ANNUAL MEETING OF THE BOARD OF REGENTS. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION January 1895
Wherein the members of tho Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution has been called upon to mourn the death of their esteemed colleague, the late James C. Welling, LLD., president of the George Washington University, who has long been interested in the welfare of the institution, and who for many years has been a Regent and chairman of its Executive Committee.
Resolved, That the Board of Regents feels deep regret in the loss of one whose long and distinguished career of public usefulness, especially in the promotion of institutions for higher education, commanded their report, and whose personal character and unselfish devotion to the highest ideals of scholarship and citizenship, their sincere admiration.
Resolved, That in the death of President Welling the Smithsonian Institution has suffered the irreparable loss of an earnest friend, a wise and judicious counselor, and one who was preeminently an exponent of its time-honored policy; and the Board of Regents a friend and associate whom they valued most highly.
Resolved, that those resolutions to recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Board, and that the Secretary be requested to send a copy of them to the family of their departed associator and friend, in token of sympathy in this common affliction.
Resolved, That the Secretary be requested to prepare a eulogy of President Welling for insertion in the Journal of the Board of Regents.
Dr. Coppée said that he had been long associated with Dr.Welling than any other member of the Board, since 1884, and particularly as a member of the Executive Committee with him, and as he had for Dr. Welling a very high esteem, he thought it proper to say a word in this connection. Dr. Welling was one of the most valuable citizens of Washington, to whom was confided many trusts, among them the presidency of the George Washington University, and the chairmanship of the Executive Committee of this Institution, and he did well everything that was confided to him. He was a man pure in thought, honest in purpose and action, and intelligent in judgment. He held a ready pen, and how polished his public utterances were, all here would remember when he presented papers and other matters before this Board.
Dr. Coppée added that Dr. Welling was cautioned by his friends that he worked too hard, and instanced the fact that at the last meeting which he attended, in May, he announced his purpose to write a work with reference to his favorite subject of anthropology, when Senator Henderson, now present, said to him: “The best thing that you can do is to consider one individual of the species of 'anthropos, 'and very carefully, at this time. You are the man; 'take care of yourself.” It was a grave pleasantry. It was good counsel, but it came too late, for Dr. Welling was injured by the hard work that he did. In him is lost a man who was preeminently excellent in counsel, whether to the Board or in private, but he would leave it to the Secretary to speak of him further. Senator Henderson spoke of his long and intimate acquaintance with Dr. Welling and expressed his admiration for him as a citizen and as an officer of the Institution. The Secretary then said: I have lost in Dr. Welling a personal friend, but I only have to speak of him now in his relationship to this Institution - an institution whose conservative character has been partly due to good fortune in the presence and advice of such men. Dr. Welling was one who possessed, beyond anyone else, what may be called the traditions of the Institution; and though these were not of course his exclusive property, in this respect, as in others, his logs can not be supplied. The rules of conduct which have been laid down by the Regents and by the Sectaries who have administered them are not so much derived from a prior views as they are the outgrowth of accumulated experience; and this experience, it has been thought, is in part, perhaps, due to tho exceptionally long incumbencies of members of the Board as compared with ordinary tenures of office here, and to the continuity of the knowledge of its activities, as illustrated in the case of this departed friend.
James Clarke Welling, at the time of his death, September 4, 1894, was nearly 70 years of age. Descended from New England colonial ancestors, a native of one of the Middle States, in early adulthood a teacher in the South, and for nearly half a century a resident of the National capital, he was an American of the noblest type, free from sectional bias, personifying the best traits and tendencies of the nation, loyal to the traditions and aspirations of its founders. He was graduated in 1814 from the College of New Jersey, studied law, and was admitted to the bar, but soon afterwards entered upon the profession of journalism.
He always retained, forever, a strong inclination for the study of constitutional and international law, and of politics, and his interest in public affairs was greatly stimulated by his connection for fifteen years with the most important of Washington journals, at that time national in its influence.
He became the literary editor of the National Intelligencer in 1850, and was its managing editor throughout the entire period of the Civil War. In this capacity he had the privilege of personal acquaintance with all our public men, and confidential access to many of them, including Lincoln, Seward, and Stanton.
In later life his attention was given chiefly to educational work. For a time president of St. John's College, Maryland, and later professor of belles - lettres at Princeton, be was, in 1870, recalled to Washington to become president of the George Washington University, an institution founded fifty years before, in the hope that it might fulfill the desire of Washington, Barlow, and Adams, that a seat of liberal learning should exist at the capital.
Dr. Welling was led to accept this position by the urgency of the philanthropist William W. Corcoran and the advice of Joseph Henry, both of whom were influenced by the hope of having with one of the founders of a national university, and who believed that a man of Dr. Welling's character would find in such a position a wide field of influence.
His aspirations for the university were never fully realized, owing to the impossibility of securing endowments from private sources for a public institution located so near to the seat of government.
He nevertheless secured a considerable addition to its endowment, added new professional schools, greatly increased the number of its faculty and students, removed the institution from the suburbs to a new building in the heart of the city, and accomplished many other things which seemed really wonderful in view of the smallness of the resources at his command.
The dream of his life was to establish a school of comparative jurisprudence - the only one of its kind in the world — as a branch of the university.
In 1892 he visited Europe, secured approval of his plans from Sir Frederick Pollock and other eminent jurists, and their promise to come to America to lecture as members of the faculty. Failing health interfered with the realization of his plan, which I can but believe he would bare otherwise forced into success.
After his resignation of the presidency in 1893, he still retained the chair of international law and the position of dean of the university law school, and, full of hopefulness, it was his purpose to labor on for his beloved project. He confidently expected to live to be 80, and to devote the remaining years of his life to the compilation of a political history of the Civil War, a work for which no one was so well qualified by experience, knowledge, and critical skill as himself.
He was a representative man in Washington, identified with all interests which tend toward good citizenship, and held many positions of public trust and honor.
He was president of the board of trustees of the Corcoran Art Gallery and of the American Copyright League, and was appointed by President Harrison commissioner to the Colombian Historical Exposition at Madrid in 1892.
His bearing was that of a courteous gentleman of the old school. His scholarship was accurate, broad, and genial, as was shown by the critical reviews which he contributed during his later years to some of the principal American journals.
His favorite study in hours of relaxation was that of the sacred poetry of tho early Christian Church, some of which be had translated, though not for publication.
In 1894 he was chosen a Regent of this Institution to succeed the Reverend Dr. Parker. For ten years he gave conscientious attention to its interests, and upheld in every way those conservative and dignified traditions of which I have already spoken of him in almost the living embodiment; and while he did this primarily because of their harmony with his own personal tendencies and convictions as to their value, he did so because of his affection and reverence for the first Secretary, Joseph Henry, whose pupil he had been in his youth, and with whom in middle life had maintained the relation of friend and confidant.
After Henry’s death, Dr. Welling consented to add to his already burdensome duties those of the chairman of the Executive Committee, which be performed till his own death, so that he may be said to have been a link between the past and present in the history of this Institution, though happily not the only one, since it has preserved others in his contemporaries.
On motion, the resolutions were unanimously adopted by a standing vote.
Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1895 By Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents
Transcription by Caroline Welling Van Deusen January 2021
Throughout this text the name George Washington University replaced former name of Columbia College