Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/86

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America. It was not greatly to be wondered at that the nation should not up to that time have given any great degree of attention to scientific matters. The proportion of the population having leisure for scientific and especially for astronomical research was but small, and the Government had matters of more vital importance than to attend to the erection of observatories. For several years the attention of Congress had been called to the necessity of a national observatory, but when President Adams, in 1825, made a special appeal to this effect, his proposal met with ridicule and disfavor.

The first action toward the initiation of astronomical research in America bears date March, 1810, when it was proposed in Congress (by Mr. William Lambert, of Virginia) that a first meridian should be established for the United States (the meridian of the Capitol at Washington being selected), in order to obviate the "confusion already existing in consequence of the assumption of different places within the United States as first meridians, on the published maps and charts" in the country. The proposition was at once acted upon. In July, 1812, we find Mr. Monroe, then Secretary of State, indicating; its astronomical bearing. "In admitting," said he, "the propriety of establishing a first meridian within the United States, it follows that it ought to be done with the greatest mathematical precision. It is known that the best mode yet discovered for establishing the meridian of a place is by observations of the heavenly bodies; and that, to produce the greatest accuracy in the result, such observations should be often repeated, at suitable opportunities through a series of years, by means of the best instruments. For this purpose an observatory would be of essential utility. It is only in such an institution, to be founded by the public, that all the necessary implements are likely to be collected together, that systematic observations can be made for any great length of time, and that the public can be made secure of the results of the labors of scientific men. In favor of such an institution it is sufficient to remark that every nation which has established a first meridian has also established an observatory." Mr. Lambert brought in a bill proposing the erection of such an observatory in 1813; but nothing more was done until 1815, when the memorial on which the bill of 1831 had been based was referred to a select committee. No steps were then taken, however, to carry a bill. In November, 1818, a third memorial from Mr. Lambert was presented, and referred to a select committee; but the resolution asked for was not finally passed until March 3, 1821, when Mr. Lambert was appointed by the President "to make astronomical observations by lunar occultations of fixed stars, solar eclipses, or any approved method adapted to ascertain the longitude of the Capitol from Greenwich." In December, 1823, Mr. Lambert, in a report of his labors, gave for the longitude of the Capitol 76° 55' 30". 54, closing his report with a strong appeal for the erection of an observatory.