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Michigan When Dr. Tappan Came

Henry Philip Tappan
The Michigan Alumnus 3-6

Michigan When Dr. Tappan Came


A Pen Picture of the State in the University's Earliest Days


Some Excerpts from an Article by Charles
 M. Perry, Ph. D. n, Professor of Philosophy 
at Oklahoma, Published in the Michigan
 History Magazine

Soon after Dr. Tappan's re
turn from Europe in 1852
 he was elected to the pres
idency of the University of Mich
igan. At about the same time he
 was elected to the chair of Mental and Moral Phil
osophy in the University of the City of New York, 
 from which he had been dismissed in 1838; he declined the position to accept the larger opportunity. 
 He had advocated in his book on University Education the establishment of a true university, and
 this new state seemed to provide favorable conditions. 


At this time Michigan was in the later stages 
of its pioneer period. In 1821 there were 8,700 in
habitants in the Territory. During the next few
 years, due in considerable extent to the opening of 
the Erie Canal, population increased more rapidly, 
 until in 1837, the year of admission to the Union, 
 there were over 170,000 people in the State. By
 1840 the population had increased to 212,000; by
1850 to over 397,000; and by 1854 to 509,000. 


The character of the social life prevailing dur
ing these early decades is indicated to some extent 
by the state of the transportation system. Mitchell's
 Tourist map of 1835 describes stage routes touch
ing such widely separated points as Detroit, Chicago, Coldwater, Michigan City, Niles, and LaPorte. 
 And Blois' Gazetteer of Michigan for 1838 mentions 
sixty-eight different mail routes in the State. A 
considerable number of railroad companies were 
chartered during the last years of the Territorial
 government, though only four of them made any
 progress in carrying out their plans.


Water transportation had been an early re
source, especially for through traffic. Blois' Gaz
etteer gives the registered tonnage on Lake Erie 
for 1836 as 24,045.78, consisting of forty-five steam-
boats and 211 other craft. In this connection it is 
interesting to note that Margaret Fuller went from
 Detroit to Chicago by lake boat in the early forties
 an account of which she gives in 
her book entitled A Summer on 
the Lakes. Probably the early 
efforts to utilize inland rivers
 are more striking to us today, as 
such efforts have been so generally abandoned. We
 learn with surprise that the St. Joseph river had
 an average width of thirty rods for 120 miles from 
its mouth, and that the Saginaw was navigable for 
about sixty miles. To make all of the rivers more
 available for navigation, companies were chartered 
to straighten them and remove obstructions, and
 plans were laid to connect them in a state canal
 system.

Michigan was still at the log-cabin stage of 
civilization when Tappan came. The State
 was still a region of woods and swamps and small
 clearings, and game was plentiful. The towns and
 villages along the Grand River were still in the pine
 woods, and Lansing, in the words of one of its 
rivals, was a place "whose principal inhabitants 
are stumps, bullfrogs, mosquitoes and popinjay
 politicians." Raisings, logging bees, husking bees, 
 and quiltings were common occurrences; the log 
houses were still in use, as they were for several
 decades afterwards; tall well sweeps stood at the
 wells with suspended oaken buckets; oxen were
 often used even for journeys of pleasure; in fact the
 time of which we are writing was removed only ten
or twelve years from the heyday of frontier life. 
 The log schoolhouses began to be replaced in the 
forties by frame buildings, but many of them were
 not in use, and, even where they had been replaced, 
 their spirit continued. There were spelling matches 
with all the attendant rivalry. A spelling contest 
between two district schools had the interest of 
a modern football game. Both schools and all their 
friends were present backing their respective teams; 
the suspense was trying; when all were eliminated 
except two or three on a side and they stood up while the teacher pronounced whole pages of the
 spelling book, the members of the audience held 
their breath; and when the final victory came, it
 was like a touchdown in the last minute of play. 
 And there were the singing schools; and the inevit
able courting; —the teacher "boarded around." An 
amusing expression of the spirit of this regime ap
pears in a legislative item from Lansing in the
 Detroit Free Press of 1855; "About four o'clock the 
new Speaker pronounced the House adjourned. He 
then accompanied Dr. Tappan to the Ben ton House, 
 and, in the presence of all in the barroom, handed 
him a problem to solve; one, he said, that could not 
be found in Euclid, as it originated in the State 
Prison. He will announce it to the members of the
 House tomorrow." In pioneer days it was expected 
that the schoolmaster should be able not only to 
thresh the big boys but also to solve any problem
 the local genius could contrive. Dr. Tappan as the
 schoolmaster of the whole State was considered the 
natural authority in such things. Unfortunately it
 is not reported whether or not he solved the problem. 


