University of Rochester History: Chapter 2, Hamilton vs. Rochester

HAMILTON versus ROCHESTER

Madison County nestles serenely in the heart of New York State. Its principal community, Hamilton, incorporated in 1812 but settled a generation earlier, is situated about twenty-nine miles southwest of Utica and a stagecoach required at least five hours to travel from one place to the other. Lying close to the Chenango River in a beautiful valley noted for its fertility and healthy climate, Hamilton contained approximately 1,500 inhabitants and was a stronghold of the Baptist denomination; townsmen earned their livelihood mainly by supplying the wants of the farmers in the encircling countryside and by small processing mills.

With time, education of youth became the biggest single source of village income; many townsmen lived off students or lived off them that lived off students. At Hamilton in 1817, the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York was organized "for the purpose of educating pious young men in the gospel ministry, " and early in the 1830's plans to found a preparatory school, a college, and a theological seminary matured. All three were intended to train men for Baptist pulpits, in defiance of a large body of conviction in the denomination that an educated ministry was not only uncalled for but was positively harmful for a valid approach to the realities of life and the mystery of death. Formal instruction commenced in 1820 and two years later a college class graduated--five men. How the Hamilton educational establishment was connected with the University of Rochester is disclosed farther along.

Since both institutions came into being under the patronage of the Baptist version of Christianity, the first exclusively, the second substantially, it will be appropriate to outline the content of that faith. Whether on the Continent of Europe or in England, the Baptists belonged to an extreme wing of Reformation secessionists. In the New World the Baptist denomination was chiefly shaped by English Baptists, who emerged as an organized communion in the first half of the seventeenth century; arch critics, scornful of this non-conformist group, attached to its adherents the term "Baptists" as an epithet--and it endured. For several centuries, small knots of Christians in western Europe cherished ideas and practiced customs that were woven into the Baptist pattern. It has even been asserted that "the first Baptist missionary journal was the Acts of the Apostles!" 1

For the Baptists, the Scriptures, supernaturally inspired, constitutes the sole and inerrant authority in the sphere of Christian faith and conduct. As they read the New Testament it clearly taught their denominational peculiarity, baptism by immersion upon profession of faith; the Word of God contained no convincing justification for the convention of infant baptism. Adopting the principle of "the priesthood of believers," Baptists prided themselves on the simplicity of their faith, devoid of sacramentalism. They insisted that there was no higher earthly mandate than the personal conscience, a belief that fostered rampant individualism, doctrinal cleavages, experimentalism, and sectarian divisiveness. Ascetic piety and earnest fulfillment of Christian duties were benchmarks of the devout Baptist; he was expected to exemplify the Christian way of life in righteous, humanitarian behavior and to stand unflinchingly for total separation of church and government.

Each Baptist congregation managed its own affairs independently in keeping with the fundamental concepts of discussion and consent, dialogue and consensus, but leagues or associations of churches on a geographical basis promoted denominational cooperation. Though handicapped by endless internal dissensions, especially between the free-will or evangelical Arminian interpretation of the faith and, Calvinistic predestinarianism, the Baptist constituency in England surged ahead late in the eighteenth century and zealous mission workers started to carry the gospel message to the virgin fields of southern Asia.

Long since, the Baptists had planted themselves in English America, the first church being formed in 1638 at Providence, Rhode Island. On this side of the Atlantic, as in England, schismatic deviations retarded the growth of the denomination and so did mild persecution by civil authorities. Philadelphia, New York, and their environs, however, developed into important Baptist centers, all benefiting from a steady flow of British immigrants. After the Revolution, waves of evangelical revivalism, more emotional on the advancing frontier than in relatively sophisticated urban centers, carried multitudes into the Baptist fold. By the mid-1840's some 9,000 Baptist churches were in service in the United States, more below Mason and Dixon's line than north of it; membership exceeded three-quarters of a million and the Baptist following was far larger than that since unbaptized children and youths were not reckoned in.

So common were religious revivals in Upstate New York that the area came to be called "the burned over district." Baptist preachers shared richly in this activity and wrought "a miracle of prosperity" for their denomination; Rochester in the 1840's counted three robust Baptist congregations. Elder Jacob Knapp admirably personified the roving Baptist evangelist, who, preaching hell-fire and brimstone in homespun frontier language, snatched hosts from the grasp of Satan.

Striking in personality, broad-shouldered and muscular of frame, Knapp favored direct and forceful gospel preaching; he was accustomed to invoke the sensational or even the vulgar if he imagined that kind of talk would save souls. The Elder is credited with baptizing 4,000 people and with guiding two hundred young men into the ministry--the fruitage of some 16,000 sermons! An Upstate New Yorker in origins, Knapp was among the first matriculants at the Hamilton Institution and, later, for fifteen years the village was his home. 2

Federations of Baptist congregations were formed in New York State, and New York City, which had a large Baptist constituency, supplied spiritual leadership to the denomination along with funds for educational and missionary enterprises. Hundreds of unlettered Baptist ministers encouraged widespread aversion to "man-made" preachers, but other elements in the sect insisted that a trained clergy was an absolute necessity.

Back in 1764, Baptist interests had set up Rhode Island College--later Brown University--which remained under denominational control without, however, being narrowly sectarian. Half a century elapsed before other collegiate facilities, under Baptist sponsorship emerged; then came in fairly rapid fashion Waterville College (Colby), the Hamilton Institution, Columbian University (George Washington), Denison, Shurtleff, and others in the American heartlands, Richmond, Wake Forest College, Baylor University, and lesser establishments in the South. The famous Baptist Newton (Mass.) Theological Institution, which opened its doors in 1825, pioneered in requiring a college degree for admission to studies in religious disciplines.

II

By the 1840's, the campus of the Hamilton Institution (Colgate University, after 1890)--part of a hundred and thirty acre tract--with its verdant (or snow-clad) fields and wooded lanes had been converted into an oasis of singular charm and beauty. 3 The two principal structures, large stone edifices containing a chapel, recitation rooms, halls for literary societies, reading alcoves, and student sleeping quarters, were perched picturesquely on a hilltop, a fair distance from the village where several faculty families had their homes; three teachers lived close to the main buildings and near them, too, stood the student boarding house. University properties were valued at more than $40,000 in the currency of the time. Not only were students responsible for keeping the institutional facilities tidy and warm, but they landscaped the campus; stately maples then set out were flourishing a century and a quarter later.

