Why is alcohol more acidic than ammonia

Berlin, February 22nd, 1828

Dear Professor!
Although I certainly hope that you have received my letter of January 22nd and the postscript of February 2nd, and that I live every day, or rather every hour, in the eager hope of receiving a letter from you, I will Don't wait for it, but write again, because I can't hold my chemical water, so to speak, and I have to tell you that I can make urea without kidneys or an animal at all, be it human or dog, n Essential to have. The cyanic acid ammonia is urea. (...) - Perhaps you remember the experiments that I made in the happy time when I was still working for you, where I always found that when you had cyanic acid seeks to combine with ammonia, a crystallized substance arises which behaved indifferently and reacted neither to cyanic acid nor to ammonia. While leafing through my journal I noticed this again, and I thought it possible that by combining cyanic acid with ammonia the elements could come together in the same proportion but in a different way and here maybe z. B. a vegetable salt base or something similar could be formed. I therefore made this the subject of a little investigation, suitable for my limited time, with which I was finished very quickly, since, thank God, I only had to make a single attempt at weighing. - I obtained the supposed cyanate ammonia very easily by treating cyanate Bley with caustic ammonia. It can also be obtained with cyanate silver and ammonia. I received it in abundance, beautifully crystallized, in clear, right-angled 4-sided columns. With acids it developed no carbonic acid or cyanic acid and with potash no trace of ammonia. But with nitric acid there was a slightly scalloped (crystallizing) Connection, with very acidic characters, which I was already inclined to take for a new acid, since when heated it did not develop any nitric or nitrous acid, but a lot of ammonia - when I found it to be Saturating with bases gave nitric acid salts and the original so-called cyanoic acid ammonia, which could be extracted by alcohol. Well I was au faitand all that was needed now was a comparative investigation with piss urea, which I had done myself in every respect, and cyan urea. If, as I could not otherwise see, the decomposition of cyanate lead by ammonia was no other product than urea, then finally, for the complete confirmation of this paradoxical story, the piss-urea had to have exactly the same composition such as cyanogenic ammonia. (...) So this would be an indisputable example that two completely different bodies can contain the same proportion of the same elements, and that only the unequal nature of the union produces the diversity in properties. I mean to say that this type of interaction of cyanic acid and ammonia produces urea, but that there can be another type (such as, if it were possible, a direct combination of cyanic acid and Ammonia), which creates real cyanate ammonia, from which base and acid can be separated out again. This would then also be a confirmation of Gay-Lussac's view of cyanic acid and popic acid1), from Faraday's 2 hydrocarbon species2). From these facts it seems to me that the incorrectness of the view that alcohol e.g. B. to be regarded as composed of hydrocarbons and carbonic acid or oil-forming gas and water vapor. - As well as one could have found by mere calculation that cyanate ammonia and urea have the same composition, a similar relationship could perhaps be demonstrated for some other substances, such as B. that some or all vegetable salt bases are formed by the combination of ammonia with certain organic acids, which would be even more plausible if one can consider the nitric acid urea as a salt. - What happens when you decompose a highly acidic salt with ammonia? Maybe real cyanate ammonia. - This artificial formation of urea, can you consider it as an example of the formation of an organic substance from inorganic substances? It is striking that in order to produce cyanic acid (and also ammonia) one always has to have originally an organic substance, and a natural philosopher would say that both from animal charcoal and from the coal formed from it Cyano compounds, the organic has not yet disappeared, and therefore an organic body can still be produced from it.

Your voters.

May I expect a few lines from you on this story soon? (...)

Remarks:
1) On the occasion of the Liebig-W hler controversy about the composition of the highly acidic and cyanate salts, Gay-Lussac assumed that the same elements were arranged in different ways in the silver salts - which he was right.
2) This is the well-known study of isomeric hydrocarbons.


Berzelius to voters:

Stockholm d. March 7, 1828.

After one has started one's immortality with the urine, there is probably every reason to complete the ascension in the same object - and verily, Mr. Doctor really invented the art of going straight to an immortal name. Aluminum and artificial urea, of course two very different things that follow one another so closely, are Sir! are woven into your laurel wreath as precious stones, and if the quantity of the artificial is not enough, you can easily add a little from the chamber pot. Should it now be possible to get a little further in production capacity (vesiculae seminales lie further forward than the urine bladder), what a wonderful art to make a child, no matter how small, in the laboratory of the trade school. - Who knows? It should be easy enough. - But enough with railing, especially since I'm in such a hurry to only write something that is understandable in the annual report. It is quite an important and lovely discovery that Mr. PhD, and it was an indescribable pleasure hearing about it. It is a very strange fact that the salt nature disappears so completely when the acid and the ammonia combine, which will certainly be very illuminating for future theories.
But don't let go of the reduction of beryl alumina and ytter earth, for which I am so desperately longing. (...)

Greetings and friendship

Berzelius

Taken from:
O. Wallach (ed.): Correspondence between J. Berzelius and F. W hler; S ndig Reprint Verlag, Hans R. Wohlwend, Vaduz / Liechtenstein 1984.

(Thanks to StD. Dr. Heiner Sch nemann, Neukirchen-Vluyn for providing the source of literature.)

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Last revision: January 10, 2012, Dagmar Wiechoczek