Athletic events of the day also savored of the 
spirit of early settlement. The Grand Rapids Daily 
Enquirer of May 18, 1856, tells of a ten-mile race 
that came off at Eagle Harbor. There was a purse
 of $120. The first person to enter was a tall mus
cular Frenchman, by name Antoine LaDuc, who had
 won the prize two or three times in past winters; 
next entered two small, lank Indians; then followed 
an Irishman, who swore that he could "run down any Frenchman in Ameriky;" and then a German, 
 who greeted the Irishman's boast with "Nix goot, 
 nix goot." When the race got under way the 
Frenchman forged ahead easily; the Irishman and 
the German dropped out after passing the first
 quarter post; the Indians did better but the one 
foremost began bleeding at the lungs and had to
 stop; the other stopped at his sixteenth round. The
 Frenchman completed the twenty rounds in one 
hour, two minutes, and thirty-three seconds amid
 lusty cheers. 


As to the relative merits of city and 
country we read this: "Here, in the pine woods, we 
have none of that precocious social finesse, the blasé
 manners, the old young people of the city. The
 boys of the country wear thick cowhide boots. They 
are without grace, but are also without lassitude. 
 They are strong and vigorous; they walk like young
 bulls, and their feet fall like blows of a heavy ham
mer, flat and strong. They play, wrestle, run, and
 act generally with all the vigor, and with no more 
grace than a parcel of youthful bears. They never 
shut doors after them; never clean their feet from
 the snow or mud; talk loudly, laugh boisterously, 
and have no more ideas of the social amenities of
 life than have the tall pines and the dim wilds it 
is their destiny to conquer and destroy. ... In the
 city, on the contrary, effeminacy is part of educa
tion—too large a part. Boys are gentlemen too 
early. It apparently did not occur to the writer 
that a blending of city and country characteristics might be good. It was this kind of population that
 Dr. Tappan undertook to instruct in the glories of 
upper-class culture. 


Religion was a large factor in this new com
munity, as it is likely to be anywhere under 
similar conditions. The early period was the day of 
the circuit rider. Josiah W. Begole speaks of "our 
rude churches, our camp meetings, our unlettered 
pioneer preachers," and Edward W. Barber tells of 
a "stalwart preacher" who had originally "led the 
flock into the wilderness" and stayed with them a
 number of years, using the school house for his
 Sunday and mid-week services. A pioneer home
 was likely to have besides the Bible a few religious 
books, none of them more attractive than Baxter's
 Saints' Rest or his Call to the Unconverted. Re
ligion furnished the early settler a firm connection
 with his former home, supplied social organization, 
and provided some measure of cultural outlook. 


In the decades immediately succeeding the first
 settlement notices of religious activities were fre
quent. On one occasion, for instance, the members 
of a Methodist Camp meeting passed resolutions 
commending the Prosecuting Attorney, the Sheriff
 and the Sheriffs deputies for having kept the idle
 and vicious from rowdyism during their season of
 services. On another occasion after a "candy pull" 
and dance had been held on Saturday night at a 
farm house, "the lost sheep of the House of Israel"
 were solemnly warned in the Sunday sermon of
 the sin of worldly amusement. That Sunday evening, lured by the promise that a "converted In
dian" would preach, a large congregation came to
gether, but the meeting was turned into a prayer
 meeting where many got the "power"; according to 
the correspondent who described the scene, pandemonium was let loose and the howling dervishes of 
the orient show as much of that decent respect for 
the opinions of mankind as did the participants on 
this occasion. 


According to the United States Census of 1850
 the Methodists stood first in the State of Church 
accommodations; the Presbyterians, second; the 
Baptists, third; and the Roman Catholics, fourth. 
 In the United States Census of 1860 they stood in 
the same order. Each denomination had its own
 powerful organization with leaders who were quite
 at home in the public affairs of the State as well as 
in the local community. Their power showed no 
where better than in their relation to the young 
University. After the first two or three years of 
the life of the institution ministers occupied strong 
positions on the Board of Regents. Of the seven
 branches that were discontinued, five were under 
the direction of clergymen. An effort was made to 
keep the faculty at Ann Arbor balanced between 
the leading Protestant denominations. The code 
of government of the University in the early days
 was extremely churchly. For example, it required
 all students to attend some church on Sunday and
 to attend morning and evening prayer; in order to 
keep the students from violating the Sabbath by
 pursuing secular studies, a lesson in the Greek
 Testament was prescribed for each of the four 
classes to be recited the first thing Monday 
morning. 


