Chapter Seven - Satan's Seat
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AT the commencement of September 27, 1809, the student discontent sparked by young James Buchanan and his fellow "Unions" might not have been kept under cover so well but for a new element of drama. The despised Davidson was retiring and a new Principal, Jeremiah Atwater, had come in to hold the center of attention. Before the polite assemblage of College fathers, townfolk and students on that day of promise there stood a tall lean figure, to their eyes the typical New Englander, angular, nasal and sanctimonious, looking, in the spirit of this solemn hour, older than his thirty-five years. This was the type "from the East" old Colonel Montgomery had so despised. The newcomer's view of them was condescending, and they would be prepared to see in him the cunning meanness of the Yankee of stage and story. They heard now an inaugural address which opened with a long sophomoric review of the branches of learning. "How sweet is mathematical knowledge!" A sweetness, it seems, tempered by the sad fact that "it leads to scepticism on religious subjects."1 He expressed an unctuous diffidence as successor to Dr. Nisbet, and there must have been some present who observed the contrast.

After the graduating orations had been spoken, two students recited "a dialogue in blank verse . . . complimentary to the Trustees, Faculty and all the friends of learning." Here was a far echo of the colloquy between Philemon and Eugenio at that first College forgathering of 1785—and undoubtedly from



the same hand. Robert Davidson, the ever-willing, the ever-tactful, was doing his best, as he retired from the office whose full honors had been denied him, to make the occasion a success. He himself closed the ceremonies with what the editor of the Carlisle Herald called "a very appropriate and pathetic Address to the Graduates."2 When the trustees met that afternoon, they would have his letter of resignation before them. They then responded with a hope that he might continue teaching, and added to this the high compliment of electing him to their body. It was a safe move, for administrative expediency rather than academic standard had always come first in his thinking.3 As a trustee, he would attend meetings regularly, both enjoying and exercising the superiority of his position over that of the new Principal, toward whom he seems to have felt from the first an understandable coolness.

As for the Rev. Jeremiah Atwater he was at the moment unaware of the thorns and pitfalls in the path before him. This was to be Dickinson's first experience with a new chief executive, burning to accomplish complete renewal. That flame, always so hopeful, so transitory, was fated here to a short and flickering life. Atwater had not been first choice. The search had been initiated in 1808 with the setting of the Principal's salary at $1,000 and then with a resolution to consult the heads of other colleges.4 Spurred on by Rush, the trustees had elected the learned and active Samuel Miller, later Nisbet's biographer. He had declined, perhaps from an awareness of the size of the debt to Nisbet's heirs. So also had Andrew Hunter, an old friend of Rush who had taught mathematics and astronomy at Princeton.5 James Patriot Wilson, an eminent Philadelphia divine, was approached by Rush and his committee. "Providentially"—the word is Dr. Rush's—when the group was at Wilson's they found there Timothy Dwight, President of Yale, whom Rush had already consulted by letter. To him they appealed again, and were told that "Mr. Atwater, President of Middlebury College, . . . was dissatisfied with his situation, and wished to leave it."6

Dr. Dwight may not have been aware that Middlebury, was no less dissatisfied with Atwater. But Mr. Atwater came of an old New Haven family. His father had been a steward at Yale,



and the son, in Yale's Class of 1793, had won a three-year graduate scholarship for excellence in classics. He was a tutor at Yale when Timothy Dwight came in as President, turned to the study of theology under him, and thus became at the outset a protégé and disciple of the leading figure in that crusade against the eighteenth century's liberal intellectualism that revival of Faith, which was to have such appalling effects upon educational advance. Jeremiah Atwater, like an opening rocket in the war, reveals in his brief career all that can—and cannot—be accomplished by an inflexible piety. He had left Yale in 1799 to head the Addison Grammar School in Vermont, which became Middlebury College the following year. At Middlebury he had soon found himself overshadowed in every respect by Frederick Hall, a teacher of mathematics ("leading to scepticism on religious subjects") and natural philosophy, a brilliant teacher, widely travelled, urbane and popular.7 To Atwater, the invitation from Dickinson College was providential indeed. He took an immediate and cursory leave of Middlebury, August 16, 1809, happily unaware that his past trials were soon to be repeated in the same pattern and in greater measure.8

On September 11, the Reverend Jeremiah, his wife and three children and his wife's sister, were in Philadelphia as the guests of Dr. Rush. To Rush, the new Principal "appeared to be learned, well read, pious," and he foresaw in him "a blessing to Science, Religion, and to all the best interests of our Country!"9 Atwater may have declared his conviction that a career in education should be "subservient to the cause of Christ" and its success be measured in "bringing forward young men for the ministry."10 He did not mention (since he confided this at a later date) his belief that education had not reached a respectable standing so far south even as Philadelphia, and that he "was going upon a business of experiment, the success of which I considered problematical; that my whole confidence of success (under Providence) depended on introducing some of the regulations of the New England Colleges, particularly those relating to the all-important point of discipline, without which a College is a pest, a school of licentiousness."11

Discipline, we know, was discussed, and Atwater brought forward the unusual provisions in the Dickinson College charter



by which this responsibility was vested solidly with the trustees, and not only that, but the Principal was denied any ex officio place on the Board. Other college presidents, in accepted practice, were in the chair at trustee meetings. "Dr. Rush," he recalled later, "mentioned to me with much approbation his agency in causing the charter to be as it is, and that it was occasioned by his dislike to the ascendancy which Dr. Ewing had gained over the Trustees of the Inst. in Phila."12 That a feud with this college head of the past should now be limiting his own prerogatives must surely have been disturbing to Atwater, but he must now needs take the sour with the sweet.

