Chapter Four - The Charter
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THE full-length portraits of Dr. Rush in poses chosen by himself—Peale's of 1783, Sully's of 1812—show him as a philosopher at ease among his books. The earlier gives the titles of many: not only basic medical works such as Sydenham, on which the Doctor's practice was based, but a Bible (in French), Butler's Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, Pascal's Pense'es, Thomas Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind, James Beattie's Essay on Truth,1 Algernon Sidney on Government and Sir William Temple's wide-ranging works. There they are, within easy reach, while the Doctor himself is composing a lecture, his pen poised over the words, "Sec. 29. We come now, Gentlemen, to investigate the cause of earthquakes." This is Rush as he wished to be remembered, but the small portrait by Edward Savage gives us a better characterization, a face of smouldering vigor, with contentious mouth and implacable eyes, while the profiles in Sharples' pastel and the medal by Moritz Furst bring out the revelation of forehead, nose and chin.2 In the medal, particularly, the beaklike nose is mercilessly revealed. Its reverse returns to the Doctor's posture toward posterity. It shows us a river winding from a great distance toward the sea. The name of his country home, "Sydenham," appears, and below it, on a rock, the words, "READ. THINK. OBSERVE."

Here was a philosopher who had come into this broad view out of the narrow, if warmly beating, heart of American New



Side Presbyterianism. He had been born and bred in it, graduating from Princeton in 1760 while still in his fourteenth year, a medical student after that, then a traveller and student abroad, taking his M.D. at the University of Edinburgh, elected Professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia at the age of twenty-three, and now America's best-known physician and most successful teacher of medical science. His thinking had far outgrown any dogmatic partisanship, but the foundation laid in childhood remained—that intimate awareness of the love of God and that passionate impulse to reach the heart of its mystery. The evangelism absorbed in childhood had enlarged his study of medicine into a search for the elemental unity of God and Nature. He was to find it in Bishop Butler's Analogy and, even more appealingly presented, in the Observations on Man of David Hartley, a physician like himself, a devout churchman also, pastoral in his concern for others.3

The unifying doctrine which Dr. Rush drew from these sources and extended in his own writings and lectures enlarged his sense of personal mission. He acknowledged no segments or boundaries to Christian duty—medicine, politics, social reform, education, all were one. He had never an instant of self-doubt. It was all part of his success as a physician and of his power in persuasion everywhere. Later, in the terrible yellow fever epidemics which he fought with such selfless, noble courage, he remained oblivious to the fact that public acceptance of his simple formula of bleeding and purging was being reflected dramatically in a rising death rate.4 In this way, often with simplified, readily acceptable theory, he did battle with evil on all fronts, a hard-riding champion of all humanity, opening the first free dispensary in America, heading movements for the abolition of slavery, for penal reform, temperance, for a more enlightened, more effective political leadership, and here, at the very heart of it all, for education.

He saw education as a preparation for life, not the mere polish of gentility. That was American thinking, and William Smith had established it in his curriculum of balanced culture and utilitarianism at the College of Philadelphia in 1756.5 There on Bingham's porch, impelled as were others by the urgency of an imminent new era, Rush was afire to head the coming educa--



tional advance. To him, the Revolution had only just begun. The war was only "the first act of the great drama."6 Stability and progress must be secured for all time—schools in every county, colleges and a national university for the elite. To his political enemies American democracy meant equal vote and influence for every man. To Rush it meant rule by an elite drawn from the whole. This was as much God's way as he himself was God's instrument. To Montgomery he writes, with the inspiration of Bingham's Porch fresh upon them both, "Let us be active, my friend, in rescuing the state from the hands of tyrants, fools and traitors. Heaven has committed a great and 1mportant trust to our care."7 And, after the founding of the College, more coolly to John Jay, "This College is at present wholly in the hands of gentlemen of liberal minds—men who have been uniformly friendly to the Union of the States & the power of Congress, and opposed to those romantic ideas of government which are equally destructive of liberty & republicanism."8 Prophet and seer, he foresaw the millenium—a Christian world of wisdom and holiness.9 "Our school of the prophets," he would call his college at Carlisle, dedicating it to "the extension of the Kingdom of Christ and the empire of reason and science in our country."10

To snatch up John Montgomery's plans for a school and transform it into a college instead was typical of this versatile and volatile mind. He created a hopeful framework, sure that God and the saints would join with him to fill it in—an administrative procedure not unique in academic history.11  Dr. William Smith was then in Maryland, changing a school into a college, winning strong financial and political support, projecting a broad educational system. Smith, the heavy-set, heavy-drinking cleric and career educator, was a very different man from the lean, temperate, intense Rush, latent tuberculosis in his body, his brain fired by a faith in its divine motivation. Contrast to these the years of planning and effort in which their fellow educational reformer, Thomas Jefferson, built his University of Virginia.

