The Michigan Alumnus 32
The Selection of Dr. Tappan as President
From the Article by Charles M. Perry, Ph. D. '11, in the Michigan History Magazine for April 1926
The first fifteen years of the life of the Uni versity were not so fortunate as its beginning. The first Board of Regents, appointed by the Governor, started out on an ambitious building program that would have bankrupted the Univer sity fund had not "Father Pierce" as Superintend ent of Public Instruction vetoed it. A part of the original plan was to have branches and several were established, but, while the branches undoubtedly served a purpose in the days before local high schools could be established, it is doubtful if such a dissipation of the University funds was wise. A specially unfortunate occurrence was the conflict with the Greek-letter societies, resulting as it did in expulsions and in general dissatisfaction. The policy of the faculty may have been farsighted, but they were not in a position to carry it out success fully. The Act of 1837 organizing the University had provided for a "chancellor" but none had ever been elected. The school was thus without a head, except for a chairman who was changed yearly. Under such conditions the University naturally suf fered from lack of a steady policy and could not command interest. It started with six students in 1841; increased until it had eighty-nine in 1847-48; and then decreased until there were only fifty-seven in the Literary Department in 1852. This was a critical situation.
The law of 1851 organizing the institution re quired that a Regent be chosen from each judicial circuit of the State for a period of six years. In the spring of 1851 eight regents were elected in accordance with this plan. These men happened to be of a remarkably high type. Charles H. Palmer had graduated from Union College in 1837, thus having come under the influence of President Nott's idealism, and claiming the same alma mater as Tap pan. He had later been principal of the Academy at Monroe, Michigan, conducting it with success. This background insured a degree of educational statesmanship. Another member was Elon Farns worth, who had been Chancellor of Michigan from 1836 to 1842. Chancellor Kent said of him: "The administration of justice in equity in Michigan under Chancellor Farnsworth was enlightened and correct and does distinguished honor to the State." James Kingsley had taken a Latin course either at Brown University or with one of its professors and had later served as a private tutor. William Upjohn had studies medicine in New York and later became surgeon-in-chief of the First Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac. Another physician, Michael A. Patter son, had studied medicine in the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with honors. Andrew Par sons, later Lieutenant Governor and then Acting Governor, was a member of the Board for a short time. H. Horatio Northrup, who had graduated from Union College in 1834, only nine years after Tappan, became a member of this Board in 1854. It can be seen at a glance that the majority of the Board were men above self seeking, with high ideals of public service, and with considerable knowledge of higher educational institutions.
The revised State constitution of 1850 provided for the election of a "president of the Univer sity," and at their first meeting the Regents ap pointed a committee to correspond in regard to fill ing the new office. Mr. Charles H. Palmer was ap pointed corresponding secretary and opened an ex tensive correspondence with prominent men in the East with regard to the matter. He also visited the East, calling upon Bishop Alonzo Potter of Pennsylvania, Dr. Elipalet Nott of Union, George Bancroft, and Dr. Tappan. Palmer would have chosen Potter if he had not been assured that he would not accept. Bancroft also was offered the office but he recommended Dr. Tappan. When Palmer saw Dr. Tappan he was so strongly im pressed that he went back to Michigan to recom mend his appointment.
But before the meeting of the Board at which the question was to come up, it became known to the members of the Medical profession in Detroit that Dr. Tappan had once called a homoeopathic physi cian, and they exerted such powerful opposition to the appointment that it was not effected. At a meeting of the Board in June they offered the posi tion to Dr. Henry Barnard of Connecticut, expect ing him to take it, but he declined. Palmer then made another effort to secure the appointment of Tappan but was defeated. His next move was to present the name of Dr. William Adams, pastor of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church of New York City, believing that Dr. Adams was qualified but that he would not take it. Adams declined and then Palmer, who had gained time by this maneuver to win over the opposition, brought Tappan's name up again and he was chosen president of the Uni versity. The fight had been a "warm and bitter one" but most of the men who had opposed Dr. Tappan later became his warm personal friends.
Tappan came to Michigan in the fall of 1852 and began immediately to advocate making the institution into a true university and to plan ac cordingly. In his inaugural address of December 21, 1852, he spoke in a strain familiar to all who have read his book on University Education. "In stitutions of learning have been founded both by individuals and the State . . Prussia and Mich igan are examples of states creating educational sys tems. The first has been completely successful and the institutions of Prussia, like ancient learning and art, stand before us as models which we are con strained to admire, to ap prove, and to copy. The institutions of Michigan are yet in their infancy, but we think there is promise of a bright career, of a full and ripe development, which can not well disappoint us." He condemns the English plan which has been copied so largely in the colleges of this country and extols the Prussian plan. "Sleeping in cloisters, reciting poems and orations in public," he says, are not essential to an edu cational system. He would follow the Prussian model by abolishing dormitories and providing "libraries, museums, laboratories, observatories, and philosoph ical apparatus and a sufficient number of eminent professors. In Prussia they take care of the great things and let the small things take care of them selves." He proposed an immediate advance. There should be organized additional faculties. There was already a department of medicine; there should be one of law. There should be schools of science, of civil engineering, of mining, of agriculture, of mechanics. There should be a library, a laboratory, an observatory, a museum, and a gallery of fine arts. Postgraduate courses should be established. He would have the University one in fact as well as in name. Its light should be seen in the uttermost parts of the world. It should be the crowning glory of the great educational system of the State of Michigan.
A picture of the University at the time of Tappan's coming is given by Byron M. Cutcheon, '61. He writes: "It was in 1853 that I first visited the University of Michigan. It was then really 'out in the country.' I think there were no buildings pertaining to the city, beyond the Campus. Judge Munday's residence fronted it on the west, Dr. Sager's stood near the northwest entrance, and there may have been a house or two on the north. The Campus was surrounded by a high picket fence, and I believe a turnstile kept out vagrant cows. The Campus itself looked like a large farm meadow. There were no trees except those which nature had planted, mostly large oaks. The only build ings on the Campus were the north and south colleges (now north and south wings of University Hall), the four professors' houses, two facing the north and two facing the south, and the Greek portion of the medical building. The rest of the Campus was an open field which was mowed annually for the crop of hay which it yielded.
"The north college building, at my first visit, was occupied as dormitories, except the first floor, which was used for library and museum. The furnishings of the dormitories were exceedingly primitive. In winter each room was provided with a small 'box stove' for warming purposes, and in the summer, these stoves were piled in the upper halls for storage. It was no infrequent occurrence that one of them got up in the night and rolled down stairs.
"The south room of the north college was used as the Regents' room, and also by Dr. Tappan as a lecture room for the senior class. On one occasion when the new mown hay was reposing in cocks upon the Campus in truly rural peace and beauty, it was one night garnered into the Regent’s room. The fact that there were thistles among it, may have con tained a hint of its proposed use.
"At this time there were no walks upon the ground save those worn by the feet of students. Life at the University was extremely simple, there was no wealth and no style. All were, as a rule, equal, and equally poor. Nearly every man was working his own way.'"