Scientific Lazzaroni

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The Scientific Lazzaroni is a self-mocking name adopted by Alexander Dallas Bache and his group of scientists[1] who flourished before and up to the American Civil War. ('Lazzaroni' was slang for the homeless idlers of Naples who live by chance work or begging - so called from the Hospital of St Lazarus, which served as their refuge.) These scientists then gained greater support and laid the foundation for the National Academy of Sciences. However, the National Academy did not solve the problems facing a nation plunged in Civil War – as the Lazzaroni had hoped, nor did it centralize American scientific efforts.

These Lazzaroni were mostly professional physical scientists, interested in geophysical problems, who admitted a few kindred souls from other fields to their ranks. Their interests and range of influence extended to all of the sciences and included much of the research performed in universities and the government. They were consciously promoting the development of a professional scientific community in America.

The Lazzaroni in the United States actually existed in the 1850s and a little before, though the name was not always the same as the group changed and grew.

The members of the Lazzaroni wanted only university educated scientists, at one point, so as to create a "pure science" for America. Therefore, the scientists that did not match up to the code and "oath" of the initial members would be forced, if possible, out of their vocation and not allowed to advance unless they met the qualifications of the Lazzaroni, who often kept scientists out of any professional scientific position. They used their influence together, a group of top scientists against any one individual.

The following is a partial list of Lazzaroni and their opponents.

List of The (American) Lazzaroni[edit]

Friends of the Lazzaroni[edit]

  • Jefferson Finis Davis (1808–1889) very close friends with Bache (since West Point) and Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian. Bache did not like Maury working near the area Bache regarded as his own, the Coast Survey. However, due to shipwrecks, Maury was ordered to create charts and the shipwrecks ceased. Bache became jealous and was determined to get revenge. Jefferson Davis was Regent of Smithsonian for several years which clashed with the Navy Observatory over Smithson's money for professional scientific advancements. Davis was a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution in 1847 and early in 1851. From 1853 to 1857 he was automatically a part of the Smithsonian directorship as Secretary of War. In 1857 he re-entered the Senate. The, great ability of Jefferson Davis was admired by Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry as well as by Bache. These three powerful men, Henry, Jeff Davis, and Bache were in every way against Matthew Fontaine Maury – including when the civil war broke out and during the civil war which started shortly after "1857". These disputes carried on throughout the war. Jeff Davis became CSA President and M F Maury was under his command. Bache, Henry, and their friends were members of the scientific Lazzaroni and the National (NAS) scientific group formed to watch over the nation as they had always desired but even so through clandestine methods to dupe President Lincoln to sign papers not debated right at the closing of a session.

The Opposition[edit]

The Neutrals[edit]


  • Nathan Reingold, Science in Nineteenth-Century America (1964).
  • Frances Leigh Williams Mathew Fontaine Maury; Scientist of the Sea (1963) by Rutgers, The State University Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 63-10564
  • The Lazzaroni: science and scientists in mid-nineteenth-century America. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Miller, Lillian B.
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne. 


  1. ^ …a tiny leadership body of American scientists, jovially called the Lazzaroni – Italian for beggars. Bache was the "chief" of this science and intelligence grouping. American Prometheus – The American System