Arthur Tappan's Version of Events

[Arthur Tappan was, until his business reverses as a result of the Panic of 1837, a major contributor to the anti-slavery and other causes. He had persuaded Lyman Beecher to head the new Lane Seminary and had put up much of the necessary money. His brother Lewis determined, after his death, that his brother's work should be commemorated in a biography. Part of the task Lewis set for himself was making clear Arthur's role in the Lane Seminary dispute. By this time, Lyman Beecher's Autobiography was in print.]

Lewis Tappan, The Life of Arthur Tappan New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1871

MR. TAPPAN took great interest in the election of Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher of Boston to be the senior professor of Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati. It was owing to him chiefly that the appointment took place. For many years he had been desirous of promoting education at the West, especially of young men for the Christian ministry in the valley of the Mississippi. It was therefore with peculiar gratification that he had induced a man of such eminent qualifications to assume the oversight of this theological school. His satisfaction was much increased when he learned that a large number of the students of Oneida Institute, in the state of New York, had decided to resort to Lane Seminary to prosecute their studies. He encouraged the trustees in the enterprise, and held out to them expectations of liberal pecuniary aid.

While the students were pursuing their studies with energy and success, and interesting themselves in the great topics of the day, preparatory to entering upon the duties and responsibilities of life, the anti-slavery cause, among other questions, came up for discussion. The students had already formed societies for different objects, such as, for Inquiry on Missions, for Mutual Improvement, a Bible Society, a Foreign Mission Society, a Colonization Society, and a society for Miscellaneous Discussion. These societies had been formed without the formality of asking permission either of the faculty or the trustees. Neither body took any exception to them. When the students saw fit to add to the number an Anti-Slavery Society they submitted to Dr. Beecher, at his request, the preamble and constitution. He expressed his entire approbation of their spirit and sentiments.

The anti-slavery and the colonization questions had become exciting ones throughout the whole country, and the students deemed it to be their duty thoroughly to examine them, in view of their bearing upon their future responsibilities as ministers of the gospel. The condition of the colored people in the neighborhood, many of whom had escaped from bondage in the adjacent states, added to the interest felt in these questions.

The trustees became alarmed, fearing a loss of interest in the seminary, a loss of funds, and a loss of students. The professors, though generally sympathizing with the students, shared to some extent the apprehensions of the trustees, and were unwilling to oppose them. They advised the students not to discuss either the anti-slavery or the colonization question, as the subjects were exciting, and the discussion of them would be likely to excite opposition in the neighborhood, and might result in serious differences among the students themselves. A committee of students waited on the faculty, and expressed to them their confidence, that they could discuss grave moral questions, of deep public interest, without quarrelling among themselves; they also stated that they should feel it their duty to go forward in the discussion, if it was not prohibited. They were assured that no prohibition was intended. The discussion therefore proceeded, and was conducted with almost entire unanimity.

The trustees soon expressed a determination to prevent all further discussion of the comparative merits of the policy of the Colonization Society, and the doctrine of immediate emancipation, either in the recitation rooms, the rooms of the students, or at the public table; although no objection had previously been made to the free discussion of any subject whatever. During the vacation that followed, in the absence of a majority of the professors, this purpose was framed into a law, or rule, of the seminary, and obedience to it required from all.

The trustees laid down the doctrine that "no associations or societies ought to be allowed in the seminary, except such as have for their immediate object, improvement in the prescribed course of studies." This was followed by an order in these words: "Ordered that the students be required to discontinue those societies [the Anti-slavery and Colonization societies] in the seminary."

When this arbitrary order of the trustees was passed, Dr. Beecher was on a journey to New England, in the interest of Lane Seminary. In the hearing of thousands, at Boston, New York, and other places, he had spoken of the students in high terms. "They are," he said, "a set of noble men, whom I would not at a venture exchange for any others." Professor Stowe also "had vindicated the character of the students, asserted their diligence in study, their respectful demeanor towards the faculty, their obedience to law, and their Christian deportment." On his return to the West, and while in New York, Dr. Beecher invited several prominent abolitionists to meet him and Rev. Dr. Skinner, at the Tract House, on subjects growing out of the recent discussions at Lane Seminary. Accordingly, Arthur Tappan, John Rankin, S. S. Jocelyn, S. E. Cornish, and several others attended. Dr. Beecher stated that he had conferred with leading men, in Boston and elsewhere, with respect to the difficulties between the trustees and the students, and he had invited the present meeting to see if the discordance between anti-slavery men and colonizationists could not be harmonized. He said that he did not think the differences were so great that this could not be effected without material sacrifices of opinion and feeling. Both parties, he added, believed slavery to be an evil, and both desired its removal, if it could be effected peacefully and on righteous principles.

