|Chapter 20 The Transfer to Methodist Trustees |
THE Methodist Episcopal Church first ventured on higher education in 1785 when it founded Cokesbury College at Abington, Maryland. The building there erected burned in 1795, and a second building, purchased in Baltimore for its use, suffered the same fate one year later. These two fires seemed to some of the Church leaders to indicate divine disapproval, and no similar attempts were made while these earlier leaders lived. Later, however, the Church sensed its need for higher schools. Augusta College, Kentucky, was founded in 1822, and by 1832, when Dickinson College suspended, there was a general movement in the Church to establish colleges. In 1831, the year before Dickinson closed, Wesleyan had been founded by Methodists in Connecticut, and two years later Allegheny College was taken over by Methodists from Presbyterian supporters. By 1840 the Methodist Church was supporting sixteen colleges.
The movement, of which this was only a part, was general, and was especially active in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. In the Baltimore Conference the movement for a college began to take definite shape in March, 1829, through discussions concerning the need for a school of higher grade. This sense of their need grew in definiteness from year to year, as shown by later proposals to other conferences to join in establishing such a school. The Conference seemed decided on a college, and in 1831 seriously considered two sites, one of which would probably have been chosen but for hesitation because general legislation on the subject of education seemed possible at the General Conference of the Church in 1832.
But this General Conference took no decided action on the subject, and it was again before the Baltimore Conference for decision. In the interval, however, Dickinson College, in the territory of the Conference, had closed its doors, and
the possibility of taking it over must have been in the minds of many.
The Conference had knowledge of the College. It had met in Carlisle in April, 1828, and trustee action of March in that year had offered the use of the college chapel to the Conference for its ensuing session. The offer was accepted. The American Volunteer, a local paper, printed the following conference action: "Resolved that the thanks of the Baltimore Conference be tendered to the Faculty and Trustees of Dickinson College for the use of the College Chapel during the session of said Conference."
Just before its 1833 session, Rev. Edwin Dorsey, a member of the Baltimore Conference, inquired of the college trustees whether they would transfer the College to the Conference. He wrote:
The Baltimore An. Conference of the Methodist E. Church has appointed a Committee to take into consideration the propriety of establishing a college within its boundaries. The Chairman of that Committee, understanding that the Dickerson [sic] College had gone down, wrote to me a few days since, to ascertain whether it could be obtained for a Methodist Institution, and if so, upon what terms. He says, "We could make it very advantageous to Carlisle, as we should in a short time have one to two hundred students in the Institution, and would thereby throw into circulation many thousand dollars annually.... If it can be obtained and secured to Trustees appointed by our Conference, as the property, and for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church, we could go on at once to endow it and fix the Professorships.... If the College should have a Library of valuable character for sale, the Conference would purchase it on reasonable terms. My own convictions, if the Conference locate a College in Carlisle, it would be one of the first grade of respectability. Be so good, Sir, as to call a meeting of the Trustees, and submit this subject to their consideration. I should be glad to have an answer from the Board, as early as practicable. Our Conference will convene in Baltimore on the 27 Inst. when I shall be required to make my report."
The college Board held a special meeting on March 12, 1833, to consider the communication from "Rev. Edwin Dorsey ... asking whether Dickinson College could be obtained for a Methodist institution, and upon what terms."
The Board unanimously agreed that "there being now little probability that any influence likely to be exerted will produce its [the College's] speedy resuscitation, so as to make it useful ... for its original design ... and this Board being impressed favorably with the subject, Therefore, Resolved, That ... the subject is worthy of consideration of a general meeting of the Board." Such a general meeting was called for April 18 following, this date obviously chosen so that any action of the Conference, to meet April 2, might be before it.
The favorable reception by the Board of Mr. Dorsey's approach certainly influenced the action of the Baltimore Conference two weeks later. This action was as follows:
1st. Resolved, by the members of the Baltimore Annual Conference that it is highly expedient and proper that a college should be established within the bounds of this Conference, or contiguous thereto, either in connexion with some of the neighboring conferences, or separately by this conference and under its own control.
2nd. Resolved, That the transfer of Dickinson College including the buildings, books libraries, chemical and philosophical apparatus, etc., would be highly advantageous and ought to be promptly embraced by the members of this Conference.
3rd. Resolved, That in order to avail ourselves of this transfer, a committee of three be appointed whose duty it shall be to confer immediately and directly with the Trustees of the College aforesaid, for the purpose of ascertaining definitely and positively whether a transfer of their rights and privileges can, and will be legally made, and, if so, to unite with them in an application (if it should be found necessary) to the Legislature of the State of Pennsylvania, in order to the enjoyment and possession of all the rights and privileges now vested by law in the aforesaid trustees of Dickinson College.
