After twelve years of marriage, John Silva Meehan's first wife, Margaret, died shortly after giving birth to their seventh child, who also died. On Saturday, October 27, 1827, the widower married his late wife’s sister, Rachel T. Monington. He had two more children with her.
Meehan served as Secretary of the Board of Trustees of Columbian College (later The George Washington University) and continued to support Andrew Jackson, who, as mentioned in Part VII, was elected president in 1828. On Thursday, May 28, 1829, President Jackson rewarded him for his loyalty by appointing him the fourth Librarian of Congress.
Meehan replaced George Watterston, an outspoken member of the Democratic-Republican Party faction that side with President James Quincy Adams and broke with Jackson, forming the National Republican Party and evolving into the Whig Party. Watterston was an ally of Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and third most popular presidential candidate in the election of 1828 who threw his support behind Adams and subsequently served as Secretary of State in the Adams Administration. Enraged at his dismissal, Watterston campaigned for twenty years to get his job back.
“By contrast,” John Y. Cole wrote, “Meehan was gentlemanly, polite, of cheerful disposition, and decidedly nonpartisan. The Library of Congress in his charge, located in the central portion of the Capitol's west front, contained about 16,000 volumes. The new Librarian had only one assistant. He soon added a messenger and eventually two more assistants, one of whom was his son, Charles Henry Wharton Meehan.”A
lthough Meehan did not advocate the expansion of the LOC’s portfolio, the LOC steadily grew while he was Librarian of Congress. During the entire period John Silva Meehan was Librarian of Congress, the chairmen of the Joint Committee on the Library, not Meehan, selected the books for the LOC's collection.
In 1832, the LOC gained a law library department with an appropriation to buy law books under the guidance of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. This is now called the Law Library of Congress.
Charles Henry Wharton Meehan was in charge of the Law Library. In an era when all (civilian) jobs were patronage jobs, the younger Meehan would be the only LOC staff member left in place by Abraham Lincoln when he came into office in 1861. In fact, C.H.W. Meehan retained his job until his death over ten years later on Friday, July 5, 1872.
Cole wrote, “In 1836 and 1844, Congress rejected the purchase of valuable private libraries that would have greatly enriched the Library of Congress and strengthened its national role. Meehan, whose major jobs were to lend the books, prepare and publish Library catalogs (which he issued in 1830, 1839, 1849, and 1861), and keep the accounts for the Joint Library Committee, played no role in the Congressional rejection of these collections.”
According to Cole, Meehan “developed a close working relationship with Senator James Alfred Pearce” (1805-1862) of Maryland, who served as Chairman of the Joint Library Committee from 1845 to 1861. Initially elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate as a Whig, he was re-elected to the Senate for the last time, in 1861, as a Democrat.
Cole noted, “A conservative, cultured man, Pearce had great influence over the Library. He felt it was inappropriate for a government-funded institution to become a large national library and, with fellow Congressmen such as Rufus Choate and George Perkins Marsh, in the 1840s he looked to the new Smithsonian Institution as a possible home for a national collection of books. Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, however, blocked such development and instead looked to the Library of Congress as the future home of a national library.”
You may be wondering why Pearce thought of the Smithsonian Institution as being a separate entity from the U.S. Government, considering that per the will of English gentleman-scientist James Smithson (1765-1829), the U.S. Government used a bequest from Smithson to establish the Smithsonian as an institution for the “diffusion of knowledge.” The Smithsonian is most definitely an organ of the U.S. Government. The reason Pearce thought of the Smithsonian as a separate legal entity from the U.S. Government is undoubtedly because it is a trust created by the U.S. Government, not part of a branch of the federal government, the way the Library of Congress is part of the legislative branch.
In 1851, a fire ravaged the Library of Congress for a second time. This occurred on Christmas Eve (Wednesday, December 24, 1851) and consumed two-thirds of the LOC’s 55,000 books. The terrible loss included approximately two-thirds of the collection of 6,487 books Thomas Jefferson had sold to Congress after British troops burnt the original collection during the War of 1812.
