John Quincy Adams's Rhetorical Crusade for Astronomy
Astronomy thrived in Europe during the early nineteenth century, but in the United States a utilitarian mind-set opposed it. John Quincy Adams's oratory in support of American astronomical discovery reached its peak during congressional debate over the Smithsonian Institution (1838-1846). During this debate Adams countered proposals to found a university with plans for an observatory. His addresses to congressional and public audiences about observatories and astronomy were intended to foster interest in the science and encourage the growing astronomical community in America. Although the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., was established before the Smithsonian debate ended, many considered Adams its political father. Adams composed his speeches on astronomy in a systematic manner, following neoclassical principles of rhetoric that he had taught at Harvard University. His speeches both in and outside of Congress show evidence of the rhetorical principles he conscientiously used in the service of astronomy.