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merican diplomats played a significant
if unheralded role in establishing and
nurturing the Smithsonian Institution.
First, they assisted in securing and
transferring the legacy of James Smith-
son, a British citizen after whom the in-
stitution is named, fromEngland to the
United States. Later, they cared for his tomb in the Anglican
Cemetery in Genoa. And last, they helped to transfer his re-
mains to the United States in 1904.
But who was this Englishman, and why did he leave his for-
tune to a country he never even visited? And what was the role
of U.S. diplomats in fulfilling his wishes?
James Smithson
(1765-1829) was actually born James
Macie, the out-of-wedlock child of Elizabeth Hungerford
Keate Macie (1728-1800) and Hugh Smithson, the first Duke
of Northumberland. In 1786, the future James Smithson grad-
uated fromOxford. Very interested in the natural sciences, he
gained a reputation as a chemist and mineralogist. In April
1787, at age 22, he was elected as a member of the Royal So-
ciety of London, the premier scientific society in England. The
Society published many of his papers, which covered a wide
range of subjects, and connected him with most of the emi-
nent scientists of his time.
In the fall of 1791, James Macie moved to continental Eu-
rope, ultimately ending up in Italy, where he remained until
1796. He returned to England in March 1797. Three years
later, Macie’s mother died and he became very wealthy. He
then applied to change his name from Macie to Smithson, a
petition the courts granted in February 1801.
An Unusual Will
In the fall of 1826, Smithson, now 61, made his last will and
testament, which he probably drafted without legal counsel
and signed on Oct. 23, 1826. It left some money to his ser-
vants, but virtually his entire estate, worthmore than £100,000
(about $150 million today), was intended for his nephew,
Henry James (Dickinson) Hungerford
, the son of his
brother Henry Louis Dickinson. (Henry, who lived from
around 1807 to 1835, had changed his last name fromDickin-
son to Hungerford in 1825 at his uncle’s request.)
The unusual will directed that: “In the case of the death of
my said nephew without leaving a child or children, or the
death of the child or children he may have had under the age
of 21 years or intestate, I then bequeath the whole of my prop-
erty … to the United States of America, to found at Washing-
ton, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an
Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge
among men.”
It remains a mystery why Smithson included this contin-
gent clause in favor of the United States, a country he never
visited. The only tangible evidence of any interest in things
American on his part was a two-volume work by
Isaac Weld
(1774-1856), about Canada and the eastern United States, in
his library.
It has been surmised that Smithson did not want English
scientific institutions to benefit fromhis wealth because he be-
lieved they had not treated him with due deference. It may
also be that he saw in the United States the potential and raw
energy, unfettered by old world traditions and social strictures,
to advance knowledge for the benefit of humanity.
Alternatively, Americans he knewmay have influenced him.
FS H
ERITAGE
U.S. D
IPLOMATS AND
THE
S
MITHSONIAN
T
HE NEXT TIME YOU VISIT A
S
MITHSONIAN MUSEUM
,
TAKE PRIDE
IN THE ROLE OUR PREDECESSORS PLAYED IN MAKING IT A REALITY
.
B
Y
L
UCIANO
M
ANGIAFICO
Luciano Mangiafico, a Foreign Service officer from 1970 to
1991, served in Milan, Palermo, Bucharest, Manila, Bridge-
town and Washington, D.C. Since his retirement from the
Service, he has continued to work as an inspector for the State
Department. The author of two books,
Contemporary Amer-
ican Immigrants
and
Italy’s Most Wanted
, he writes on foreign
policy, business and the arts for various publications.
A
F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
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