The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/National University
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY. History.— The proposition to establish a national university was first made by George Washington. He discussed such a university in his first Presidential message to Congress and from his private fortune bequeathed $25,000 to the nation as a basal sum around which a national university might be built. President Madison likewise urged upon the Congress the wisdom of establishing such an institution. Three of his Presidential messages deal with the matter. John Quincy Adams returned to the subject in a message to Congress, urging upon that body the consummation of Washington's plans. Congress was hostile to the plan. Jefferson opposed it. In 1811 a Congressional committee reported against a national university, pronouncing the scheme unconstitutional. Since then the proposal has been revived by several Presidents and by many statesmen but without favorable results, in spite of the George Washington endowment fund and a popular subscription fund of $30,000, which was paid in 1795.
In 1869 the National Education Association espoused the cause of a national university by appointing a permanent committee of the association to promote the plan. Through this committee the subject was kept alive for more than 30 years. In 1899 a majority of the committee was composed of university presidents and rendered a report calling for Federal aid, but vigorously opposing Federal control of national education and declaring against a university maintained by the Federal government at the national capital. In 1907 the National Association of State Universities pronounced in favor of organized facilities for research in the scientific departments of the Federal government, but opposed a national university as a degree-conferring institution.
Educational and Research Facilities in Washington.—The various bureaus, departments, libraries, literary and scientific collections, museums, etc., maintained by the Federal government in Washington in themselves constitute valuable facilities for university research. They are equipment for university work. While these facilities are not organized in institutional form, they are open to investigators by resolutions passed by Congress in 1892 and again in 1901. The Act of Congress, 3 March 1901, provides:
"That facilities for study and research in the government departments, the Library of Congress, the National Museum, the Zoological Park, the Bureau of Ethnology, the Fish Commission, the Botanic Gardens, and similar institutions hereafter established shall be afforded to scientific investigators and to duly qualified individual students and graduates of institutions of learning in the several states and territories, as well as in the District of Columbia, under such rules and restrictions as the heads of the departments and bureaus mentioned may prescribe."
The resources for study at the national capital are very great. The Library of congress ranks high among the libraries of the world. The Smithsonian Institution has great value to the scientific student. In addition to departmental records and collections in various fields, there is the Corcoran Art Gallery, the Patent Office, the Geological Survey, the Medical Museum, the National Museum and various scientific bureaus, which together constitute an educational equipment far greater in value than that of any one organized educational institution anywhere in the world. Its value has been roughly estimated at $75,000,000. In a real sense this vast equipment is part of the equipment of every university in the United States in so far as such university makes use of it. In its best sense this is a national university where research is carried on under most favorable circumstances; its equipment is maintained by the national treasury; but the seal of approval for scientific achievement is granted in the form of degrees conferred by the universities located in the various States.