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March 3, 1855–Laid upon the table and ordered to be printed.
LETTER OF HON. RUFUS CHOATE, RESIGNING THE OFFICE OF REGENT
OF THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION.
To Hon. Jesse D. BRIGHT, President pro tempore of the Senate, and
Hon. Linn Boyd, Speaker of the House of Representatives : I take leave to communicate to the two Houses of Congress my resignation of the office of Regent of the Smithsonian Institution.
It is due to the body which has been pleased to honor me with this trust for some years, and has recently conferred it for a new term, to say that this step is taken not from any loss of interest in the welfare of that important establishment, but in part from the inconvenience experienced in attending the meetings, and in part, also, and more immediately, from my inability to concur or acquiesce in an interpretation of the act of Congress constituting the actual institution and the Board of Regents, which has been adopted, and is now about to be practically carried into administration by a majority of the Board. That act, it has seemed to me, peremptorily " directs a manner," and devises and prescribes a plan, according to which it intends that she institution shall accomplish the will of the donor. By the earlier law accepting the gift, Congress engaged to direct such a manner and to devise such a plan, and pledged the faith of the United States that the funds should be applied according to such plan and such manner. In fulfilment of that pledge, and in the performance of its inalienable and incommunicable duty as trustee of the charity, that body, after many years of deliberation—from which it never sought to relieve itself by devolving the work upon the discretion of others—matured its plan, and established the actual Institution to carry it out. Of this plan, the general features are sketched with great clearness and great completeness in the law. Without resorting for aid, in its interpretation, to its parliamentary history, the journals and debates, the substantial meaning seems to be palpable and unequivocal in its terms. By such aid it is rendered quite certain. A Board of Regents is created to administer it. Some discretionary powers, of course, are given to the board in regard of details and in regard of possible surpluses of income which may remain at any given time while the plan of Congress is being zealously and judiciously carried into effect; but these discretionary powers are given, I think, in trust for the plan of Congress
, and as auxiliary to, coöperative with, and executory of it. They were given for the sake of the plan, simply to enable the Regents the more effectually and truly to administer that very one—not to enable them to devise and administer another of their own, unauthorized in the terms of the law, incom
patible with its announced objects and its full development—not alluded to in it anywhere, and which, as the journals and the debates inform us, when presented to the House under specific propositions, was re jected.
Of this aci an interpretation has now been adopted by which it has seemed to me these discretionary means of carrying the will of Congress into effect are transformed into means of practically disappointing that will, and of building up an institution substantially unlike that which it intended; which supersedes and displaces it, and in effect repeals the law. Differences of opinion had existed in the Board from its first meeting, in regard of the administration of the act; but they were composed by a resolution of compromise, according to which a full half of the annual income was to be eventually applied in permanence to what I deem the essential parts of the plan of Congress. That resolution of compromise is now formally rescinded, and henceforward the discretion of the Regents, and not the act of Congress, is to be the rule of appropriation; and that discretion has already declared itself for another plan than what I deem the plan of Congress. It may be added that, under the same interpretation, the office and powers of secretary are fundamentally changed from those of the secretary of the law, as I read it, and are greatly enlarged.
In this interpretation 1 cannot acquiesce; and with entire respect for the majority of the Board, and with much kindness and regard to all its members, I am sure that my duty requires a respectful tender of resignation. I make it accordingly, and am,
Your obedient servant,
RUFUS CHOATE. WASHINGTON, D. C., January 13, 1855.
IN THE House of REPRESENTATIVES, U. S.-January 17, 1855.
On motion of Mr. Meacham, Resolved, That the letter of Hon. Rufus Choate, resigning his place as Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, be referred to a select committee of five, and printed; and that said committee be directed to in. quire and report to this House whether the Smithsonian Institution has been managed, and its funds expended, in accordance with the law establishing the Institution; and whether any additional legislation be necessary to carry out the designs of its founders, and that said committee have power to send for persons and papers.
The Speaker thereupon appointed Mr. 'Upham, of Massachusetts ; Mr. Witte, of Pennsylvania; Mr. Taylor, of Tennessee; Mr. Wells, of Wisconsin ; and Mr. Puryear, of North Carolina, the said committee.
Mr. Upham, from the Select Committee, made the following
REPORT. The Select Committee of the House of Representatives, to whom were referred
the letter of the Hon. Rufus Choate, resigning his place as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, with instructions to inquire and report to the House whether the Smithsonian Institution has been münaged and its funds expended in accordance with the law establishing the institution, and whether any additional legislation be necessary to carry out the designs of the founder; the memorial of Lorin Blodgett for a remedy against the Smithsonian Institution for labor and researches in physical science, made for the benefit of said institution; and the petition of John Grable and sundry others, citizens of St. Joseph's, Missouri, praying for the publication of a monthly periodical, exhibiting the progress of knowledge and of society, and to be distributed by said institution among the people, beg leave to submit the following report:
The short time allowed for investigating the matters referred to the committee, and the pressure of other duties during the few crowded last weeks of the session, render anything like a full and thoroughly satisfactory report impossible. The transactions to which their aitention has been called are so complicated in their nature and extensive in their details, that it was soon found entirely out of the question to attempt to examine them with sufficient fullness and minuteness to be qualified or justified in pronouncing or even forming a decisive judgment on the merits of the questions involved. The evidence taken and submitted will guide the members of the House to so much of a conclusion on the several points and issues as the committee have been able to reach.
