Thomas Jefferson Papers

Ferdinand R. Hassler to Thomas Jefferson, 5 January 1820

From Ferdinand R. Hassler

NewArk New Jersey 5th January 1820.

Most excellent Sir,

The favorable Recollection which Your Excellency is so kind to honor me with, in his1 letter of the 25th ulto; is an Object of the greatest Satisfaction to me, I am sorry that the Circumstances deprive me yet of the opportunity to shew actively how much I am, in all Situations, disposed to every exertion, towards deserving the approbation of men, who will be so kind to cast an indulgent Judgement upon me.

The Collection of mathematical Instruments & Books, which I procured for the Survey of the Coast, would not be well appropriated for the use of an University, both on Account of its peculiar Nature, as because allmost every part contains Duplicates; and the Collection of Standard Weights & Measures might likely be usefull only in the possession of the Government.   The Amount paid by me in London & Paris is £3733.10.6½2 sterling.

The philosophical Society of Philadelphia requested last Year the Loan of some of the Instruments, to establish an Observatory, but was refused it; the Intention of Government appears to be: to preserve them in the War Department for future use.

I have taken the Liberty to propose to the President of the United States: to establish a national Observatory in Washington, as Instruments, purposely intended for it, are in the Collection, and I had already in 1816. given in the Treasury Department the Plan of an appropriated Building.

Besides the general Scientific Interest and utility, it could become of direct use to Government, by uniting with it: Instruction in nautical Astronomy and hydrography for the Navy, and making it the Deposit of the Standards of Weights & Measures, both Objects now desirable.

The Establishment of it at the Metropolis, where Representatives of the whole Nation meet every Year, would not only spread Interest for Science in the Country; but might probably serve as an Inducement to the Establishment of a Seminary of Learning at Washington, in that Genius, which appears both generally appropriated, and peculiarly adapted to the wants of this Country: namely for exact and natural Sciences; which would form the necessary nursery of Science, without any reference to religious and political Opinions, which seemes to be apprehended in such an Establishment; and furnish for the use of the Government, and the Country at large, well informed men for those practical branches of these sciences, which are of daily application in the Country, and for which the Success of the Military Academy has certainly already given some Encouragement; this very Establishment might then, with advantage, become peculiarly appropriated only to the branch indicated by its name, the Scholars having passed the theoretical Institution before, the same might then apply to the Instruction for the Navy, &c

But I must not here detain You with the Exposition of my Ideas upon a full System of such concurring Establishments, I have only taken the Liberty to tuch the Subject, as a hint upon my more distant Views in the Establishment of a national Observatory, and to take the Liberty to recomand the Idea in Your patronage, as I have every reason to believe: that if supported by men, who so deservedly command the highest Confidence and Credit, it would find a favorable ear in Congress, in its present friendly Disposition towards the Navy, which would be directly benefited by it, and I know several distinguished members of Congress, desiring very much the Establishment of a national Observatory.

If the Instruments are not used at present, a similar Establishment, made at a later period with the same, would, though good, however by the natural Progress of Science, bear at its very birth the appearance of old, besides that the Amount already laid in the Instruments remains so long unproductif, and liable to suffer deterioration.

I am happy to understand that Mr Lechot gives Satisfaction in his Establishment, as I expected; I will take Informations about a Silversmith; but at present I know of none within the sphere of my Connections.

I pray You will accept kindly the homage of the most sincere attachement, and the most profound Esteem with which I have the honor to be.

Your Excellency’s Most Obedt hble St

F: R: Hassler

RC (DLC); dateline adjacent to closing; at foot of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Jan. 1820 and so recorded in SJL.

The Message from the President of the United States transmitting a Report of Secretary of the Treasury, relative to the Measures which have been Taken to Complete an Accurate Survey of the Coast of the United States (Washington, 1816) included financial accounts showing that the Treasury Department owed Hassler £3,724.5.0 for his london & paris expenditures.

On 3 Apr. 1818 the American philosophical society asked the United States Treasury Department for the loan of some of Hassler’s instruments for an astronomical observatory the society was working to establish in Philadelphia. After this request was refused the project was put on hold. In 1816 Hassler had communicated his plans for a national observatory in washington to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander J. Dallas and Commissioner for the Public Buildings Samuel Lane. In about October 1819 Hassler urged President James Monroe to implement the project, but due to questions of location and funding, nothing came of it at this time (Hassler, “Papers on Various Subjects connected with the Survey of the Coast of the United States,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, 2 [1825]: 232–370; Hassler, Principal Documents relating to the Survey of the Coast of the United States [1834], 25–32; Lane to James Madison, 5 July 1816 [DLC: Madison Papers]; Madison to Lane, 12 July 1816 [DLC: Records of the Commissioners of the City of Washington]; Dallas to Madison, 17 July 1816, and Madison to Dallas, 18 July 1816 [CSmH]; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 9 Jan. 1818 [MS in PPAmP]; Hassler to Monroe, [Oct. 1819?] [NN: Monroe Papers; filed at the end of 1819]; Whitfield J. Bell, “Astronomical Observatories of the American Philosophical Society, 1769–1843,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings 108 [1964], 7–14).

1Manuscript: “her.”

2Pound sign reworked from “$.”

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; observatory proposed by search
  • astronomy; national observatory proposed search
  • Charlottesville, Va.; silversmith needed in search
  • Charlottesville, Va.; watchmaker needed in search
  • Congress, U.S.; and national observatory search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Hassler, Ferdinand Rudolph; and instruments for U.S. Coast Survey search
  • Hassler, Ferdinand Rudolph; letters from search
  • Hassler, Ferdinand Rudolph; national observatory proposed by search
  • Lane, Samuel; as commissioner of public buildings search
  • Leschot, Louis A.; as watchmaker search
  • Message from the President of the United States transmitting a Report of Secretary of the Treasury, relative to the Measures which have been Taken to Complete an Accurate Survey of the Coast of the United States (1816; J. Monroe) search
  • Monroe, James; presidency of search
  • Monroe, James; presidential messages of search
  • Navy Department, U.S.; and national observatory search
  • scientific instruments; for U.S. Coast Survey search
  • scientific instruments; for University of Virginia search
  • Treasury Department, U.S.; and proposed national observatory search
  • Treasury Department, U.S.; and U.S. Coast Survey search
  • United States Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.); and national observatory search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; scientific instruments for search
  • War Department, U.S.; and scientific instruments search
  • Washington, D.C.; proposed national observatory in search