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Lord Hugh Percy and the Smithsonian

Lord Hugh Percy American History American Revolution Famous People Social Studies Visual Arts

Born Hugh Smithson, Lord Percy was the 2nd Duke of Northumberland and a Member of Parliament. He was at the battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolutionary War, ultimately attaining the rank of Lieutenant-General.

One of the wealthiest men in England, during his lifetime, he died in July of 1817. In 1838, His half-brother, James Smithson, left a bequest to the United States in the amount of $508,318—the equivalent of $11,413,888 in 2015—which was used as the initial funding for the Smithsonian Institute.

The funds James Smithson left, after his death in 1826, represented everything he owned at the time he passed away. His original beneficiary was his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, but if Hungerford died without children—legitimate or illegitimate—Smithson's Will stated that the bequest would go to:

...the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

Deciding whether to accept the gift from Smithson—and, if it were accepted, how to use the funds—led to a years-long debate within the federal government. Finally, on 10 August 1846, President James K. Polk signed a bill into law creating the Smithsonian Institution.

It had taken more than ten years to decide how (and whether) to spend James Smithson's money. 

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5123stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: May 08, 2017


Media Credits

Portrait, 1788, courtesy Ancient House of Percy.

PD

 

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