Rush, inspired opportunist, had seized upon that grammar school, an essential adjunct of almost every American college, a foundation stone. It was a Presbyterian school, and his first


thought was to keep it firmly so. On September 3, 1782, soon after Bingham's Porch, he composed his "Hints for Establishing a College at Carlisle," to be circulated within his own denomination.12 The faculty, he wrote, would be solidly Presbyterian, operating upon an income from the state. He would soon learn that to gain the second provision he must abandon the first—or at least cast over it a veil of equivocation. He brought forward the "nearly central" situation of Carlisle, the low cost of living there (a major plea for the school in 1770), and a statement, later to be disputed, that "the village of Carlisle is one of the most healthy spots in the state." It would help to bring Pennsylvania's German population into the national culture, a cause which was to involve him in the founding of Franklin College at Lancaster a few years later.

The Doctor's "Hints," intended as a sound and high appeal, drew stormy opposition. The Presbyterians, he had written, had won too large a place in government for their own good. Let them turn instead to building a greater promise for the future in education. The new college in the west would promote "one common center of union." Princeton balked at this. Old Side, New Side jealousies grew warm again. Was the Doctor with one party or the other, or creating a nursery for his own roving theology, said to be tainted with the heresy of universal salvation? His "Hints" gave a harder jolt to the Philadelphia school. "As an act of Justice," let the Presbyterians withdraw from the University of the State of Pennsylvania, from which Dr. Smith and its Episcopalian founders had been ejected in 1779, and let its old charter be restored.

October elections came. Presbyterian votes, strongly in support of the radical state constitution of 1776, defeated Montgomery for Assembly, where he was to have introduced a bill for the college charter and endowment. It was all another sad failure, in the Doctor's view, to be "wise for posterity." To Montgomery he wrote, "I fear our scheme for a college over Susquehannah will be retarded by its wanting your support in the house." However, Mr. Dickinson, who was being urged for President of the Supreme Executive Council, that is, governor of the state, was their friend both in politics and in the college plan. He had promised liberal gifts to endowment. "I intended


to have proposed to you to call the college after him and his worthy lady, JOHN AND MARY'S College."13 By November 5 Dickinson's election seemed certain, while Montgomery's friends "will push you hard for a seat in Congress .... Don't forget the child of our affections, 'John and Mary's College.' Adieu."14

"John and Mary's College," with its implication of a royal status equal to that of William and Mary, was too much for the gentle and retiring "Pennsylvania Farmer," but he agreed to the use of his name; and now Montgomery, attending Congress in Philadelphia, is reporting back to Colonel Magaw at Carlisle on the forward sweep of affairs

. . . we are making great Progress in taking subscriptions for a college at Carlisle. I believe that we will be able to raise near 5000 £ in this city our Presdt has subscribed 600 £ in Land. Mr. Wilson gives 300 £ pattaned Land above subury, Mr. Bingham 400 £ specie, Blair McClanaghan will give us 300 d pattaned Land, many others will give Largely I think that it is time to pettion the Assembly for a Charter. I wish you woud Endeavor to promote one at Carlisle. We shall meet with opposition but I am perswaded that we will be able to carrie it into Effect . . . .15

Opposition there was indeed. To look first at the broad view—education as the educators saw it—the state of the existing colleges was desperate. They needed support, not competition. The war had been a disastrous interruption and now they must virtually be founded anew. In New York, King's College was preparing to reopen as Columbia after eight years' abeyance. The trustees at Princeton were looking for funds with which to repair their hall and reestablish normal classes, and some years would go by before they could do it. Rush was aware of John Witherspoon's fears, but hoped they would be "restrained by the feelings of ancient friendship," as, in a good Christian spirit, they were.16 In Philadelphia, the University's life had been precarious, for all its endowment from the state. Here, without denominational support, there was more reason than at Princeton for alarm. Bleak years were ahead, with competition from the new colleges, Dickinson and Franklin, prolonging the slow recovery.17

A closer view shows the heart of the opposition. The Pres-



byterian Church had long been a formidable political power, and Dr. Rush was upsetting a delicate balance within an organization long torn by dissension and still living with hair-triggered tempers and doctrines. Nassau Hall had been the New Side college to which Old Side and New Side schools were sending students in a spirit of newly and narrowly adjusted accomodation. Now this doctor was admonishing the society as a whole to forget politics and concentrate upon education, while at the same time transforming a Church-sponsored school into a new and rival college, apparently dedicated to his own uncontrolled and uncontrollable thinking.

The tall and handsome mathematician, John Ewing, Provost of the University of the State of Pennsylvania, ridiculed Dr. Rush's proposal as "the moonshine project." Right beside him stood George Bryan, political leader of the Presbyterian faction: "Believe me, sir, it is a scheme of dividing the Presbyterian interest, and preparatory to transferring back the University to the narrow foundation which it formerly stood on . . . .18 Judge Bryan had been a member of Gilbert Tennent's Second Presbyterian Church, but at Tennent's death in 1764 had changed to the First Church, Old Side headquarters. He was an alert, well-read Irishman, a liberal, practical man, who had headed the left-wing Constitutionalist Party throughout the war. John Ewing was his pastor. He had taken a leading part in the act of 1779 creating the University, with Ewing at its head. Throughout all this, Rush had been his vigorous opponent. To strike at the heart of this new scheme, Ewing and Bryan wrote to General Armstrong and to others at Carlisle, with cogent arguments as to why there should be no change in the status of the school. Thus we find old John Armstrong, Carlisle's leading citizen, responding to Rush with a measured and realistic view in favor of "moderate academies with not less than two professors" for the back country until community development gave proof of need and support for something better; in short, arguing for the school as it had been under Makinly and Creigh.l9 To this he added the fear of splitting the Presbyterians once more by setting up a rival to the College of New Jersey. Strong voices among the clergy of Cumberland, led by Robert Cooper and John Craighead of the churches at Middle



Spring and Rocky Spring, also spoke out against the plan. These New Siders had long regarded John Steel's congregation and school as a source of trouble and were not of a mind to see more.