4th. Resolved, That whenever it is ascertained that such transfer can and will be legally effected, this Conference pledges itself to the acceptance of the transfer and to the establishment and support of a college.
5th. Resolved, That a committee of twenty be appointed to whom it shall be the duty of the committee appointed to confer with the trustees of Dickinson College on the subject of a transfer as aforesaid to report, and said committee of twenty shall be clothed with discretionary authority to accept or reject the offers made by the said trustees of Dickinson College.
6th. Resolved, That forty trustees be provisionally appointed, that in the event that the trustees of Dickinson College shall consent, and be able in law to make a fair and full transfer of said college, that then and
in that case the premises shall be transferred to said trustees herein required to be appointed.
It was also
Resolved, That a delegate be appointed to attend the Philadelphia Conference to bring before that body the subject of the contemplated transfer and possession aforesaid, and to ask the coöperation of that body.
The Conference committee of three ordered in the third resolution, Messrs. Roszell, Hemphill, and Alexander, appeared before the general meeting of the Board of Trustees on April 18, at which fourteen trustees were present, and stated the case, presenting the above resolutions of their Conference. The Board then appointed a committee of three, Messrs. Watts, Duffield, and Hamilton, to confer informally and more in detail with the visiting committee of the Baltimore Conference, and to report to the Board on the next day, when three meetings of the Board were held. At the morning meeting there was informal discussion of the matters at issue. Growing out of this, at the afternoon session, Frederick Watts, for the Board's committee of conference, made the following report:
Whereas the present depressed condition of the Institution and the recollection of its history and the incidents connected with it for the past few years, induce us to express the decided conviction that any effort within the power of the present Board of Trustees to resuscitate it would prove utterly unavailing. This inability effectually and directly to act for the promotion of the original design of the founders of the College would naturally induce a desire on the part of every friend of literature and science to adopt any proper expedient by which the same end may be attained. The information communicated to your committee by the Gentlemen who compose the committee of the Balto. Annual Conference may be embraced within these general remarks. That the Conference resolved at their last meeting to establish a college within its boundaries or contiguous thereto, either in connection with some of the neighboring conferences or separately by that conference and under its own control; and that the resolution of our Board heretofore passed and communicated to the conference had induced the selection of Dickinson College as the place of its location: That the literary character of such college should be of high grade: and That funds were in the power of the conference so
to endow the institution as to insure the preservation of its character and give extent to its usefulness. These objects being in perfect accordance with the design and spirit of our charter the first consideration that required the attention of your committee was the ability of the conference to carry their design into effect. The general remark may be safely made that those colleges in the United States, which have been conducted by or under the patronage of some prominent Christian sect, have been more flourishing in their operations and useful in their influence than others which have not those advantages. The exertions now being made by the Methodist Episcopal Church in the cause of science and the zeal which they have already evinced on this subject lead your committee to believe that that portion of the Church which is embraced within the Baltimore Annual Conference will be able to resuscitate Dickinson College and make it prosperous and useful. And if as it is anticipated the neighboring conferences will unite in this project, it can scarcely be doubted but that success will attend it. That the College will be endowed is a prominent feature in the communication made to your committee, and is represented as being one which the conference will deem essential to the interests of the institution. On this subject your committee need only add their belief which all the circumstances within their knowledge induces, that it will be so endowed as to insure its permanency. Your committee is therefore decidedly of opinion that it is expedient and proper that the college edifice and all its appurtenances should be placed under the control of the Balto. Annual Conference: And it therefore only remains to be considered how this shall be done? Two modes have been considered, first by a legal conveyance and assignment of the estate and appurtenances. Secondly by a substitution of other trustees to be named by the conference or their constituted authorities in the room of the present ones, all of whom will resign. To the first mode there are several objections. The Board of Trustees under their present charter has not the power to convey the property and if the Legislature would give the power, it would not be necessary and perhaps not expedient, that it should be exercised. The possession of the property and the exclusive right to convert it into all the purposes of a literary institution seems to be all that is necessary and all that the conference requires: This can be readily attained by the second mode proposed; the resignation of a certain number of the present Board of Trustees the election of others in their stead; the resignation of another number and the election of others and so toties quoties until there shall be an entire substitution. Whether this shall be an act of the Board of Trustees, or of its individual members or how far the Board should act in the business are considerations.... On this subject it is recommended as being proper that the Board should act in their official capacity as far as may be embraced within their corporate powers, and leave the individuals to act under the influence of such recommendations as the Board may make. They therefore offer the following resolutions:
Whereas the Board of Trustees of Dickinson College are satisfied that the condition of the institution, and the circumstances of its depression are such that there is no prospect of its speedy resuscitation under its present government; and as the Baltimore Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church has expressed its desire to take it under its control and patronage its determination to elevate it to a high rank amongst the colleges of the country, and there is just reason to believe that under these auspices it will be largely endowed, whereby the design of the original founders of the institution will be greatly promoted and as a substitution of other trustees to be named by the said conference or their constituted authorities in the room of those who are now trustees, seems to be the most expedient mode of effecting the object.
