|Chapter 9 The Finances of the New College|
THE story of the college finances in Nisbet's time is a sorry one of dire poverty, long continued, relieved only by Rush's rosy hopes and his explanation of their failure. He held out the hope of £10,000 of endowment funds in a year or two, but the highest figure for fifty years was not more than £7,600. Cuming, a Carlisle visitor in 1808, reported in his "Western Tour" that the funds of the College were about £4,000. Ten years later, at most, these endowment funds had disappeared altogether.
There are few records of the funds in the hands of the trustees. The £1,640 and some land in April, 1784, and £4,477 and some land in September of the same year, finally reached a high-water mark of $20,211.29, or £7,600. This seems pitifully small for a college endowment, but college endowments generally were then small, and Rush said of these funds: "There are few colleges in America that can boast so large a foundation for a productive and permanent income." Nevertheless, the income was always too small, though with decent provision for students the College might possibly have met expenses. Nisbet repeatedly asked for better housing facilities, both town and college, that the College might have a fair trial to see whether it could live. Such facilities, however, never existed during his life, and students continued few forty to seventy. Fees were small, but $15 to $25 per year, so that the college income was always less than expenses. The College thus fell more and more deeply into debt with every passing year.
The very early financial straits of the College are shown by the payment of teachers in 1788 by orders on those who owed it money on subscription or for tuition. The College probably lost some of its best teachers, like Ross and Borland, by its failure to pay them even the small salaries promised; and Nisbet himself doubtless remained because
he could not easily go elsewhere. One of his letters says, "I must submit to the event, whatever it may be, as I am in a dependent situation, and unconnected, and therefore must content myself with submitting this matter to those who have power to determine it, and who will do as they think fit."
Another evidence of salaries in arrears is found in the payment to Davidson following a state grant in 1791 of "one half of his last year's salary," and shortly afterward a full year's salary to all the teachers "on account of arrearages of salary." They seem to have been at least a year and a half in arrears, possibly more. Court records show that most of Nisbet's estate finally consisted of what was due him from the College and from the Presbyterian Church for, which he preached once each Sabbath $6,700 from the one and $1,200 from the other. It is difficult to understand how any who knew these facts could rail at him as mercenary and lacking in ability to make sacrifices.
In 1788, while the adoption of our Constitution was in doubt, Rush writes Montgomery of financial conditions and hard times in the country generally. The hard times were given as the cause of the difficulties of the College, and he then tells of his hopes for a stronger government. "Let us not be discouraged by the present low state of our funds and the declining number of our pupils. Is there anything or anybody in America that is now in a prosperous situation? Colleges, schools, churches, all languish beneath the present disturbed state of our public affairs; and farmers, merchants, tradesmen, lawyers, doctors and ministers are all full of complaints.... Adieu. We expect soon to hear of the ratification by South Carolina, and we are assured that there is a majority of 40 of the members of the convention of Virginia who are in favor of the new government."
Rush evidently expected this stronger government to result in a boon for state certificates, then at a great discount. Commenting on his purchase of certificates for the College he says, "I wish all the cash we can collect and spare
from our building could be applied in the same way. The opportunity of encreasing our funds by this speculation will not last probably more than a year or two longer.... I hope it will not be necessary to use any arguments to dissuade the Board from sinking their funds by purchasing at present the Public Works. Our professors, I hope, possess so much public spirit as to be willing to teach in the schoolhouse for a few years, till the value of our lands will enable us to purchase or build a large and splendid house for that purpose." [Stricken out but legible] "The church before Constantine had wooden pulpits but golden ministers, but after his patronage, pulpits of gold but ministers of wood. Our College may have golden professors, or without figures, we shall have gold to procure and pay them.
"Let us imitate the German economy in settling a farm by building a barn before a dwelling house. Let our funds be our barn, out of which if they are managed properly, a college and houses of all kinds will grow in the course of a few years."
Optimism, however, could not meet the ever-increasing debt, and in 1797 a Committee of the Board on "The General State of the College" made their report in numerous resolutions: "That there were no adequate resources to meet their heavy debts, so that they feared an early dissolution of the College"; that the Faculty be urged to "use every exertion to promote the good government of the College ... in order that from its character for learning and good order, the Legislature may be induced to interpose to save it from the ruin with which it is threatened"; that another appeal be mad e to the Legislature for an endowment to enable the trustees to pay its debts and balance its budget; that they strive to secure "a proper edifice, and to this, end inquiry be made about the Public Buildings near Carlisle"; that suits be brought against all who refuse to pay their subscriptions or other debts due the College; that an Honor Book be prepared, with the names of all who ever paid ten pounds and upwards, as principal benefactors of the College, "and that
the same shall be read publicly at every commencement in the presence of all the members of the College"; that "an oration be delivered by one of the students at each commencement in favor of Benevolence to Literary Institutions"; that the Faculty watch over the morals of the students; and that taverns be watched so that those admitting students at improper times may be opposed hereafter in their efforts to secure license.