Dr. Skinner also expressed a hope that contention would cease, and that Christian men, who aimed to promote the welfare of the colored race, would no longer be at variance on subjects of so much importance, and which involved the peace of the country and the world.

They were replied to by Mr. Tappan, and other friends of the anti-slavery cause present. They stated the principles and aims of the two societies, and the measures that had been pursued by them, showing that both in principle and conduct, they were diverse and in direct opposition. One of them considered slaveholding a crime against man and a sin against God; that the government had been founded on the doctrine of the equality of man before the law; that Christianity inculcated love to our fellow-men, and discarded prejudice, alienation, and tyranny in all their forms; that this country was the birthplace and home of the colored man, bond and free, and that here he should be allowed his freedom, his civil and religious rights; that coercing him, directly or indirectly, to leave the country was inhuman and unchristian; and that genuine love to the people of color would best be manifested in administering to their comfort and welfare on their native soil.

Colonizationists, on the other hand, while professing to send to Liberia only those who went with their own consent, offered, in fact, to the colored people, merely a choice between two evils, and choosing either, instead of being a benefit to them, was opposed no less to humanity than to the constitution of the Colonization Society itself. The society had its origin, and main support in prejudice against color; this caste feeling was strengthened by it; sending to Africa ignorant slaves, emancipated for the special purpose, and a degraded portion of the free people of color, did not tend to the civilization and elevation of themselves, or the people of that country. Intemperance and war were both fostered by sending rum and guns with the expatriated people; and the existence of the Colonization Society was a hinderance to the prevalence of anti-slavery sentiments. The discussions were earnest but mutually respectful and kind. The two reverend gentlemen were assured that all they had said had been attentively considered and weighed, but it did not remove objections to the Colonization Society, or lessen attachment to the anti-slavery cause.

Dr. Beecher expressed very great surprise and disappointment. Being pressed on the subject of the recent course of the trustees of Lane Seminary, in forbidding discussions on the slavery question, he in the most emphatic manner declared that their action did not meet his approbation, as he believed in the absolute right of the students to confer together and discuss the subject of slavery and colonization. He also said he would never consent to the suppression of such discussion in the Seminary.

The meeting was closed by a most appropriate and fervent prayer, offered by the colored brother, Mr. Cornish, suggested, as was felt, by the Holy Spirit. He alluded with deep pathos, to the wrongs inflicted upon his people, to the wicked prejudice and sufferings under which they groaned, to the gratitude they felt in hope of deliverance through friends raised up to plead and defend their cause to the injurious influence of other schemes in creating hostility to the country and to Christianity, and he implored the benediction of the Almighty upon the advocates of his people, then present, and all of similar heart and mind throughout the land. Mr. Tappan and the other brethren felt greatly strengthened and refreshed by such an utterance. It seemed as if the whole body of the people of color was pleading at the Throne of Grace.

Dr. Beecher returned to Lane Seminary. He found that the trustees were resolute, the faculty fearful and undecided, and the students determined and unyielding, repudiating the doctrine laid down by the trustees, and the "order" based upon it. Dr. Beecher said the "order" could not be repealed at present, and advised the students to remain in expectation that it might ere long be disregarded. They replied that their self-respect and future usefulness would not allow of their obedience to the "order," or of their remaining members of a seminary, one of whose laws they should be constrained to violate. In what they had already done, they had violated no law of the seminary, they had made no failure in their duty as students; and in view of the assurance that the law or rule would not be repealed, they asked and received honorable dismissions to any seminary they might desire to unite with, and withdrew from Lane Seminary, publishing a "Statement of Reasons," to which fifty-one students attached their signatures.

It is an admirable production, both in temper and argument, and concludes as follows:

Finally, we would respectfully remind the trustees, that even though students of a theological seminary, we should be treated as men--that men, destined for the service of the world, need, above all things in such an age an this, the pure and impartial, the disinterested and magnanimous, the uncompromising and fearless--in combination with the gentle and tender spirit and example of Christ; not parleying with wrong, but calling it to repentance; not flattering the proud, but pleading the cause of the poor. And we record the hope that the glorious stand taken upon the subject of discussion, and up to the close of the last session, maintained by the institution may be early resumed, that so the triumph of expediency over right may soon terminate, and Lane Seminary be again restored to the glory of its beginning.
CINCINNATI, Dec. 15, 1834.

Dr. Beecher regretted the decision of the students, but he did not exercise the wisdom and firmness that the exigency required. He might have thrown himself into the breach, and said to the trustees, "I have never had such an opportunity; I cannot be separated from such 'noble men;' you must repeal the 'order,' or I shall feel constrained to put myself at the head of these students and lead them elsewhere." Had he done this, he might have saved the seminary from the loss of such a band of moral heroes, and gained to himself a reputation beyond any thing that he had previously acquired.

