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.