These resolutions of 1797 declared the 10,000 acres of land, held by them from the state, were for future sale as endowment, and should not be sold to pay debts. Three years later, however, in 1800, when hard pressed for money to complete "the edifice erected for the College," the first college building, they borrowed $2,000 and pledged their endowment as security, sufficient of their securities to pay the debt to be sold "on ten days notice" by the lender. This was a thinly disguised beginning of the dissipation of their invested funds, and shortly afterward they actually sold enough of their securities to get $2,000 more for the same purpose. Shortly after this another committee "'on the present state of the College ... to recommend such alterations ... as they may deem conducive to promote its welfare and interest" reported radical changes in salary, for Nisbet $800 instead of the previous $1,200 and $60 for house rent; for Davidson $16o; for the other two the entrance and tuition fees from students. All four accepted the new terms, though later additional grant was made Mr. Thompson to raise his salary to $400. Davidson was pastor of the Presbyterian Church, and thus had other means of support.
The trustees probably hoped to be able to meet the lessened salary charges, but there is no evidence that they succeeded. By September, 1803, affairs had clearly reached a desperate condition, and Nisbet pressed for a settlement of his long overdue claims upon the College. A trustee committee of three was "appointed to wait upon Dr. Nisbet to ascertain the precise deficits in view as referred to in his letter, Resolved, That Dr. Nisbet be requested to furnish
an account in writing of the matters which the Doctor considered to be in controversy between him and the Trustees." This was on the morning of September 29, and the "precise details" asked were ready for the Board meeting in the afternoon of the same day. The statement itself is lost, but its tenor may be guessed from two existing papers: one, the record of the trustees on the subject, the other, a letter of Nisbet to Rush two months later. The record of the trustees says: "The Trustees have received the communication of Dr. Nisbet on the subject of his claims against the institution, and, though they pass over for the present much in that communication as well in the matter, totally unfounded, as in its language, very reprehensible, and consider his claims as altogether inadmissible, yet being unwilling to throw any difficulty or delay in the way of the Doctor in the legal investigation of his claims" they offer to present a case stated to the courts for legal determination of the matter at issue, "this done with a view to escape all imputation ... of a disposition to procrastinate." The other paper, Nisbet's letter to Rush, was written on November 29, just two months after the trustee proposal of a case stated, and appears elsewhere. It gives no statement of the amount he claimed as due him, but is a biting arraignment of the action of the trustees from which he had suffered for over eighteen years, and shows how the trustees could hardly do other than call "its language very reprehensible." However, there was much excuse for anything he may have said. They owed him a large sum $6,693.37, as shown by the inventory of the administrators of his estate. Not bearing on college finances, but making his personal case worse, was the fact that the Carlisle Presbyterian Church also owed him $1,200.
As late as 1810, six years after his death, the College yet owed Nisbet's heirs $6,000. They pressed for settlement and even levied on the college site. The trustees declared that the action threatened to "sacrifice the property of the Institution," and said that they had hoped for more con-
sideration, in view of the liberal manner in which the accounts of Dr. Nisbet had been settled. Payment of the Nisbet account was now made by proceeds from the sale of college endowment securities. Many other old debts were paid off at the same time, some of them of very long standing.
They had used part of their original funds, Nisbet charged, to build the original "college house," and now this further sale was probably the only possible way to keep the College alive. At any rate, during the next few years the invested funds disappeared, and nothing remained when the College closed in 1816. After its second closing in 1832, the old Treasurer turned over to the new one $69 in cash and the old Coleman bank stock, hypothecated for loans from the bank of nearly equal value. The endowment had disappeared long before.
The College had at one time, as has been stated, an endowment of approximately $20,000. On this security they borrowed to apply to their first building program, as previously detailed. Fortunately, there is an old record that in October, 1808, they yet had $12,353.
