National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
On August 10, 1846, the United States Senate passed a bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution, which coincidentally occurred at the time this mezzotint was being offered for sale at ten dollars a copy. Nearly four years in the making, the picture was a composite of daguerreotypes taken during the past three sessions of Congress especially for this mezzotint. Individuals included prominent senators Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, and former president John Quincy Adams, who was representing his Massachusetts district in the House of Representatives. Adams was an enthusiastic proponent for establishing the Smithsonian Institution, while Calhoun voted against the bill.
The year 1846 also marked the start of America's war with Mexico. Territory acquired from the vanquished Mexicans would ultimately fuel acrimonious debate about the most polarizing issue of that era-the extension of slavery into new territories.