FOUNDATION OF THE COLLEGE.
STATE OF THE COUNTRY-ORIGIN OF DICKINSON COLLEGE-MOTIVES OF FOUNDERS-NAME-COLLEGIATE EDUCATION IN THE COUNTRY-CARLISLE.
The treaty of 1783, which closed the Revolutionary struggle with the acknowledgment of the Independence of the Colonies, ends so happily the narrative of tedious and wasting campaigns, and of earnest and anxious deliberations full of discouragements of every character, that the actual condition of the new nation is apt to be lost sight of, especially after the event has been so greatly magnified, in its consequences, by the lapse of a century. Besides the grateful relief from the immediate burdens and anxieties incident to a state of war, there was little else in the state of affairs that was hopeful or inspiring. The public resources had been taxed to the utmost, and the prevalence of wide-spread distrust, with the universal depression prevented the inception of recuperative enterprises. Without public credit, without commerce, with industries paralyzed, with an irredeemable paper currency, unstable and wanting in uniformity at best, depreciated to worthlessness, and with society honey-combed by all the demoralizing influences that follow in the wake of war, with a Federal Government that had owed all its consistency to the presence of a common danger, rapidly resolving itself into its original, rather discordant, elements, with State Governments, for the most part creatures of revolution,
threatened by new revolution, the situation was well calculated to render capital timid, repress enterprise, and cause the most profound anxiety to the most thoughtful patriots of that day. A government at once the strongest and freest, and the most enlightened that the world had known, had been exchanged for a form of government ill-defined, untried, and revolutionary, and resting upon the entirely new basis of purely popular will. Whilst independence seemed secure, personal rights and liberties could only be rendered secure from anarchy on the one hand, or despotism on the other hand, by the adjustment into a harmonious whole of the multitudinous conflicting, almost irreconcilable interests that clashed on every side. To declare independence required courage, to carry on the war required sacrifices, which pride with patriotism dictated, but to bring political order and stability out of the apparent chaos, tp inspire confidence in the people in themselves and their surroundings, and stimulate them to new undertakings required in the leaders a reserve force of statesmanship and of unselfish patriotism, which had not been drawn upon during the trying times of the revolution. To these demands they measured up so fully, that their after work of the consolidation of a nation out of such elements, must remain the marvel of that period.
During the war educational interests had been largely neglected. Schools of lower grade, as well as colleges, had suspended. Judged by the ordinary and usual standards, the times would have been considered very inauspicious for thinauguration of large educational enterprises. The suggestion to found a college in a sparsely settled region one hundred miles further west of the Atlantic than any other, to meet future rather than present necessities, would have been considered rather inopportune. And yet leading men cooperated in urging through the Legislature of Pennsylvania a charter for such an institution — the second in the State — and the first meeting of the
Board of Trustees of Dickinson College was held at the house of Governor Dickinson, in Philadelphia, on the 15th of September, 1783, one week after the charter had been secured, and organized by electing him as its president. The project was not altogether a new one. The establishment of a college at some point west of the Susquehanna had been agitated before the Revolution, by some prominent gentlemen. Among the obstacles encountered was the refusal of the Colonial Legislature to grant the necessary charter, a cause of failure that can hardly be deemed sufficient, or even be comprehended at this time, when any academy can have conferred upon it all the rights, privileges, and immunities of a university for the asking. At the first announcement of the close of the war, however, the interest of patriotic and liberal-hearted citizens of the State centered anew in this object, as one of the most effective measures for the preservation and proper fruition of the liberties just achieved. It had also acquired a new importance, since it seemed but proper that the youth of now independent America should be educated at home, rather than in the schools of England, as had been very customary before the war. The motives that inspired the founders of the college, as well as the character of the assurances that were required by the legislators of that day, before granting such privileges, are set forth so fully, and with such evident care, in the preamble and enacting clause of the Charter, that its insertion here seems but just, as well as proper:
SECTION I. Whereas, The happiness and prosperity of every community, (under the direction and government of pine Providence,) depends much on the right education of the youth, who must succeed the agein the important offices of society, and the most exalted nations have acquired their pre-eminence by the virtuous principles and liberal knowledge instilled into the minds of the rising generation;
SECTION II. And whereas, After a long and bloody contest with a great and powerful kingdom, it has pleased Almighty God to restore to the United States of America the blessings of a general peace, whereby the good people of this State, relieved from the burdens of war, are placed in a condition to attend to useful arts, sciences, and literature, and it is the evident duty and interest of all ranks of people to promote and encourage, as much as in them lies, every attempt to disseminate and promote the growth of useful knowledge;
SECTION III. And whereas, By the petition of a large number of persons of established reputation for patriotism, integrity, ability, and humanity, presented to this House, it appears that the institution of a College at the Borough of Carlisle, in the County of Cumberland, for the instruction of youth in the learned languages, and other branches of literature, is likely to promote the real welfare of this State, and especially of the western parts thereof ;
SECTION IV. And whereas, This House is informed, as well by the said petition as by other authentic documents, that a large sum of money, sufficient to begin and carryon the design, for some considerable time, is already subscribed by the generous liberality of pers persons, who are desirous to promote so useful an institution, and there is no doubt but that further donations will be voluntarily made, so as to carry it into perfect execution: And this House, cheerfully concurring in so laudable a work ;
SECTION V. Be it therefore enacted, and it is hereby enacted by the Representatives of the Freemen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in General Assembly met, and by the authority of the same, That there be erected, and hereby is erected and established, in the Borough of Carlisle, in the County of Cumberland, in this State, a College, for the education of youth in the learned and foreign languages, the useful arts,
sciences, and literature, the style, name, and title of which said College, and the Constitution thereof, shall be and are hereby declared to be as is hereafter mentioned and defined ; that is to say,
I .In memory of the great and important services rendered to his country by his Excellency John Dickinson, Esquire, President of the Supreme Executive Council, and in commemoration of his very liberal donation to the Institution, the said College shall be forever hereafter called and known by the name of "Dickinson College."