Sweetness he found in his first meeting here with Dr. Rush's brother-in-law, Ashbel Green, pastor of Duffield's old church in Philadelphia, a man of commanding presence, amiability and charm. Dr. Green had also been eyed by Rush as a possible candidate for Dickinson.13 He was, however, a trustee of Princeton and all his interests lay in that direction. Working through theological students at the College, he was endeavoring to make Princeton just such a province of Christ's kingdom as Dwight was fashioning at Yale, gradually destroying the influence of Princeton's able President Samuel Stanhope Smith, whom he would force from office and replace himself in 1812. Green brushed all educational theory aside. Sunday schools, Bible and tract societies and religious revivals were the thing.14 The Princeton Theological Seminary is his monument in a career marked by the decline of the College and harassed by student turmoil. He was now happy to find in Atwater a kindred spirit, and when, a year later, he manifested his confidence by sending his own son to Dickinson, the bond was complete, and Jeremiah opened his heart to this new friend in a series of letters which inform us in detail of the turmoil and decline at Carlisle.15

Approaching Carlisle, the Atwaters had taken a wrong road, and so missed the delegation of citizens which had come out to escort them into town, the honor accorded Nisbet so long before.16 Ignoring this ill omen, the new Principal reported to Rush a pleasing impression of the town—which, indeed, with its stone houses along wide, grassy, tree-shaded streets with flagstone footways, had a look of age and solid substance.



Latrobe's building, too, he admired; yet glimpsed alas that school of licentiousness—"the young men their own masters, doing what was right in their own eyes, spending their time at taverns & in the streets, lying in bed always till breakfast & never at the College but at the time of Lecture"—he had feared to find.17 He had come, as he wrote back to Rush, to "a city broken down and without walls. I find that almost everything is to be begun anew."18 To its predominantly southern student body he must now bring the standards of New England morality and order.19

The trustees responded, and gave him a record of initial accomplishment. It is respectable in character, and might have been more so had their support continued. First, a large new bell, symbol and instrument of institutional regularity, was purchased in Philadelphia.20 Orders were then given to level the campus and plant trees, perhaps with the trim New Haven Green in mind.21 Learning that no college catalogue had ever been issued, the Principal himself compiled one, listing all trustees, faculty and students from 1783. It revealed vacancies on the Board, and enabled him to have his new friend, Ashbel Green, elected to membership.22 The first catalog, 1810, was followed by others in 1811 and 1812, all in broadside form. For the commencement of 1810 he wrote a short history of the College which was published in revised form in the Port Folio.23

Atwater's catalogue of 1811 lists 118 students in four classes, counting the Grammar School as one. In the next year, however, a college population of 124 is divided into the four classes we know today, with a separate list of Grammar School pupils. Here we see solved the problem of standing with which Nisbet and Davidson had wrestled in vain, though there is some evidence that the reform was not yet secure.24 Complementing the catalogue, Atwater brought in another innovation, the first printed Laws of Dickinson College. It is the successor of the earlier "Plans of Education," and it is probably the "code of Laws" submitted by the faculty to the Board and confirmed, with sundry amendments, on December 20, 1810.25 It is a credit to Atwater's persuasiveness that its opening paragraphs were allowed to stand without moderation:


1. The government of the College shall be vested in the Principal and Professors, and shall be styled The Faculty of the College.

The Principal was to preside at faculty meetings, which either he or any two professors might call. Matters would be decided by a majority vote, with the Principal voting to break a tie.

The nine chapters of this little work cover every aspect of the college operation below the superior level of the trustees. The emphasis is strongly upon morality and discipline—to be maintained by monitors, tutors, and, over these, the faculty. The curriculum is outlined as a four-year course:

The Freshmen class shall be instructed for one year in the learned languages and arithmetic; and the study of the languages shall be continued in part during the whole of their standing in College. The Sophomore class shall be instructed for one year in English Grammar, Geography, Algebra, Geometry, the mensuration of Superficies and Solids, and Conic Sections. The Junior class, for one year, in Chronology, and History, Trigonometry, Navigation, Surveying, and Natural Philosophy—and the Senior class, for one year, in Astronomy, Chymistry, Rhetoric, Ethics, Logic, Metaphysics, Civil policy, and the law of Nature and Nations-With these studies, shall be intermixed, frequent essays in Elocution, Composition and Forensic disputation. On the evenings of Tuesday and Friday, the students, about four each time, shall declaim immediately after prayers; nor shall any student be exempted from it, except on account of natural impediments, or other disqualifications, of which the Faculty or Principal may judge. It is recommended to the Senior class, more especially to pronounce orations or declamations of their own composition—Saturday fore-noon shall also be principally employed in essays of Elocution, by the respective classes. The several classes shall frequently read specimens of their composition to their respective Teachers; and the three higher classes shall, once or twice a week, dispute forensically on some question previously appointed.