As of 1846, the collegiate department at Hamilton enrolled a hundred and forty-six learners, four out of five of them preparing to fill Baptist pulpits or to carry forward the task of Christian conversion overseas; the theological seminary counted thirty students and the preparatory school an equal number. As a general proposition, a young man going into the ministry studied four years at the college, topped off by two more of seminary work. Learners averaged about twenty-five years of age and they obtained an education at small cost; tuition charges were only thirty dollars for three academic terms, and total expenses for ministerial aspirants were less than a hundred dollars for a year. Though young men belonging to any evangelical sect were welcome to enroll, few other than Baptists actually did so.

In classroom and without the accent rested on Christian observance, on the cultivation of personal piety by means of religious devotions, and strict discipline even extended into vacation periods; if an undergraduate took a wife unto himself, he was summarily dismissed. Literary societies, singing clubs, and informal physical exercise had the sanction of the Institution authorities, but secret fraternities, burgeoning at the time in American colleges generally, were prohibited and anything savoring of organized sports was frowned upon.

Studies reflected the emphasis on the preparation of ministers and followed intimately the curriculum of similar colleges of the time. Classical languages and literatures bulked large in the study pattern with mathematics, composition in English, and public speaking following along; a smattering of instruction was offered in what were later known as economics and physics ("natural philosophy" then) with dibs and dabs of chemistry, biology, and astronomy. Of "philosophical apparatus" there was precious little, and though the library of the institution boasted about 5,000 titles severe restrictions interfered with effective student use of this resource.

To Hamilton a learned and inspiring, if small, band of faculty scholars had been drawn in what may be described as an Augustan age. Chief executive from 1836 until his death in 1848 was a venerable and dignified theologian, Nathaniel Kendrick, who had started to teach at the opening of the institution. Perhaps the ablest scholar on the staff was the Hebrew specialist, Thomas J. Conant, who was very much at ease in the large world of ideas, urbane and reserved in manner. Teaching of Greek was the responsibility of Asahel C. Kendrick, a polished and highly refined gentleman of broad erudition, endowed with unusual linguistic gifts; he also served as librarian and was a relative of Nathaniel. John H. Raymond, youngest of the senior faculty, genial, witty, spirited--a resourceful "in-fighter" on occasion--held the professorship of Rhetoric and English Language; for their lifelong achievements this eminent Madison triumvirate would one day be given recognition, in the Dictionary of American Biography, nearly the highest accolade that could be conferred upon an American.

For Biblical Literature and "natural and revealed religion." there was sharp-tongued John S. Maginnis, who was likewise entrusted with carrying out routine administrative chores. The Latin language and literature were the province of the highly respected and suggestive teacher, John F. Richardson; all five of these men subsequently migrated to Rochester and resumed professorial labors at the newborn university there. Finally, George W. Eaton, a tall, formidable figure, pugnacious, diffusing an air of self-possessed superiority, bitingly sarcastic and impulsive on occasion, divided his abundant energies between ecclesiastical and secular history.

Faculty compensation, ranging from $800 to $1,000 a year, was conducive to high thinking and modest living in comfortable homes (some of them still - 1968 - in use), likely enough mortgaged. When salaries were not fully paid, as sometimes happened, professors were forced to go into debt in order to maintain their households.

This little company of scholars in Hamilton formed a tightly-knit circle, meeting weekly to dispose of general problems of the Institution, coming together regularly with the adults in their families to read and discuss literature, and sharing in divine worship at the Baptist Church in the town. Relations between gown and town were cordial, on the whole; faculty men generally preferred to keep silent on controversial public questions, especially the burning issue of Negro slavery, and to exercise a restraining influence on student discussion of the slave question.

Chartered in 1846 by the New York state legislature as Madison University, the institution remained under the joint jurisdiction of the Sate Baptist Education Society and a Board of Trustees, but in fact it was looked upon as a prideful possession of the entire Baptist denomination of New York. Decision-making on general policy was assigned to a board of twenty-seven trustees; all save one or two trustees belonged to the Baptist Church, seven pastors and the rest laymen. Four out of five trustees lived away from Hamilton; a dozen of them eventually served as trustees of the U. of R., and at least two more played important roles in the founding of the Flour City college.

III

Despite the surface calm, a good deal of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and discontent pervaded the academic Eden in Hamilton and therewith a yearning to transfer the institution to a larger, more intellectually active community. Ample precedents for a change of location were ready to hand; Brown University, for instance, had moved once and Yale College twice, before settling down permanently in cities. While the idea of removal may well have originated in Madison faculty circles (or more exactly have been revived there for it had been vaguely talked about a decade earlier), first perhaps in the mind of Asahel C. Kendrick, it came to be favored by a large proportion of the Madison trustee, alumni, and student bodies.

Small, isolated, remote from the main stream of busy New York State life, not easily accessible by rail transportation, the village of Hamilton lacked amenities that might exist or could be supplied in a thriving city--good libraries, public lectures, music and theater, and a substantial contingent of well educated men and women. Cities were "fireplaces of the mind," as the phrase ran, centers of mental activity, in which personality in contact with personality generated enterprise more effectively than in a rural environment. Professor Raymond, an ardent proponent of removal, wrote that he "had a depression of feeling from the extreme loneliness and inactivity of our secluded place..." In a moment of youthful ecstasy he dreamed of being transported "to some green hill-side near the queen-city of Western New York," where "I should hear airs ... rendered yet more powerfully persuasive by the blending tenor of the silvery Genesee and the rich base of its rapids and distant falls...." 4

It was likewise urged that Baptist higher learning in the Upstate region needed a fresh start, a fresh atmosphere in which greater attention should be devoted to educating men for secular pursuits and less to training for the pulpit. Certain friends of removal reasoned that the institution, if located in a prosperous and growing community with a promising future, would be able to obtain funds such as were essential for survival (not to speak of expansion) and would prove more attractive to students, especially to youths who were obliged to find jobs to supplement their resources, and to embryonic ministers who wanted a city as a sociological laboratory.

