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The Creation Of the National Academy Of Sciences

By an Act of Congress in 1863 the National Academy of Sciences was signed into being by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863 and with incorporation on April 23, 1863 our organization began its great work.

Opening of the first session of the Academy, April 23, 1863, in an address by Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts:

“This Act, under which you have met to organize, incorporates in America, and for America, a National Institution, who objects, ranging over the illimitable fields of science, are limited only by the wondrous capacities of the human intellect. Such an institution has been for years in the thought and on the tongue of the devotees of science, but its attainment seemed far in the future. Now it is an achieved fact. Our country has spoken it into being, in this ‘dark and troubled night’ of its history and commission you, gentlemen, to mould and fashion its organization, to infuse into it that vital and animating spirit that shall win in the boundless domains of science the glittering prizes of achievement that will gleam forever on the brow of the nation.”

And at another point in his address:

“This Academy is destined, I trust, to live as long as the republic shall endure, and to bear upon its rolls the names of the savans of coming generations. Let it then advance its high standard. Let it be as inflexible as justice, and as uncompromising as truth. Let it speak with the authority of knowledge, that pretension may shrink abashed before it, and merit everywhere turn to it confident of recognition.”

In closing, he set our legacy:

“It will ever be among my most cherished recollections, that I have been permitted through your courtesy to unite with you in organizing this National Academy, which, we fondly hope, will gather round it, in the centuries yet to come, the illustrious sons of genius and of learning, whose researches will enrich the sciences. and reflect unfading luster upon the republic.”

In the first report of the Academy to Congress, dated March 28, 1864, Professor Bache, the first president, remarked:

“The want of an institution by which the scientific strength of our country may be brought, from time to time, to the aide of the government in guiding action by the knowledge of scientific principles and experiments, has long been felt by the patriotic scientific men of the United States.”

Joseph Henry, then President of the Academy in 1867, in that year’s report of the Academy to Congress, remarked:

“The organization of this Academy may be hailed as marking an epoch in the history of philosophical opinions in our country. It is the first recognition by our government of the importance of abstract science as an essential element of mental and material progress.”