At about the same time as the first catalogue, a broadside statement of College finances from 1783 to 1809 was issued, a trustee document bringing the somewhat arcane operations of past treasurers into the open as well as could be done from the records at hand.26 This may be counted as an Atwater reform and it may have influenced Rush in insisting that the Principal



take part in the new effort to obtain a legislative grant, a matter which the trustees had felt that they could best handle themselves.27 When it failed, Atwater turned to the pursuit of private benefactors with a somewhat desperate ardor. He now knew how desperate the need. Early in 1810 the trustees had voted to liquidate endowment sufficient to meet half of the Nisbet and other debts—and at the same time they voted $1,250 for new scientific equipment, entrusting selection and purchase to Dr. Rush. As it turned out, Rush himself was the only significant private donor, sending a gift, munificent indeed for those days, of $500. He placed no restrictions on its use.

I request only,—nay, I insist upon no notice public or private being taken of it. Should I hear of my unworthy name being stained upon any of your walls, I shall employ a person to deface it. Tell Mr. Atwater I demand his interference to prevent it. The dread of seeing a record so calculated to feed vanity will forever keep me from fulfilling my promise to pay one more visit to Carlisle, in order to pronounce my parting blessing upon our College before I depart hence and am no more.28

Atwater saw here an opportunity for the completion of his plan. With this money the still unfinished upper floors of his building could be partitioned into dormitory rooms and the big central hall on the main floor made suitable for all-college assemblies.29 He wrote President Dwight in a hope of getting young Yale graduates to serve as tutors, living with the students as overseers of work and morals. None came from Yale, but the University of Pennsylvania gave him Samuel Blanchard How, aged twenty, a youth of piety and charm, who became Principal of the Grammar School, a tutor in the College, and a trusted Atwater confidant.

Atwater was also seeking a professor of chemistry and natural science, an area in which McCormick of Mathematics was then doing double duty. Rush recommended a young German, Dr. Charles Frederick Aigster, whom he had not met but who had certificates of character from Dr. Nicholas Collin "Mr. Vaughan of Maine" and others.30 Rush concurred warmly in the Principal's plan to reform not only the College but the town (where, as Atwater had apprised him, "Drunkenness, swearing,



lewdness & dueling seemed to court the day"),31 but the plan for a dormitory brought a prompt explosion. Atwater wrote back plaintively, September 18, 1810, that the trustees had agreed to hire "the German gentleman," but that especially with an increasing student body, "I know not how we shall succeed in having them under proper discipline without having them lodge in the College under the inspection of tutors."32

Many students had been living in the homes of faculty and trustees, and in these circumstances the system so strongly preferred by Rush must have been better than regimented dormitory life. But in other homes where students might lodge little interest would be taken in keeping them at their studies. We can imagine Atwater thanking Providence that this founder and prestigious trustee, so friendly to him but of such decided views— an exponent of mysticism as an exact science—dwelt afar and did not come to meetings. The Doctor's money was applied to a kitchen and other aspects of the plan than the actual living quarters.33 More—Rush at this very time was reopening with fresh verve his war upon the study of the classical languages.34 The only evidence of his having brought it to bear at Carlisle, however, is the trustees' appointment, November 10, 1810, of Claudius Berard, a young Frenchman, as "Teacher of the French, Spanish and Italian Languages"—the first foothold of modern languages in the curriculum.35 One suspects that his fellow trustees, in turning to Rush for the purchase of library books and laboratory apparatus, may have hoped to cover their divergence in polity. It is clear from the first that they did not regard the arrival of Jeremiah Atwater as entirely "providential." Add to this that Aigster, the young German scientist, plausible at first acquaintance, was soon discovered to be insane and dismissed at the cost of a year's salary.36

As for Atwater, he would soon be wholly engrossed in a losing battle with the devil. After the catalogue of 1812, the student body declined, partly due to the outbreak of war with Britain, and no new broadsides were printed. "My wish," he confided to Ashbel Green, "is to be kept humble & to be prevented from seeking my own glory. . . . I ought to be thankful that the door has been opened for so much to be done. I am thankful for the praying society, religious library, Magazine &



association for distributing tracts." Yet, he added, Henry Rowan Wilson, appointed "Professor of Humanity" (i.e. Greek and Latin) at the same time as himself had become a constant disputatious opponent.37 Wilson was a Presbyterian minister, a graduate of Alexander Dobbin's school of Gettysburg and of Dickinson's Class of 1798, a man whose later pastoral career was to be marked by controversy.38

As for Atwater's trustees, the small group now meeting regularly stands out as exceptional for its anti-clerical bias. These men may be seen as a sort of last stand against the rise of a new, powerful and highly emotional religious orthodoxy, a movement which, by every means of persuasion and condemnation, would in a few years dominate American life and education. Their phalanx numbers twelve, and they are listed here in Jeremiah Arwater's own order of diminishing infamy, with a few observations from other sources to brighten the picture which his sombre eye had seen.39

Judge Brackenridge comes first, that amazing, amusing, brilliant, learned, caustic and comical man—knee breeches flannel frock coat and old-fashioned cocked hat, the satirical humor of Modern Chivalry in his jaunty walk, his quizzical eye and mouth. Atwater had found him an enemy from the very first. "An apostate himself, he is virulent against any thing that savours of religion."