Cole wrote, “The cause was a faulty chimney flue and, to the relief of both Meehan and Pearce, the Architect of the Capitol reported that ‘no human forethought or vigilance could, under the circumstances, have prevented the catastrophe.’ Pearce took the lead in obtaining generous appropriations to repair and enlarge the Library and to replace the lost books. The Library's handsome new fireproof quarters, ‘the largest room made of iron in the world,’ opened in the Capitol's west front on August 23, 1853.” It is fair to say, though, it seems unlikely the architect would either accept personal responsibility by admitting there was a fault in his design or blame incompetent government officials for the fire if he hoped to get future government contracts.
On Friday, March 8, 1861, Senator Pearce wrote President-elect Abraham Lincoln to recommend "no change" be made in terms of keeping Meehan in his post, in the belief the LOC staff would be "safe from the influence of political partisanship which has heretofore had no influence in the republic of letters." This was a ridiculous statement, given Meehan, then a Whig, was telling Lincoln, the first Republican president, the post of Librarian of Congress was free from “political partisanship” when Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, had replaced Watterston, a Whig, with Meehan, a Democrat.
On Friday, May 24, 1861, President Lincoln appointed Dr. John G. Stephenson, a Republican physician from Terre Haute, Indiana, Librarian of Congress. Pearce would die on Saturday, December 20, 1862, and Meehan would die in his home on Capitol Hill a few months later on Friday, April 24, 1863.
 An illegitimate son of Sir Hugh Percy (1714-1786), 1st Duke of Northumberland and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate (1728-1800), who inherited money from his mother’s wealthy family, Smithson stated that if the son of his half-brother (on his mother’s side) had no children legitimate or otherwise, his estate should be used to create the Smithsonian Institution.
In the case of the death of my said Nephew [Henry James Hungerford] without leaving a child or children, or the death of the child or children he may have had under the age of twenty-one years or intestate, I then bequeath the whole of my property, . . . to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.
In 1835, the nephew died without issue. President Jackson announced the bequest to Congress, which on July 1, 1836 accepted the bequest and pledged to establish a charitable trust. In September of 1838, Smithson’s estate of over 100,000 gold sovereigns went to the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia where the money was re-coined as U.S. currency worth over $500,000. For eight years, Congress debated what to do with the money. Representative John Quincy Adams, a former president, was instrumental in seeing the promised trust became a reality. President James K. Polk signed the resulting law August 10, 1846. It established the Smithsonian Institution as a trust to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian. Today, the Smithsonian has nineteen museums, the National Zoo, and nine research facilities. In 1846, the architect-engineer James Renwick, Jr. (1818-1895) won a contest to design the Smithsonian Institution Building (Smithsonian Castle), which he designed in a combination of the Romanesque and Gothic styles. [This would help inspire the Gothic Revival style of architecture in the United States, one of the best examples of which was his own 1853 design of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Renwick would also design the first building to house the Corcoran Art Gallery, which is now the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.] The general contractor, Gilbert Cameron, erected the building between 1847 and 1855, using red sandstone quarried in Seneca, Maryland. A fire on the top floor of the Smithsonian Castle in 1865 destroyed, amongst other things, Smithson’s diaries and papers, his mineral collection, and other items, but his library, which had been stored in a different part of the building, survived. A Smithsonian regent, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), the inventor of the telephone, arranged for Smithson’s remains to be moved from Genoa, Italy to Washington, D.C. He and his wife traveled to Genoa to see his remains exhumed in 1903 and escorted Smithson’s remains across the Atlantic in 1904. Smithson was re-entombed in the Smithsonian Castle in 1905.
 The U.S. Congress passed a law to establish the Smithsonian Institution with Smithson’s money and on a yearly basis appropriates money to maintain the Smithsonian Institution. Chief Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court serve as Chancellors of the Smithsonian Institution. Six members of the Board of Regents are serving congressmen, three each appointed, respectively, by the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate. Three-quarters of Smithsonian staff members are employees of the U.S. Government.