Rush countered with friendly urgency and veiled threat for some, with outright fury for others. To have accused him of "a scheme of dividing the Presbyterian interest" was as impolitic as it was untrue. The Doctor was a partisan of ideas, not factions. He retaliated with charges of coarse political maneuvering in the establishment of the University four years before. He had since become so far resigned to the new order as to accept a professorship on the medical faculty, and from this intramural position was now denouncing rascality and demanding a change. It was in this way that the founding of Dickinson College became an act of retribution for what had happened at the University. "God," as Benjamin Rush would declare when his charter was at last enacted into law, "has frowned upon the impious act."20

Dr. Ewing was deriding the "moonshine project" as early as April, 1783.21 In June, he received at his house a man strongly recommended by mutual friends in Europe, one who was to stand briefly in that pale lunar glow. The Rev. William Hazlitt, a graduate of the University of Glasgow, was a person of great erudition and charm, a Presbyterian minister who had gone far beyond the catechism in his thinking and is remembered now as one of the founders of New England Unitarianism. He was resolute yet never obtrusive in his independence. Accompanied by his wife and two small children (one of whom, then aged five, was to figure in literature as essayist and critic), he had thrown himself, almost penniless, into the arms of America, land of liberty. Americans responded warmly, among them both Ewing and Rush. Rush offered to find him pupils for a school, promised him "great things" beyond this, and saw in him one well fitted "to cultivate a rational mode of thinking, and to disperse that darkness which overspread the land."22 Ewing went farther. He dated Hazlitt for a sermon at New London in July, and, finding him well received in that center of Old Side orthodoxy, sent him on in August to Carlisle, with the hope that the vacant pulpit there might receive him, and with the suggestion that he might also become head of the projected


college—it being anticipated that church and college would share talent and expense in this way.

Thus Ewing would help a learned and worthy colleague, of whom Rush approved, and gain an influence of his own over the college, should college there be. He would also save Rush's rumored Scottish candidate the long journey into a hazardous milieu. Later, he would be obliged to declare his ignorance of Hazlitt's unorthodoxy. Of that danger, however, one other Philadelphia clergyman had been instantly aware. This was, in Hazlitt's accurate phrase, "the zealous Dr. Duffield" of the Second Presbyterian Church.23 George Duffield had dashed off a warning letter to his erstwhile flock, setting General Armstrong and other stalwarts firmly against the candidate. Hazlitt retreated from the scene in September, at about the time of the enactment of the college charter. Had he remained a fortnight more with the friends he had made at Carlisle (or so Ewing assured him) he "would have been accepted on his own terms" by both church and college.24

The "moonshine project" became a legal reality on September 9, 1783. Lawyer James Wilson had drafted the charter, though all its essential provisions must be attributed to the Doctor.25 Passage had been assured by substituting a statement on financial resources already in hand for the still-cherished idea of a state endowment, and by a declaration of independence from sectarian control. Forty charter trustees were named, men carefully chosen by Rush to represent all power groups and regions of the Commonwealth. A majority, however, were Presbyterians, insuring the continuing predominance of that affiliation.26 In this way, the College became the first church-related institution of higher education in Pennsylvania, setting a pattern of mingled freedom and alliance for itself and others.27

Of the forty trustees, only nine were needed for a quorum, thus assuring control by those living near the institution. Twelve were from the Carlisle area, among them almost all the trustees of the old Grammar School, including General Armstrong and the Rev. Dr. Cooper, both of whom had been won over to the college plan. Armstrong's approval had been almost a condition of success and Rush had worked vigorously for it, topping his


argument with what a college could do for land values, and the need for new centers of population, rivaling Philadelphia.28 It was a factor few could overlook. Educational ideals and land speculation were to be partners in the American mania for college founding. It came out in legislative debate on the charter, as assemblyman the Rev. Joseph Montgomery, cleric and judge from Dauphin County, pled hard in committee and very nearly succeeded in changing the site from Carlisle to what Rush, his brother-in-law, was pleased to call "the sickly banks of the Susquehannah." The proposals of John Harris for laying out the city of Harrisburg were waiting for action later in that session, and there was a feeling already in the air that this town-to-be by the broad river should become the capital of the state—perhaps also of the nation.29 Joseph Montgomery's name had been on the list of charter trustees, but was hurriedly stricken from it in reprisal for these "insidious maneuvers."30

