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The Selection of Dr. Tappan as President

Henry Philip Tappan
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.'"