Now that my paper on graduation addresses at UNC before the Civil War is well on its way, I want to talk about one of our neighbors, Washington College (known today, of course, as Washington and Lee University).
The addresses at Washington College interest me for a couple of reasons. First, I want to see how a school in a more traditional state compares with the relatively moderate UNC addresses. (Close followers of this issue may recall that I found the UNC addresses more moderate than those at Wake Forest and Davidson -- though some of this may be due to relatively small Ns.) Second, I'm interested in how ideas in the Shenandoah Valley compared with those at tidewater schools (like Randolph Macon, where William Smith gave his lectures on slavery and William and Mary, where Thomas Dew and Nathan Beverly Tucker taught and where Abel Upshur gave an important proslavery talk) and also the ideas at the anchor in the piedmont: the University of Virginia. There are some great comparisons to be made with the UVA addresses -- like the alumni addresses by James Bruce and by law professor James Holcombe, especially Holcombe -- and also with Henry St. George Tucker's 1841 address at the start of the University of Virginia Law School's academic year.
Lexington, where Washington College is, is also home to the Virginia Military Institute, so those addresses offer another point for comparison. To my disappointment, the VMI addresses I have read so far are less political than I had hoped. I found the VMI addresses relatively unhelpful (with one exception, R.M.T. Hunter's address) in gauging the political ideology of the orators. The addresses at VMI were more concerned with Christianity than specifically political topics.
There are some pretty exciting addresses at Washington College. One of the stories that people who work on the history of the Valley and also the history of education know is President Henry Ruffner's 1847 moderately anti-slavery address -- which focused on the economic problems related to slavery, rather than the inhumanity of slavery. A year later Ruffner left the presidency, partly because his anti-slavery attitudes had riled some supporters of the College, though there were some other contributing factors as well. Even before that the Valley had been the seat of anti-slavery activism in Virginia. I'm planning on talking quite a bit about James M'Dowell -- who supported gradual abolition in the Virginia legislative debates of 1832. Though even M'Dowell had changed his position somewhat by his 1837 address at Princeton.
Here is E. L. Magoon's 1846 oration at Washington College on "eloquence and liberty," which is a short version of his book on Westward Empire: Or the Great Drama of Human Progress. That's a book I need to talk about all by itself at some point -- and it's something that should have had a cameo role in "Property and Progress." And this is all the more exciting because Magoon was a collector of landscape art.
And though the faculty at Washington College maintained a pro-Union stance through the secession crisis, attitudes towards slavery on that campus shifted after President Ruffner's departure. George Junkin became president in 1848 and served until 1861 (when he moved north to Philadelphia). His inaugural address in February 1849 is available -- though the magic of book.google -- here. In 1843, before his move from Ohio to the Valley, Junkin had delivered a lengthy proslavery speech, "The Integrity of Our National Union, vs. Abolitionism: An Argument from the Bible, in Proof of the Position that Believing Masters Ought to be Honored and Obeyed by their Own Servants, and Tolerated in, Not Excommunicated from, the Church of God." Pieces of this were used in Josiah Priest's Bible Defense of Slavery. So there is a shift from the moderately anti-slavery approach of Ruffner to the pro-slavery position of Junkin. That shift comes later than at other southern schools -- at Alabama it happened in the mid-1830s, for instance.
There is a lot to talk about regarding Junkin's 1843 proslavery address -- first off, it was sufficiently proslavery that it caused him trouble at Miami University in Ohio. As a result, Junkin returned to Pennsylvania. Second, it is rests in small part on a utilitarian calculus that balanced the value of the Union against the value of anti-slavery, though the vast majority of the pamphlet is about biblical support for slavery. The shift to utilitarian arguments (by both pro and anti-slavery advocates) from natural law and humanitarian arguments is one important piece of the change in thought that took place from the 1820s to the 1850s. Some of the themes I want to play with the shift from natural law to utility and empiricism; the distinction between market and sentiment; the distinction between democracy and republicanism; and the emphasis on duty and honor, which are related to the growing sense of individualism of the pre-Civil War era.
Another sign of the increasingly proslavery ideas in circulation in Lexington was the 1850 speech by John Reuben Thompson, also available on google, which dealt largely with literary topics, but also attacked abolitionists. Thompson, you may recall, was the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.
I'm going to be focused on how the attitudes towards slavery, history, and law shift over time -- and also on how the addresses critique materialism and idealism, topics that I have not given much attention in my previous studies of addresses at UNC and at Alabama. I'm also guessing that I'm going to be focused less on political ideology here than when I was reading the UNC addresses. The Washington College addresses all seem to be from Whigs. The key features I want to emphasize include the shifts from anti-slavery based on economics to pro-slavery religious positions; the shift to humanitarian and Enlightenment ideas of the 1830s to economic and empirically oriented ideas in the 1850s. (Though there are a lot of things to watch out for here and ways that Washington College contradicted some of the common trends, because their president for two years in the mid-1830s was Henry Vethake, who was later a professor of political economy at the University of Pennsylvania and author of an important treatise on economics.)
I'm also interested in how the shift to an empiricism correlated with the growth in sophistication and in economic orientation in Virginia law. We can use the growth in prevalence and sophistication of trusts from the late 1820s through the Civil War as a gauge of the increasingly economic consciousness and wealth of Americans. Thus, as the common law is increasing in sophistication and as Virginians turned to the technology of law to promote economic growth, the increasing importance of the market appeared in addresses as well.
Update: On September 29, 2017 I had the chance to talk again at Washington and Lee about the debate around slavery at the school before the Civil War. A podcast of the talk is here.