So far so good. On Monday, September 15, fifteen of the forty met at Mr. Dickinson's home, took the prescribed oath of office as laid down in the charter, and addressed themselves to the tasks of finance and organization. On Thursday they met again at Dr. Rush's, with a final meeting on Friday at Independence Hall, to lend conspicuous dignity to the final session. Colonel Montgomery was not with them, Congress having adjourned to Princeton after the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line. Mr. Dickinson had been elected President of the Board, and chaired its deliberations with that gentle urbanity and pleasant, soft-voiced modulation of tone which his friends would always remember with affection.31 In the business in hand, centering as can be imagined upon money, he, as the largest donor, could turn to the others with ease and authority. His own gifts, however, were by no means sufficient to carry the whole operation, and in the face of this they voted to seek funds from individuals and from private groups, and to petition the state for a continuing endowment such as the University enjoyed. The hope was to raise at least £10,000 in gifts, topped by a state grant of £500 a year. One can discern the presence of wishful thinking, so often a weakness of inexperienced development officers. Faculty was also discussed in optimistic terms. It must be headed by a man of such eminence that his name alone would



guarantee a respectable student body. A new building must also be in prospect, and the absent John Montgomery was commissioned to inquire into the purchase of land and the erection of an edifice. Having discussed this and other necessary business, they adjourned to meet at Carlisle on the 6th of April following.

Far to the west, at York, on that same September 15, the Rev. John Black, charter trustee, scratched out a letter to Dr. Rush, giving him his first word of the presence of Mr. Hazlitt at Carlisle. Mr. Black was a lively young man who found relaxation from the duties of a large pastorate in playing popular airs on the flute, and he handled his subject with humor.

"We were amused here of late," he wrote, "with a curious maneuvre of Dr. Ewings. He was so very thoughtful as to provide a Principal for our College, upon the supposition that the unreasonable scheme (as he was pleased to call it) should take place. By letters to three of the principal inhabitants of Carlisle, he strongly recommended a certain Mr. Haslet, as a minister of the gospel, &c. Unhappily for the doctor, he thereby disgusted some of his warmest political friends, particularly General Armstrong. The most discerning people there look upon Mr. Haslet as a thorough-paced Socinian."32

Had Ewing's ruse succeeded, it would indeed have taken Dickinson College upon a wider orbit that its founders planned. However, as an English friend observed of Hazlitt, "he would have been a wretched schoolmaster . . . for by teaching his students invariably to tell the truth and align their actions and beliefs he would have disqualified them from making their way in the world."33 Hazlitt retreated to Boston before returning to England. Duffield brought charges against Ewing in presbytery—promoting a heretic. They were not sustained, but it was a warning to Rush to be wary in looking overseas for a college head.

Others were looking overseas. Mr. Bingham, on whose porch all this had begun, was off to England, where he had agreed to solicit funds. John Witherspoon and General Reed were also going soon on behalf of the College of New Jersey; and others for Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown. It seems rather touchingly naive that, at war's end, Americans should turn again



to the mother country for sustenance. They were to be uniformly unsuccessful. Rush was urgently canvassing his British friends, but only his pleas for books, in which he stressed that even the "sweepings" of their libraries would be acceptable in "this nursery of humanity," brought a response.34 Now, however, while hopes were running high, Nassau Hall held a glitteringly auspicious commencement to mark its revival after the war. This was on September 24, 1783, with George Washington in the audience, along with the Marquis de la Luzerne and an array of the gentlemen of the Congress. His Excellency suffered noticable embarrassment when young Ashbel Green, the valedictorian, turned to pronounce a eulogy upon him as "the man whose gallant sword taught the tyrants of the earth to fear oppression and opened an asylum for the virtuous and free," but afterward responded with a gift of fifty guineas.35 There Colonel Montgomery heard a degree of Doctor of Divinity awarded in absentia to Charles Nisbet, minister of the congregation of Montrose in Scotland, as a cleric of great learning who had dared to support the American cause.

On Bingham's porch, at his very first concept of the idea now coming to fruition, Dr. Rush had recollected the name and fame of Nisbet, whom Witherspoon, fifteen years before, had so warmly urged in lieu of himself to head the college at Princeton.36 Witherspoon had been a solid tower of success in college, church and state, boldly and heartily American from his first landing on our shore. Here was a man who might do as well or better, a name and a light of learning to transform Colonel Montgomery's grammar school into a collegiate institution of the first order. Here was a man who had spoken out for America and suffered for it, a man who possessed such a wealth of erudition that he was known as "the walking library," a man who spiced wisdom with wit, was esteemed for sound piety and who, as an adopted son of the new republic, would spread his brilliance everywhere. He was well known to old Dr. John Erskine of Edinburgh, long a correspondent of Rush. His friendship with Witherspoon would quiet that gentleman's fears of the new college and insure a cooperation between the two institutions, of which Witherspoon's willingness to grant the D.D. was auspicious evidence.

