Wednesday, March 25, 2009

John Taylor of Caroline Says, "Ouch!"

Having spent some time in New Haven myself, I got a particular kick out of this story related by Susan Dunn in Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia (which I'm enjoying very much).

In 1805, John Taylor of Caroline apparently wrote to Timothy Dwight, then President of Yale College, concerning the admission of his (Taylor's) son to the school. Dwight responded with a cutting letter illustrating "the widening cultural chasm between North and South":
"Permit me to say that I do not think it would forward your design to send your son to this college," . . . Dwight wrote dismissively . . .. As far as Dwight was concerned, young Virginians inhabited another sphere, so unsuited were they for serious study in New Haven. "If I may judge from the Virginia youths who have been here during my presidency," he observed, "I cannot form a rational hope that youths from that country will at all acquire here any portion of the New England manners." Most of the southern students who had attended Yale, Dwight wrote, "despised and hated our manners,morals, industry, and religion. No part of our system or conduct was agreeable to them."

Dunn reports that, to his credit, Taylor for the most part kept to the high road in response to Dwight:
Rather than exacerbating regional differences [Taylor suggested], shouldn't the nation's colleges promote understanding among the states and help obliterate those differences? "Consider, sir, the consequences of academical institutions, which teach local prejudices, State enmities, and individual hatred. What will become of the Union and national happiness, if errors calculated to arm State against State, with the most deadly moral weapons, are inculcated by zeal, rendered doubly dangerous by credulity?"

Dwight's letter strikes me as particularly odd because another southerner, John C. Calhoun, had graduated from Yale just the year before. I don't have my Calhoun biographies with me, but Dwight no doubt admitted him and my recollection is that Calhoun performed brilliantly, despite little prior formal education, and got on famously with Dwight.

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