Friday, August 25, 2017

The Demolition of Dartmouth

Opening stanza to Freneau's On the Demolition of Dartmouth CollegeFor one of the most iconic views of the College, Dartmouth Hall has quite a fraught history.  Though many people know that the old College Hall, as the building used to be known, burned down twice, few are aware that its first restoration actually occurred in the late 18th century, after students tore the structure down late one night. Ephraim Smedley, class of 1793, wrote in his diary that “The demolition of the old Hall happened on Dec. ye 3 A.D. 1789 about 7 o'clock in the evening there were seventy five of students, in number who combined for that purpose.” Apparently, the buildings were in such terrible shape that they were almost a danger to the members of the College. Work to restore the old College Hall had been frustratingly slow, and the students took it upon themselves to incentivize more rapid progress.

Interestingly, most of the story can be pieced together by looking at small references to the event in a number of different sources; Smedley includes only the one sentence in his journal entry for that day, instead focusing on the readings he had completed and other details of his schoolwork. Another letter similarly includes only one brief inquiry into the events. A student’s historical exploration of the history of Dartmouth Hall briefly recounts the students’ motivations for their “nocturnal visitation,” concluding that “not even the College officers were sorry to see it go,” and that the students’ actions had the desired effect of speeding up the restoration process.

Detail of letter to John Wheelcock asking about the destruction of the College
Our favorite retelling of the event is Philip Freneau’s poem “On the Demolition of Dartmouth College.” By no means the most reliable account (Freneau wasn’t even present that evening) it is certainly the most fun! Freneau adds some (possibly imagined) elements to the story, including the ringing of the College bells to call students to action, and an impassioned speech from the reluctantly awakened “reverend man that college gentry awes” that was largely ignored by students more focused on their mission. In a testament to its playful humor and clearly fantastically imagined nature, the poem concludes “So, three huzzas they gave, and fir’d a round,/Then homeward trudg’d—half drunk—but safe and sound.”

Closing stanza to Freneu's On the Demolition of Dartmouth College
To trace the story of the Demolition of the College Hall yourself, come in and ask for MS 789558, MS 790159, D.C. Hist. LD1440 D3 L4, and Val 815 F88 L2.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dartmouth Republicans

A portrait of Amos Tuck taken in 1859, when he was 49 years old.
Last week we blogged about an influential Dartmouth alum, Salmon P. Chase, who was a member of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet as the Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 through 1864. He later went on to become the sixth Chief Justice of the United States. This week, we found a fascinating document connected to Chase hiding among the papers of another famous Dartmouth alum and lawyer, Amos Tuck. A member of the class of 1835, Tuck was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1842. Originally a member of the Democratic party, he rejected their pro-slavery stance and was disavowed by the party. He then proceeded to run, and win, as an independent before gathering a convention to support an anti-slavery congressional candidate named John P. Hale.

This convention was the spark that was ultimately responsible for the creation of the Republican
Amos Tuck's naval commission signed by Abraham Lincoln and Salmon ChaseParty in New Hampshire. In 1853, Tuck convened a secret meeting of men who were opposed to slavery and suggested that they create a party called  the "Republicans." Following on the heels of this successful meeting, Tuck assisted in the formal creation of the state party in 1856. Soon after, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1856 and 1860. Some historians assert that Abraham Lincoln, a personal friend of Tuck, would never have received the presidential nomination if not for his efforts.

A portrait of an old Amos TuckAfter leaving politics, Tuck received a naval officer's commission and was stationed in Boston during the Civil War. Here at Rauner, we have the document itself, which was signed by both Abraham Lincoln and Salmon P. Chase. One wonders how much of the war really reached Tuck in Boston, although there were riots in the city in 1863 over the attempt to draft large numbers of Irish immigrants into the Union Army. Regardless, Tuck knew enough of the horrors of war to persuade his son Edward, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1862, to pay a fee to avoid being conscripted. After the war, Amos would go on to make a fortune in the railroad business; Edward would later use railroad stock to found the Amos Tuck School of Administration and Finance at Dartmouth College in honor of his father.

To learn more about Amos Tuck, come to Rauner and explore the Tuck Family Papers (MS-442) and Amos Tuck 1835's alumni file.