Everyday operating expenses of the Hamilton establishment, alas, outpaced income from student fees and Baptist benevolence, and debts accumulated; agents who called on churches and individual patrons in quest of money sometimes collected less than their own compensation. It was partly on the assumption that if the Institution were legally incorporated, financial aid could be secured from the state treasury, that a charter had been sought and after lengthy delay obtained in 1846. (A second consideration was a desire for the right to confer academic degrees). Against the wishes of some habitual donors, who preferred to rely upon annual contributions, or who were sure that poverty was the proper discipline of professors, a campaign for a permanent endowment fund was undertaken, but the outcome was disheartening, for only about ten percent of the goal was reached.

It was "the heavy pecuniary embarrassment" that furnished the principal and most persistent dynamism behind the movement to transplant Madison University in healthier soil. Nothing can be gained "by remaining at Hamilton," Professor Kendrick confided to the Rev. Pharcellus Church of Rochester, "The day has passed by for carrying this experiment any farther; we must have an Institution where it can best be sustained...." 5

It would be advantageous, too, it was argued, to plant a college at some distance from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, a scant twenty miles away, older and stronger in reputation than Madison, and highly competitive for students. Certain investigators of the angry removal dispute have been impressed with the importance of what may be termed the Maginnis affair; less popular in Hamilton than his colleagues, Maginnis had roused the ire of local abolitionists who charged that the Professor held heretical views on the slavery issue. Weightier, though, was an acrid quarrel that cropped up between the Biblical scholar and Elder Jacob Knapp; personality antagonisms, distaste for the violence of Knapp's evangelistic tactics, and clashing theological emphases each and all entered into the embittered feud. By reason of this quarrel, the governing authorities of Madison University dismissed Maginnis (1847), but his friends protested so loudly that he was reinstated; yet the affair may have been the spark that flamed up in the movement to forsake Hamilton; certainly Maginnis shared vigorously in discussions on removal. 6

Summing up the case for removal, the spearhead of the campaign, Trustee John N. Wilder, expressed himself in these terms: "... We are advocating its removal on the ground of its location, its dilapidated buildings, the badness of the roads leading to it, the smallness of its own library, its distance from other large libraries, the want of patronage from the part of our own denomination who are best off, no patronage from other denominations, its proximity to another literary institution (that is, Hamilton College), the incompetence of its local board, the ability of its faculty some of whom we fear cannot be retained unless something is done immediately, etc. etc.

"Rochester we advocate as the center of a large, wealthy and intelligent population numbering 5 or 600,000 without any local college excepting the little affair at Geneva, as [a city] having a population itself 3/4 as large as the whole of Madison County, as easy of access via the lakes from Vermont and the Canadas and the northern part of our own state, by lake and railroad from the Western States and the North River, and by [the] Erie Railroad from [the] southern tier of counties, the [Baptist] denomination in its vicinity probably better off than in any other part of the state and decidedly favorable to education...." 7

Precisely as partisans of removal discerned the guidance of the Almighty in their thought and actions, --"a marked interposition of Divine Providence," in the of one of them--so spokesmen on the other side believed that "God had chosen the University site at Hamilton, and that this site in his eyes would ever be glorious." Coupled with deep affection for the existing institution was the feeling that it was situated at "a point... hallowed in the regards of the denomination" and seemed "somewhat like an old tree that is incapable of life beyond the soil that gave it birth."

Foes of removal professed sublime confidence that the desperate financial perplexities could be surmounted and that a railway project under consideration would presently overcome the isolation of Hamilton. They called attention, also, to the legal character of agreements between townsmen and the Institution in the founding age--an argument that proved decisive in the end--and they stressed the sacrifice involved in abandoning academic properties and the slump that would ensue in the village economy if the University were moved away.

Furthermore, certain anti-removalists entered into the general debate regarding rural and urban values of living then engaging the western mind. Not only was it cheaper to reside in a country town, but it was healthier for body, mind, and spirit, the contention ran. Anti-urban prejudices, it may be recalled, were deep-rooted in the heritage of western civilization; had not Jean Jacques Rousseau in the celebrated Émile proclaimed that "men are not made to be crowded together in ant-hills, but scattered over the earth to till it. The more they are massed together the more corrupt they become?" Had not Thomas Jefferson decried cities as "ulcers on the body politic"? And the prolific and popular American novelist and religious romancer, Joseph H. Ingraham, informed his generation: "Adam and Eve were created and placed in a garden. Cities are the result of their fall."

To transplant a seat of learning from the tranquil Chenango countryside to an expanding urban community would expose unsophisticated youths to city vices and temptations, to the perils of political ferment and mass turbulence, and impair their moral and religious sentiments, it was asserted. If the men who "wish to convert the character of the now Madison University into the wild character which Yale College has attained, " declared a militant adversary of removal, "let them remove it to Rochester, Utica, or Syracuse, and they will doubtless have a wilder set of young men under their care than they now have." 8

So the argumentation pro and con rocked forth and back, fro and to during three years - 1847 to 1850 of acrimonious quarreling. It is to the course of the bitter controversy that attention must now turn.

IV

During the Commencement season at Madison University in the summer of 1847, the future of the struggling institution came under discussion by faculty, trustees, and alumni and appears to have been resumed at a dinner party on August 19, 1847, in a Hamilton hotel. Host on that occasion was a thirty-three old Madison trustee, John N. Wilder, who perhaps by then had come to believe that the University should be transplanted to a city, possibly Albany, or Utica, or Syracuse, or Rochester. It was his energetic personal efforts, more than the work of any other man, that sustained and advanced the cause of removal; eventually, Wilder became a key personality in the creation of a new university in Rochester, giving several years of his life to that objective. Thanks to a comfortable fortune inherited from his uncle and guardian, a merchant of Albany, he had leisure to devote himself to educational, scientific, and charitable undertakings.

