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Chapter 4
from A History of Amherst College by William S. Tyler 1830

President Humphrey's Administration, from 1823 to 1825 --- Struggle for the Charter --- Legislative Investigation --- Final Success --- Seal of the College.

[Heman Humphrey.]In July, 1823, Rev. Heman Humphrey was chosen to the presidency.  His ministry of ten years in Fairfield, Connecticut, had been eminently useful and successful.  He had now been nearly six years pastor of the church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  His labors in both these places had been blessed with revivals of religion of great power.  He was already recognized as a pioneer and leader in the cause of temperance.  He was a zealous champion of orthodoxy, evangelical religion, Christian missions, and of all the distinctive principles of the founders of Amherst College.  In recognition of his high standing as an able divine and an efficient pastor he had just received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Middlebury College.  Although a Berkshire pastor, and a trustee of Williams College, he felt the force of the reasons for its removal, and when that plan was defeated by the action of the Legislature, he could not but sympathize with the high purpose and auspicious beginning of the institution at Amherst.

On the 15th of October, 1823, Dr. Humphrey was inducted into the presidency.  It marks a characteristic of the institution, perhaps also of the age, that a sermon was preached on the occasion.  The preacher was Rev. Richard Salter Storrs, of Braintree, Massachusetts.  "It was a discourse of scope, adaptation, eloquence, and power; in all respects of such engrossing interest as to make it no easy task for the speaker who should come after him.  The wise sophomores entertained serious doubts whether the president could sustain himself in his inaugural.  But this feeling soon subsided, and we were relieved of all our sophomoric fears and anxieties, as the president-elect, with a master's hand, opened the great subject of education---education physical, mental, and moral, holding his audience in unbroken stillness for perhaps an hour and a half.  If we were captivated by the eloquent preacher, we were not less impressed with the teachings and philosophy of the man who was to guide our feet in the paths of literature, science, and heavenly wisdom.  That discourse established in our minds his fitness for the position; at once he seized upon our confidence and esteem."

Cool and impartial criticism, after the lapse of almost half a century, can but justify the admiration which President Humphrey's inaugural inspired in the minds of those who heard it.  Perhaps nothing has ever proceeded from his pen which illustrates more perfectly the strong common sense, the practical wisdom, the sharp and clear Saxon style, the vigor of thought, fervor of passion and boldness, coupled sometimes with marvellous felicity of expression, and the healthy, hearty, robust tone of body, soul, and spirit, which the Christian public for so many years admired and loved in Dr. Humphrey.

The number of students at the time of Dr. Humphrey's accession to the presidency was nineteen seniors, twenty-nine juniors, forty-one sophomores, and thirty-seven freshmen---total, one hundred and twenty-six, of whom, we learn from the cover of the inaugural address, ninety-eight were hopefully pious.  The faculty, at the commencement of the new administration, consisted of the same persons who were thus associated with President Moore, with the addition of Samuel M. Worcester as tutor.  On the catalogue of the next year, published in November, 1824, we find the name of Rev. Nathan W. Fiske in place of Joseph Estabrook, as professor of the Latin and Greek languages; Samuel M. Worcester, teacher of languages and librarian; and Jacob Abbott, tutor---all names familiar afterwards as professors under the charter.  The new president seems to have made no change in the studies of the senior class, except that Locke disappears from the list and Vincent's Catechism is definitely announced for every Saturday---a place which it continued to occupy through Dr. Humphrey's entire presidency.  Instruction was also offered in the Hebrew, French and German languages, to such as wished it, for a reasonable compensation.  The president was still the sole teacher of the senior class.  He instructed them in rhetoric, logic, natural theology, the evidences of Christianity, intellectual and moral philosophy, and political economy.  He also presided at the weekly declamations in the chapel, and criticised the compositions of one or more of the classes.  He preached on the Sabbath, occasionally, in the village church so long as the students worshipped there; and when a separate organization was deemed advisable, be became the pastor of the college church and preached every Sabbath to the congregation.  He also sustained---from the first, I believe---a weekly religious lecture on Thursday evenings.  He early drew up the first code of written and printed "Laws of the Collegiate Charity Institution," the original of which is still preserved in his own handwriting, and labored to introduce more perfect order and system into the still imperfectly organized seminary.  At the same time he was compelled to take the lead in a perpetual struggle for raising funds and obtaining a charter.