Its charter provided for a "Principal" of Dickinson College, not a "President," the title in general use in American colleges, a divergence in which one can see again the persuasiveness of Rush at work, his eye on Nisbet. The head of the University of Edinburgh had always been its "Principal." Charles Nisbet, son of a poor Scottish schoolmaster, had entered the University in 1752, studied there for two years, and then for six years more at its Divinity Hall, completing the course with his license to preach in 1760 at the age of twenty-four—a stocky, vigorous young man known for wide learning and sharp wit. He had entirely supported himself throughout, by frugality, private tutoring, and by writing anonymous articles for the popular press. He seemed to read everything he could find, and remember everything he read. He was "skilled in Hebrew, including the Chaldee, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and probably Erse."37 He could repeat most of Homer by heart, and in English most of Cowper, of whose poems he was particularly fond. As a student he had bought books and parts of them in sheets, shipped up from London as wrapping paper, which may be one reason for the diversity of his abstruse knowledge. His friends could not mention an author with whom he was unfamiliar. The people of Montrose, a well-to-do and highly desirable charge, found him the kindliest of pastors, but one who, after a time, was inclined to take a caustic view of their community as a whole, being overheard to remark, for instance, that if the wall around the insane hospital must be extended it might as well circle the entire town.38 His position was sustained by some highly-placed friends, notably the Earls of Buchan and of Leven, both of whom were sympathetic to the American cause and friends of Benjamin Rush. Lady Leven, who had been Wilhelmina Nisbet, was a close friend of the pious Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and both of these ladies were friends of the minister of Montrose.

At those first meetings of the Dickinson College trustees, there had been general approval of Nisbet's nomination, could he be persuaded to come, and on December 5, 1783, Dr. Rush wrote to Montrose to sound out the candidate upon his probable unanimous election at the meeting in the spring. Here he painted a glowing picture of American life, its prosperity and



future: "destined by heaven to exhibit to the world the perfection which the mind of man is capable of receiving from the combined operation of liberty, learning, and the gospel upon it." And of the trustees, "I have taken great pains to direct their attention and votes to you. From the situation and other advantages of that College, it must soon be the first in America. It is the key to our western world."39

Success or failure now hung, as all believed, upon whether a famous man of learning such as Nisbet would cross the Atlantic to head the work.40 Nisbet was at first all eagerness.41 But even before the trustees had received his reply, others had moved to dampen his ardor. "Insidious maneuvers" are seen once more. Sometime in March, 1784, at the Harp and Crown tavern in Philadelphia, we find Dr. John Ewing in private conversation with Mr. James Tod, a Scottish schoolmaster who had been only a few months in America, had an acquaintance with Dr. Nisbet and was at this time teaching school in a room provided for him by Ewing. Mr. Tod agreed to write a warning letter to Montrose, setting forth the objections to the new college and the manifold hazards surrounding it.42

Soon after this, on what Rush called "the great and solemn 6th of April," the trustees met for the first time at Carlisle, fifteen of them. Both Rush and Dickinson were there, along with two former opponents of the venture, The Rev. Robert Cooper, with his pleasant, sympathetic air, and old General Armstrong, stern and proud, his approval confirmed by a $1,000 subscription. Three colonels of the late war were present, Hartley, Magaw and Montgomery. A Carlisle lawyer and a Carlisle physician, Stephen Duncan and Samuel A. McCoskry, both would be long associated with the College. Six more Presbyterian clergymen completed the group: smiling John Black; Alexander Dobbin; John King; the two Linns, John and William; and Samuel Waugh. Dobbin, the Scot who had been teaching a school at Gettysburg since 1773, could be counted upon to send students across South Mountain to the College. King of Mercersburg, out where John Steel had labored and fought, had been a teacher too, as full of solid logic as Steel had been, and driving it home in a slow, hoarse voice. At high noon they all marched in procession to the Episcopal church on the square to


hear, with ladies and gentlemen of the village, Mr. Black's sermon on "The Utility of Seminaries of Learning," his text from Saint Paul, "For knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth."43 This done, the fifteen sat down with other guests at John Montgomery's table. Serious business began at five at the courthouse, Mr. Dickinson opening the session with a reaffirmation of purpose and a promise to support by every means in his power this new effort to improve "the character of the man, the citizen and the Christian. "44

That evening and the following day were alive with plans and business. Dr. Nisbet was elected Principal, and James Ross Professor of Languages. So far, Mr. Ross had been collecting tuitions and, in effect, running the school entirely as an operation of his own. Dr. Rush brought forward the name of the Rev. Robert Davidson of the University of Pennsylvania to teach history and geography if, as anticipated, he should be acceptable also as pastor of the Presbyterian church. He suggested that William Linn might be assistant pastor and a professor. Beyond that, Rush averred, recruiting should be from other denominations, to avoid the charge of sectarianism.45 He had Erasmus Middleton, an Anglican minister, in mind for moral philosophy, logic and metaphysics, with the idea that he might fill the Episcopal pulpit at Carlisle on the same half-salary terms. Against this John Montgomery stood out stoutly. The Colonel wanted no more foreigners. Americans were good enough for him, and besides, there was a shadow of doubt on Middleton's orthodoxy as there had been on Hazlitt's: "He may be a very proper person but I woud not wish to have any that is in the least tincktured with methoditizem."46

This discussion reflects the state of the College funds, which was low. At this meeting, £257/15/0 was reported in cash, £1,382/17/6 in certificates, and land to the value of £1,200; and Mr. Bingham's letter on the "present circumstances and disposition of the people" in England closed that door.47 All their efforts had brought in far less than would be needed, far less than William Smith had raised so readily for Washington College, but Dr. Rush had no thought of letting money take precedence over action. On the morning of the 7th the group toured "Washingtonburg," or, more popularly, "The Works,"



the old army ordnance post just outside the village. Here was a chance to get a campus ready-made, by gift or easy purchase from the federal government. It was agreed that the buildings, with almost no alteration, would serve admirably, and to make application for them.48

