In the remarks accompanying
the presentation of the accounts, the secretary offered no further reason for this variation from the compromise than to say that adherence to it had been “impossible."
I am utterly unable to form the slightest conception of the nature of the impossibility alluded to. The arguments which the secretary had previously urged, and then again referred to for departing from the compromise, so as to devote a larger share of the funds to the department of publications, researches, lectures, &c., and less to the library and museum, are contained in his last two printed reports. Upon these arguments I wish to offer some remarks.
A prominent and often repeated reason which the secretary has offered in favor of his scheme is, that the “ active operations,” as he designates the department of publications, researches, and lectures, are most in accordance with the will of Smithson. He goes so far as to call these “ the only plan in strict conformity with the terms of the will,” " the only means of properly carrying out the intention of the donor," " the only legitimate object of the bequest.”
But Congress, after years of animated discussion, during which plans embracing every important feature of those of the “ active operations” were considered, had come to a different conclusion. They rejected these, and adopted other plans, which they declared to be “ for the faithful execution of said trust according to the will of the liberal and enlightened donor."
The government of the United States is the trustee under Smithson's will, and it would follow that Congress alone had the power to interpret it. They exercised this power, and their interpretation must be authoritative and final, till reversed by themselves. They gave to the Board of Regents no power to consider the will of Smithson, except a case which has never arisen, when moneys might accrue at interest on the Smithsonian fund not required for the purposes provided in the act. (See section 9.) It never has been contended that the purposes provided in the act, a library, museum, gallery of art, chemical laboratory, and lectures, have all been provided for on a liberal scale, as Congress required and intended. The argument which I am noticing might be used before Congress to induce them to amend or otherwise change the law, but it has no place or force elsewhere. The right to determine the interpretation to be put upon the will of Smithson vested in Congress exclusively. The Board of Regents were appointed to conduct the business of an institution, the character of which is distinctly prescribed by the charter by which they are constituted Regents. The charter is binding upon them as well as upon others.
" It is the first duty of the Regents,” (says the first chancellor of the Institution, in his address delivered at the laying of the corner-stone of the Smithsonian building,) " it is the first duty of the Regents to obey the unequivocal behests of Congress—to carry them out faithfully on the scale, and in the spirit they obviously import; and to let their measures flow, not from their own discretion, but from the provisions of the law, which they are empowered to execute. I say this (he continued) in explanation of the dimensions which the building must necessarily take. It is consecrated to the various and boundless objects that tend * to increase and diffuse knowledge.' It is designed to participate as a
satellite in the duration and march of our glorious Union—to be the depository of all the rare productions of nature and art which centuries may gather, and to throw open halls sufficiently ample to contain the knowledge-seeking masses of our countrymen. Congress have stamped this character upon it by prescribing and appropriating its vast interior compartments, and by other positive expressions of their will."
This view of the secretary that it comes within the attributes of his office to interpret the will of Smithson, seems to have been formed in the earliest days of his connexion with the Institution, and to have continued to exert as great influence over him as any other consideration. In the first draft of the “ programme of organization” embodying, (in the language of the secretary,) " suggestions to be provisionally adopted, and to be carried into operation gradually and cautiously, with such changes, from time to time, as experience may dictate”—presented by the secretary to the Board of Regents, and subsequently “provisionally adopted” by them—in the first printed draft of this programme, among the “ general considerations which should serve as a guide in adopting a plan of organization,” the act of Congress is not once mentioned or alluded to. The deductions are entirely such as the secretary draws from his interpretation of the will of Smithson, and the proposed measures flow from his own discretion. It is proper, however, to add, that before this programme received from the Board of Regents the sanction of provisional adoption, the following was added as the 14th and last consideration :
14. “Besides the foregoing considerations deduced immediately from the will of Smithson, regard must be had to certain requirements of the act of Congress establishing the Institution. These are a library, a museum, and a gallery of art, with a building on a liberal scale to contain them."
Another argument which the secretary has repeatedly urged in support of his views, is as follows: I quote from his printed report.
" It is proper to remark that this compromise was founded upon another, namely, that the cost of the building and furniture should be limited to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. But in order to the better security of the collections, the Regents have since found it necessary to add, in round numbers, fifty thousand dollars to this sum, which must, of course, diminish the income which would otherwise have been devoted to the active operations."
And in his last printed report :
“ The building was to have been furnished in five years, and the income after this was to be increased by the interest on the remaining surplus fund; but the Regents have found it necessary, for the better security of the library and museum, to add fifty thousand dollars to the cost of the edifice; and ten years will have elapsed from the beginning, instead of five, before any income from the surplus fund will be available. This additional expense is not incurred for the active operations, and the question may be asked whether they ought to bear any part of the additional burden."
