I have a new paper on the debates about slavery and empire in the Washington College Literary Societies in the years leading into Civil War. This is part of the focus I've had for years now on college literary societies -- especially the University of Alabama, UNC, and Washington College -- as places of debate about public constitutional ideas and political theory. Often times I've focused on the addresses given to those societies at graduation, at the beginning of the school year, and on holidays -- such as Washington's birthday and July Fourth. This is also part of my search for public constitutional ideas in cemetery dedication addresses.
I'm also deeply interested in what the students had to say -- in their orations to the literary societies and at graduation, in their literary society journals, and especially in their debates. For Washington College --- as for UNC, UGA, Davidson, Hampden-Sydney, Wake Forest, and a little for William and Mary -- we have the debate topics and often the outcomes of the debates but no transcript or even outline of the arguments. The topics themselves, though, are very revealing -- and they reveal that the students were increasingly proslavery. For instance, they moved from questions like "is slavery moral" in the 1830s to a more radical question, like "should the slave trade be re-opened" in the late 1850s.
This paper is focused around issues of slavery, race, and empire -- but there's really a lot more that could and should be done with the debates. Over a number of summers I've spent weeks up in Lexington going through the records and someday soon I hope to have a paper that takes a 360 degree look at those topics and what they say about the intellectual geography of Washington College's students -- on issues from economics to individualism, morality, religion, and political theory. (It's a great place to spend a little time each summer and I'm delighted to say that I've almost concluded that work.) I also have a paper on the Wake Forest debates that's chugging along with my former student Elizabeth Carroll -- and we hope to wheel that out one of these days.