Rush and Dickinson, as a committee, submitted their design for a seal, a matter which, as the ultimate symbol of corporate existence, appealed strongly to the Doctor. This was the last meeting of the Board which Dickinson would attend, and Rush would be present at only one more. These two were, in fact, turning over the immediate management of their creation to local trustees and the community. The community, appropriately, topped off the whole affair with a banquet at James Pollack's tavern. Pollack, a prosperous landlord, told Rush how thirty years before he had cut logs for the first house built in Carlisle. Carlisle was moving forward, and fully appreciative of the new distinction thrust upon it by the President of the State of Pennsylvania and the patriotic Philadelphia doctor.49

A fortnight later, President of the Board Dickinson sent Dr. Nisbet formal notice of his election as the Principal of Dickinson College. Rush, knowing in what level terms this missive would be couched, followed at once with a summons of his own, all eloquence, and "rising," as Lyman Butterfield has described it, "to one of those O! altitudo's that he employed with remarkable success in obtaining presidents for colleges."50 He pictured a newborn infant, cradled at Carlisle:

To you, sir, it lifts up its feeble hands. To you, to you alone (under God), it looks for support and nourishment. Your name is now in everybody's mouth. The Germans attempt to pronounce it in broken English. The natives of Ireland and the descendants of Irishmen have carried it to the western counties. The Juniata and Ohio rivers have borne it on their streams through every township of the state that lies beyond Carlisle. Our saints pray for you as the future apostle of the Church in this part of the world. Our patriots long to thank you for defending the cause of America at a time when and in a place where she had few friends. And our statesmen wish to see our youth formed by you for the various duties they owe to the republic. I beg leave to inform you that the trustees of the College do not expect that £ 50-0 0 sterling [already sent as an advance] will defray the expenses of the passage of your family to America. It was upon this account

that they voted that your salary should commence on the day of your embarkation.51

A generous salary had been voted, but Rush, all unaware of the machinations of Ewing and Tod, must needs add his loftier persuasion as well, and, it must be affirmed, in words which came straight from his own burning idealism. This was truly his child. He had been told that Nisbet had a fear of the sea and he sought to calm it, taking his text from Matthew, 14:27: "It is I; be not afraid."

Remember the words of the Saviour—"It is I"—"I, who govern both winds and waves. I, who have qualified you with so many gifts and graces for the station to which you are called I, who by my Providence have made your name known and dear to the people of America. I, who have many people in that country to be enlightened and instructed, directly or indirectly, by you. I, who preside over the whole vineyard of my Church and, therefore, know best in what part of it to place the most skillful workmen. It is I, who call you to quit your native country and to spend the remainder of your days in that new world in which the triumphs of the Gospel shall ere long be no less remarkable than the triumphs of liberty. I have now done with ministers of my Providence. Washington and the Adamses have finished their work. Hereafter I shall operate on the American States chiefly by the ministers of my grace."52

At Montrose, therefore, with both warning and allure before him, Dr. Nisbet was in an anguish of indecision. He had been in touch with Witherspoon who was guardedly discouraging. Lady Leven thought Ewing and Tod might be in the right. The Earl of Buchan frankly opposed his going.53 From Princeton, Witherspoon's son-in-law, Samuel Stanhope Smith, was answering his harassed appeal for information on American educational ways and prospects in a straightforward way.54 If Rush had been overpersuasive, Nisbet could never complain that Smith had misinformed him. On his own part, over the lure of high salary and high social eminence, he worried lest a trustee board of forty, of different sects, might never agree, and that it seemed "but an indigested scheme."55 Finally, he sent Rush the gist of Tod's letter and demanded an explanation.

Here, since Tod had mentioned Ewing's name, Dr. Rush



saw their full perfidy exposed. For the man who endeavors first to create the appearance of success and then to endow it with reality, an attempt to burst the bubble at the outset is just so much more ruthless an injury and affront. On September 29, 1784, a long letter, apparently drafted by Rush and signed by Dickinson, full of reassurance and deploring those who had given "an unfavorable and invidious account of our undertaking," went back to Montrose.56

Then, a month later, another and more terrible blow fell. John Dickinson, consulting only his own conscience, wrote the newly-elected Principal "to request that you will not think of coming to America . . . untill I can assure you that the prospect is much more favorable." Their plans were being "exceedingly discouraged and impeded." The charter might even be repealed. He sent a copy to Rush with the hope that, "Considering all Circumstances, you will approve . . . . Upon the whole, I have obeyed the authoritative Dictates, according to my judgment, of Honor and Justice."57

Thus the Doctor, moving to meet Ewing's attack, encountered "treachery" at the very heart of his inner circle. He responded with cold fury. Honor and justice, to his mind, were with the College only, and only madness or villainy elsewhere. Dickinson had just made a handsome gift to Princeton. Worse, as governor, he was ex officio a trustee of Ewing's University—a foothold in the camp of the enemy. Rush, who had so extolled Dickinson's character, now hinted that he had gotten his high office by bribery.58 It was his way of striking back. Threatened by thunderbolts, assailed by protest and plea, Dickinson agreed to write a second letter as antidote to the first, to be reinforced by one from the trustees as a body.

