|Chapter 2 Benjamin Rush and the Charter|
THE movement to substitute an academy for the Grammar School showed the growing purpose of the local community, but the really sympathetic Presbytery could do little to forward the academy proposal beyond providing moral support. Then Benjamin Rush, one of the dynamic men of his time, came to know the situation. It challenged his imagination as an opportunity to develop a better system of education for Pennsylvania. He threw himself into the movement, and gave the resulting college over thirty years of devoted service, working often with and through John Montgomery of Carlisle.
Rush was primarily a physician, probably the most distinguished in America, but was always active in affairs of general interest, and wholly committed to American independence. He became a member of Congress shortly after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and was a signer of that document. Montgomery, while a member of the Committee of Safety in Philadelphia, 1775-1776, doubtless met Rush six years before there was any thought of a college. Their later association shows that the two men seemed made for each other. Their acquaintance ripened into a friendship which endured until the death of Montgomery in 1808.
The first recorded meeting of these two men was on "Bingham's Porch" in 1782, and there is frequent mention of this meeting in their correspondence. There, in 1782, they laid plans for a college in Carlisle. "Bingham's Porch," their trysting-place, was to them thereafter as the place where lovers might have plighted faith, the place where great things had been planned. Many years later Rush wrote Montgomery that the friends of a new constitution for the state had met at his house for counsel, "so that my parlor may be the 'Bingham's Porch' for our constitution."
These two men, probably alone in their purpose, had thus agreed to work for a college at Carlisle instead of an academy, and their first task was to make converts to their plan. The idea was new, and their plan would meet opposition. There were two other colleges nearby, one in Philadelphia and one at Princeton, the latter under the same Presbyterian influences which must foster the proposed college. The friends of Princeton would, of course, be hostile and those interested in the Philadelphia institution would not be indifferent. Rush, however, seems to have been rather stimulated by opposition, and he entered upon his new venture with characteristic zeal. It was, indeed, his urgency that convinced his friend, and as Mohammed for a time had only one convert, so Montgomery alone had accepted the plan of Rush. Even he was none too sure of the venture, and Rush had occasionally to strengthen his faith. On April 15, 1783, he wrote Montgomery, "Don't be discouraged. All will be well. Don't think of an academy instead of a college. The subscriptions are especially for a college." The practical Rush, knowing that his college plans would meet opposition, and knowing, too, the power of money to disarm opposition, promptly began to seek from his wealthy Philadelphia friends endowment for the college he had resolved upon. So, thus early, even before the approval of the college idea by any organization, he could report "subscriptions ... for a college."
Rush, with John Montgomery as his faithful lieutenant, became the most influential man in the affairs of the College, and so remained to the day of his death, as his correspondence in the Ridgway Library of Philadelphia makes evident. There are many volumes of these letters, two of which, numbering about 350 pages, are on Dickinson College. It is apparent that the trustees and many others looked to him for counsel and help. While Rush's own letters are largely lost, his letters to John Montgomery, his companion of "Bingham's Porch," were curiously preserved. In writing to Montgomery on June 6, 1801 , after some particularly sharp criticism of Dr. Nisbet,
Rush asks that his letters to Montgomery "with remarks on the conduct of Dr. Nisbet or any other person" be burned or returned to him; and Montgomery returned at least part of them.
The correspondence of these men reveals a long and beautiful friendship, fairly comparable with the famous friendships of history. And yet they were very different, as judged by all ordinary rules. Rush was cultured and traveled, a man of wide interests and large affairs; while Montgomery was a frontiersman, a farmer, little educated in the schools, yet a man of force and character. He was also a man of property. The inventory of his estate on his death shows that he had much good furniture in his home and owned at least one colored slave. A staunch Presbyterian, he was yet tolerant for his time.
The deep affection existing between Rush and Montgomery is shown in their correspondence on the serious illness of Montgomery in the autumn of 1800. Montgomery writes that a full court docket had required long hours in court, which had brought on a sickness from which he expected to die. "This will, in all human probability, be the last address you will ever receive from me.... In every situation and under every circumstance I am truly your sincere and affectionate, John Montgomery."
Rush in his reply shows his appreciation. He writes: "A sick bed is a kind of observatory.... Your life has been active and useful. You have raised a large and flourishing family. You have served your country ably and faithfully in every public station. You have been an active and useful instrument of establishing a seminary of learning in your town.... But above all you have chosen that good part which shall never be taken from you, and have been a con- stant and useful member of the Church of Christ.... Adieu, my dear, dear friend." Other letters of his from time to time closed with equally fervent expressions: "Unalterably your friend"; "There is no man in Pennsylvania who esteems and loves you more than your ever affectionate friend."