David Watts is next, a lawyer and "an open scoffer against religion & the presbyterian church & clergy." The opening charge seems a bit off the mark, since Watts is remembered as one of the few forward spirits who spoke out all the responses in the Episcopal Church service. It is said that in court he did not study his cases as thoroughly as Judge Duncan, but could often carry a jury with him by the confident, loud assertion of his opinion. For years, he and Thomas Duncan were matched against one another in pleading causes before the bench at Carlisle-Watts, large, forceful and sometimes rough, Duncan a short, delicate, scrupulously neat man with a remarkably large head, powdered hair, and silver buckles at the knee. His voice would rise to a shrill note, just as the other's would deepen in an impassioned plea. Though opponents in court, as trustees they stood together. Duncan would go on in time to the state



supreme court, where Brackenridge pronounced him "the best that ever sat" on that bench. Atwater, too, had a tribute of sorts for Thomas Duncan as a Dickinson College trustee—"the most influential of any but is no friend to religious matters.... His brother James D. is determined to prosecute me to the very last as he had declared." Brother James had been a trustee only from 1807 to 1808, and it is not known how this hostile intention was to be carried out.

John Campbell, the large and phlegmatic Rector of the Episcopal Church, was seen as another inimical force, "very bitter at heart." He certainly stood solidly with those already named, and would vigorously defend them from the accusations of unchristian, infidel and immoral conduct so readily put forward by the Principal. It should be noted that Mr. Campbell had with him in this group several pewholders at St. John's, and that, partly no doubt because of its dependence on the legislature the Board had lost its denominational character. The Episcopal infiltration, not now the cause of any particular remark, would later become a subject of acrimonious attention.

Also of Mr. Campbell's flock was Judge James Hamilton, who had married a daughter of the Rev. William Thomson, Anglican minister at Carlisle in Colonial days. To Jeremiah, however, "He is a Priestleyan in sentiment & is very hostile to religion." He was a large fat man, careless as to dress, well-read, social and with a courtly manner. On the bench he was inclined to be heavily dignified and prolix, displaying that minute insistence on detail which had so infuriated Nisbet when he had first become a trustee in 1794. In 1812, he would persuade the Board to authorize the granting of a master's degree after one year of graduate study—a commendable innovation in American academic practice but one which Atwater would successfully fend off, as a dangerous break with the accepted tradition of a "second degree" after three years of good behavior only.40

Dr. McCoskry, who had married Nisbet's daughter Alison, was likewise an Episcopalian. Here was a portly, dignified presence, powdered hair worn in a queue—still, at sixty, the town's most active physician, and still seen occasionally on parade as Captain of the troop of horse. Atwater dismissed him briefly— "has nearly become a sot & goes with the rest"—while another



man of pill and powder on the Board, James Gustine, was put down as "a young physician of loose moral character—supposed to be fond of gambling."

Atwater thought that the President of the Board, Dr. James Armstrong, "would do well if not too much under the influence of Messrs. D. & W." In his heart he must have admired the old General's son, a commanding figure more than six feet in height, keen gray eyes and an imperious aquiline nose—always well dressed in the finest black broadcloth and wearing an old-fashioned dark wig with a queue—well-educated, widely-travelled, a superb horsemen, an austere aristocrat.

To Robert Davidson, Atwater could concede religious principles, though he "has never been a friend to me." Then there was old John Creigh, who "has many principles in favour of Presbyterianism but opposes experimental religion." Here, though unaware of it, he was seeing the Old Side spirit of the Latin school of Colonial times.

General William Alexander was pronounced an irreligious man, but at least not a tool of Watts and Duncan. The General had been a lieutenant in Irvine's first command of January, 1776, had served throughout the Revolution and was now employed as a surveyor of military lands. Jacob Hendel was lightly dismissed as "a well meaning German." Hendel, jeweler and maker of clocks and watches with a shop in Hanover Street next door to Thomas Foster's tavern (and so convenient to trustees' meetings), was a practical man—long face, long aquiline nose, large double chin reposing between the wings of his collar—a man steadily useful to the College in the area we would now style "Buildings and Grounds." And so on down to the few who were at hand but exerting no influence—all confided to the sympathetic ear of Ashbel Green, "inter nos, " a favorite Atwater interjection.

