Tag Archives: Natural History

I would LOVE to, but …

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/

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20,000 letters but only one book …

… in the year 1781. I had received a letter from M. de Marbois, of the French legation in Philadelphia … addressing to me a number of queries relative to the state of Virginia. I had always made it a practice whenever an opportunity occurred of obtaining any information of our country, which might be of use to me in any station public or private, to commit it to writing. These memoranda were on loose papers, bundled up without order, and difficult of recurrence when I had occasion for a particular one. I thought this a good occasion to embody their substance, which I did in the order of Mr. Marbois’ queries, so as to answer his wish and to arrange them for my own use … On my arrival at Paris I found it could be done [printed in book form] for a fourth of what I had been asked here [in America]. I therefore corrected and enlarged them, and had 200. copies printed, under the title of Notes on Virginia.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders kill at least two birds with one stone.
Over the years, Jefferson collected a great quantity of material about his native Virginia, unorganized and difficult to access. This French inquiry gave him the opportunity to both gratify the request and bring order to his mess. The result was the only book Jefferson completed, Notes on Virginia. It came to be regarded as an authoritative scientific source, a third bird.

Primarily a compilation of natural history of Virginia, Jefferson answered 23 “Queries” on these topics: 1. Boundaries, 2. Rivers, 3. Sea Ports, 4. Mountains, 5. Cascades, 6. Productions, 7. Climate, 8. Population, 9. Military force, 10. Marine force, 11. Aborigines, 12. Counties and towns, 13. Constitution, 14. Laws, 15. Colleges, buildings and roads, 16. Proceedings as to Tories, 17. Religion, 18. Manners, 19. Manufactures, 20. Subjects of commerce, 21. Weights, Measures and Money, 22. Public revenue and expences, 23. Histories, memorials, and state papers

 

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