So far as the case of Mr. Lorin Blodgett is concerned, the committee would observe, that he does not claim to have made any explicit contract, in writing or in conversation with the secretary of the Board of Regents; that the compensation he received appears to have been all that was ever expressly or distinctly agreed upon; and that as it respects the value of his labors above the compensation he received, or the degree to which he acquired any separate, private, scientific, or literary property in any papers or documents prepared by him while in the institution, they have been wholly unable to derive any definite ideas from his statements. In reference to his assertion that certain equitable or legal rights are withheld from him, the committee can only say that, although the hearing afforded him occupied a large portion of their time, he failed to make his own view of the point clearly intelligible, and that it is utterly impossible for them, at this period of the session, to enter into such an examination of the vast amount of documents, resulting more or less from his labors, as would be necessary in order to begin to form an opinion. An impartial arbitration by scientific persons would, it the committee may be allowed to offer a suggestion to the Board of Regents, probably be the best way to determine whether there is any foundation for the complaints he makes, or for the claim of rights which he imagines himself to possess. The committee feel it due to candor to say that they have not been able to ap
preciate any clear ground for his claims, but due also to justice to say that he is unfortunate in not having a facility in rendering easily intelligible the ideas which he very earnestly, and no doubt very honestly, entertains on the subject. Indeed, a personal, laborious, and patient examination, by direct inspection, of the records, tables, maps, and other papers or documents, in which he avers that he has rights that are withheld, and claims for compensation beyond what he acknowledges to bave received, will be found absolutely indispensable to enable any one to understand precisely what he means, or to determine whether there is any foundation for his claims, either of authorship or for compensation. The committee would have been willing to encounter the task; but the want of time absolutely forbids the attempt; and, after all, it would, perhaps, have been useful scarcely for any other purpose than to satisfy their own minds. They could not advise, in any event, the action of Congress upon the subject, as the whole transaction, according to Mr. Blodgett's own account, was, from first to last, placed and kept by him in the discretion and decision of the Board of Regents.
In discharging the main part of their duty, relating to the management of the institution, whether it has been in accordance with the law, and to the question, whether any furt jer legislation is necessary, the committee will, in the first place, pr sent such a history of the whole matter, as will, in conjunction with the evidence presented in the appendix to this report, enable every mmber of the House to form a judg. ment on the subject.
The following is the will of SMITHSON:
I, James Smithson, son of Hugh, first Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth, heiress of the Hungertords of Audley, and neice of Charles the Proud, Duke of Somerset, now residing in Bentinck street, Cavendish square, do this 23d day of October, 1826, make this my last will and testament :
I bequeath the whole of my property, ofevery nature and kind soever, to my bankers, Messrs. Drummonds, of Charing Cross, in trust, to be disposed of in the following manner, and desire of my said executors to put my property under the management of the court of chancery.
To John Fitall, formerly my servant, but now employed in the London docks, and residing at No. 27 Jubilee Place, North Mile End, Old Town, in consideration of his attachment and fidelity to me, and the long and great care he has taken of my effects, and my having done but very little for him, I give and bequeath the annuity or annual sum of £100 sterling for his life, to be paid to him quarterly, free from legacy duty and all other deductions; the first payment to be made to him at the expiration of three months after my death. I have at divers times lent sums of money to Henry Honori Juilly, formerly my servant, but now keeping the Hungerford Hotel, in the Rue Caumartin, at Paris, and for which sums of money I have undated bills or bonds signed by him. Now I will and direct that, if he desires it, these sums of money be let remain in his hands at an interest of five per cent. for five years after the date of the present will.
To Henry James Hungerford, my nephew, beretofore called Henry James Dickinson, son of my late brother, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Louis Dickinson, now residing with Mr. Auboin, at Bourg la Reine, near
Paris, I give and bequeath for his life the whole of the income arising from my property, of every nature and kind whatever, after the payment of the above annuity, and, after the death of John Fitall, that annuity likewise, the payments to be at the time the interest or dividends become due on the stocks or other property from which the income arises.
Should the said Henry James Hungerford have a child or children, legitimate or illegitimate, I leave to such child or children, his or their heirs, executors, and assigns, after the death of his, her, or their father, the whole of my property of every kind, absolutely and forever, to be divided between them, if there is more than one, in the manner their father shall judge proper, and in case of his omitting to decide this, as the Lord Chancellor shall judge proper.
Should my nephew, Henry James Hungerford, marry, I empower him to make a jointure.
In case of the death of my said nephew without leaving a child or children, or of the death of the child or children he may have had, under the age of 21 years, or intestate, I then bequeath the whole of my property, subject to the annuity of £100 to John Fitall, and for the security and payment of which I mean stock to remain in this country, to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.
I think it proper here lo state, that all the money which will be standing in the French five per cents. at my death in the name of the father of my above-mentioned nephew, Henry James Hungerford, and all that in my name, is the property of my said nephew, being what he inherited from his father, or what I have laid up for him from the savings upon his income.
JAMES SMITHSON, (L. s.] His death occurred about two years after the date of the will. Congress accepted the bequest in the following act : AN ACT to authorize and enable the President to assert and prosecute, with effect, the claim of the United States to the legacy bequeathed to them by James Smithson, late of London, deceased, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.
Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to constitute and appoint an agent or agents to assert and prosecute for and in behalf of the United States, and in their name or otherwise, as may be advisable, in the court of chancery, or other proper tribunal of England, the right of the United States to the legacy bequeathed to them by the last will and testament of James Smithson, late of London, deceased, for the purpose of founding at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men; and to empower such agent or agents so appointed to receive and grant acquittances for all such sum or sums of money, or other funds, as may or shall be decreed or adjudged to the United States for or on account of said legacy.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the said agent or agents shall,