The Passionate Empiricist

The Eloquence of John Quincy Adams in the Service of Science

By Marlana Portolano

Subjects: Composition And Rhetoric Studies, Communication, American History, American Studies, Science And Society
Paperback : 9780791477007, 245 pages, January 2010
Hardcover : 9780791476994, 245 pages, January 2009

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Table of contents

1. A Classical Voice for American Science

2. An American Cicero
Adams the Professor of Rhetoric/The Lectures on Rhetoric: An Outline of Adams’s Theory/Competing Rhetorical Teachings in Adams’s Time
Twenteth-Century Rhetorical Theory: An Aid for Contemporary Readers

3. Toward a Democratic Science: Institution-Building and the Statesman Orator
Adams’s Early Development as an Orator for Democratic Science/ The Presidency as Pulpit for Science/Appealing to the Audience: Early American Attitudes toward Science

4. Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge: Setting the Stage for the Smithsonian Debate
The Question of James Smithson’s Intentions/ The Smithsonian and the Ethos of Scientific Discovery/Early Scientific Institutions as Models in Deliberative Rhetoric/The Smithsonian as Locus for Common Knowledge/ An Imperious and Indispensable Obligation/The State of the Controversy

5. Adams’s Arguments in the Smithsonian Debate: A Rhetorical Analysis
An Inventive Stage: Letters, Learned Advice, and Private Conversations/Asher Robbins and the National University Plan/Adams’s Refutations and His First Arguments for an Observatory/ Two Particular Audiences and Adams as Impartial Judge/ Financial Delays to Action: “Catch the bear before you sell his skin”/Resistance to Argumentation/ Arguments for a Natural History Museum and the Agricultural Influence/ The Grand Library Plan/Compromise

6. The Queen of Sciences and Her Democratic Champion
Adams’s Promotion of Astronomy
Adams’s Congressional Arguments for an Observatory/Adams’s Public Speaking Tours on Astronomy
7. Invention and Discovery, Rhetorically Speaking

Appendix A The Will of James Smithson
Appendix B An Act to Establish the Smithsonian Institution as It Passed into Law on August 10, 1846

Explores John Quincy Adams’s oratorical work in support of government-funded science.


This book introduces readers to the role that classical oratory played in changing early American attitudes about pure scientific research. Marlana Portolano investigates the impact of John Quincy Adams's oratorical campaigns on the origins of government-funded science in America, with a special focus on his classical theory of rhetorical engagement and civic duty.

Marlana Portolano is Assistant Professor of English at Towson University.


"In this age where so much government funding of science is based in the military-industrial complex, it is fascinating to look at arguments for and against government funding of science at a time when such funding was not a given." — CHOICE