The Smithson Matter, together with its one-act Introduction, recounts the personal and political maneuvers behind the creation of the great Smithsonian Institute. The Introduction presents James Smithson, né Macie, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland and the fashionable Elizabeth Macie. Frustrated by the English class society that stigmatizes him and inspired by the equality of the new American States, he resolves to leave his fortune to that country, to be used to create an institute "for the dissemination of knowledge to the common man."
The Smithson Matter itself takes place during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. While former president-now Massachusetts representative-John Quincy Adams struggles to maintain the original intent of the Smithson bequest, other congressmen lobby for a piece here and a slice there to please their own constituencies. Clearly, politics has not changed much in the past 175 years.
Told with wit and wisdom, The Smithson Matter delves into the personalities of James Smithson and John Quincy Adams with affection and historical accuracy.