Under such circumstances it is not surprising that Dr. Humphrey did not at once command the highest respect and veneration of the students in the chair of instruction.  Accustomed to love and almost worship his predecessor, they very naturally drew comparisons to his disadvantage.  Dr. Moore had been a teacher for the larger part of his life.  Dr. Humphrey had no experience in the government or the instruction of a college.  His strength at this time was in the pulpit and the pastoral office.  The students also contrasted his plain manners, his distance and reserve, with the courtly air and winning address of his predecessor.  Hence, while he enjoyed their respect as a man, their confidence as a Christian, and their admiration as an eloquent preacher, as a teacher and a president he was not popular with his earlier classes.

A joke perpetrated about this time has taken its place as a classic among the most famous of Amherst stories, and deserves to be narrated here, not only as illustrative of Dr. Humphrey's character and administration, but because it proved a turning-point in his reputation.  The story cannot be better told than in his own words:  "One morning as I came into prayers, I found the chair preoccupied by a goose.  She looked rather shabby to be sure, nevertheless it was a veritable goose.  Strange as it may seem, she did not salute me with so much as a hiss for my unceremonious intrusion.  It might be because I did not offer to take the chair.  As anybody might venture to stand a few moments, even in such a presence, I carefully drew the chair up behind me as close as I safely could, went through the exercises, and the students retired in the usual orderly manner, not more than two or three, I believe, having noticed anything uncommon.  In the course of the day it was reported, and as soon as they found out what had happened, they were highly excited and proposed calling a college meeting to express their indignation that such an insult had been offered by one of their number.  The hour of evening prayers came, and at the close of the usual exercises I asked the young gentlemen to be seated a moment.  I then stated what I had heard, and thanked them for the kind interest they had taken in the matter, told them it was just what I should expect from gentlemen of such high and honorable feelings, but begged them not to give themselves the least trouble in the premises.  'You know,' I said, 'that the trustees have just been here to organize a college faculty.  Their intention was to provide competent instructors in all the departments, so as to meet the capacity of every student.  But it seems that one student was overlooked, and I am sure they will be glad to learn that he has promptly supplied the deficiency by choosing a goose for his tutor.  Par nobile fratrum.'"  The effect may well be imagined.

Rev. T. R. Cressey, of the class of 1828, writes:  The president's 'Par nobile fratrum,' with its accompanying bow of dismissal, was instantly followed by a round of applause.  And such shouts of derision as the boys raised while they went down those three flights of stairs, crying, 'Who is brother to the goose?'  'Who is brother to the goose?'  The question was never answered.  But from that hour presidential stock went up to a high figure, and never descended while I had any personal acquaintance with Amherst College."

We must now go back a little, and trace the efforts to obtain a charter from their beginning.  The first application to the Legislature of Massachusetts for a charter was made in the winter session of 1823.  The petition of President Moore was referred to a joint committee of the two houses on the 17th and 18th of January.  On the 25th of January the committee reported that the petition be referred to the next General Court.  But so far from being referred with the usual courtesy, the report was not accepted, and the petition was unceremoniously rejected by both houses, nearly all the members voting against it, including the representative from Amherst.

Such uncourteous and unreasonable opposition only increased the number and zeal of the friends of the college.  Nothing daunted, they resolved to renew their application for a charter at the very next session.  Accordingly in June, 1823, a petition was presented by Rev. Dr. Moore, Hon. John Hooker and others of the trustees of Amherst Academy, requesting that they might be invested with such corporate powers as are usually given to the trustees of colleges.

At the same session of the Legislature a memorial was presented from the subscribers of the charity fund, praying that the request of the trustees to be invested with corporate powers might be granted.  The petition and memorial were referred to a joint committee from both houses of the Legislature.  Of this committee, consisting of seven members, six agreed in a report in favor of the petitioners having leave to bring in a bill.

