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Representation and Petition from the American Philosophical Society


March 7, 1775.

A Representation and Petition from the American Philosophical Society, was presented to the House, and follows in these words, viz:

To the Honourable the Representatives of the Freemen of the Province of PENNSYLVANIA in General Assembly met:

GENTLEMEN: It must yield a sensible satisfaction to the good people of this Province which you represent, to find, that although it be among the youngest of our American settlements, its reputation has risen high among the sister Colonies, and has extended even to the remotest parts of Europe, on account of our many publick spirited Institutions, and our rapid improvements in all useful arts. This satisfaction is also greatly increased, when we consider that, notwithstanding these Institutions, through the necessity of the case, were generally obliged to derive much of their first support from the benevolence of individuals, yet, a liberal spirit for their encouragement and final establishment, has gone forth among our Representatives, in proportion, to the increase of our Provincial funds; and indeed the savings of publick money, after supplying the exigencies of the state, are never more laudably directed than towards the promoting whatever is useful and ornamental in society.

It is with unfeigned gratitude that your Petitioners recollect the repeated occasions you have given them of acknowledging your bounty and protection in carrying on their designs "for the advancement of useful knowledge," and it is their firm resolution never to abuse your former indulgence by any future unnecessary or unimportant applications. By the means now in their own power, they hope in general to be able to prosecute their plan, except so far as they may sometimes find it incumbent on them humbly to suggest to you the encouragement of useful inventions, and the patronizing undertakings beneficial to the whole community; and it is in this last view that they presume to address you at this time.

Amidst the variety of fields which in this new world lie open to the investigation of your Petitioners, they have, for several years, turned their views towards one wherein they hope to gather some of their chief laurels, and to make discoveries alike honourable to their country and themselves. Our distance from the chief Observatories in the world, the purity and serenity of our atmosphere, invite us, nay, loudly call upon us, to institute a series of regular Astronomical


Observations, the comparison of which with those made in Europe and elsewhere, might settle some very important points, and contribute greatly to give a last perfection to Geography and Navigation. The advantages derived to those noble and useful sciences, from such observations, are so obvious, that there is scarce a civilized Nation in the world that has not made some provision for prosecuting them, and your Petitioners have been honoured with repeated solicitations from some of the greatest men in Europe, to join with them in this great work, and in a mutual communication of our labours.

It would be inexcusable, therefore, in your Petitioners to neglect the present opportunity of endeavouring to set such a design on foot, when we have a gentleman among us whose abilities, speculative as well as practical, would do honour to any country, and who is nevertheless indebted for bread to his daily toil, in, an occupation the most unfriendly both to health and study. Under his auspices the work may now be undertaken with the greatest advantages, and others may be bred up by him to prosecute it in future times; but if the present opportunity is neglected, perhaps whole centuries may not afford such another. To rescue such a man from the drudgery of manual labour, and give him an occasion of indulging his bent of genius, with advantage to his country, is an honour which crowned heads might glory in; but it is an honour also, which it is hoped in the case of a native, Pennsylvania would not yield to the greatest Prince or people on earth.

The design which your Petitioners have projected, and now humbly beg leave to lay before your Honourable House, is as follows, viz:

First. That the Honourable Proprietaries be petitioned to grant a lot of ground for erecting a publick Observatory, and to give such other encouragement to the design as they may think proper. And from their known attachment to the interest of this country, as well as their professed readiness to serve the gentleman who is proposed to conduct the design, your Petitioners cannot have any doubt of their kind compliance with this humble request.

Secondly. That the assistance of your Honourable House be also requested, agreeable to the concluding prayer of this Petition.

Thirdly. That a subscription be promoted for erecting a publick Observatory, and furnishing it with such instruments as may be wanted, in addition to those valuable ones now in the Province. Of the success of this subscription among our benevolent fellow-citizens, there can be no doubt, and the expense of the additional instruments will not be great, as the gentleman proposed to conduct the design is capable of constructing them all with his own hand, in the most accurate and masterly manner.

Fourthly. That the Observatory shall he at all times open to the curious, and particularly that captains and mates of vessels, and young gentlemen desirous of obtaining a practical knowledge in Astronomy, shall have admittance, and (under proper rules to be framed for that purpose,) be taught the use of instruments and the method of making observations; especially the new method of ascertaining the longitude at Sea, for the perfecting of which the Parliament of Great Britain has of late given such ample rewards to the singular advantage of trade and navigation.

Fifthly. That the observations to be made by the publick Observer, shall be annually published under the inspection of the American Philosophical Society, and communicated to the learned societies in Europe, with such remarks as may render them generally useful and entertaining.

Sixthly. That the same person might also be appointed Surveyor of the High Roads and Waters, in order that when any publick proposals are to be made for improving navigation and shortening the communications between capital trading places, there may be always a person who has leisure and is skilled in measuring and reducing distances, taking heights and levels, and who may be employed in conjunction with others, when necessary, to make report on all such matters, either at the expense of those who request such service, or at the publick expense, as the case may require.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray, that your Honourable House would take the promises into your consideration, and allow a yearly salary for such person, at least as


a publick Astronomical Observer, if you should not view the additional office of Surveyor of High-Roads and Waters in the same important light as it is viewed by your Petitioners; and they further pray that you would give them leave to bring in a bill for the Legislative appointment of such publick Observer, and for regulating his duty in the execution of his trust; and your Petitioner shall ever pray, &c.

Signed in behalf and by order of the American Philosophical Society, at Philadelphia.


March 6, 1775.