Student Dissidence at Dartmouth, Antebellum Edition

In the summer of 2010, Ore Koren (’12) conducted research in Dartmouth’s Special Collections on student life in the 1820s-1850s.  The results of his project are now available for viewing on the department’s Exhibits webpages.


Newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and college catalogues of the Jacksonian era show remarkable evidence of strong student opinions on the salient issues.  As Ore comments:

Different interpretations of religious ideas and of states’ rights, of abolition and Colonization, and of personal rights, all unsettled the region. A microcosm of New England and, due to the relatively large number of students from Southern states, of the United States, Dartmouth College (and the Town of Hanover) was a harbinger of the changes that perturbed the country before, during, and after the Civil War. The College’s student body, with its growing tendency to challenge the College’s faculty and its conventions were the locomotive that drove these changes.

Of the classes of the 1820s, the Class of 1827 was worth particular examination. Its members demurred the status quo on at least two occasions. On one occasion, after believing that one of their fellow classmates has been maltreated by the faculty, the class members embarked upon a three-day rampage, in which they stoned members of the faculty, burned the president in effigy, and burned down a barn. On a second occasion, upon hearing that Edward Mitchell, an emancipated slave from the south who passed the entrance exams, was denied admission, the students submitted a petition denouncing the faculty’s decision and demanding the immediate admission of Mitchell. This petition is a unique document and the language used in it is immensely progressive, especially when bearing in mind the time and place in which it was written.

During the 1840s several student publications appeared. The most famous one, of course, was The Dartmouth, which represented the prevalent opinions of the time and place in which it was written. The Dartmouth ridiculed various minorities, from French Canadians to Native Americans, and sometimes explicitly portrayed slavery in a positive light. Nevertheless, other of its articles were unique, particularly the one defending Shakespeare’s Shylock.

At the same time other publications appeared, which were satirical in nature even if very crude. The target of these publications’ mockery was almost always members of the faculty, most notably the College President and champion of slavery Nathan Lord.

The majority of my research revolves around the Dartmouth OEstrus, a satirical publication printed by the students between 1854 and 1857. Unlike other satirical publications, the writers of the OEstrus showed rather refined writing and humor, and the ideas mentioned in this publication appear many times uncharacteristic of what is expected from an early 19th century New England institution of education. I made every attempt to contextualize this publication by providing information about the names and events mentioned in the four volumes of The OEstrus.

Another contemporary satirical publication was The Waif. Based on the writing used in The Waif, it was probably written by the same writers as the OEstrus, who were members of the Class of 1856. I also discuss The Waif in this study.

The goal of this website is to present a picture of the winds of change that blew through Dartmouth College during the first part of the 19th century. By examining student dissidence I intended to illuminate a part of Dartmouth history that is relatively less known, but that is always relevant.

Computing Identities

In the story that Walter Simons has flagged, a simple IP address revealed Orlando Figes’s hidden identity as a fiesty Amazon reviewer.  Meanwhile, more powerful computing tools have lately been trained on the most notable anonymous work in American history.

In a book just out this month, Daniel Crofts has unraveled the mystery of “The Diary of a Public Man,” which appeared as a key “behind the scenes” look at the secession crisis of 1860-1861.   “Lincoln’s Deep Throat” was most likely the newspaperman William Henry Hurlbert, Crofts argues, mustering a statistical profile of writing styles to fortify this case.  It also seems that Hurlbert’s “diary” was nothing of the sort, since it was apparently written long after the events that it described.

There’s a Hanover angle to this story too.  Before now, the most in-depth consideration of this book was written by Dartmouth’s own Frank Maloy Anderson, whose efforts gained him a Time magazine squib in 1949 titled “Professor as Sleuth.”

Fondly, Fervently Remembering the American Civil War

There was lots to keep track of last week during the Bill T. Jones / Arne Zane performance of “Fondly do We Hope, Fervently do we Pray” over at the Hopkins Center.

In the midst of the fabulous dancing, I found myself perversely wondering what Nathan Lord would have made of this Lincoln-fest coming to Hanover and getting a standing ovation. Lord enjoyed the second longest tenure of any Dartmouth president. It would have been the longest had he not been fired by the Trustees in 1863, when he objected to Lincoln receiving an honorary Dartmouth degree.

Lincolnphilia nowadays extends well beyond the Dartmouth campus. The sixteenth president’s stock has been rising for some time and may have peaked last year with the bicentennial of his birth and with the inauguration of another Springfield, Illinois lawyer (this time a Democrat), who donned the Lincoln mantel while running for president.

The challenge for Bill T. Jones lay not in paying homage to a leader with so many devotees. What was fascinating about the production was its attempt to re-inject controversy into the Lincoln legacy. Associating the issues of the 1860s with today’s hot-button fights about immigrant rights and the uses of war allowed Jones to recall how Lincoln’s “greatness” operated in a context of enormous hostility. It reminded us (as the Nathan Lord example does, far less effectively) of just how contentious Lincoln was during his actual presidency.

A more publicized story of Civil War memorialization has generated an ongoing controversy filled with far more heat than light. On the morning that “Fondly do We Hope” debuted in Hanover, the new governor of Virginia resurrected “Confederate History Month” for the first time in eight years. Governor Bob McDonnell did not mention the role of slavery in sparking the war, nor did he list emancipation as one of its results. An understandable outcry forced him later to acknowledge slavery, though few critics were placated.

The Virginia story, and its continuing fallout, caught my eye and not only because I had spent the day thinking about Lincoln. About ten years ago, the politics of Confederate symbols informed the shape, audience, and reception of my first book. Since then, I’ve followed ongoing attempts of “neo-Confederates” to circulate a deeply ahistorical view of the Southern past.

Neo-Confederate controversies rage every few years, and I’ve taken these as evidence that the Civil War remains America’s “felt history” (to borrow from the poet Robert Penn Warren). Yet does this square with Bill T. Jones’s efforts to put more fervency into our fondness for Lincoln? To what extent can we say that Americans remain divided by the American Civil War? How does the apparent unanimity regarding Lincoln fit into this equation?

Answers to such questions depend on what sectors of national life we care to examine. My suspicion is that while region and race continue to drive popular understanding of the 1860s, political ideology, as expressed by the Right, has become a vital force in how public memory works in the age of Obama. To understand neo-Confederate celebrations requires looking at the resilience of “Lost Cause” among conservative white Southerners. But we need also to situate McConnell’s decree in another context — aside Tea Party nods to the founding, Glen Beck’s assault on Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressivism, and the Right’s increasing disparagement of the New Deal. In this respect, rooting for Confederates has become part of a reactionary tapestry of history . The otherwise dour President Lord would have been delighted.