After listening to remarks by the chairman of the joint committee in favor of their report, without further discussion, the Senate voted on Monday, June 9th, to refer the consideration of the report to the next session of the same General Court, and on Tuesday the 10th, the House of Representatives concurred with the Senate in so referring it.  Just fifteen days after, President Moore sickened, and, after an illness of only four days, died, his death being hastened, no doubt, if not caused, by repeated disappointments and delays in the incorporation of the college, and his toils and cares now devolved on his successor.

On Wednesday, the 21st of January, 1824, according to the vote of reference passed at the summer session, the report of the joint committee in favor of granting a charter came up in the Senate, and it was debated during the greater part of three days by twelve of the ablest members.  The longest and one of the ablest speeches in behalf of the college was made by Hon. Samuel Hubbard, of Boston.  He said that the objections against the charter, so far as he had learned, were four, all founded on local or petty considerations:  First, that another college was not needed.  Second, that Williams College would be injured.  Third, that it was inexpedient to multiply colleges.  Fourth, that the petitioners would ask for money.  In answer to the first objection, he argued that there was a great want of men of education and piety and morals; and that this want was felt by the good people of the Commonwealth, as proved by their voluntary contributions to the institution at Amherst.  "There is seldom an instance of a college being founded like this, by the voluntary contributions of thousands.  Out of the fifty colleges in England, there is not one but what was founded by an individual, except Christ College, in Oxford."  In answer to the second objection, he pointed to the fact that the number of students at Williams College had increased from an average of sixty or seventy to one hundred and eighteen, and that of Amherst being one hundred and twenty-six, the two institutions contained more than three times the previous average at Williams.  In reply to the third objection, he insisted, as many other senators did, that small colleges are better than large ones, and two hundred students can be governed and instructed much better than four hundred.  In answer to the fourth objection, several preceding speakers had argued that granting the charter did not involve the necessity or the duty of giving money; but Mr. Hubbard said, "What if it does?  Such grants do not impoverish the state.  The liberal grants which have been made to Harvard and Williams are the highest honor of the state, and have redounded to the good of the people."

Meeting boldly and on high ground the prejudice against Amherst as an orthodox institution, Mr. Hubbard declared that "all that is great and good in our land sprang from orthodoxy.  This spirit of orthodoxy animated the Pilgrims whom we delight to honor as our forefathers.  It has founded all our colleges and is founded on a rock."

More than one of the speakers reminded the Senate that Amherst represented not only the orthodoxy, but the yeomanry of Massachusetts, and they must be prepared to give an account of their votes to the mass of the people.  "If we refuse a charter," said Hon. Mr. Fiske, "how are we when we leave this hall, how are we to face the mass of population who are interested in this college?  They will say, 'You incorporate theaters, you incorporate hotels, you have incorporated a riding-school.  Are you more accommodating to such institutions than to those which are designed to promote the great interests of literature, science, and religion?'"

"By refusing a charter," said Hon. Mr. Leland, the great body of country citizens are wantonly deprived of the privilege of a college.  Something more than the feelings of orthodoxy will be awakened.  The people will feel that there is a disposition on the part of Government to maintain an aristocratic monopoly.  And rely upon it, your next election will bring persons here who will acknowledge the rights of the people."

The vote was at length taken, on Friday, January 23d, and the question being on the acceptance of the report, giving leave to bring in a bill, twenty-two out of thirty-seven voted in the affirmative.

On Tuesday, January 27th, the subject was taken up in the House of Representatives, and debated with much earnestness on that and the three following days and then postponed till the next week.  On Tuesday, February 3d, it was resumed, and further discussed, and the question being taken on concurring with the Senate, it was decided in the negative by a majority of nineteen votes out of one hundred and ninety-nine.

"So," said the editor of the "Boston Telegraph" (Gerard Hallock), "the House declined to incorporate the college.  Although the result is not such as the numerous friends of the college could have wished, it is certainly no discouraging circumstance that so great a change has taken place in the views of the Legislature on the subject, and especially in the views of the community.  Let the same spirit go on for a few months longer, and the institution at Amherst will be, what it doubtless ought to be, a chartered college."

