Tag Archives: Museum
Th: Jefferson presents his acknolegements to mr Perrein for the offer of his collection in Natural history [plant or animal specimens for observation]; but his pursuits in life having never permitted him to think for a moment of forming a museum himself, he cannot avail himself of mr Perrein’s proposition. on the contrary, whatever he recieves worth preservation he is in the habit of giving either to the Philosophical society or to mr Peale.
Thomas Jefferson to Jean Perrein, March 8, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A wise leader can love something without taking it on.
Perrein knew Thomas Jefferson’s passion for natural history and offered his collection to establish a museum. The President declined, not out of lack of interest but knowing other responsibilities precluded his ever “forming a museum.”
Jefferson suggested two destinations for Perrein’s collection, both in Philadelphia. One recipient was the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s premier science organization. The other was Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), founder of America’s foremost museum.
Of Lewis and Clark’s 300 plant and animal specimens delivered the following year, Jefferson kept a few for display at Monticello. The rest went to the Society or Peale’s museum. The Society still holds a major portion of Lewis and Clark’s original journals from their epic 1804-1806 adventure.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
no person on earth can entertain a higher idea than I do of the value of your collection … and I very much wish it could be made public property … you know that one of the great questions which has divided political opinion in this country is Whether Congress are authorised by the constitution to apply the public money to any but the purposes specially enumerated [listed] in the Constitution? those who hold them to the enumeration, have always denied that Congress have any power to establish a National academy …
To Charles Willson Peale, January 16, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Constitutional leaders limit their authority, emotion notwithstanding.
Peale (1741-1827), noted artist and friend of Jefferson’s, established Peale’s American Museum in Philadelphia, to chronicle the nation’s natural (scientific) history. Peale asked his friend if the nation might purchase his museum and move it to Washington to become a national academy.
Jefferson the scientist would have jumped on such an offer but for the Constitution. Instead, he referred to the debate in Congress whether the national government was limited in spending money only on the purposes listed in that document. His opinion was that the majority of Congress agreed with a very limited role.
Though Jefferson loved the idea of acquiring Peale’s museum for the national capital, he held the same opinion as Congress, expressed in a recent post. Perhaps it was his friendship with Peale that kept him from declining the offer personally, as he did in that post, laying the responsibility with the Congress.
Peale’s museum did become the nation’s premier repository of natural history specimens, though it remained a private endeavor. Many plant and animal specimens collected by Lewis & Clark found their permanent home there. Some years later, one of Peale’s sons moved the museum to Baltimore.
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Originally posted at http://ThomasJeffersonLeadership.com/blog/