Born in 1814 either in Pittstown, Maine (after 1820), or New Braintree, Massachusetts--the evidence is conflicting--Wilder was bereft of his father when young and had only limited formal education. Reputed to have been a gay and worldly young blade, he seems to have been converted through the intercessions of Elder Knapp, joined the Baptist Church, and faithfully served its interests, as a trustee of Madison University, for example. Wilder read extensively on theology to good purpose, took an active part in the Sunday school movement, and now and then arranged religious devotions for the children of his family circle, leading in hymn-singing, reading Bible passages, and even delivering sermonettes. Though he came to regard living as a very serious enterprise, Wilder, nonetheless, loved fun, and was known as a sprightly conversationalist, a natural and persuasive public speaker, and a man with fine literary tastes. Since Rochester was the home of two sisters of Wilder's wife and of her only brother, he visited the city from time to time, and, practical man of affairs that he was, he eventually decided that the Madison, educational center should be moved thither. Once that conclusion had been reached Wilder applied himself unstintingly to its implementation. 9

In September of 1847, men with Madison connections journeyed to Rochester to confer with area Baptist leaders on the practicality of bringing the Hamilton enclave of learning to the Flour City. At that juncture the "Presbyterian" university plans for Rochester had not quite dwindled to the vanishing point, but they were headed in that direction. Among the pilgrims were the Rev. Elisha Tucker, a Madison trustee, sometime pastor of Rochester's Second Baptist Church, Wilder, and Professors Maginnis and Conant, all but the last definitely in the camp of the removalists. They conferred particularly with the Rev. Pharcellus Church, an alumnus of the Hamilton Institution, and at the 1847 Madison Commencement he had been awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity.

Though desirous of having a college in Rochester, Church had lively reservations with regard to removal, yet he organized two small meetings of interested members of his church to consider the proposition. At the second consultation on September 12, 1847, a majority of those present endorsed the idea of moving the Hamilton academic center to Rochester and pledged about $10,000 toward an endowment, a committee was appointed to ascertain the attitude of Baptists in western New York on removal.

At another Rochester meeting eight days later, assembled Baptist adopted a proposal, handed up by Wilder, requesting the Madison trustees to seek the approval of the state legislature for transferal of the University to the city on the Genesee or to its vicinity; a second resolution called upon Monroe County Baptists to raise $ 30,000 for an endowment fund. Fully appreciating that he had undertaken no light assignment, Wilder, by now the acknowledged head of the removal scheme, applied to Professor A. C. Kendrick for statistical data on conditions at Hamilton to reinforce his arguments. "Our object is to show, " he said, "that the hand of God has been in it [the removal project] and the finger of his providence now seems to beckon it away." Kendrick was also requested to supply a list of alumni to whom an appeal for cooperation could be addressed. Assurances of support flowed in from western New York Baptists, and Wilder personally pledged financial aid as did the Baptist churches of Rochester. 10

To promote the removal cause a ''Circular to the Friends of Madison University" was drafted, possibly by Church, his hesitation overcome. It set forth the handicaps of the Hamilton location and waxed ecstatic over the opportunities that "wealthy, intelligent, and enterprising" Rochester offered. It was remarked that a transplanted university would rest "on a liberal and non-sectarian basis," and that "other denominations have come to our assistance... under the sense of a common necessity for a university in western New York." Readers of the document learned that $ 30,000 had been subscribed, and they were besought to make contributions. 11

The possibility that Madison University might leave Hamilton prompted the newspapers of cities on "the great central avenue through the state"-- Syracuse, Utica, and Auburn--to enter bids for their particular community to become the heir instead of Rochester. A Syracuse journal, for instance, confidently claimed that New York State Baptists in the main preferred the Salt City to the Flour City as the future home of Madison University; it biliously chided Rochester for trying "with her characteristic appropriating propensity" to get hold of Madison University.

Excited by the prospect of securing "not an incipient institution, but the one of established reputation," and nudged a bit by Wilder, the Rochester press paraded the merits of their city. Impetus to the removal venture was given by the realization that the "Presbyterian" university scheme had definitely failed to attract the money that had been sought. If the Genesee community were chosen as "the future home of Madison University, it will be Rochester received with open arms, hearts, and purses," declared one Rochester journal of opinion. In a tart allusion to "the grasping ambition of Syracuse," an editor commented, "We should like to see some movement made that Syracuse could not get in her fingers." Syracuse wanted "all the State Fairs and State Institutions, the Halls of Legislation.... and now claims Madison University."

"Citizens of Rochester," began an exhortation in the press, almost certainly composed by Wilder, "A project is on foot to remove a full-grown University of high character and standing... to this place. Nothing is needed... but a display of liberality on your part.... Another chance to secure a prize of this nature will never present itself again." Joining the chorus, the Rev. Mr. Holland "indulged the hope" that "this well established institution" would come to Rochester and that citizens would provide the needed funds liberally and promptly. 12

Meantime, on October 28, 1847, influential Rochester community leaders gathered at City Hall to learn about the removal proposal, and listened to spirited addresses on the subject by Wilder, Church, the Rev. Samuel Luckey, a Methodist clergyman, and others. Those veteran champions of higher education in Rochester, Dewey and Holland, gave their blessing to the removal plans, which received unanimous approval at the meeting; a committee, representing several Protestant denominations, was chosen to publicize "the great enterprise" and to gather funds. Among the Baptist stalwarts on the committee was Deacon Oren Sage, a well-to-do boot and shoe manufacturer, who had virtually no formal schooling himself, but he was deeply interested in the in the provision of facilities for the higher education of young men. Once a supporter of the academic center at Hamilton, he worked with zeal and generosity, rivalling Wilder, to establish a university in Rochester. His son, William N. Sage, a recent graduate of Brown University, and destined to be a tower of strength in U. of R. affairs for two generations, energetically promoted the removal interest. Church, Dewey, and Holland took places on the organizing committee and so did the Rev. James B. Shaw, pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church.

In its publicity, the committee emphasized that the acquisition of Madison University would be something quite different from the earlier project to create an entirely new institution in Rochester. To allay any suspicion of sectarian domination it was stated that "though under denominational influence (experience shows this to be necessary to the success of a college), the institution would be placed among us on a most liberal unsectarian basis..." Presently, that affirmation was marginally modified by an announcement that the collegiate branch of the university-to-be would be managed by a board drawn from several Protestant sects, while a theological seminary would be under exclusive Baptist direction, which would, however, neither "influence nor control" the college. 13

The Rochester press was bombarded with letters applauding the removal project and reciting the advantage of obtaining an institution which was already a going concern and whose "professors are men of literary standing and high moral character. It was also stressed that "this noble and glorious enterprise" would bring at least $30,000 yearly into the business stream of the city.