Under pressure from Nisbet's heirs, as above, on May 17, 1810, they authorized, further sale of their securities, as follows:
"Resolved, That the President of the Board be empowered to sell so much stock as will amount to the one half of the debt due Dr. Nisbet, Dr. Davidson and Professor McCormick. And that he pay to the representatives of Dr. Nisbet the one half of the debt due to them, the remainder to be put to the discharge of the debts due to Dr. Davidson and Professor McCormick. And that the same gentleman be further irrevocably empowered to sell such further amount of stock, on or before the 10th day of March next, as will be sufficient to discharge all the debts of the Institution, paying the representatives of Dr. Nisbet the remaining part of their debt, and the remainder of such further sale to be paid to the Treasurer to enable him to pay all the debts; unless the same are discharged before that time."
On this order of the Board they sold, in 1810, $5,613 of their $12,353 and received therefor, $5,644. This was applied in July, 1810, in part as follows: To Dr. McCoskry, son-in-law and administrator of Dr. Nisbet, $3,100; to Davidson, $500; and to McCormick, $1,000. These were all in part payment only. They also bought some bank stock for $945. In 1811 they made further sale of stock for $7,629. After this second sale of 1811 they made payments of $3,300 to Dr. McCoskry, $623 to Davidson, and $600 to McCormick. McCormick's payment was "on acct," but the other two were "in full." Some payments were evidently made on the other debts suggested in the resolution for sale.
The above makes clear that they had paid the Nisbet heirs $6,400, equal to his salary for over five years; $1,123 to Davidson, or nearly three years' salary; and to McCormick $1,600, or full four years' salary. This makes $9,123 which can be definitely traced, and leaves the bank stock and something over $3,000 after the two stock sales. All of this latter was doubtless used in the payment of other debts. It did not pay all of them, for in 1817 a bill of $229 was paid on an order of 1808, three years before these later payments. The evidence indicates that they paid when they had to do so and had wherewith to pay. When the endowment was gone in 1811, they yet had some debts.
That this endowment was gone is strongly supported by action of the Board in 1817. In March of that year they owed John McKnight, their late Principal, $811, but had naught wherewith to pay. Under these circumstances the Board took the following action: "Therefore, the Board under the pressure of urgent necessity resolve that money from a state grant specifically made for the purchase of books and apparatus be used to settle this account with McKnight and the Board further resolves that all the estate of. the College be ... pledged for the refunding and due appropriation of the sum thus applied etc." "Under the pressure of urgent necessity," then, the Board misappropriated this grant of the state, with no suggestion that they
had other invested funds available. Their endowment was gone; and one might add that their corporate honor was also gone, after these years of hard dealing with their teachers.
It is a curious fact that practically every other report of meetings of the Board gives the names of trustees present, but this one merely records a quorum being formed." Were they ashamed? There is no evidence that the sum thus misappropriated was ever refunded, and presumption is strongly to the contrary. Apparently, too, they used the balance of this specific library and apparatus fund for other purposes. There is no evidence that it was ever used for either books or apparatus.
The trustees thus settled in full with McKnight in 1817. He must have been more urgent for settlement than Atwater in 1815, or the corporate honor of the Board had declined in the meantime. On Atwater's withdrawal in 1815, there was due him a balance of $250, and this was paid in 1821 with interest, a total of $319.
State aid for the College had bulked large in the early plans of Rush. He had proposed originally to ask for an endowment with the charter. However, on the suggestion that the state was not likely to grant this to a college so sectarian in organization, he dropped the original proposal, saying that endowment from the state could be secured later.
While Rush may have expected state aid, he sought other subscriptions for the College as zealously as though he had no such hope. And well it was that he did so, for though grants from the state were often sought, those obtained were few and small.
State grants to the College for its first fifty years totaled less than $60,000. Most of these grants were after 1821, and the earliest grants, that is for thirty-eight years, 1783-1821, averaged about $550 per year. Even these small grants were generally made to tide over emergencies only, to pay debts and save the life of the College.
There was never any worthwhile grant from the state
which took the form of permanent endowment. The only apparent exceptions to this were a grant of 10,000 acres of land in 1786, later returned to the state for a money grant; and $3,000 in 1791 for endowment to pay tuition for a certain number of free students.
The first application of the trustees to the state for help was made at their first meeting in Carlisle in April, 1784. were many other such appeals, for they became almost chronic with the ever-present poverty of the College.