Grieved, but not disheartened by this result, the guardians and friends of the college resolved to renew the application and began at once the preparations for a third campaign.  The first campaign document was an announcement of their intention to apply again to the Legislature for a charter, together with a concise statement of the reasons why such a petition ought to be granted.  This document, signed by President Humphrey, and bearing date March 12, 1824, was published in more than thirty newspapers in all parts of the Commonwealth.  And such was the sympathy manifested by the press, and such also the increase in the number of students, that a conundrum, started by the "Greenfield Gazette," went the rounds of the newspapers:  "Why are the friends of Amherst College like the Hebrews in Egypt?  Because the more they are oppressed, the more they multiply and prosper."

The petition of the trustees was backed by a petition of the founders and proprietors which was signed by about four-fifths of the subscribers to the charity fund.  And these were further supported by more than thirty petitions from as many different towns, and signed by more than five hundred subscribers to other funds.  In the Senate, the petition was promptly referred to a committee of three, to be joined by the House.  In the House an attempt was made to prevent even a reference.  But after considerable discussion this was almost unanimously voted down, and a committee of four members was joined to that already appointed by the Senate, and all the petitions, together with a remonstrance from Williams College, were referred to this joint committee.

On Monday, May 31st, President Humphrey appeared before the joint committee, and, in the presence of a crowd of spectators, pleaded the cause of the petitioners in a speech which was as entertaining as it was unanswerable, and which Hon. Lewis Strong, of Northampton, a competent and impartial judge, pronounced to be probably the ablest speech which was made in the State House during that session of the Legislature.  On the following day, after an examination of witnesses, Homer Bartlett, Esq., of Williamstown, appeared on the part of the opposition and spoke against the incorporation, and was followed by Hon. Mr. Davis, solicitor-general of the State, in an able and eloquent plea in favor of granting the charter.  On Thursday, the committee reported that the petitioners have leave to bring in a bill.  This report was brought before the Senate the same day, and accepted without any opposition.  On Friday, the subject was taken up in the House, and, after considerable debate, assigned to eleven o'clock on Tuesday of the ensuing week.  Thus the consideration of the matter was put off to within five days of the close of the session.  When it came up again on Tuesday, a desperate effort was made to secure first an indefinite postponement, and then a reference to the next session.  Both these motions having been negatived by a large majority, the House adjourned to four o'clock in the afternoon, when an animated and earnest discussion ensued, which continued till a late hour in the evening, and was resumed at nine o'clock the next morning.  "It was strenuously argued in opposition, chiefly by members from Berkshire and our own neighborhood, that a third college was not wanted in Massachusetts; that according to our own showing, we had not funds to sustain a college; that nothing like the amount presented on paper would ever be realized; and that there was reason to believe that many of the subscriptions had been obtained by false representations."

Under the influence of such suggestions a resolution was brought forward to refer the report of the joint committee, and all the papers relating to the subject, to a committee of five members with power to send for persons and papers, to sit at such time and place as they should deem expedient, and to inquire in substance, first, what reliable funds the institution had; second, what means had been resorted to by the petitioners, or by persons acting in their behalf, to procure subscriptions, and, third, what methods had been adopted to obtain students; this committee to report to the House at its next session.  After a warm discussion which lasted for three days, and when nearly sixty of the members had already gone to their homes, on the 10th of June, 1824, this resolution was adopted by a vote of one hundred and nine to eighty-nine, and the committee of investigation was appointed.

The committee, nominated by the chair, "were all intelligent, fair-minded men, but not one of them sympathized with us in our well-known orthodox religious opinions.  This, we thought, might, unintentionally on their part, operate against us.  But in the end it proved for our advantage."

The investigating committee having given notice that they would meet at Boltwood's Hotel in Amherst, on Monday, the 4th of October, that was to be the scene of the next act in the drama, and this part of the story can not be better told than in the language of Dr. Humphrey, who was the chief actor in it.