To put the university into operation a minimum goal of $150,000 was set, half to be raised in the western New York region. It was also disclosed that if Madison University were not transferred to Rochester, Baptists would proceed to found a seat of learning there which would have competitive and crippling consequences for the institution at Hamilton. Highly gratified over the initial response on subscriptions, Wilder reported $34,000 in hand before November of 1847 had run its course; by mid-December, Church was writing that between $50,000 and $60,000 had been pledged. "Presbyterians have given us about $ 5,000, Episcopalians about $4,000, Unitarians and Universalists, $1,000, Congregationalists, $500, and the Nothingarians about $2,500"; individuals whose church affiliation was unknown had offered a site for the university, he reported, valued at $8,000. Wilder had hurried to New York City to raise funds, and on the outcome of this mission, Church thought, the whole undertaking hinged. Names of the trustees for the projected institution, residing outside of Rochester, were published; a large proportion of them were prominent Baptists and Madison trustees. 14

While developments moved on apace in Rochester, the opponents of removal, notably Professor Eaton of the Madison faculty and certain Hamilton townsmen, marshalled their forces to keep the institution where it was; the local paper warned that the, departure of the University would mean a loss to the town of upwards of $30,000 a year. Eaton undertook the leadership in what amounted to a spirited, unrelenting crusade; he was animated by a sense of high moral principle, though a captious critic thought he was driven on by unwillingness to sacrifice his fine private residence. "Zeal for his house hath eaten (Eaton) him up," it was laconically remarked. 15

Following meetings on November 25 and December 6, 1847, Hamiltonians who wished to keep the University in the town formed a committee of defense and ratified an elaborate manifesto, drafted by Eaton, which was in the nature of a counterblast to the Rochester "Circular." Entitled "A Candid Appeal of the Citizens of Hamilton, to the Friends and Patrons of Madison University throughout the State of New York," the document attacked vigorously and in detail the proposals "to get our noble University away from us." Stock arguments for remaining in the village were rehearsed and readers were reminded that prestige centers of learning in New England such as Amherst, Dartmouth, and Williams, flourished in a rural atmosphere.

The "Appeal" repudiated the very suggestion of transforming the Madison establishment into "a great secular institution" some of whose policymakers would not be Baptists. It was likewise pointed out that a legal barrier against removal existed in the form of financial agreements between the town of Hamilton and the Institution at the time of its inception; if necessary to block removal, the validity of these understandings would be tested in courts of law. That Madison required additional resources was all too evident, and Hamiltonians promised to raise $15,000 for a new building, if an endowment fund of $100,000 was elsewhere secured; within a week townsman subscribed $8,300. 16

The case of Hamilton versus Rochester, a cold war of hot words, penetrated to the columns of Baptist periodicals published in New York State, some supporting one side, some the other. Wilder and Eaton and their respective allies hastened to Manhattan to enlist the backing of prominent Baptists there for their respective contentions. Meetings in New York at the end of 1847 and in January, 1848, however, produced no firm decision one way or the other; no verdict could be reached, it was said, until the voice of Divine Providence sounded more distinctly and louder.

To set up a new university at Rochester, competitive with Madison, "would prove a grave, and a wasteful, if not a ruinous schism," certain Baptist churchmen in New York City admonished. Both sets of protagonists maneuvered industriously to win to their cause. Deacon William Colgate, a prosperous soapmaker and influential Baptist, who had been making annual gifts to Madison, but was morally opposed to a permanent endowment; but Colgate procrastinated, declined to commit himself on the removal issue. As Wilde, rather discouraged, judged the situation, "the tide was fast rising in favour" of the Rochester plan until the appearance of Eaton on the New York scene. "Deacon Colgate is the man to be reached," he wrote. "Eaton I fear has bewitched him...." 17

Upstate, the removal interest gathered momentum. Buffalo Baptists promised $5,000 for the endowment fund and ministers and laymen, assembled at Wyoming, New York, on January 11, 1848, strongly endorsed the Rochester location. The Rev. Pharcellus Church presented "An Address to the Baptist Churches of the State of New York, on the Subject of Removing and Endowing The Madison University," in which he recapitulated the advantages of Rochester and made the telling point that the foremost figure in Baptist higher education, Francis Wayland, President of Brown University, favored removal "Let nothing hold you back," Wayland adjured, "but the direct intimations of God that it is contrary to his will to remove the Institution to Rochester. Let any man look fifty years in advance, and he is a strange being if he doubts thirty seconds."

Poking fun at the "counter-movement" underway at Hamilton, Church recalled that years of strenuous effort had not placed Madison University on a viable financial foundation and he thought it would be futile to try to do so again. Signed by sixteen clergymen and laymen, the Wyoming "Address" was printed and extensively circulated. An embittered Hamiltonian sharply charged that Church, an alumnus in effect and, the recent recipient of an honorary degree from Madison, had now raised his "snaky head and thrust out his [your] envenomed tongue, to destroy that which warmed him [you] into life and influence." 18

Significant boosts for the removal cause came in the shape of letters of approval signed by a majority of the Madison faculty and of a petition endorsed by nearly a hundred Madison students at a meeting of one hundred and forty; "westward" served as the undergraduate watchword. For all his expressions of confidence in public, Church was extremely skeptical as to whether removal could in fact be brought off; the end results of the fierce quarrel might be that Madison University would collapse and an institution in Rochester might never be born, or, prophetically, he suggested that two centers of higher education in New York State under Baptist patronage might emerge. 19

Leading Baptists of eastern New York, sympathetic to removal, arranged for the presentation of a bill to the Albany legislature in February, 1848, authorizing a change in location; competing debaters set forth their views to a legislative committee. When it appeared doubtful whether the removal measure would gain approval, Judge Ira Harris, a removalist of Albany, and one day to become the titular head of the U. of R., proposed what amounted to an amendment to the Madison charter, permitting the trustees to transfer the University to Rochester or elsewhere unless friends secured $50,000 for Madison by August of 1848. This compromise satisfied all parties and was adopted on April 3, 1848, by the state legislature. In a fresh burst of enthusiasm, Hamiltonians resumed the campaign to collect cash, but zeal soon slackened. Eaton, who headed the drive, lacked talent for raising money in large amounts, and Madison professors who wished to move to Rochester spoke out against the effort. In a sort of diversionary tactic, Eaton worked to turn Presbyterian elements in Rochester, still disgruntled over the failure of the earlier university project, against support for the removal program. 20

As additional ammunition for the Rochester cause, Professor A. C. Kendrick solicited the backing of esteemed presidents in leading eastern universities for the transfer of Madison to an urban environment. Wayland of Brown readily responded, writing that "the wealth of cities is generally needed to provide a college... with means of instruction. A college in a city does not need buildings for living of students. They can procure rooms in private homes." Nor did a college in a city require commons, for learners could eat wherever they chose, and Wayland did not think that an urban community exerted corrupting influences on student morality.