With such lords and masters, the Principal could nonetheless add that he was looking up to God and enjoying inward peace. Probably thanks to Green and Rush, the University of Pennsylvania had crowned him with its D.D. on May 30, 1811. Yet only a fortnight after that had come the terrible news: Thomas Cooper was elected "Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy" at Dickinson College! Atwater had accepted from the



first the trustees' determination to place a new emphasis on science. It was always popular with the students, and the lectures attracted community interest. It had the full support of Dr. Rush. Their vote, July 19, 1810, "That a Professor of Natural Philosophy and Chimistry be appointed," marks the establishment of a scientific department. Rush's candidate for the chair had been a costly failure but now, by a series of highly remarkable (if not Providential) events, these trustees had a man of their own—Cooper, the friend of Priestley, and since the deaths of Priestley and mad Tom Paine the world's most notorious infidel! He was to receive Dickinson's top professorial salary, $800, and Atwater's mind would roll back to Middlebury, where Frederick Hall had been raised to a salary double his own.

Dr. Cooper, aged fifty-one, stood barely five feet tall, a figure as short and plump as Atwater was tall and lean—a large head and a face marked by that aggressive intelligence which characterized his whole career. He was a humanitarian idealist dedicated to progress in this world rather than the next, an inveterate agitator and reformer. In religion he was a Deist, a philosophy which the clergy were now denouncing as "infidelity," atheism and the road to criminal degradation of every sort. He had had a classical education at Oxford, and was learned in medicine, law and science. He had toured America as a British observer in 1793 (passing through Carlisle, where he found the people "unsociable"), and in the next year had come back as an immigrant with Joseph Priestley.41 Years before, Priestley had nominated him for membership in the Royal Society, where, however, his political radicalism made him unacceptable. He had lived and worked with Priestley in Northumberland. As editor of the Northumberland Gazette, he was brought to trial under John Adams' Sedition Act, and in 1800 had been imprisoned for six months. In 1804, he had become president judge of the district in which Northumberland lay, and here his precise and rigorous procedures turned his radical supporters against him. Charges were brought, and he had been removed from the bench in April, 1811. The counsel for his defense before the state legislature had been Judges Hugh Henry Brackenridge, James Hamilton and Jonathan Hoge Walker, with Thomas Dun-



can and David Watts—all trustees of Dickinson College.42 These gentlemen had certainly a large share in persuading Cooper to transfer his learning and talents to the academic arena. There is concrete evidence that, even while the trial was in progress, they were seeking to force Atwater's resignation so that Cooper might succeed him.43

There has been a recurrent conflict, from these early days of Dickinson College history to the present, between those who seek eminence and progress on the scholastic scene, and those whose goals have been adjusted to a comfortable provincial mediocrity. Parents, by and large, seem to prefer to entrust their children to conservative administrations and that would be particularly true of these years, with the clergy sounding trumpets of alarm on every hand. Yet these men who met at Foster's tavern to oversee the affairs of Dickinson College were now bringing in a man of higher capacity than Nisbet, a liberal educator in the fullest sense, later to be remembered as one of the few truly successful college presidents of his time. Here, in Thomas Jefferson's opinion, was "the greatest man in America in the powers of the mind and in acquired information, and that without a single exception."44 Jefferson would soon be enlisting Cooper as the "cornerstone" of his University of Virginia faculty, a plan frustrated largely by clerical opposition.45

Had the clergy been forewarned they might well have mustered strength enough to prevent Cooper's election.46 Davidson, Creigh and Alexander had opposed at the show of hands, with the nine others in favor. A vote by ballot had been unanimous. Dr. Atwater was stricken by the news—"a fatal blow." He dashed off an appeal to Rush—"Judge C. is said to be a man of violent passions, & haughty, (some say intemperate). He has just been dismissed by the Legislature.... He is supposed to be in religious sentiment with Priestley, & to put such a man into a seminary to poison the minds of youth ... would be fatal.... It would all at once blast all our hopes of Legislative aid." More—it was illegal. That meeting of June 17, 1811, had been called on adjournment only, without the required public notice, and with the apparent intention of taking the opposition by surprise.47

Cooper arrived on August 7 and took the oath of office. He



then sat down to compose the public Introductory Lecture with which new courses, in the sciences particularly, were launched in these days. It was delivered on the 16th, with the entire Senior and Junior Classes in attendance, and many from the Carlisle community as well. The trustees rightly expected that Cooper's presence would not only attract students but bring others in as subscribers to his course.48 At their request the Introductory Lecture was published, a book of 236 pages, more than half of them "Notes and References " In it he presented his case for the scientific method, with a survey of chemistry and mineralogy. It was an expository sermon with its text at the end—"KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. "49

Such doctrine, such a flood of demonstrable information, was sure to appeal to the students. Yet Atwater a regular attendant at Cooper's lectures and watching like a hawk, could see no effort to corrupt young men, though sure that the new professor was "disposed to do so."50 Cooper even reciprocated the Principal's attention by occasionally appearing in church. Actually, Cooper had a conservative methodology in education, as he had had in holding court. He believed firmly in a classical foundation, sharply at odds here with Benjamin Rush, although he agreed with Rush on the value of modern languages, particularly French.51