No one can understand those early times without 
some knowledge of the temperance movement. 
Intoxicating liquor had disastrous effects upon the 
Indians, and recognizing this condition the Federal Government very early fixed heavy fines for 
selling or giving them liquor. In 1825 the Detroit 
Common Council petitioned, in view of the "dis
orders, riots and indecencies" committed there by the 
Indians, that the Superintendent of Indian Affairs 
have them instructed in the laws of the city and
 that an effort be made to find out where they got their liquor. But the Indians were not the only 
victims of liquor. It was customary for many of
 the settlers to keep the "little brown jug" filled with
 whisky and to have plenty of it on hand when raisings, logging bees, husking bees and other neighbor
ly gatherings were held. When the walls and
 rafters of a house were up it was usual for one of
 tie builders to climb up on top of it and christen it
 with a bottle of whisky. These playful customs 
may serve to intimate the brutal barbarity of other
 occasions and the shadow of tragedy that hung over 
innumerable frontier homes. 


The first temperance society in Michigan was
 organized in Detroit in 1830. When the early tem
perance societies were organized, their principles
 did not forbid wine and beer, but merely whisky and
 rum. As an outcome of this early movement Lewis 
Cass organized a Congressional Temperance Society 
in Washington of which he became president. 


The next thing of this character to reach Mich
igan was the "Washingtonian" movement. Six re
formed drunkards, —a tailor, a carpenter, a silver-
smith, a coach maker and two blacksmiths, —had
 started it in a Baltimore tavern in 1840. They
 had all heard a temperance lecture and had signed 
the pledge, and now they wanted to carry their new
 gospel to all their fellow countrymen. Needless to 
say, they stood for total abstinence. As Washing
ton had saved his country from the British and as 
they were going to save it from rum, they named
 their society the "Washingtonian" in his honor. 
 Within two years hundreds of thousands came un
der the spoil of these crusaders and signed the
 pledge. Other crusaders joined the movement, 
 mostly reformed drunkards, and some of the great
est orators of the times were developed under the
 spell of this undertaking. John B. Gough quit
 liquor in 1843 and for forty-five years was recog
nized as one of the most effective temperance speak
ers. In 1841 it reached Michigan and spread from
 town to town. Typical instances are those of 
Marshall and Battle Creek. Marshall had already 
succumbed to the reform and in the winter of 1841
 and 1842 she sent three of her representative cit
izens to start the reform in Battle Creek. The first, 
 Thomas Gilbert, had given up his occasional glass
 and signed the pledge; the second, Bath Banks, had
 abandoned the liquor business under moral con
viction; and the third, Robert Hall, was a reformed drunkard. Battle Creek yielded to their arguments 
and in turn sent three of their citizens to start
 the reform in Climax. In this way the movement 
spread over the entire State.

The next stage of the movement in Michigan 
was legislative. The situation with regard to
 temperance when Tappan came to the presidency
 of the University was this: There had been a great
 deal of lecturing upon it during the last ten or 
twelve years; mass movements had been started; 
 whole communities had been committed to it; the
 population of the State as a whole had been pro
foundly affected; and the churches had from the 
first strongly advocated it. Though the active moral
 movement was slightly slowing up, the standards 
gained during those strenuous times still prevailed, 
 and the impetus of securing the prohibitive legisla
tion was at its height. 


Another feature of the Michigan situation
 at the time was inter-city rivalry. It had
 not been many years earlier that the cities were 
fighting for such prizes as the State Capitol, the
 Insane Asylum, the Penitentiary, and the Univer
sity, and this spirit persisted. Each town was ready 
to grab any new favor that appeared in sight or to 
prevent its rivals from making the most of what 
they had, or from getting any new advantage. 
 Their local papers were in charge of able men who
 wrote weighty editorials often a column long and
 were always ready to take up the cudgels for local
 interests. Nor were they timid in their methods; 
they engaged in chivalrous vituperation of each
 other; the words "contemptible poltroon and low
 trickster" were not strangers to their columns. The 
efforts to take the Medical Department to Detroit
 had its origin in inter-city jealousy. The support 
of denominational colleges over the State in their 
militant opposition to the University was due not
 only to denominational solidarity but to local antag
onisms as well. The State was at that time a group 
of warring communities instead of a social whole. 


In the midst of this general situation the Uni
versity was making a fight to get under way. 
 Though the fantastic "Catholepistemiad" had been
 established in 1817 and the "University of Mich
igan" had superseded it in 1821, the real existence 
of the University began shortly before the State was
 admitted to the Union in 1837. The institution 
started out at this time under exceptionally good
 auspices. The two men most responsible for its in
ception, General Isaac E. Crary and the Rev. John
 D. Pierce, not only had educational ideas of their 
own but also had read Cousin's Report on the 
Prussian system of public instruction. They had
 considerable understanding, therefore, of the mod
ern goal of education and the way to undertake to 
reach it.