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What possible political impact could such a strange astronomical event have? Plenty! The 1769 transit of Venus is regarded by some historians as the pivotal event that thrust American scientists into the international limelight. We made our very first contribution to science and scientific discovery a decade before the Revolutionary War, when the British and French were the recognized masters of science and discovery. D. H. Meyer, in his 1976 essay 'Uniqueness of the American Enlightenment' makes the following observation of this milestone:
"...inspired the Americans to try harder in the effort to gain cultural recognition overseas. The Americans responded with what amounted to national pride when a number of European astronomers complimented them on their astronomical observations in the transit of Venus in 1769. Some Americans, like Franklin, even used their provinciality as a device for winning attention and recognition. Franklin liked to present himself as the simple no-nonsense American whose canny mind, untainted by European 'artificiality' and 'luxury' , remained nimble and free of the self-delusion excessive civilization encourages. Although London was not overly impressed with this act, it played well in Paris. Cultural provinciality was a handicap that clearly was not without its compensations" (American Quarterly vol 28, No 2. p. 165-186 Special Issue: An American Enlightenment' , 1976)


Benjamin Franklin, one of the members of the U.S. Continental Congress, offered his measurements and figures of the 1769 transit. American science remained fairly low-key until March 6, 1872 when a petition was received in the Senate by Mr. Cameron of the Philosophical Society of Pennsylvania, requesting that Congress set aside $50,000 to enable American astronomers to observe the transit of December, 1874. Senate Bill 963 was passed to appropriate $50,000 to equip the US Naval Observatory professors with instruments to observe transit. It would be the first transit for which the United States would be a full participant in the many international expeditions that were set out to observe and study it.

franklin_page.jpg an image of first page
of Ben Franklins article

Here is the first page of the article by Benjamin Franklin which appeared in the prestigeous international journal 'Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London' in volume 59 of their 1769 edition. For the complete online article visit the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian Institution.

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