Dr. Rush, on his part, must surely have had some mixed feelings as to the Cooper appointment, though he took a position solidly with the clerical party. Atwater was his own appointee, Ashbel Green his relative and friend, and in Princeton affairs he was supporting Green's one-sided emphasis on theology. At the regular September trustees' meeting, Dr. Robert Cathcart came armed with a letter from Rush which "feelingly" described the danger to be anticipated from infidel professors, and the clergy were with him in force. They only succeeded, however, in having a declaration of their own that the June 17 meeting had been illegally read into the minutes, and exacting a promise of three weeks' notice in the future.52 Old John King, foreseeing that an ouster would fail, had written at length to Cooper pleading eloquently for the presentation of science as subservient to religion. Atwater sent a copy of his letter to Rush, carried by young Samuel Blanchard How, whose depar-



ture for theological study would deepen the Principal's embittered loneliness and increase his despair of ever establishing full disciplinary control.53

In Philadelphia, in October, we find Rush summoning the Rev. Drs. Green and Muhlenberg into a conference intended "to preponderate over impudence and infidelity.''54 It may have sprung from a hope that Muhlenberg, a trustee of both Dickinson and Franklin, could bring needed new life to the Lancaster institution by placing Atwater at its head.55 At the same time, Dr. Rush continued to cooperate in the search for new laboratory equipment, which included the purchase in December at Cooper's request of Joseph Priestley's reflecting telescope, burning glass and air gun.56

"We are now," Atwater had written to Rush on September 29, "completely in a house divided against itself"—a familiar enough situation at Carlisle, and one that had existed from the beginning of his administration since he had had Brackenridge and Davidson against him from the first and Henry Rowan Wilson almost as long. On May 21, 1811, the Board had named Davidson, along with its President, Dr. Armstrong, the Rev. Mr. Campbell, Hamilton, Watts and Duncan a committee to consult with the faculty on the state of the College, and then immediately had vested this group with the supervisory "power of visitors." This gave Davidson virtual control over every aspect of college life, an authority which the group exercised faithfully and frequently. Atwater, in establishing New England standards, must reckon first with the Blessed Peacemaker. A year later, at the trustee meeting of July 3, 1812, we find this committee correcting a "misapprehension" of the Principal as to his duties, which were then defined as those of "a general superintendent of communication," an advisor to the Board, and no more.

The same meeting returned Davidson to the classroom to teach "natural philosophy, the use of the globes and geography." Once more Dickinson students were to wrestle with the hated little book of rhymes—once more, but not for long. Davidson died on December 13, to the Rev. Jeremiah's outspoken relief.57 Wilson resigned from the faculty in 1813 to take a neighboring parish, leaving the issue clearly between Atwater and Cooper. "The officers of the College are at sword's points



with each other," a visitor from Vermont reported back. "The students are lawless as the whirlwind."58

In February, 1812, Atwater had confided to Green:

The increase of students is the only thing that has saved me from being banished from this place long since. In the meantime, the persecution of the tongue has been pretty bitter. Carlisle has literally and emphatically long been Satan's seat. There pride & irreligion have long been enthroned & enjoyed undisputed dominion. The plain truths of the gospel have not been preached here with pungency & rich sinners have triumphed with impunity. The higher class here have been little better than infidels. Some of our lawyers & judges had read & admired the writings of Thos. Cooper. His coming here was, therefore, on every account to be dreaded. I put my own place at stake in vigorously opposing his coming, for I did not consider that it would be worth retaining if Mr. C. should gain an ascendancy in the affairs of the College. I hinted to the trustees my willingness to resign rather than be considered as approving the appointment of Mr. C. While their passions were up, they appeared to be almost willing to risk this & even went pretty far in giving hints themselves to the same effect.59

In the same letter he gives us his revealing picture of Cooper's behavior in a serious disciplinary case. In the period of the War of 1812 there was an epidemic of duels at the military post at Carlisle,60 and the students caught the contagion. George Oldham, of the Class of 1813, was a principal in such a meeting, and another student his second. Oldham fled, and Mr. Watts, for the trustees, thought that the second should be let off lightly. Wrote Atwater:

In looking into this affair, the Faculty judged it prudent to invite Mr. Cooper to sit with them—though still it was not done without much aversion. It happened that our meeting was in the evening after Mr. C. had been dining & drinking wine with Mr. W. Of course Mr. C. was not very well fitted to attend to business. But, after showing much aversion to looking into the affair of the duel, he finally agreed to sit with us. I must say that at the meeting he treated the Faculty quite direspectfully. He would not consent to let the young men be questioned as to their guilt, as is the custom of all colleges in such cases. He threatened, if the question was put, to interfere & prevent their answering it. Tho' requested to speak in a lower tone, he persist-

ed in speaking so loudly as to be overheard by students without. Of course he has become much of a toast with those students who are disaffected to good government. In short, it has turned out very much as Dr. Rush prophesied, who declared that Mr. C. would in any difficult matter attempt to make himself popular at the expense of the other teachers.61