Therefore, Resolved that it be recommended to each and every member of the present Board of Trustees to tender his resignation in writing at such time as the execution of the plan proposed may require and may be agreed on by the conference or their constituted authorities having power in the premises.
Resolved, That the substance of these proceedings be communicated by the secretary to every absent member of the Board and that he be requested to coöperate with us in this effort to promote the interests of the Institution.
Dr. Paxton [a Trustee] moved that this report and resolutions be postponed in order to take up the following: Inasmuch as the committee of the Baltimore Annual Conference have not brought with them any authenticated documents and that no part of the funds on which they expect to sustain a literary institution in this place has yet been raised. That they have not given nor can they give any pledge that a sufficient fund will be raised for the purpose contemplated; that we therefore, however much confidence we may have in the candour and integrity of the committee and the body which they represent, yet that we have not sufficient assurance of the ability of the Baltimore Annual Conference to carry into effect the objects proposed, in any reasonable time, to justify us in doing any act by which we would alienate the property of the College and thereby give up a certainty for an uncertainty.
Resolved, That this Board will hold itself in readiness at any time within one year, to procure the resignation of the present trustees and elect in their stead such persons as the Baltimore Conference shall name: provided that at such time and before such resignations and elections are effected the said conference will pledge some permanent fund to the amount of ------------ dollars, or appropriate the same for the endowment of Dickinson College.
Which motion being seconded, the question was put and negatived.
Dr. Paxton tendered his resignation to the Board which was accepted. (For reasons of resignation see paper filed.) [The paper so filed has not been preserved.]
The report of Mr. Watts for the committee was then unanimously adopted and at a third meeting of the day, held in the evening, the trustee record continues:
Mr. Watts offered the following resolution:
Resolved, That a committee be appointed whose duty it shall be to embody the proceedings which have been transacted by this board at their last few meetings in the shape of a printed circular letter to be addressed and sent to each member of the Board at least twenty-one days before the 6th day of June next, and that such circular shall also notify the members that an election of trustees will be held on that day at ten o'clock A.M. in the college chapel, Which was agreed to.
This completed the official action of the Board preliminary to the transfer, but thirteen members of the Board bound themselves individually to each other and to the Baltimore Conference to complete the transfer, and on April 19 they signed the following paper:
In order to give an assurance to the Baltimore Annual Conference of our intention to carry into effect the recommendation of the Board of Trustees of Dickinson College on the subject of placing the College under the direction and patronage of the Baltimore Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. We do severally pledge ourselves each to the other and to the said conference that we will resign our office of trustee at such time as the proposed arrangement shall be ready to be carried into effect and the constituted authorities of the said conference and the Board of Trustees shall be prepared to substitute others in our stead. Provided however, that if the proposed arrangement be not carried into effect, this declaration of our intention shall be considered as of no validity.
The committee of three appointed by the Baltimore Conference having thus performed the first part of their task, reported to the commission of twenty, which had power to accept or reject any offer of transfer made by the college trustees. This commission seems to have taken its duties very seriously, even considering again the advisability of the whole movement, though the Conference might be supposed to have settled that by its formal actions.
Dr. James A. McCauley, of the college Class of 1847, a member of the Baltimore Conference following his gradu-
ation, and President of the College for sixteen years, 1872-1888, furnished a series of articles for the first issues of "The Dickinsonian," the college paper, first published on the beginning of his presidency. In the third number of the paper, dated December, 1872, Dr. McCauley says,
They (the commission of twenty) met in May that year (1833), in the conference room in Baltimore, and in repeated sessions running through a week, the whole question was patiently considered. Several influential members of the commission, interpreting the Cokesbury failure as a providential inhibition of any further effort in the direction, set themselves in strenuous opposition to the founding of a college anywhere within our bounds. (An early educational attempt, Cokesbury College, had been twice destroyed by fire and abandoned.) Others, however, if not less superstitious, surely more sagacious, not only gave the project hearty favor, but advocated Dickinson with an earnestness and eloquence which, in the end, induced an affirmative decision. The transfer was shortly after consummated in the accession of a new Board of Trustees, effected by the process of alternate resignations and elections, carried on till the old Board was vacated and the new one constituted.