Respecting these statements the following remarks may be made:
1. The original action of the Board respecting the cost of the building was founded solely upon the estimates of the architect. This action
was subsequently rescinded on the adoption of the report to which the secretary alludes as a “compromise,” limiting the cost of the building and furniture to $250,000.
On this action of the Board, the secretary states, “was founded” the compromise for the permanent division of the income.
But the compromise dividing the income was enacted on the 26th and 28th of January, 1847, and the action of the Board, fixing the cost of the building at $250,000, was not taken till nearly eleven months afterwards, namely, on the 21st of December, 1847.
This fact is sufficient, in reply to the argument, unless it can be shown how a transaction can be founded upon another which occurred nearly eleven months afterwards. But,
2. It is especially provided in the resolutions limiting the cost of the building, that nothing contained in them shall be construed to rescind or in any way impair the force of certain resolutions passed by the Board on the 26th and 28th of January last, including the following: (The compromise resolutions being then recited in full.)
3. The larger and better half of that part of the building upon which the additional sum will be expended, is destined to the accommodation of the department of publications, researches, and lectures, and that to the very great detriment of the museum, which has been deprived of the magnificent hall originally devoted to its accommodation.
4. All the objects proposed to be gained by the resolutions limiting the cost of the building to $250,000, and which are elaborately set forth in the report introducing the resolutions, namely, the saving of about $140,000 of the building fund to be added to the permanent fund, have been fully gained and exceeded. This sum has been saved. It has been saved by protracting the time for completing the building, and expending upon the building a part of the fund designed for the current purposes of the Institution. This delay was known and felt to be a temporary injury to the library and museum. As a compensation for it, the committee argued that there would be an addition [to the income) of $8,400 annually, forever; one-half of which, by the resolutions hereinafter recited, commonly called the compromise resolutions, will inure to the benefit of the library.” And again they say, “ by the operation of the present plan, it (the annual appropriation for the purchase of books) may, therefore, be considered as doubled or nearly so. The additional $4,200 added by that plan, annually, forever, to the library appropriation, is far more than an equivalent for the delay it presupposes in the accumulation of works not wanted for immediate use, or present purposes; a delay extending only to the period when suitable permanent arrangements can be made for their reception." The temporary injury to the library was felt and acknowledged by the committee; and the friends of the library were asked to acquiesce, because of promised ulterior advantages to both departments. The continued delay has been still more injurious.
But now that the long delayed day is at length near at hand, after the price has been paid by the library for saving the money, which was to have been in part returned to it in the increased income of the library “FOREVER,” the very scheme by which the library was tempo
rarily deprived of funds for this purpose, is brought forward to justify a plan of depriving the library, not only of the promised compensation for such delay, but of a further indefinite reduction of its original income. The additional expenditure paid for by the additional delay in allowing to the library the income which it would otherwise have had, is proposed as a reason for withholding still more of its income, if not all of it FOREVER.
Another argument of the secretary for his plan is as follows:
“ The income is too small to properly support more than one system of operations, and therefore the atiempt to establish and sustain three departments, with separate ends and separate interests, must lead to inharmonious action, and consequently to diminished usefulness."
If the income is too small to properly support more than one system of operations, it is too small to support anything beyond the system required by the act of Congress. All the income is required for the purposes provided in the act, and it is only in case that there is more money than is needed for the purposes provided in the act, that there is il shadow of authority for introducing anything not specified in the act. "The only logical and legal inference then from this statement is, that the active operations are utterly illegal, and should be completely displaced. If, as is abundantly manifest, the plan proposed by the secretary is permitted by the charter only in the event of a surplus of income, an argument built upon the inadequacy of income is most singularly baseless.
As to the inharmonious action, it may be remarked that the secretary has said in the programme that the departments established by the compromise “are not incompatible with one another," and in a report he has also said, “the two plans, namely, that of publications and original research, and that of collections of objects of nature and art, are not incompatible, and may be carried on harmoniously with each other.” If they are not incompatible, they certainly do not necessarily lead to inharmonious action. The inharmonious action must be attributable to causes which can easily be corrected-some fault of the officers in charge, or some defect in the organization of the departments. If one department is allowed to encroach upon another, there will, of course, be inharmonious action.
Another argument of the secretary is thus expressed:
“ By a reference to the annual reports of the executive committee, it will be seen that the general incidental expenses have continually increased from year to year, and it is evident that they must continue to increase in a geometrical ratio, on account of the greater repairs which, in time, will be required on the building. After deducting from the income the cost of repairs, lighting and heating; of messengers, attendants and watchmen; of stationery, transportation and postage; after dividing the remainder by two, and deducting from the quotient the expense of the public lectures, the final sum to be devoted to the most important, and, indeed, the only legitimate object of the bequest, is exceedingly small."
By “the most important and indeed the only legitimate object of the bequest,” the secretary manifestly does not mean what Congress established as such, but what he considers such, namely, the “active