This left the Doctor's anger free to play once more on Ewing, whose career, as his eye surveyed it now, amounted only to a succession of acts of infamy. The transformation of the College of Philadelphia into the University of the State of Pennsylvania, 1779, had been but the first step in Ewing's conspiracy to make himself master of the entire educational system. Every shred of gossip was accepted and magnified. Of such a man the worst must be true. Rush had drawn the picture succinctly for Dr. Nisbet in a letter of August 27, 1784:


I will give you his portrait in a few words. In the vices of the heart he has few equals. Revenge, envy, malice and falsehood rankle forever in his bosom. But this is not all. He is deficient in outward morality. His servant was fined a few weeks ago for driving his wagon on the Sabbath day, if not by his order, certainly by his permission. He has been seen reeling in our streets. Don't be uneasy at reading these things. He has brought no reproach by this conduct on our holy religion, for no man at any one time of his life ever believed him to be a religious man.59

Woe betide that moment when such emotions move from private incubation into the cooler air of public attention. For Dickinson College the experience came first on September 8, 1784, with an anonymous communication to the Pennsylvania Journal, filling the whole of one page. The legislature at this time was considering petitions protesting the act of November 27, 1779, "for altering or rather abolishing the COLLEGE CHARTERS of this city," and the writer presented the history of the founding of the University as a coup d'etat in which Presbyterians had effected the removal of William Smith in an attempt to gain control of the entire educational structure. At the end he took note of the effort to dissuade Nisbet from coming to Dickinson College, and quoted one key sentence from Mr. Tod's letter: "Some time ago Dr. Smith and all the Episcopal people were turned out of the College of Philadelphia and the direction and management of it put into the hands of the Presbyterians." Dr. Rush was making plain his belief that the letter to Nisbet was Ewing's, signed by Tod. He put Ewing in the position of confessing his own iniquity. One cannot imagine the Provost making such a statement but, with other parts of the letter more surely ascribed to him, he would have trouble denying it.

To drive the point solidly home, the Journal of September 11 contained another anonymous blast, nearly as long as the first, reiterating the charges and adding others, such as the misappropriation of charitable funds. Here Rush quoted at greater length from the Tod letter and repeated the plaintive query in which Dr. Nisbet had summarized his own predicament, "Who can tell how soon the Episcopals may turn out the Presbyterians at Carlisle." Having brought the matter to this climax, the article then concludes virtuously:


There may be some mystery in Dr. Ewing's not signing the letter in question, but of this I cannot judge. It does not seem credible to me that Dr. R is a person that would condescend to be the tool of any party, or that gentlemen of probity and reputation, should join in inviting a man who had never injured them, to a place that should prove ruinous to his family.

At the same time, the Doctor was writing to Montrose with personal warmth and opalescent urgency. A room in his house "goes by the name of 'Dr. Nisbet's room.' My little folks often mention your name, especially my boys, who have been taught to consider you their future master. Possibly this will be the last letter you will receive from me on the other side of the Atlantic. To the direction and protection of Heaven I commit you, till I take you by the hand on the peaceful shores of Pennsylvania. Adieu! Adieu!"60 And to John Montgomery, "Go on with your collections. Get money—get it honestly if you can. But get money for our College."61 His own appeals flowed out to friends at home and overseas. And again to Montgomery, who had begun once more to lose heart: "Give over our College! God forbid! . . . We must succeed . . . . We have overcome Mr. Dickinson's treachery."62

So they had. Nisbet would sail in the spring. But Ewing remained to be crushed and, with the turn of the year, cudgels were rattling yet again. "A Traveller, " in the Freeman's Journal, February 9, 1785, assailed the character of Rush: "mischievous and implacable enemy .... A LIE is generally his instrument." Under his own name and in the more sedate Pennsylvania Packet of the same day, Ewing addressed his fellow citizens. He had been in the west on official business, surveying the boundaries of the state with David Rittenhouse. He now deplored the attacks made upon him in his absence and dealt as best he could with the matter of the Tod letter, specifically denying ever having stated that the Presbyterians had ejected the Episcopalians from the University.

Parry and counterblow came in the Packet of February 17, with Rush, over his own name, stating his case "TO THE CITIZENS OF PENNSYLVANIA." He pleaded the cause of his college, and gave his reasons for founding it in detail. It was "absolutely necessary to preserve liberty," and, situated so near the center of the state, would be "the best bulwark of the



blessings obtained by the revolution." Largely Presbyterian it might be, but it had become so "without fraud or violence." From this oblique thrust he then struck directly at Ewing, a man of "such malignity of heart, and such an ingenuity in vice, as would make a man of feeling wish that he belonged to another species of beings."

