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J. FRANCIS FISHER TO THE SECRETARIES OF THE
AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.
(Read in Committee, November 13. 1840.)
TO THE SECRETARIES OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL
Before you make a report on M' DuPonceau's communication & mine relative to the early History of our Society, I would wish merely to state, that in giving the year 1744 as the earliest to which it could carry back its history, and naming the Am. Phil. Soci then instituted as the eldest of its two parents, I had no other object than to give Dr Franklin all the honour possible as our Founder. There is little doubt that he was the Projector of that Society. Of the Society for promoting Useful Knowledge he clearly was not the founder & could hardly be considered a member as he never was present at a meeting nor seems to have been in any communication with it & was only elected first a member & then its President a short time before its union with the Am. Phil. Soc' after that union was projected & probably with a view to it. It does not appear to me that he took any part in the negociations for the union & tho' elected the first President of the united Society can in no way be considered its parent unless we go back to the year 1744 & take the Society of that year as our oldest ancestress. Tho' it became dormant for more than twenty years he was still considered a member on its revival;
it was carried on after the plan probably drawn up by him, which was certainly a more enlarged one & more resembling that adopted by our Society than the form of the Soc' for Proms Useful Knowledge. I lately received a letter from Mr. Sparks, which I have unfortunately mislaid or I would send it to you. The purport of it was this—He had learnt that M' DuPonceau had written a History of the Society giving an account essentially at variance with the brief sketch in one of his Notes. He calls upon me to answer it and at the same time states that after my having given him my sketch, which he abridged into that note, he examined the Minutes of the two old Societies himself, and came precisely to the same conclusion as I had done. Neither he nor myself need, I hope, disavow any wish to detract from the fame of Dr Franklin.
I am very glad I have anticipated the wish of my friend M Sparks without the necessity of reviewing or answering M' DuPonceau's communication of which I hope to avoid the appearance as well as the reality
With the greatest regard
J. FRANCIS FISHER
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE
DATE OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE
APPOINTED, FEBRUARY 18, 1910
READ MAY 1st, 1914
Your committee appointed on February 18, 1910, to investigate and determine the date of the foundation of the Society has the honor to report:
In the appendix to the first volume of the Works of Franklin edited by Jared Sparks, which were published in 1840, appeared a sketch of the history of the American Philosophical Society. The material was prepared by Mr. J. Francis Fisher, who had become a member of the Society in 1833. It seems to have been the general belief up to this time that the Society was descended from Franklin's famous Junto of 1727; but the doubts expressed by Mr. Sparks and the denial implied in the facts alleged by Mr. Fisher gave rise to differences of opinion as to the exact date of its foundation. The venerable President of the Society, Mr. DuPonceau, who had become a member in 1791, was impelled by his position and his knowledge of the history and origins of the association, derived from conversa
tions with many of its early members, to refute the statements and arguments advanced by Mr. Fisher against the prevailing belief. He prepared an elaborate “Historical Account” of the origin of the Society, in which he gave his reasons for his conviction “that the ‘American Society' was no other than the Junto established by Franklin, which, when it was united to the ‘Philosophical Society, had only changed its name, extended its views, and increased the number of its members, without ceasing to be a continuation of the original association.” (See Historical Account, p. 4.) Presented on the 19th of June, 1840, this paper was read at an adjourned meeting held a week afterward; and at the same time Mr. Fisher's communication was read in defence of the new views set forth by Mr. Sparks and himself.
These papers were referred to a special committee, which, on October 15, 1841, made an elaborate report based upon the papers in question and upon certain supplementary letters and other material. After reviewing all the available evidence, the Committee arrived at two conclusions, one theoretical and not quite final, the other practical and explicit. They found that the account given by Mr. Sparks of the origin of the Society is “substantially correct," and concluded, after reciting the admitted facts that the present Society was formed in 1769 by the union of the American Society, which was known as the Junto as early as 1750 and down to 1767, and the American Philosophical So
ciety, which was founded in 1743,—“that the evidence before the Committee does not establish the identity of the Junto which was formed by Franklin in 1727, with that which afterwards became the American Society, though they appear to have been the same in many marked particulars”; and that'dating from the establishment of the elder parent-society, our centennial anniversary should be celebrated on the 14th (25th, new style) of May 1843.”
This report of the older committee, apart from their recommendation in regard to the centennial anniversary, was designedly inconclusive. “It must be admitted,” they say, “that chasms still remain in our early annals which require to be filled up, that doubts exist upon some points and discrepancies of opinion on others.” In the hope that more facts might be obtained to fill these gaps they recommended that neither Mr. DuPonceau's paper nor Mr. Fisher's be published, and that“both be deposited in the archives as valuable contributions to the early history of the Society.” It is clear that the committee did not regard the year 1743 as absolutely fixed for the official date of the foundation of the Society; they simply recommended it as the terminus from which to reckon their centenary, as the date of the establishment of the elder parent-society." There was no question in regard to that date; and, as 1827 was long passed, the approaching year 1843 seemed to the committee to be clearly indicated for the celebration. Their action, therefore, did not finally