The period covered by this volume included some of the darkest years Joseph Henry would ever face. The country was torn apart by a devastating civil war. Washington was threatened with invasion, placing the Smithsonian Institution in jeopardy. Henry’s only son, William, died in 1862 from a sudden illness. Henry’s mentor and confidant, Alexander Dallas Bache, had a physical and mental breakdown, leaving Henry with the task of leading the American scientific community. Toward the end of the war, a fire destroyed part of the Smithsonian Building, adding to the financial strain of the times.
Henry’s opinions on race, democracy, and American society emerge in this volume as he reflected on the events leading to the Civil War. Despite viewing the war as unnecessary, Henry would make many contributions to the Union effort. The volume documents his service on a wartime commission to evaluate inventions and proposals for the Navy Department, his role assisting the government as a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences, and his work aiding maritime navigation as a member of the United States Light-House Board.
Henry’s principal concern throughout the war, aside from the safety of his family, was protecting the institution he had nourished from its beginning in 1846. He strove to minimize disruptions from the war, to assert the Smithsonian’s status as a private, nonpolitical entity, and to keep the institution solvent in the midst of wartime inflation. Henry also faced the challenge of ensuring the Smithsonian remained true to his conception of its core mission, support and publication of scientific research, even as its responsibilities for administering a public museum increased.
Throughout the volume, one sees the central role Henry played in the organization of American science–from attempting to resolve a controversy over the Dudley Observatory in New York, to ensuring the survival of the fledgling National Academy of Sciences, to the restoration of a national scientific community after the war.
Also of Interest
A cumulative index, volume 12, was published in 2008. 320 pp., $49.95.
All other volumes in the series are still available. Click here for contents, prices and description information. Additional information is available from The Joseph Henry Papers Project: http://www.siarchives.si.edu/history/jhp/jhenry.html