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found to be 39.38024797 English inches upon a scale of Troughton's, of equal perfection with that of sir George Shuckburg Evelyn.
Again; in the year 1814, the committee of the house of commons resolved, and, in 1815, the house itself enacted, that the length of a pendulum vibrating seconds, in the latitude of London, had been ascertained to be 39.13047 inches of Bird's parliamentary standard yard.
In the year 1818, captain Kater reported, as the result of his experiments, that the length of the pendulum vibrating seconds in vacuo at the level of the sea, at the temperature of 62° of Fahrenheit, in latitude 51° 31'8" 4'" north, (London) was 39.13842 inches of the same Bird's parliamentary standard yard.
The difference is 17sto, or a one hundred and twenty-sixth part of an inch.
By assuming a mean average from all these experiments, and the yard of Elizabeth at the exchequer (the standard from which all the long measures of the United States are derived, as the measure of comparison, we might be warranted in taking 39.38 English as the length of the French platina standard metre, and 39.14 as the length of the penduluin vibrating seconds in the latitude of London. And if the attempt at a minuter decimal fraction than that of the 100th part of an inch in the making of metallic measures, should terminate again in disappointment, it is nevertheless true, that, to obtain accuracy even to that extent, the microscopic beam compasses, and the micrometer marking subdivisions to the 25,000th part of an inch, are essential auxiliaries : for in this, as in all the energies, moral or physical, of inan, the pursuit of absolute perfection is the only means of arriving at the nearest approximation to it, attainable by human power.
When the proportion shall be thus ascertained, by a concurrent agreement with France, the act might declare that the foot measure of the United States is to the standard platina metre of France in such proportion that 39.3802 inches are equal to the metre, and that 472.5623 millimetres are equal to the foot. The proportion of the troy and avoirdupois pounds to the kilogramme might be ascertained with equal accuracy, and declared in like manner. A platina metre and kilogramme, being exact duplicates of those in the French national archives, should then be deposited and preserved with the national standards of the United States.
It is not proposed that the standard yard measure of the United States should be made of platina; but that it should be of the same metal as the yard of 160i, at the Exchequer, from which it will be taken. The very extraordinary properties of platina, its unequalled specific gravity, its infusibility, its durability, its powers of resistance against all the ordinary agents of destruction and change, give it advantages and claims to employment as a primary standard for weights and measures, and coins, to which no other substance in nature has equal pretensions. The standard metre and kilogramme of France are of that metal. Should the fortunate period arrive when
the improvement in the moral and political condition of man will admit of the introduction of one universal standard for the use of all mankind, it is hoped and believed that the platina metre will be that measure. But, as the principle respectfully recommended in this report is that of excluding all innovation or change, for the present, of our existing weights and measures, it is with a view to uniformity that the preference is given, for the choice of a new standard, to the same metal of which that measure consists which has been the standard of our forefathers from the first settlement of the English colonies, and is exactly coeval with them. It is not unimportant that the standards, to be transmitted to the several states of the Union, should be of the same metal as the national standards, of which they shall be copies. The changes of the atmosphere produce different degrees of expansion and contraction upon different metals : and, when a measure of brass or copper is to be taken from a measure of platina, the differences of their expansibility become subjects of calculation, upon data not yet ascertained to entire perfection. The selection of platina for the French kilogramme has been attended with the singular consequence, that the standard of the archives is not of the same weight as the standard for use. The latter is of brass ; and the copies taken from it for the real purposes of life are of the same weight in the air, but not of the same weight as the platina standard, because that is the weight of the cubic decimetre of distilled water in vacuo. Whenever calculations of allowances for atmospheric changes in the different metals are introduced into the comparison of measures, estimates take the place of certainty ; and different results proceed from different times, places, or persons. The very immutability of platina, therefore, makes it unsuitable for a practical standard of mutable things. Change, and not stability, is the uniform measure of change. Justice consists in estimating every thing by the law of its nature: and, to illustrate this idea by applying it to moral relations, it may be observed, that, to bring mutable substances to the test of immutable standards, would be like charging disembodied spirits to pass sentence by the laws of their superior nature upon the frailties and infirmities of man.