The provisions for collegiate education in the country, at this time, consisted in one college in each of the then New England States, one in New York--Columbia, formerly King's ; two in New Jersey--Rutger's, formerly Queen's, and the College of New Jersey, at Princeton; two in Virginia, including William and Mary, perhaps the most liberally endowed college on the Continent, and after Harvard, the oldest. Pennsylvania had also one representative of institutions of this grade, in the University of Pennsylvania, established in 1755. The colleges, however, were all small in endowment and in number of students, and feeble in the numerical strength of their faculties. Thus, Columbia College had but two professors and twenty-four students, and the College of New Jersey was considered flourishing with two professors, in addition to the Provost, and sixty students. The sentiment of the country, however, may be said to have been favorable to institutions of the higher grade. The leading Colonies, even in their early feebleness and poverty, had made sacrifices to establish them, and had aided and encouraged them in every way. Whilst the education of the ministry was generally a prominent thought in the minds of the originators of them, their graduates were soon found in prominent positions in the State, and had much to doin molding its character. During the war the colleges, as a
rule, with but few exceptions, were unequivocally on the side of the Government. Harvard alone, contributed seven graduates to the Congress that declared independence, and nearly half of the signers of that immortal document were graduates of American or European colleges, and of the remainder. the majority, with some very notable exceptions, had received a training almost equivalent to that of the college. The influence of the educated man was due to the more general diffusion of intelligence in the Colonies, at that time, than in the leading countries of the world, and the forcible, skillfully written essays, multiplied by the press, were potent in forming and controling public sentiment.
The selection of Carlisle as the new seat of learning was a very natural one. Beautifully situated in the midst of the fertile and healthy Cumberland Valley, it was surrounded by an intelligent and enterprising population, calculated to profit by and encourage an institution of the kind. It had been the seat of justice of the county since 1751, although it had, in 1753, but five houses. At the foundation of the College it had, probably, less than fifteen hundred inhabitants, with scarcely a stage coach connection with the outer world. During the war , in its connection with the county, it had been favorably introduced to the leading statesmen of the country. It had nobly borne its share in field, and was very prominent in advocating all the advanced measures of the colonies, and first urged separation from the mother country upon the tardy Assembly of Pennsylvania. Its companies formed a part of the first rifle regiment, under Colonel Thompson, of Cumberland county, which embraced the first companies from south of the Hudson to arrive in Massachusetts after the battle of Bunker Hill, and that command became, in January, 1776, "the first regiment of the army of the United Colonies, under General George Washington." Among the contributions of the county to the
revolutionary army were Magaw, Armstrong, Irvine, the five Butler brothers, and others, whilst, during the dark days of the winter at Valley Forge, Ephraim Blaine, grandfather of Senator Blaine, as Commissary General, by the use of his private fortune and credit, made it possible for Washington to hold together his suffering and disintegrating army. As the town was remote from the seat of war, it was made a place of rendezvous for recruits and of confinement for prisoners. During his first captivity Major Andre was on parole in the town, and the Hessians captured at Trenton were employed in the erection of the barracks in the northeastern limits of the borough. These have remained a United States military post to the present time. They will garrison two thousand men, and have been the home at different times of some of the leading officers on both sides during the late war. On the night of July I, 1863, they were burned by order of General Fitz Hugh Lee, but have since been reconstructed so accurately upon the same plan, that the student of ante bellum times would scarcely suspect that they had experienced the rough usages of war.