Ewing's riposte was in the Packet of the next day. Rush struck back in the issue of March 2, calling upon all to witness "that you have been the AGGRESSOR in the controversy between us." The historian must be grateful for facts and insights gained from this ridiculous skirmishing, but it was the brilliant little lawyer and litterateur, Francis Hopkinson, who brought the whole down to earth in the gust of laughter it deserved. Phrases on the broad or narrrow bottom of an educational establishment had appealed irresistibly to his sense of humor, and his adroit summary of the whole affair silenced the combatants:

The learned divine hoists the university, and exposing its naked skin, exclaims with admiration—"Oh charming! behold and see what a broad bottom is here!" Whereupon the physician immediately hoists Dickenson college, and with equal eloquence descants upon its narrow bottom. - "Look, says the divine, on this capacious disk—on the one side sits the pope; on the other side sits Luther; and see how snug
Calvin lies between them both."63

The scene ends with Ewing flogging the "narrow bottom of poor Carlisle, " and Rush "the broad bottom of the university." From first to last it had been an affair such as any college president or public relations director of today would regard as totally calamitous. Coming at the very outset, with all hopes dependent upon both public and private aid, it was a disaster. Nor was there any restorative in sight, save only the high repute of the great scholar due to arrive from Scotland.

The Nisbets sailed from Greenock on April 23, 1785. At about the same time, responding to that thrifty plan for pastor-professorships, the church at Carlisle called Robert Davidson to be its shepherd. This, at least, held balm. He would succeed, mirabile dictu, in uniting the long-warring factions of this congregation; and while his career as an educator was not a dis-



tinguished one, he would also soften the divisive forces, potentially rancorous and explosive, within the College. He would serve the institution for twenty-four years, five of them (though he was denied the title) as its Principal. On his tomb in the Old Graveyard at Carlisle one reads, "A blessed peacemaker. . . winning and affectionate . . . . "It was true, and it had not been easy.

Unobtrusively also, Davidson was John Ewing's man at Dickinson College, tolerated but never respected by Rush. Since 1774, he had been Ewing's assistant pastor at the First Church, and at the College and University his Professor of History (Dickinson had a separate standing for this discipline some fifty years before its general appearance).64 Ewing had proposed him for membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1781. Failing of election then, he had succeeded in 1783; and now, in 1784, the University had given him a D.D. as its parting blessing. He would hold first place in the Carlisle church, and Nisbet, when he came, would figure only as his assistant. At the College he would often be first in fact if not in name. He not only held a direct and useful tie to the Philadelphia institution, but had access to all points of influence in the Presbyterian structure, as Nisbet did not. The greater power was his through all those years of his tenure, though his sparkle of little talents was far outshone by the other's bitter genius, deep humanity and learning.

At Carlisle, Davidson would begin as "Professor of History, Geography, Chronology, Rhetoric and Belles Lettres."65 He would later add the natural philosophy course to this repertoire, Ewing's influence having made him a dabbler in science, with a particular zest for astronomy. One Carlisle boy remembered him long afterward as "a middle sized man of general information," and this puts it rather well.66 He was an amateur also of sacred music and had composed a few pieces. He made pictures, too, copying engravings in pen and ink. One of them would win praise from an artist, Mr. Neagle, a memory long treasured. Like James Ross, he loved poetry, and as a poet himself would now shine in conjunction with Isabella Oliver, sweet singer of the Conodoguinet. Of his own published works, the first and best known appeared on the eve of his departure for Carlisle. His



Geography Epitomized, a rhymed description of the world, won him the frank contempt of every Dickinson student through all those years, for he used it as a text, requiring them to buy it and to memorize the insipid verses. Besides published sermons, his other works include a New Metrical Version of the Whole Book of Psalms and The Christian's A,B,C, or, Golden Alphabet for the Use of Children. Here was a busy, pious and above all willing man of thirty-four, married but still childless. His first wife was a very plain woman, much his elder. Early in his ministry, she had nursed him through an illness. Learning that her attentions had ripened into love, he married her, revealing a spirit of accomodation which helps to explain his character and the attitude of others toward him.

Benjamin Rush, waiting in Philadelphia for Nisbet's arrival, sent an agenda for the June trustee meeting at Carlisle.67 A house must be found for the Principal. Curriculum and other regulations must await his arrival for final consideration. Davidson must be elected. Provision must be made for a teacher of German. In a state whose population was nearly one-third German, the Doctor felt this to be essential. Dr. Nisbet must be authorized to tour Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, raising funds and recruiting students. Witherspoon had done so on his arrival in America. This, as they all knew, was the prime essential. John Dickinson and others had established an endowment which, with a good enrollment, might suffice—but only narrowly and without a building program.

On Wednesday, June 8, the Nisbet ship was on the Delaware River and Dr. Rush excitedly making ready for their meeting on the next day, dashing off a letter to Montgomery on preparations for receiving the new Principal at Carlisle. He must be met and escorted into town by the trustees, the courthouse bell must be rung at his approach and, as he crossed the schoolhouse threshold, an address of welcome must be spoken. Davidson would attend to that. "The news of these things will make a clever paragraph in our Philadelphia papers and help to allure scholars to our College . . . . I shall do everything in my power to show the Doctor to advantage to our citizens. Adieu. O! Virtue—Virtue! Who would not follow thee blindfold!"68 All



these last weeks his heart had been high. Now the consummation was at hand—the banners of science and religion at full staff:

Delightful task! to accompany the progress of population and government with the standards of science and religion! Happy County of Cumberland and highly favored village of Carlisle! your hills (once responsive only to the yells of savages and beasts of prey) shall ere long awaken our young philosophers from their slumbers to trace the planets in their courses. And thou, Canedoginet, whose streams have flowed so long unnoticed and unsung, on thy banks shall our youth first feel the raptures of poetic fire!69



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