Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How "far" we've come

"James Smithson (1765-1829), the British chemist and mineralogist who studied the chemistry of minerals [oddly enough], never visited the United States, but left his estate to a nephew, saying that if the nephew died childless, the estate would go to America to found the Smithsonian Institute (which occurred in 1846).

Causing many debates on both sides of the Atlantic, President Andrew Jackson asked Congress to pass legislation allowing him to accept the gift, unsure whether the Constitution gave him this authority.

Senator John C. Calhoun, among others, opposed acceptance and maintained that Congress had no authority to accept the gift. Congress finally authorized acceptance in 1836, and a museum was agreed on 10 years later." (Emphases mine)

- (Science's Most Wanted, by Susan Conner and Linda Kitchen, Brassey's, Inc., page 157)

Imagine that. There was actually a time period in this country when our benevolent national leaders recognized that there were hard limits on their "authority", and they actually fiercely debated an issue as innocuous as the acceptance of a bequest.

Ah, the good ol' days.

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