They never had a serious difference. His friendship for Montgomery was probably one of the few Rush maintained, as his impulsive habit and inability to brook opposition to any of his plans severed friendly relations with many others.
These two men, then, had agreed that there should be a college at Carlisle, instead of the academy for which Carlisle people were prepared. Even Montgomery was not very enthusiastic, and others were doubtful of the wisdom of the proposal. The "Old General" Armstrong was one of them, and Armstrong was too important a man in the community to be ignored. He had not come under the personal influence of Rush.
Rush wrote personal letters to influential Presbyterians arguing for the feasibility of the college plan. He also distributed somewhat widely in 1782 his "Hints for Establishing a College at Carlisle in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania." It was to be Presbyterian to the core, and comparison of it with what he readily accepted later suggests that his purpose was to win over the Presbyterians to the general plan, knowing that radical changes of form might later be necessary. These "Hints" say, "Every religious society should endeavor to preserve a representation of itself in government.... At present they [the Presbyterians] hold an undue share in the power of the State, and it becomes them to retire a little from offices and to invite other societies to partake of them with them.... It becomes them above all things to entrench themselves in schools of learning. These are the true nurseries of power and influence.... In the present plenitude of power of the Presbyterians let them obtain a charter for a college at Carlisle in Cumberland County.
"The advantages of a college at this place are: (1) It will draw the Presbyterians to one common center of union. (2) It will be nearly central to the State.... (3) Education will be cheaper in Carlisle.... (4) The village of Carlisle is one of the most healthy spots in the State." All instructors were to be Presbyterians, and an endowment was to be secured from the state. He did not plan that they should
"retire a little from offices" empty handed. A generous building plan was outlined, but all students were to live in families. It was "'monkish ignorance" to crowd boys together in dormitories.
Some of those who received the "Hints" got together for counsel, and replied that the plan would be satisfactory to them but they saw objections, especially the objection of other denominations to the endowment of such a college with public funds. Rush thereupon withdrew the state-endowment features, suggesting that endowment could be secured after the granting of the charter a hope, though cherished for many years, that was never realized.
General Armstrong and the Rev. Dr. Cooper were spokesmen for the opposition to the plans for a new college Armstrong an aggressive one. He was a friend of Princeton; his son was a Princeton graduate. He thought the time not opportune for such a movement, and would select some location to the west, probably Pittsburgh, for a new college at the proper time. Armstrong was a man of such outstanding position and influence that his opposition was dangerous, and Rush set himself to win him over. To this end, in March, 1783, about a month before the meeting of the Donegal Presbytery, at which the question of a charter was to be discussed, Rush wrote Armstrong a very adroit letter. He admits that some of Armstrong's friends in Philadelphia were opposed to the college idea, but has no word to say against them in this letter, though in other letters to his own friends he characterized them in terms not used in polite society. He sedulously avoided matters of controversy, but held up to Armstrong the advantages to both church and state from such an institution on his side of the Susquehanna. The university in Philadelphia he represented as so catholic that no religion prevailed, and "without religion, I believe, learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind." Colleges are the best schools for divinity, and there was need of this new college to teach the church creed. Education in Philadelphia was expensive, and a big city was
not good for the morals of students. The New Jersey college was too far from the western counties of the state. Then, too, a college so located would help to stem the tide of immigration of our Presbyterian people to other states. A college at Carlisle would increase the value of real estate, as Princeton had done for that section. [Armstrong was a large landowner.] Finally he insisted that the leading men of Philadelphia of all classes, including Dickinson, the Quaker, and Bingham, the Episcopalian, were supporting the movement with their means, and it was sure to succeed.
Armstrong at the following April Presbytery said that he was of the same opinion as before, but nevertheless withdrew his opposition; and Montgomery writes Rush of their good outlook. The Presbytery had endorsed the plan, they had formulated the petition to the General Assembly of the state for a charter, and it was "now signing in Cumberland and York counties.... We put in the gentleman as a trustee, so that he is no longer the same party. Your letter has done wonders, and your pen was under the influence and guidance of Providence."
"The gentleman" was General Armstrong. He was thus named as one of the original trustees, though it would have been strange to omit such a man from the Board. Doctor Cooper, the other outspoken opponent, was also named, and both became useful trustees, Armstrong acting as President of the Board for nine years.