The plan which is thus, in obedience to the injunction of both houses of Congress, submitted to their consideration, consists of two parts, the principles of which may be stated : 1. To fix the standard, with the partial uniformity of which it is susceptible, for the present, excluding all innovation. 2. To consult with foreign nations, for the future and ultimate establishment of universal and permanent uniformity. An apology is due to Congress for the length, as well as for the numerous imperfections, of this report. Embracing views, both theoretic and historical, essentially different from those which have generally prevailed upon the subject to which it relates, they are presented with the diffidence due from all individual dissent encountering the opinions of revered authority. The resolutions of both houses opened a field of inquiry so comprehensive in its compass, and so abundant in its details, that it has been, notwithstanding the lapse of time since the resolution of the Senate, as yet but very inadequately explored. It was not deemed justifiable to defer longer the answer to the calls of both houses, even if their conclusion from it should be the propriety rather of further inquiry than of immediate action. In freely avow. ing the hope that the exalted purpose, first conceived by France, may be improved, perfected, and ultimately adopted by the United States, and by all other nations, equal freedom has been indulged in pointing out the errors and imperfections of that system, which have attended its origin, progress, and present condition. The same liberty has been taken with the theory and history of the English system, with the further attempt to shew that the latter was, in its origin, a sys. tem of beauty, of symmetry, and of usefulness, little inferior to that of modern France.
The two parts of the plan submitted are presented distinctly from each other, to the end that oither of them, should it separately obtain the concurrence of Congress, may be separately carried into execution. In relation to weights and measures throughout the Union, we possess already so near an approximation to uniformity of law, that little more is required of Congress for fixing the standard than to provide for the uniformity of fact, by procuring and distributing to the executives of the states and territories positive national standards conformable to the law. If there be one conclusion more clear than another, deducible from all the history of mankind, it is the danger of hasty and inconsiderate legislation upon weights and mea. sures. From this conviction, the result of all inquiry is, that, while all the existing systems of metrology are very imperfect, and susceptible of improvements involving in no small degree the virtue and happiness of future ages; while the impression of this truth is profoundly and almost universally felt by the wise and the powerful of the most enlightened nations of the globe; while the spirit of improvement is operating with an ardor, perseverance, and zeal, honorable to the human character, it is yet certain, that, for the successful termination of all these labors, and the final accomplishment of the glorious object, permanent and universal uniformity, legislation is not alone competent. A concurrence of will is indispensable to give efficacy to the precepts of power. All trifting and partial attempts of change in our existing system, it is hoped, will be steadily discountenanced and rejected by Congress; not only as unworthy of the high and solemn importance of the subject, but as impracticable to the purpose of uniformity, and as inevitably tending to the reverse, to increased diversity, to inextricable confusion. Uniformity of weights and measures, permanent, universal uniformity, adapted to the nature of things, to the physical organization and to the moral improvement of man, would be a blessing of such transcendent magnitude, that, if there existed upon earth a combination of power and will, adequate to accomplish the result by the energy of a single act, the being who should exercise it would be among the greatest of benefactors of the human race. But this stage of human perfectibility is yet far remote. The glory of the first attempt belongs to
France France first surveyed the subject of weights and measures in all its extent and all its compass. France first beheld it as involving the interests, the comforts, and the morals, of all nations and of all after ages. In forming her system, she acted as the representative of the whole human race, present and to come. She has established it by law within her own territories; and she has offered it as a benefaction to the acceptance of all other nations. That it is worthy of their acceptance, is believed to be beyond a question. But opinion is the queen of the world; and the final prevalence of this system beyond the boundaries of France's power must await the time when the example of its benefits, long and practically enjoyed, shall acquire that ascendency over the opinions of other nations which gives motion to the springs and direction to the wheels of power. Respectfully submitted.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, February 22, 1821.