One of these appeals brought a peculiar response. In 1789 the College and the city of Philadelphia were granted lottery rights, to net the College $2,000, and the city $8,000. The Federal Gazette, of Philadelphia, on Tuesday, February 8, 1791, advertised the lottery, and as no one of the present generation has seen such an advertisement, it is given in full as follows:
Montgomery wrote Rush that Nisbet and Davidson wished to buy lottery tickets, if they could get the back salary owed them by the College, or could in some way secure the tickets on credit. The former seemed to Montgomery out of the question, as the College had no money with which to pay them. He did think, however, that they might be given the tickets on the credit of the College, their price to be a first lien on that part of the lottery proceeds coming to the College in the final distribution of the results of the lottery. Whether Nisbet and Davidson got their tickets is not known; but an old receipt from Professor Ross shows that he received two tickets on these terms, and Nisbet and Davidson were probably equally fortunate.
The receipt reads: "Carlisle, 16th, October, 1790, Received of John Montgomery two City Hall and Dickinson College lottery tickets, No. 526o, 5746, for which I am accountable at 4 Dollars each to Dickinson College. Recd. by James Ross."
Another receipt of the time shows that the, College realized something at least from the lottery. It shows also that, even though the Faculty purchasers of lottery may not have bought tickets of lucky numbers, they profited by
the salary payment from the lottery proceeds. This receipt is from Robt. Davidson, and reads:
"Recd. 4th. July, 1791 of the Trustees of Dickinson College by the hands of John Montgomery, Esq. the sum of two hundred and ten dollars, on account of the lottery, as part of Salary as Professor in said College. £78.15.0 Robt. Davidson."
But for the last phrase of the receipt one might hope that the Reverend Professor had drawn a prize from the lottery. Evidently, however, this was a receipt for salary long overdue.
The rough draft of one appeal to the state has been preserved in the papers of General William Irvine, and is interesting. It carries a sort of apology for their oft-repeated appeals, and gives a budget of college income and expenditure for the time, February, 1792. Beginning with the statement that the College has been "So far supported by the bounty of the State and great liberality of a number of individuals" the appeal continues:
The Trustees, therefore ... make another application which nothing but the necessity of the case would have induced them to do, for they feel sensibly for the repeated trouble they have given the Legislature. They flatter themselves, however, that the notoriety, the value and high estimation the institution is rising into will be some apology.
A statement of the indispensably necessary annual expenditures is subjoined, and also the sum on which the Trustees can calculate to discharge the same with any rational degree of certainty.
In 1786 there was a grant of £500 and 10,000 acres of land. Of this land Nisbet writes a friend in Scotland:
"The College has 10,000 acres of land, but nothing renders the Trustees more unhappiness than that they have not as yet been able to sell it, and they will certainly sell it as soon as they are able to find a purchaser." This land was never sold, but was at times an expense for taxes. It was once used as security for loans from the state which were later canceled, and was finally returned to the state in exchange for a grant of money.
In 1791 the state granted £1,500; and in 1795, $5,000 to pay debts of the College and $3,000 for endowment, for which the College was to furnish free tuition to ten students in "reading, writing, and arithmetic."
Eight years later, in 1803, a loan of $6,000 was made by the state, without interest for two years, secured by mortgage on the 10,000 acres of college land; and in 1806 another loan of $4,000 was made for the purchase of "books and philosophical apparatus." Both these loans were to be secured
"out of the arrears of State taxes due from the County of Cumberland." Instead of the $10,000 granted, the two loans yielded the College $8,400, all that could be secured from the arrears of taxes.
On the grant of the second loan of $4,000, however, the state accepted as security for the two loans a mortgage on but half the college lands, and satisfied the mortgage on 5,000 acres. Acts of 1813 and 1814 granted delay in the payment of interest on the loans, and in 1819 the debt was cancelled by legislative enactment.
In 1821, on the transfer of its 10,000 acres of land to the state, the College was granted $6,000 to pay debts and $2,000 annually for five years for current expenses, deducting unpaid taxes on the land from the annual grants.
In 1826 another state grant was made, of $3,000 annually for seven years, conditioned on a change of charter, so that not more than one-third of the Board should be clergymen and that annual report on the College should be made to the Governor and Legislature of the state.
This last grant introduced an element of state control, which resulted later in unfortunate conditions. Others than those originally and naturally controlling the College sought increased share in its government, dissensions arose in the Board, and a futile legislative inquiry followed. There was only a flicker of life left in the College, but even that was disturbed, and the second close of the College followed at the end of forty-nine years of its charter life.