For Edward Everett of Harvard, a city had certain peculiar moral dangers, admittedly, but they were of secondary concern; though living was less expensive in a village, he personally very much preferred an urban center, equipped with student residential and eating facilities. For men in training for the ministry, a city environment was particularly advantageous because they could there acquire a better understanding of human realities, Everett reasoned. In a neatly balanced assessment, Theodore D. Woolsey of Yale argued that in a city, concerts and parties diverted learners from their studies and that "temptations to dissipation, particularly to lewdness are greater." On the other hand, a city afforded wider religious opportunities and exercised a refining influence upon dress and manners. "Probably a college in a town like Rochester," he concluded, "would need stricter discipline than one in Hamilton and perhaps some aid or concert with the town police." 21

In another direction, Kendrick persuaded his friend, the Rev. James N. Granger, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island to intercede with William Deacon Colgate on behalf of the Rochester interest. The response of the soap magnate was not at all clear cut, though Granger felt he would "present no difficulty if the facts are properly and patiently brought before him." Yet Colgate was easily swayed by minor considerations like a student dining hall, "because of the religious influence which the theological students will exert over the others at their meals...." The Deacon rather liked the idea of transplanting the Newton Theological Institution to the Genesee country. 22

On May 1, 1848 Baptist leaders of Rochester published an earnest appeal for help to the Baptist preachers of western New York, "the most promising unoccupied field in the world for the seat of a great university." Jesuit fathers, it was mentioned, had just acquired a site and buildings at Rochester for an educational center. 23 "Shall we be outdone by these apostles of a dark superstition?" the document plaintively inquired. "Shall we leave to foreigners and European gold a field so congenial for the growth of better principles and a purer faith?" Pastors were told again that most of the Madison professors were strongly in favor of a Rochester location, "and recognize in it the only hope of permanent relief." But in June the cause of the Flour City suffered something of a setback when the Rev. Mr. Church, devoted friend of Baptist learning, disclosed his intention to accept a pastorate in Boston. 24

V

As has been graphically recounted by the foremost historian of the Madison academic center, in August of 1848 the Hamilton versus Rochester controversy touched a high point of asperity and a verdict was rendered in favor of the Genesee city. The annual sessions of the Baptist Education Society, technically the owner of the University properties, and of the Madison trustees, held at commencement time in Hamilton, provided forums for exciting and tumultuous discussion. Debates ran on from August tenth to the seventeenth, with time out on the Sabbath for prayer and reflection. A representative of Syracuse offered inducements for removal of the institution to his community; spokesmen for Rochester optimistically represented that subscriptions in hand and a promised site a university equaled $100,000 in value. The best that the Hamiltonians could produce was $28,000 in pledges (half of which might never be collectible), and a sanguine promise that $50,000 would in time be obtained. Whatever the weakness of the anti-removalists in terms of hard cash, they made up for it in the vigor with which they argued their case. Notable in that connection was the fiery Rev. Daniel Hascall, a founding father of and early instructor at the Hamilton Institution, who coined a battle cry, "It shall not be moved"--the inscription chiseled in Latin--"Illa non movebitur"--on his tombstone in the Colgate University cemetery. Disputation ebbed and flowed but in the end, after dubious, astute maneuvering "the western movement" captured majority support: Madison University would be transferred to the city on the Genesee, if and when legal obstacles were hurdled. 25

It was a large "if", for the defeated Hamiltonians applied to the Supreme Court of New York for an injunction against removal, which on January 23, 1849 was granted on a temporary basis. Sponsors of the Rochester plan, in the interval, set about examining various sites in the community for the institution and requested anyone who had suitable locations in mind to report on the acreage and cost. A superabundance of recommendations flowed in.

Naturally, the tumult over the future location of the University disturbed Madison students, some of whom chose to resign and enroll in other colleges. The faculty announced that removal could not be effected for another year at least, and that instruction in 1848-49 would be conducted at Hamilton. "It is hoped," the statement read, "that all 'unhealthful excitement' on removal will cease and nothing occur to prevent the vigorous prosecution of the business of the university." When the academic year of 1848 opened, undergraduates personnel was not much smaller than previously, though it was believed that many youths would not have matriculated except for the prospect of graduating at Rochester. 26

When the New York State Baptist Convention met in Rochester, October, 1848, predominant sentiment supported removal, but the question was not in fact placed on the agenda for discussion, since it was considered too controversial. Reliable information that Deacon Colgate had definitely lined up on the side of Hamilton and that a second court injunction against removal would probably be handed down gave pause to the Rochester enthusiasts. Wilder, for example, pondered anew on the feasibility of founding a wholly new university in the Flour City, which would engage "the best Madison professors" and attract the backing of Rochester Protestantism generally. The institution would be "a regular out and out college" as "acceptable as possible to all denominations"; neither dormitories nor dining facilities would be provided.