Dr. Rush was also kept informed. "He takes much pains to ingratiate himself with the students, inviting them to make chemical experiments in his room. He spends his Sabbaths there instead of going to church. He drinks wine pretty freely. . . ."62 Rush was writing on the deleterious effects of alcohol at this time, and Atwater eagerly distributing the work. Then, in one of those experiments, nitric acid and bismuth exploded in Cooper's face, threatening his eyesight—this also quickly reported to Rush as evidence of divine disfavor.63 But in June, 1812, Cooper had moved from Foster's tavern to a room in the College building, into the very heart of the student body. Dr. Rush, reading of all this with sorrow, thought of resigning his trusteeship, but agreed to remain as long as Atwater did so.64 That was in February, 1813, and his death two months later went almost unnoticed at the College.

Two nephews of the President of the United States were among the boys sent to Dickinson because of Cooper's presence there.65 Robert Madison was to study not only science but law, which the Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy was adding to his repertoire.66 At the same time, June, 1813, Cooper had revived John Redman Coxe's Emporium of Arts and Sciences, maintaining it with the Carlisle imprint as a leading scientific journal. Problems of weaponry were referred to him from Washington, and we find him advising the President on a shell that would explode after piercing a ship's side.67 His articles on subjects in both science and art had been appearing frequently in the Port Folio, indicating a breadth of view and learning such, indeed, as a college president should possess.68

In further evidence of the general disintegration of good order expected by the clerics, there was, in the spring of 1813, a case of "wanton mischief and disgraceful! filthiness," involving damage to the College building.69 It was Dickinson's first ex-



perience of an outbreak familiar elsewhere, and particularly so at Princeton under the administration of Ashbel Green. Dr. Rush would certainly have taken it as supporting his condemnation of dormitory life. In July, a more significant rebellion occurred. A substantial number of the boys formed a "combination to resist the endeavor of Professor Shaw for their improvement in classical learning."70 Here was a very early manifestation of student—and public—dissatisfaction with the traditional classical course.71 The trustees took stern measures, forcing some recalcitrants to "acknowledge error" and expelling others. It is inescapable that the discontent must have been caused by the contrast between Cooper's teaching, in our present-day term so "relevant," and the irrelevance of the other subjects, to which overwhelmingly the largest part of a student's time must be devoted. Yet Cooper himself stood solidly with the classics. Joseph Shaw, a Scottish pedagogue, had just arrived at the College, and may have introduced a stricter standard than had prevailed under the Dickinson alumnus, Wilson. One result may have been the trustees' promotion of Claudius Berard, September 28, 1814, from "Teacher" to "Professor of the Modern Languages," though it remained upon a fee rather than a salary basis.

By 1814 it was a Cooper faculty, with Shaw, Berard and Eugene Nulty, a brilliant new man in Mathematics, all united in their hostility to the Principal. If discipline was lax, they blamed Atwater for it, since this was the Principal's charge. They condemned Atwater's teaching, particularly his strong emphasis on declamation. They held his learning in contempt. In Cooper's hot-tempered statement, which at least reflected the belief of others as well, Atwater was "so grossly deficient in classical and other branches of education" that he had never dared put a question himself at the examinations, taught geography "from some trifling elementary book," and could not himself explain "the import of Latitude and Longitude."72

In this diatribe of June 15, 1815, Cooper makes clear his eagerness for a more congenial and better-paying situation. Atwater, equally exasperated, heard rumors of his leaving but felt sure he would stay "if he could throw me off."73 The impending climax has been laid to "trustee interference," particularly a



resolution in which the Board demanded that faculty report to it, weekly, "all delinquents or absentees."74 This indicates laxity as to classroom attendance, but does not explain the faculty resignations. The impasse lay in the inability of Cooper's dominant party to remove Atwater, who was drawing the largest salary, scarcely earning it—and, as they discovered to their disgust, supplementing his income by running a livery business for the students.75

To the students, war within their own small world and war in the nation at large had brought excitements enow. They had their freedoms still. At the commencement of 1814 some of the Senior Class, with others, had marched to Philadelphia to resist an expected British attack, and received their degrees in absentia.76 On July 4, 1815, patriotic and party fervor found expression at two elaborate banquets, one a decorous affair set up by the young Federalists, the other a formal hullabaloo given by the Democrats. At the latter, after young Julius Forrest's oration, and after Robert Madison had read the Declaration of Independence, a rousing round of toasts was drunk—twenty-one prepared, and twenty-seven "volunteers," with a blaze of music and no doubt a burst of song to follow almost every one. "Dickinson College! The brightest luminary of Pennsylvania—may its rays emanate with effulgence that characterized its founders," was followed by "The College Hornpipe," and "Thomas Cooper! The profound philosopher, the genuine patriot, and the endeared friend," by "Life Let Us Cherish."77

"What can the matter be?" This question headlined its final paragraph when the Carlisle American Volunteer of September 28, 1815, printed its news of the Dickinson College commencement, and the resignations, immediately afterward, of the Principal and most of the faculty. Only Nulty remained, with Mr. Trimble, a new man just hired to take over the Grammar School. "Something uncommon must have occurred," was the editorial surmise, adding tartly that nothing less was to be expected after all those Fourth of July toasts—enough to damn any college.