But, on the contrary, he acquiesced in the arbitrary rule of the trustees. A truly noble and fearless man in many respects, the opposition that prevailed at the seminary and throughout the country seemed to overcome him. Born to be a leader, under some circumstances, this eminent man failed at this time in an essential attribute of leadership of moral and religious enterprises. He had previously avowed in his lectures at the seminary, as was understood, that true wisdom consists in advocating a cause only so far as the community will sustain the reformer. Is this Christian philosophy? Does it accord with the conduct of the prophet Daniel, or that of the martyrs and confessors of ancient times? Is it possible that the glorified spirit of BEECHER now approves such a sentiment?

Mr. Tappan, though he anticipated good results from the decision of the students, was greatly disappointed at the course taken by the trustees and the faculty. He had induced Dr. Beecher to leave a field of usefulness in Boston, to assume a post deemed second to none other in its prospective usefulness; he had promised to endow a professorship, or what was equal to it; he placed a high value upon the students who had repaired to the institution to place themselves under the theological and ethical teachings of "a master in Israel;" and his bright anticipations were, for the moment, eclipsed. But good often proceeds from seeming evil. Providence had provided an asylum for the students, who had also met with a grievous disappointment, and the patron and the students soon rejoiced together.

. . . . . .
The following letter from THEODORE D. WELD, who was one of the students of Lane Seminary, gives interesting facts in relation to the exodus of the students, besides his estimate of Mr. Tappan's character:
  HYDE PARK, Mass., Jan. l, 1870.
  . . . . I cherish the memory of Arthur Tappan with deep reverence, and garner it among my most precious things. So simple in all his tastes and habits, so quiet and modest, yet so firm, independent, and conscientious, that nothing could swerve him from the right--so careful and deliberate in forming conclusions, yet instant and indomitable in executing. Economical in spending, yet always bountiful in giving. So faithful and true, so scrupulously just in all things. Never seeking his own; of few words, each straight to the point, and that a deed, and how often a great one; so earnest in daring for the weak against the strong. The race has a right to know more of one of its great benefactors; and I rejoice that it is about to get through you some part of its due.. . .

You asked me to state what I know of his gifts to the colored schools of Cincinnati. When the antislavery students of Lane Seminary established evening-schools for the adults, and day- schools for the children of the three thousand colored of Cincinnati, your brother wrote to me, saying in substance, "Draw on me for whatever is necessary for the schools, teachers, househire, books, etc."

As the students were occupied with their studies and recitations in the daytime, it was necessary for them to get others to teach the day-schools, and as none but earnest abolitionists would teach negroes gratuitously, or were fit for the work, your brother paid the travelling expenses to Cincinnati of a number of young ladies from central New York, and of others from Northern Ohio for that purpose. The young ladies declined all compensation for teaching, and your brother paid their board.

The amount that he advanced for the use of the schools, I have now no means of stating. As soon as Mr. Tappan heard that the trustees of Lane Seminary had passed a law dissolving the Anti-Slavery Society, and prohibiting anti-slavery discussions, and that the students, finding that the faculty would enforce the action of the trustees, were preparing to withdraw to a neighboring village, he wrote to me enclosing a draft for a thousand dollars, to be expended in hiring a building where they might room, in buying such books as they might need, and in paying for their board, etc. The letter also empowered me to draw on him at sight for whatever they might need in addition, during the autumn and winter, or until some permanent provision for completing their course might be made. He also requested that all who decided to return to their friends, or to go to other institutions, and were in need of funds, should be provided with whatever was requisite.. . . .

Mr. Tappan, notwithstanding his agency in bringing about the removal of Dr. Beecher from Boston to Cincinnati, and his grief at separating from one whose character and services he had held in high estimation, and from whose labors at Lane Seminary he had anticipated large results, felt compelled to take the part of the students. He furnished many of them with means of reaching other institutions, or of prosecuting a winter's study in a neighboring village. A large number of them made arrangements to repair to Oberlin Seminary, Ohio, having received satisfactory assurances that no attempt would be made there to prevent free discussion, or oppose the resolution of the students to repudiate caste, and treat the colored people, in the seminary and out of it, as equal with themselves before the law and the gospel. He resolved to afford them all the aid in his power in building up at that place, a school of the prophets. He prevailed on the Rev. Charles G. Finney to succeed Dr. Beecher, as the spiritual guide and instructor of the students. With the twelve thousand dollars he contributed, a spacious brick building was erected at Oberlin, which in honor of him, the trustees named "Tappan Hall."*
. . . . . .