Friday, February 2, 2018

I Thereafter...

Photograph taken of an aging Daniel Webster
 "It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!" These memorable words, as uttered by Daniel Webster during the Dartmouth College Case, have long since been enshrined in Dartmouth lore. However, while a great deal of academic literature has been written on the outcome of the case and its significance as a landmark Supreme Court Case, far less has been written about the proceedings of the case itself and the factors that created such an outcome. Throughout the course of my Rauner Fellowship, my main research focus is on the dynamics and relationships that existed between the various actors and political factors that exerted influence within the Dartmouth College Case. I hope that an analysis of this landmark case may provide greater insight into our modern conception of Constitutional legitimacy.

The research process has been simultaneously very exciting and very daunting. Having had very little prior experience working with special collections and archives, the work of approaching a project grounded in primary sources has posed several unique challenges. Working with handwritten letters and newspaper clippings is a far cry from the academic articles and government documents I am generally accustomed to. It is exhilarating to come across new pieces of information in these letters that may not even be found in existing academic articles written on this topic, but learning to decode the handwriting of these manuscripts has also given me a great appreciation for the difficulty of conducting such analysis.

During the past week, I came across a letter from Daniel Webster to Jeremiah Mason, a fellow lawyer, notifying him of their victory in the Dartmouth College Case. Embedded within this manuscript was what I suspected to be a crucial passage relating to the outcome of the case and Webster’s interpretation of their success. However, these important lines were clustered in four lines of indecipherable text at the end of the letter.

First and back page of Marsh letter
While the letter’s handwriting had started off neat and legible, it had quickly devolved over the course of its two pages. Although my advisor Mr. Carini had cautioned me early on about the difficulties of transcribing letters, I only came to finally appreciate and understand his words at this moment. After spending nearly an hour puzzling over these final lines, I passed the letter along to Mr. Carini and Mr. Satterfield in the hopes that their professional expertise would be able to shed light on these indecipherable lines. Together, we were able to piece together a few more words from the final lines of the letter, specifically the line, "Our Bench argument goes on. I thereafter…" However, we remained stumped as to what the last two lines of the letter were.

Second page and facing blank page of Marsh letterDespite having since revisited this letter repeatedly throughout the last few days, the final lines of Webster’s letter to Mason remain elusively out of reach. I've come to realize that this is just a natural part of the process of working with manuscript. I hope that as I continue to work with Webster’s letters, I will reach a point where I no longer have trouble with reading his handwriting. However, as a reader, if you think you've figured out what the last four lines of the letter say, please feel free to send us your thoughts!

To see the letter in person, visit Rauner Library and ask for Webster 819174.1. To see the photograph of an aging Daniel Webster, ask for Iconography 1649.

Posted for Weiling Huang '19, recipient of a Rauner Student Research Fellowship for the 2018 Winter term. The Rauner Student Research Fellowships provide full funding for a Dartmouth student to conduct research with primary sources during an off-term on a topic of their choosing. For more information, visit the fellowship's website.