"Rarely has there been a more thorough and searching investigation.  All our books and papers were brought out and laid upon the table.  Nothing was withheld.  Every subscription, note, and obligation was carefully examined, and hardly anything passed without being protested by the able counsel against us.  Colonel Graves, our principal agent in obtaining the subscriptions, was present and closely questioned.  A lawyer who had been employed to look up testimony against us was there with the affidavits which he had industriously collected, and, at his request, a large number of subpoenas were sent out to bring in dissatisfied subscribers.  The trial lasted a fortnight.  The room was crowded from day to day with anxious listeners.  Were we to live or die?  Were we to have a charter, or to be forever shut out from the sisterhood of colleges?  That was the question, and it caused many sleepless nights in Amherst.  Whatever might be the result, we cheerfully acknowledged that the committee had conducted the investigation with exemplary patience and perfect fairness.  When the papers were all disposed of, the case was ably summed up by the counsel, and the committee adjourned.

"Many incidents occurred in the progress of the investigation which kept up the interest, and some of which were very amusing, but I have room for only two.  Among our subscriptions there was a very long list, amounting to several hundred dollars, of sums under one dollar, and not a few of these by females and children under age.  On these, it was obvious at a glance, there might be very considerable loss.  This advantage against us could not escape gentlemen so astute as our learned opponents.  It was reported, and I believe it was true, that they sat up nearly all night drawing off names and figuring, so as to be ready for the morning.  Getting an inkling of what they were about, three of our trustees drew up an obligation, assuming the whole amount, whatever it might be, and had it in readiness to meet the expected report.  The morning came; the session was opened; the parties were present; the gentlemen who had taken so much pains to astound the committee by their discovery were just about laying it on the table, when the obligation assuming the whole amount was laid on the table by one of the subscribers.  I leave the reader to imagine the scene of disappointment on the one side and of suppressed cheering on the other.  It turned out to be a fair money operation in our favor.

"The other incident was still more amusing.  When the notes came up to pass the ordeal of inquiry and protest, one of a hundred dollars was produced from a gentleman in Danvers.  'Who is this Mr. P.?' demanded one of the lawyers.  'Who knows anything about his responsibility?' 'Will you let me look at that note, sir?' said Mr. S. V. S. Wilder, one of our trustees.  After looking at it for a moment, taking a package of bank-bills from his pocket he said:  'Mr. Chairman, I will cash that note,' and laid down the money.  It was not long before another note was protested in the same way.  'Let me look at it,' said Mr. Wilder.  'I will cash it, sir,' and he laid another bank-bill upon the table.  By and by a third note was objected to.  'I will cash it, sir,' said Mr. Wilder, and was handing over the money when the chairman interposed:  'Sir, we did not come here to raise money for Amherst College,' and declined receiving it.  How long Mr. Wilder's package would have held out I do not know, but the scene produced a lively sensation all around the board, and very few protests were offered afterwards.

"The appointment of this commission proved a real windfall to the institution.  It gave the trustees opportunity publicly to vindicate themselves against the aspersions which had been industriously cast upon them, and it constrained them to place the charity fund on a sure foundation.  The investigation, to be sure, cost us some time and trouble, but it was worth more to us than a new subscription of ten thousand dollars."

On the 8th of January, 1825, the question was called up in the House, and the report of the investigating committee was presented and read.  After reporting the results of their investigations in the matters of fact referred to them, wherein they for the most part exonerate the trustees, officers, and agents of the institution of the charges against them, the committee said in conclusion:  "The refusal of the Legislature to grant a college charter to Amherst will not, it is believed, prevent its progress.  Whenever there is an opinion in the community that any portion of citizens are persecuted (whether this opinion is well or ill grounded) the public sympathies are directed to them; and instead of sinking under opposition they almost invariably flourish and gain new strength from opposition.  Your committee are therefore of opinion that any further delay to the incorporation of the Amherst institution would very much increase the excitement which exists in the community on this subject, and have a tendency to interrupt those harmonious feelings which now prevail and prevent that union of action so essential to the just influence of the State."