The general meeting of the Board called in Carlisle, with at least twenty-one days' notice to each trustee of the actions so far taken, and of the proposal to elect new trustees and complete the transfer, convened on June 6, 1833. Only twelve trustees attended this final meeting, two less than had been present at the previous April meeting.
In the meantime the Baltimore Conference's invitation to the Philadelphia Conference to coöperate with them in the enterprise had been accepted, and representatives of both Conferences were present in Carlisle on June 6 as their nominees for trustees in the new Board to be formed. Before proceeding farther in the matter, however, these representatives of the two Conferences presented a paper to the old Board, summarizing the conditions of the transfer. It was as follows:
In behalf of a convention of Gentlemen appointed under the authority of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church and now present in this Borough, we are instructed to inform you that in the measures proposed in regard to Dickinson College in certain communications recently passed between your Board and the
Baltimore Annual Conference or a Committee of the said Conference, the Philadelphia Annual Conference of the same Church on the invitation of the Baltimore Annual Conference has agreed to unite; and that the gentlemen who will be named to you for the filling of vacancies and for the substitution of a new Board are such as have been selected under the authority and from within the bounds of both the said Conferences.
To guard against misconstruction on the subject of funds or in regard to any endowment of the said College, we are instructed also to state that neither of the aforesaid Conferences has in possession any funds for these objects; nor have they any at their command or in their power in any other sense or manner than as they hope for success in obtaining them from the liberality of an enlightened public; to effect which, however, it is their purpose to use their best efforts.
We are instructed further to state that the said two Annual Conferences of the M. E. Church or any others which may hereafter be admitted into union with them in the management of the said Dickinson College, will at all times hold themselves at liberty to invest and secure any funds which may be raised by them or under their direction, in any way which they or their representatives duly appointed for this purpose shall judge best, whether in the name of Dickinson College or in any other mode which they shall judge preferable, and that your proceeding to fill the vacancies in your Board with the names of such gentlemen as are hereinafter named on the part of the said two Annual Conferences will be considered and received by the said two Conferences and by the Convention of Gentlemen now in this Borough and acting in their behalf, as an acquiescense on your part in the explanations herein given of the true meaning and intention of any communications or acts which have taken place between your Board and the Baltimore Annual Conference or its Committee in regard to the premises.
The following are the names of gentlemen now proposed for your election to fill existing vacancies in your Board.
Signed by Order and in behalf of the Convention. STEPHEN G. ROSZELL, Chairman. CHAS. A. WARFIELD, Secretary.
The transfer of the College to the new Board was effected according to the actions of the previous April meetings. Seats of members of the old Board who had not attended meetings or given reason for their absences were declared vacant by that old Board at its final meetings, and enough of those present from the Conferences to form a quorum were elected to take their places. The new trustees so elected then appeared and took the required oath, the President of the old Board resigned, and Bishop John Emory, one of the new trustees, was chosen President to succeed him. Before further resignations, the retiring President, Andrew Carothers, was voted the thanks of the Board "for his faithful and courteous discharge of his duties as President of this Board." All members of the old Board present then resigned and withdrew; and the transfer was completed and the new era began.
It could hardly be expected that such a transfer of such an old college could be made without exciting some criticism. Apparently, however, it was almost negligible at the time; for Dr. Paxton was the only member of the Board to raise any objection to the proceedings, and there was no increased attendance at the final meetings called, on notice, to complete the transfer. Criticism of the transfer was greater in later years, when the utter helplessness of the College had been forgotten, than at the time of the transfer, when everybody was aware of the sorry situation thus bettered.
There seems to have been at this time general approval of the transfer of the College to the new and more vigorous management, with its assurance both of financial and student support. The only possible ground for objection was a claim that it was a Presbyterian college, and as such had been transferred to the Methodists. Yet while Dickinson had been originally Presbyterian in inception and management, it was not at the time of transfer so in fact or in law. Any Presbyterian rights had been deliberately surrendered to secure state grants to keep the College alive; and those in control of the College had steadily denied before the public
that it was Presbyterian. On the basis of its undenominational character, it had received various grants from the state; and to secure its final grant in 1826, the Board had so changed its charter as to make any clerical control impossible. The Board not only did this, but so heartily approved of it all that they made a roll of honor of all members of the Legislature who had voted for the grant. The Legislature of the state took their professions at face value. When in 1828-1829 the Legislature seriously investigated the charge that the College was really conducted in the interest of the Presbyterian Church, the trustees denied the charge to the satisfaction of the investigating committee.
