Very excited about Heidi Rickes' new article on ideas about law and political theory in circulation on the campus of Davidson College from its founding in the late 1830s to the Civil War. This is largely based on addresses to the two literary societies by outside speakers, but Heidi also uses debate topics at the two literary societies and the subjects of few student graduation speeches. And then she links those ideas to some of the decisions by the North Carolina Supreme Court and some of the legislature's debates over internal improvements. I think there are two important points that emerge from this. First, there is the methodoligical point that we should be using oratory before the War to study ideas about obedience to law, utility, duty, vested rights, Union and a whole host of other ideas. While oratory's made a strong showing in the historical literature in recent years I don't think its promise has been fully realized by legal historians (with a few notable exceptions like Robert Ferguson). Second, Heidi shows again -- as we've been hearing from people like Daniel Walker Howe, Lawrence Kohl, G. Edward White, and William Fisher -- Whig ideas of Union, ordered liberty, and economic and moral progress were central to colleges and to the judiciary as well. This links again elite institutions like colleges and courts in a common cultural mission. That those ideas were unable to constrain us from Civil War is one of the topics I hope Heidi and others will explore in depth in follow-up projects. You can read the full paper, "Jurisprudence at Davidson College Before the Civil War," at ssrn.
Close readers of the faculty lounge may recall that some years ago I wrote about the possibilities of work on Davidson College. I'm delighted that Heidi's mined all of that and more. The paper's terrific and I'm looking forward to a lot more like it soon -- including, I am rather reliably informed, something on William and Mary, which should prove a pretty good comparison with Davidson's moderate, Presbyterian ideas. And maybe one of these days there'll be a paper on Wake Forest, too -- had a terrific time in the archives today reading debate topics from the Wake literary societies.
The image is of Davidson's Philanthropic Literary Society building.