After repeated consideration and adjournment, with protracted and earnest debate day after day in the House, the question of accepting the report of the committee and giving leave to bring in a bill was at length brought to a vote on the 28th of January, and the yeas and nays being ordered, it was decided in the affirmative by a vote of one hundred and fourteen to ninety-five.  The next day, January 29th, the Senate concurred with the House.  And on the 21st of February, 1825, the bill, having been variously amended, passed to be enacted in both branches of the Legislature, and having received the signature of the lieutenant-governor, Marcus Morton, on the same day, became a law.  Thus, after a delay of three years and a half from the opening, and a struggle of more than two years from the time of the first petition, the institution at Amherst received a charter and was admitted to a name as well as a place among the colleges of Massachusetts.

The charter conferred upon the corporation the rights and privileges usually granted to the trustees of such institutions.  Two or three provisions only were peculiar, and as such worthy of notice.  The charter provides that the number of trustees shall never be greater than seventeen, and that the five vacancies which shall first happen in the board shall be filled as they occur by the joint ballots of the Legislature in convention of both houses; and whenever any person so chosen by the Legislature shall cease to be a member of the corporation, his place shall be filled in like manner, and so on forever.  This provision, quite unprecedented in the history of Massachusetts charters, was not in the bill as first reported, but was introduced as an amendment in the course of the discussion.  It was as illiberal as it was unprecedented.  It should be remembered, however, to the credit of subsequent Legislatures, that they usually appointed to such vacancies according to the nomination or the known wishes of the corporation, and in no instance filled them with persons obnoxious to the faculty and friends of the institution, and in 1874, the Legislature passed an act providing that the five trustees heretofore chosen by the Legislature shall hereafter be chosen by the graduates, subject to such rules, as may be adopted by the board of trustees and the alumni association.  According to these rules, these trustees are chosen one every year and hold office for five years, thus providing for the continual infusion of fresh blood from the alumni into the corporation.

It was a glad day for Amherst when the charter was secured.  President Humphrey and his associates, who had remained in Boston watching with intense anxiety the progress of the bill, returned home with light hearts.  The messenger who first brought the news was taken from the stage and carried to the hotel by the citizens.  The hotel, the college buildings, and the houses of the citizens were illuminated, and the village and the college alike were a scene of universal rejoicing.

On the 13th of April, the trustees under the charter held their first meeting in Amherst, organized the board and appointed the faculty.  The first annual meeting of the board under the charter was held on the 22d of August, 1825, which was the Monday preceding commencement.  At this meeting a code of laws was established for the government of the college, a system of by-laws adopted to regulate the proceedings of the trustees and their officers, and the organization of the faculty was changed by the establishment of new professorships and completed by the choice of additional professors.  The salary of the president was fixed at twelve hundred dollars with the usual perquisites.  The salaries of the professors, as they were voted at the first meeting of the board, varied from eight hundred dollars to six hundred dollars.  At the annual meeting, those which had been voted at six hundred dollars were raised to seven hundred dollars.  Rev. Edward Hitchcock was chosen professor of chemistry and natural history, with a salary of seven hundred dollars and the privilege of being excused for one year from performing such duties of a professor as he might be unable to perform "on account of his want of full health."  Mr. Jacob Abbott was appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, with a salary of eight hundred dollars, "one hundred of which, however, are to be appropriated by him annually, with the advice of the other members of the faculty, toward making repairs and additions to the philosophical apparatus."  Mr. Ebenezer S. Snell was chosen tutor in mathematics with a salary of four hundred dollars.

It was now voted to confer the degree of Bachelor of Arts on "any young gentlemen who have previously received testimonials of their college course in this college."  The same degree was then voted to be conferred on twenty-two young gentlemen of the senior class (1825) who had been recommended by the faculty.

The seal which was affixed to the diplomas was procured by the president and professors, to whom that duty was assigned by the trustees at their first meeting, and being approved and adopted by them at their first annual meeting, it has remained ever since the corporate seal of the college.  The device is a sun and a Bible illuminating a globe by their united radiance, with the motto underneath:  "Terras Irradient."  Around the whole run the words:  "SIGILL. COLL. AMHERST. MASS. NOV. ANG. MDCCCXXV."

 

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