Irresponsible individuals through the years expressed their regret, and possibly their resentment, at what had been done in 1833; but in 1889, fifty-six years after the transfer, a fine two-volume "History of the Presbytery of Carlisle" was issued, and in this appears a variety of opinions of the men of that time on the subject, tinged by the thought that the Church had lost a valuable asset by the transfer. One of these opinions is that of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, D.D., for many years pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Newville, Pennsylvania. It is part of his sketch of the life of Principal Neill of the College.
This transfer was made chiefly by the local trustees of the College, in response to overtures from individuals and officers of the Methodist denomination, accompanied by promises of large endowments and a rapid increase of students, and was urged forward by citizens of Carlisle as certainly promotive of the financial interests of the community. A petition was circulated by two members of the Board, as one of them informed the writer, and signed by men in business, requesting the transfer to be made. Dr. David Elliott was then pastor at Mercersburg and a member of the Board, but, as we learned from him, received no notice of the meeting at which that action was taken. The whole property, grounds, buildings and library, were transferred without any consideration to their original donors; a most unwarrantable assumption and exercise of power. Judge Chambers, who was a trustee of the College, in his tribute to the Scotch-Irish of Pennsylvania, says, "The trustees of Carlisle and vicinity constituted its business board (or executive committee) for the management of most of the concerns of the College., and either discouraged by
failure of measures adopted to sustain the College, or from unhappy dissensions amongst themselves, chose to give away the institution with all its property and corporative privileges, and then abandon their trust by resignation, to make their donation effective." Local trustees have been the plague of many of our colleges, with rare exceptions) proving a hindrance rather than a support to many of these institutions.
Had Dickinson College, in Presbyterian hands, been wisely organized and efficiently managed, it would, in all human probability, have become one of the foremost institutions in our country. There was no more favorable location or larger constituency for a successful college under Presbyterian control in all this broad land. The alumni of Dickinson College, while under Presbyterian patronage and management, took rank with those of the oldest and strongest colleges in the country.
It may be noted that Dr. Erskine says "Had Dickinson College ... been wisely organized and efficiently managed," and in this he concedes the whole case; for it was lack of such organization and ma nagement for fifty years that made the transfer possible, and that at a time when the College had suspended its operations.
Rev. William A. West, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Carlisle, wrote:
There was in Carlisle, belonging to us, a literary institution which was the rival of Nassau Hall at Princeton.... Dickinson College was virtually ours then, and might and should have continued to be ours.... But there was division, and with it weakness, if nothing more, when it was permitted to pass out of our hands. Perhaps in no other period in the history of the Church could the transfer have been made. Proverbially are Presbyterians "God's silly people."
These statements on the transfer may well close with that of Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, D.D., LL.D., pastor of the Collegiate Reformed Church of New York City, himself an old student of the College. His account seems reasonable, and more in accord with the facts.
I was a student in Dickinson College for a year and a half when Dr. S. B. How was its president, and ceased my connection only when its doors were closed. This calamitous event was due chiefly to two causes. One was the determination of the trustees to conduct its discipline instead of leaving that to the control of the faculty. An error like this would ruin
any institution under heaven. If the president and professors are not to be trusted, turn them out and put others in their places, but let not the trustees undertake to decide matters about which it is impossible for them to form a satisfactory judgment. The other was that the College was Presbyterian in fact but not in name. Its friends claimed for it an undenominational character so that they could appeal to the State for pecuniary aid. Had they forborne this delusive fancy, and applied to the church for means to support the institution as their own, failure would have been averted. But this was not done, and so our Methodist brethren came into possession, greatly to their advantage. At that day it was not uncommon for a Methodist minister to boast that the Lord had opened his mouth although, he had never rubbed his back against a college wall, to which it was sometimes replied that the Lord had wrought a similar miracle in the days of Balaam. They needed an educated ministry, and were greatly aided in that matter by getting control of this institution, although it is reasonable to think that they would have prospered more had they settled in another community where the Methodist element was predominant. Still, severe as was the loss of the college to Presbyterianism and its extent cannot easily be estimated it is pleasant to think that this ancient seat of learning is under the management of a thoroughly evangelical body of Christians, among whom it is doing a great and good work.