It was very annoying to Wilder that local Methodists were exploiting "Baptist anarchy and inefficiency" to win financial aid from Rochesterians in order to expand Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in the nearby village of Lima a into a college or a university. Yet it may easily be imagined that ordinary Rochester citizens were more interested in the advent of gas lighting than in the prospects for intellectual illumination. 27

When the Madison trustees formally applied to the state government for authorization to move the University to Rochester, Eaton dispatched to the Senate a long memorandum on behalf of keeping the institution in Hamilton and Raymond countered with a longer "remonstrance" in, favor of Rochester. Wilder "hopped around like a Mississippi mosquito" soliciting Senate votes for the Rochester interest but to no avail; nothing of moment resulted. 28

In June of 1849, Baptists from all over the state met in Albany at the annual convention of the Education Society. Resolutions presented by Wilder were adopted calling for the transfer of Madison University to Rochester and for instruction to start there in the autumn, if the state Supreme Court did not decree otherwise. Since questions about the legality of the meeting were raised, the resolutions lacked binding force. Also approved at Albany was an alternative proposal, to divide the Madison institution, the theological seminary to stay in Hamilton and the collegiate department to go to Rochester. But a fresh court injunction on August 28, 1849 against removal nullified the Albany compromise. For most practical purposes that legal decision ruined forever the chances of Rochester obtaining the Hamilton institution of higher learning; in April of 1850 the Supreme Court declared the injunction permanent. 29

What proved to be the swan song of the removalists was heard at Albany on October 9, 1849 at a specially summoned state-wide Baptist educational conference. Proposals to move the Madison college to Rochester, leaving the theological department where it was, were again endorsed, but were uncompromisingly rejected by the Hamiltonians, who, of course, had the law on their side. Madison University opened for instruction as usual, in 1849 though only one freshman enrolled. "We have a highly respectable Senior class," Raymond wrote, "but nothing on earth can keep them here through the winter without a prospect at graduating at Rochester." His supposition however, that teaching would commence at Rochester in the spring of 1850 failed of realization. 30

The idea of establishing an entirely new institution in Rochester, with both collegiate and theological instruction, crowded to the fore and on December 6, 1849, plans to raise a university fund of $150,000 and to apply for a charter were perfected. Friends of removal swallowed their defeat in good heart. Wilder, describing himself as a colonel, "commanding the flying artillery, Eastern Division, " addressed a note to "Adjutant General William N. Sage, Camp Rochester," saying, "Please say to the commander-in-chief that there is much enthusiasm among the troops of the eastern division." "Captain John H. Raymond, Commanding Scouting Party No. 1, Fort Hamilton, New York" reported "to Adjutant General William N. Sage" that he intended to hold his garrison together "until the arrangements are completed for withdrawing them to a more favorable position.... " Rumors that Professors Conant and Kendrick had undergone a change of heart and would stay on at Hamilton turned out to be utterly fanciful. 31

VI

The removal project provoked one of the fiercest debates in American Baptist history and echoes of the contest reverberated for years to come. It was successive Supreme Court decisions in the final analysis that frustrated the plans to transplant Madison University in Rochester, though Eaton interpreted the swing of events as evidence that "a mightier power than man's... upheld the feeble hands of devoted friends in a persistent resistance... God took care of it" [i.e. the Hamilton interest].32 During the prolonged and heated feud, personal feelings were deeply stirred and contenders on both sides, sincere and principled friends of higher education though they were, often acted, spoke, and lapsed from good taste in ways better forgotten. Few contestants understood that silence is frequently the most effective answer to a vociferous and misguided opposition. It can scarcely be doubted that a substantial majority of New York State Baptists who were concerned about higher education favored removal to Rochester. Individual churches, it is true, were divided between the rival claimants and after the final verdict they and other potential donors became the objects of competition between Madison and Rochester for funds.

Hamiltonians had won out, but in an immediate sense there were Pyrrhic elements in their triumph. The exodus to the Flour City of leading professors, many students, and many trustees left the fortunes of Madison at a very low ebb. "... As Rome was founded by refugees from the famous city of Troy", a chronicler would one day picturesquely observe, "Rochester was founded by those who fled from the less famous village of Hamilton...." 33 In the fall of 1850 learners in the three schools at Hamilton dwindled to thirty-three and a relatively large debt hung ominously over the institution.

But property and equipment were intact, many alumni "gathered round the pallid and prostrate form" of Alma Mater, "bleeding at every pore from the cruel blows she had received," new professors and trustees were recruited to fill vacancies, a new president assumed the Nehemiah-like task of rebuilding, and benevolent patrons and villagers responded to piteous calls for financial help; the standing prejudice against a permanent endowment disappeared. To express appreciation for the interest, the counsel, and the munificence of Deacon William Colgate and his family over several decades Madison University was in 1890 renamed Colgate.

Rising like the phoenix, the Hamilton institution far from dying as many Rochester partisans had prophesied, attracted in a few years more learners than ever and finances were in far better shape -- all of which was regarded as a manifestation of divine favor. Years later, an alumnus of Madison celebrated the decline and the revival in verse:

... Thousands sat oppressed within the shade,
Wept for the woe, and God's deliverance prayed
Their tears and prayers availed, God's succor came,
The peril passed, all glory to His name ...
What fame of Rochester, though broadly toned,
Had the deep wrongs of Hamilton condoned? 34

Like the starfish, which when cut in half grows again to become two complete creatures, so Madison and Rochester emerged from the bitter struggle as separate institutions with bright long-term potentialities. Time, the greater healer, repaired the worst of the fratricidal wounds; more than a mere semblance of amity and good will reunited the Surviving protagonists, who, a generation later, were congratulating one another "on the success of their favorite enterprises."

To a U. of R. alumni gathering in 1873, William D. Hedden, a student at Madison during the removal tumult and a graduate of Rochester in the class of 1851, rendered a poetic recitation of the grim happenings and their sequel.

After an allusion to the Alma Mater dwelling in "Old Chenango's vale," Hedden proceeded:

"Tis time she travailed and was born a child,
One Wilder said. Some wept and others smiled.
What hot debates there were! What, throes of pain!
Confronted were two armies on the plain...
Some thought our Baptist glory would go down,
And watched the movement, both with fear and frown;
And said this is with awful evil fraught,
'Touch not the holy thing, which God hath wrought.'
And others loved not less the sacred shrine,
But felt the swift momentum of the time,
And heard the order of clear-voiced destiny--
Build thou a college by the Genesee." 35

Next Chapter: The Year of Decisions: 1850
Back to: History of the University of Rochester Homepage