Atwater and Cooper went their ways, the one to a northern obscurity, the other to a southern flowering. For those who would have a box score in the contest, the figures could be



56-7. Atwater, to whom a college existed essentially for the production of ministers, had produced seven of them. The alumni in Cooper's fields of medicine and law were twenty-three and thirty-three respectively. By the same rating, Nisbet had been a ministerial winner, 67-65.78

Among the trustees who now met to wrestle with the problems of the hour there was a newly reelected member, the Rev. Dr. John McKnight. He had been born near Carlisle sixty-one years before, son of an officer in the French and Indian War, and had probably been prepared for Princeton at the old Latin school. He held a pastorate in Adams County in 1783 when he was named a charter trustee of Dickinson. He had resigned in 1794 on moving to New York, where he had been both trustee and professor at Columbia College, teaching moral philosophy and logic.79 Here was a man, surely, who could bring a working unity at last to the discordant worlds of trustee and professor. It took his colleagues until November 1 to persuade him to assume the post of Principal.

Principal McKnight might have managed well had he been given the means for a fresh start. But payments to the Nisbet estate and other creditors had exhausted the treasury and prevented his bringing together a competent faculty. He had been in office only a month when another student duel shocked College and town. One lad was killed and three others fled.80 The story was repeated in newspapers everywhere, with bitter condemnation, and Dickinson's repute seemed to have vanished with its funds. The Volunteer of December 28 tilted an eyebrow and observed that "The College has been a source of profit to this place," but now, "like the Baltimore turnpike road, is in a very sickly condition," and summoned community interest to its support.

No prompt aid, however, was forthcoming, and at their regular meeting of September 27, 1816, the trustees voted "to suspend the business of this College for the present." On November 5, in a mood of final despair, they appealed to the legislature "to take the College immediately under the protection, Patronage and Government of the State."81 With a change in state administration the plea would be renewed, as Robert Cathcart, a leader of Atwater's party, joined with James Hamil-



ton of Cooper's in seeking a revival.82 In these dismal straits, as year followed year, the College building itself gave hope and a shred of living continuity. Here, as the petitions pointed out, was an "edifice," equipped with libraries and scientific apparatus of much value, waiting to be used.83 And, in a small way, they were used, local alumni returning as had been their wont to the society halls for recreation or study.

Now the departed presence weighed heavily upon the little town. There was not only the loss of business income and of prestige, but the old fear that rising Harrisburg might establish a college in the area. And there was the silence of the College bell which for so long had rung the hours from dawn to dark, bringing its steady tempo to the life of the village. The boys and young men were missed, the lectures, the gossip, the commencement pageantry. The revival, when it came at last, was a community affair. The trustees had met once in 1817, once in 1819, and then gathered again on formal call, May 5, 1820, with a bare quorum of nine. Their first act was to fill twelve vacancies in the Board—all the new trustees were substantial citizens of the valley, and all were ready at the door to take their seats. Four were clergymen, six were lawyers, all were locally prominent in public service, professions or business. With this reinforcement, they voted to borrow money to pay taxes on the College lands and other debts, and then to launch a drive for funds that would enable them "to resuscitate the operations of the College."

Dr. George D. Foulke, Class of 1800, Chief Burgess of Carlisle and Captain of the Carlisle Hussars, issued a call for a "Town Meeting," May 26, 1800. From this came resolutions and appeals supporting the drive, and committees were appointed to carry it out.84 Nearly $3,000 was raised that spring, a respectable sum for a rural community of about that many people, and the canvassers extended their efforts to the country at large. These successes paved the way for the state aid granted on February 20, 1821. By then the ball was rolling, hopes were high, a joint program with a proposed theological seminary of the German Reformed Church had been debated and approved.85 Much time, thought and emotion were being given, too, to the election of a new Principal—a post of honor to be



filled only by one of the great figures of Presbyterian pulpit and polity. And through it all, already and once more, fair poesy had come with throbbing metre to the shadow of the campus trees. "Philo," in eighty "Lines, on the Revival of Dickinson College," describes the first rise of culture

In early age, when lawless passions sway'd,

And gloomy horror rang'd the desert's shade,

tells how first "The goddess; Science, wing'd her angel flight," enlightened Greece, and then, with all her retinue, our western wilderness, where

Fair Freedom rose to guard the rising world,
And from her shores the raging Despot hurl'd.
When carnage ceas'd, and Liberty was won,
Fair Science rear'd her stately DICKINSON:
Left for the winds of Fortune to engage,
She, tottering, sunk beneath the tempest's rage,
But not to sleep: Again her columns rise,
Reflecting brilliant as they mount the skies;
And Science, seated on her throne of light,
Invites her children to inhale delight.86



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