Rush now began to plan for favorable action from the General Assembly, to meet in Philadelphia in the fall, striving at the same time to secure additional funds for a college. For both these ends he deemed it wise to widen the circle of friends, writing Montgomery in May that "Mr. Long, together with two Germans, must be taken into the Board." Thus John Long was added to the Board, and presumably Hendel and Muhlenberg were the "two Germans." These two soon after shared in the founding of Franklin College at Lancaster. This enlarged the influence which could be brought to bear on the Assembly, giving excuse for approach-
ing other elements of the state for funds, and one of the larger subscriptions came from a Lancaster trustee. In June, Rush writes again to Montgomery, "You must attend here at the sitting of the Assembly. I can do nothing without you." Montgomery, however, did not attend, as Rush's letter to him of September 1 shows. "Leave has been obtained to bring in a bill to found a college at Carlisle. Do come to town immediately. We suffer daily from the want of your advice and passionate honesty, as Sharp calls it. Everything hangs on the next two weeks.... The charter is ready [to present] and has been carefully reviewed by Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Wilson."
Rush was right in his judgment. There was an almost equal division of the Assembly on the question of the charter. They had only four votes to spare, on one motion. He writes, "Joseph Montgomery opposed the plan violently, and plead hard for the sickly banks of Susquehannah where the youth would enjoy fogs, and the society of boatmen, waggoners and such like companions for a half century to come. He lost his motion by four votes.... Sharp detests Joseph's act ... so much that he declares until his name is struck out from among the trustees he will not support the scheme any longer. It shall be done." It was done, for the name of Joseph Montgomery does not appear on the first Board, though he became a trustee in 1787 and served for seven years. This vote, with a margin of only four, seems to have been the high-water mark of the opposition in the Assembly, and the charter was voted on September 9, 1783. The second dangerous hurdle had been passed. Its success was clearly due to the generalship of Rush, though he was doubtless greatly aided by the quiet influence of John Dickinson, President of the Supreme Executive Council of the state.
John Dickinson comes into the picture at this point, so far as records show, though before this he and James Wilson are known to have read and approved the charter of the College before it was voted by the General Assembly. Dickinson, the "Penman of the Revolution," is so well
known by all who know our early American history as to make superfluous any attempt here to outline his long life and abundant labors.
While this is true, there is an interesting suggestion on the Dickinson relation only recently advanced, bearing on the origin of the Dickinson name, and consequently on the name of the College. It is suggested that the name originated with one Walter de Caen, who followed William the Conqueror to England and settled in Yorkshire. Following the usual custom, his children were known by the surname "son of," etc. Thus a son of "de Caen" in time became Dickinson. This is a bit of genealogy curious, interesting, perhaps true.
The charter thus granted contained seven sections, four of them in the nature of a preamble. This old charter, with but minor changes, is yet in force. Its important provisions follow:
(1) Importance of education; (2) peace brings both ability and duty to disseminate useful knowledge; (3) petitioners of established reputation show need for this College; (4) large subscriptions already made, and others to come.
The vital sections are:
Section 5. Be it, therefore, enacted and it is hereby enacted.... 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 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.
II. Board of Trustees of not over forty.
III. First Trustees named, five from Philadelphia, one from Bucks County; one from Chester; three from Lancaster; eight from York; twelve from Cumberland; two from Berks; one from Northampton; two from Northumberland; two from Bedford; two from Westmoreland; and one from Washington.
VII. The headmaster was to be "The Principal of the College," and the masters were to be "Professors," but no Principal or Professor could be a Trustee.
IX. No limitation on account of religious belief.
X. The thirteen clergymen on the original Board were to be succeeded by clergymen.
Section 6. No change of the charter but by the Legislature.
Section 7. Form of oath to be taken by Trustees, Principal and Professors.
Amendments have been made at various times. In February, 1826, the requirement that a clergyman should succeed a clergyman became: "That not more than one-third of the Trustees shall, at any time, be clergymen."
In April, 1834, several changes were made. Power was given the Board of Trustees to declare the seats of members vacant for certain reasons; the discipline of the College was vested essentially in the Faculty; the oath of trustees, principals, and professors was simplified [later the oath was replaced by the promise to perform the duties faithfully]; and the Principal was made ex-officio President of the Board. This last, however, was again changed in March, 1912, when he was made a member of the Board, but ineligible to the office of President of the Board. In May, 1879, the trustee term was set at four years with eligibility for reëlection; the style of the head of the College was changed from Principal to President; and the Board was given power to decide on its quorum.