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I didn’t realize I had access to most antebellum annual presidential messages until the next-to-last day of my internship. Given the tasks I had remaining, I only had time to view a select few of them. I intently searched out the words that did more than anything else to reinforce the stereotype of President John Quincy Adams as an aloof, effete, stargazing (literally) philosopher-executive:

“Connected with the establishment of an university, or separate from it, might be undertaken the erection of an astronomical observatory, with provision for the support of an astronomer . . . It is with no feeling of pride as an American that the remark may be made that on the comparatively small territorial surface of Europe there are existing upward of 130 of these lighthouses of the skies, while throughout the whole American hemisphere there is not one. If we reflect a moment upon the discoveries which in the last four centuries have been made in the physical constitution of the universe by the means of these buildings and of observers stationed in them, shall we doubt of their usefulness to every nation? And while scarcely a year passes over our heads without bringing some new astronomical discovery to light, which we must fain receive at second hand from Europe, are we not cutting ourselves off from the means of returning light for light [SPACE RACE!] while we have neither observatory nor observer upon our half of the globe and the earth revolves in perpetual darkness to our unsearching eyes?”

These colorful words appear in John Quincy Adams’s First Annual Message to Congress (essentially a State of the Union message), delivered and read aloud on December 6, 1825. You should be able to spot most of that passage on the following page: In the preceding paragraph, Adams noted Europeans’ “profound, laborious, and expensive researches into the figure of the earth and the comparative length of the pendulum vibrating seconds in various latitudes from the equator to the pole.” He genteelly implored Congress to fund “expensive researches” of this sort: “It would be honorable to our country if the sequel of the same experiments should be countenanced by the patronage of our Government.” Read more about the magnificent British and French scientific inquiries below: Here’s the last page of that year’s message, with JQA’s signature: And what would an important state paper be without a hilarious clerical error? I suppose Adams initially planned to deliver this message before he was inaugurated but thought better of it:

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