Footnotes for Chapter 2

  1. Cathcart, op. cit., I, 74. The evolution of the Baptist denomination is lucidly explained by Robert. G. Torbet, A History of the Baptist (Philadelphia, 1950), and in an older standard work, Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists (new ed., Philadelphia, 1907). Professor Vedder graduated from the U. of R., 1873.
  2. Consult, R. Jeffrey, ed., The Autobiography of Elder Jacob Knapp (New York, 1868).
  3. The History of Colgate University to 1869, by Howard D. Williams, a dissertation for the doctorate at Harvard University (1949), is the ablest study of the Hamilton Institution and its successors. Dr. Williams kindly read this chapter and offered suggestions for its improvement. See, also, Jesse L. Rosenberger, Rochester and Colgate: Historical Backgrounds of the Two Universities (hereafter cited as R and C)(Chicago, 1925), Chap. II. President Rush Rhees seriously questioned the wisdom of publishing this account of the removal controversy, interesting and judicious though it was, but Rosenberger replied that he had submitted the manuscript to Colgate University authorities, who found nothing objectionable in it. Rush Rhees to Jesse L. Rosenberger, June 24, 1924. Rhees Papers, Rhees Library Archives. Rosenberger to Rhees, July 29, 1924. Ibid.
  4. Harriet R. Lloyd, ed., Life and Letters of John Howard Raymond (New York, 1881), pp. 159, 166.
  5. October 23, 1847. Printed in The Annunciator, January 1, 1851.
  6. Rosenberger, Rochester, pp. 89-91. The most learned and rewarding reconstruction of the controversy over removal is in Williams, op. cit., pp. 201-267. See, also, Rosenberger, R and C, Chapter III. Representative of the mass of literature on the quarrel is George W. Eaton, "Historical Discourse" in B. F. Bronson, et al., eds., The First Half Century of Madison University (New York, 1872), pp. 53-108.
  7. John N. Wilder to A. C. Kendrick, October 2, 1847. Kendrick Papers.
  8. Whether the writer intended a pun on the name of John N. Wilder, vigorous exponent of removal, is not self-evident.
  9. Blanche W. Bellamy to Porter Farley, December 7, 1907. Porter Farley, "A Chapter in the Early History of the U. of R.," a paper read to the Fortnightly Club of Rochester, November 10, 1908. Rhees Library Archives.
  10. John N. Wilder to Kendrick, October 2, 1847; William N. Sage to Kendrick, October 20, 1847. Kendrick Papers.
  11. RDD, October 9, 1847.
  12. RDD, October 26, 27, November 1, 2, 1847; RDA, October 26, 28, November 1, 2, 3, 1847.
  13. RDD, November 1,15, 1847; Rochester Evening Gazette, November 6, 1847.
  14. RDA, November 2, 1847; RDD, November 4, 9, 15, 22, 1847, January 6, 10, 1848. A. C. Kendrick to Pharcellus Church, November 8, 1847, printed in The Annunciator, January 1, 1851. Church to Kendrick, December 14, 1847. Kendrick Papers.
  15. James S. Dickerson [Madison, 1848], to A. C. Kendrick, January 8, 1848. Kendrick Papers.
  16. Williams, op. cit., pp. 217-2I8; RDD, December 18, 1847.
  17. John N. Wilder to A. C. Kendrick, January 1, 1848. Kendrick Papers.
  18. Williams, op. cit., pp. 222-223; Rosenberger, R and C, pp. 71-75. Francis Wayland to John N. Wilder, August? 1848, The Annunciator, October 6, 1851.
  19. February 22, 23, 28,1848. Smith Sheldon Papers, Rhees Library Archives.
  20. Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, 71st Session, (1848), no. III. RDA, April 3, 1848. J. H. Raymond to W.N. Sage, March 18, 1848. Sage Papers, Rhees Library Archives. [?] to Kendrick, July 26, 1848. Kendrick Papers.
  21. Francis Wayland to A. C. Kendrick, March 31, 1848; Barnas Sears to Kendrick April 26, 1848; Edward Everett to Kendrick, April 27, 1848; Theodore D. Woolsey to Kendrick, August 8, 1848. Kendrick Papers.
  22. James N. Granger to Kendrick, June 8, 1848. Kendrick Papers. Granger had been educated at the Hamilton Institution.
  23. Referred to was a short-lived College (or Academy) of the Sacred Heart for men, founded in 1848. Frederick J. Zwierlein, The Life and Letters of Bishop [Bernard J.] McQuaid (3 vols., Rochester, 1925-27), I, 129-130, 133 Laws of the State of New York, 72nd Session (1849), p. 588. Rhees Library Archives.
  24. May 1, 1848. Smith Sheldon Papers, Rhees Library Archives. RDD, June 8, July 28, 1848.
  25. Williams, op. cit., pp. 228-237; Rosenberger, R and C, pp. 79-80; R DD, August 9, 1848; RDA, August 17, 1848.
  26. RDD, August 30, September 18, October 3,16, 23, 1848. J. N. Wilder to W. N. Sage, November 3, 1848. Sage Papers.
  27. RDA, October 18,1848; RDD, October 20, 1848. J. N. Wilder to W. N. Sage, November 17, December 2, 1848, Sage Papers. Wilder to Kendrick, December 22, 1848, Kendrick Papers.
  28. Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, II, no. 37, February 16, 1849, and no. 52, March 3, 1849. J. N. Wilder to W. N. Sage, February 15, March 12, 1849. Sage Papers.
  29. Rosenberger, R and C, pp. 84-87.
  30. RDA, November 23, 1848. John H. Raymond to D. R. Barton, November 2. 1849. Sage Papers.
  31. RDA, December 6,10, 1849; RDD, December 10, 1849. J.N. Wilder to William N. Sage, November 22, 1849; Raymond to Sage, November 30, 1849. Sage Papers. Smith Sheldon to A. C. Kendrick, December 18, 1849. Kendrick Papers.
  32. Bronson, op cit., p. 55. Henry C. Vedder, A History of the Baptists in the Middle States (new ed., Philadelphia, 1898), p. 223
  33. William C. Morey, "Reminiscences of 'the Pundit Club,' " Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series (hereafter cited as RHSP), II (1923), 104. It is, however, not only a gross distortion but false (unless intended facetiously) to accuse the friends of a university in Rochester of "educational kidnapping," or to charge them with "the rape of Madison" and with seducing scholars to forsake Hamilton. Alan Valentine, Rochester's University: 1850-1950 (New York, 1950), pp. 10-11.
  34. Bronson, op. cit., p. 131
  35. "Soul of the World," U. of R. Alumni Proceedings 1861-1875, July 1, 1873, p. 45.