- Historic Sites
“It Is … A Small College … Yet, There Are Those Who Love It”
DARTMOUTH COLLEGE V. WOODWARD
August 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 5
These were in the hands of the treasurer of the board, and he was an old crony of Wheelock’s named William H. Woodward. He was, of course, on the side of the new University.
With this deadlock the first phase of the public controversy, the strictly political one, came to an end. The second, the legal and constitutional (as well as political) phase, was to begin after a lull of several months.
In February, 1817, Governor Plumer renewed his attack. He called a second meeting of the University board, this time in Concord, not in Hanover. No longer could the anti-Wheelock trustees frustrate the proceedings by staying away. The legislature had reduced the quorum requirement, so that the nine new Plumer appointees, plus the four original pro-Wheelock members, would suffice. At this Concord meeting the University board removed President Brown, two professors, and three of the Octagon trustees. The board then restored Wheelock to the presidency and named his son-in-law, William Allen, to a professorship.
To Wheelock, who had remained in Hanover, all this was gratifying, though it had come a little late. He now lay in bed, propped up on pillows, coughing his life away. He took some consolation, however, from writing his last will and testament. In it he bequeathed property worth $20,000 to Dartmouth University and made it clear that the bequest would be void if, in place of the University, the old College should ever be restored. Too weak to perform the duties of his office, he let his son-in-law serve as acting president.
That same February the College trustees, refusing to accept the new state of affairs, took the advice of Webster and other friends and resorted to a lawsuit. They undertook an action in trover, i.e. , an action based upon the common-law principle (the opposite of “finders keepers”) that one who finds goods must return them to the owner on demand. In this case the trustees called upon their deserting treasurer, William H. Woodward, to return to them the charter, seal, records, and account books, and to pay $50,000 damages besides. Woodward himself was judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Grafton County, before which the action was brought, and so the case was transferred directly to the New Hampshire Superior Court at Exeter.
While the College trustees were trying to recover the items that Woodward had “found,” they lost another big one: the Dartmouth plant itself. The spring term of the College—or was it the University? —was scheduled to begin on March 3. A few days ahead of time three “superintendents of buildings,” representing the University, called upon President Brown of the College and asked for a set of keys. He refused to give them up. So the University men enlisted a mason and a carpenter and went the rounds of Dartmouth Hall, the chapel, and the rest of the buildings, forcing the doors and installing new locks.
“There were several boys with them, and among others,” the waggish Dartmouth Gazette reported, “some or all of the aborigines who are in this place for the purpose of acquiring civilized habits.”
When the term opened, the University had the buildings, but the College had all but one of the students. These stalwarts met in borrowed rooms in the village. They were summoned to classes by a cow horn: the University forces commanded the belfry.
The term passed quietly enough. When Wheelock finally died, in April, he was duly mourned by a large crowd, including many of his old opponents, at the funeral in the meetinghouse. But the controversy did not die with him; he was merely replaced by his sonin-law as University president. When, in July, President James Monroe arrived in Hanover on the way from Boston, where even the Federalists had hailed him for bringing an “Era of Good Feelings,” he was awarded two honorary degrees, one from the College and another from the University.
At the beginning of the fall term, in September, 1817, the College numbered ninety-five students, the University fourteen. The campus continued calm until November, when news came that the state Superior Court had decided in favor of Woodward and against the College trustees. Only one student now shifted from the College to the University, but the University students, though few, dared to attempt a coup.
Earlier the University had taken over the College library, containing approximately 4,000 volumes. The College boys had managed, however, to hold on to the quarters of the two literary societies, the Social Friends and the United Fraternity, on the second floor of Dartmouth Hall. Together, these societies owned as many books as the library, and newer and better ones.
On the night of November 11, after bedtime, a band of University students and villagers, along with University Professor Nathaniel H. Carter, sneaked into Dartmouth Hall. At the entrance to the room of the Social Friends, they bunched togetner and crasnecf into the door. They could not move it. So one of them took an axe to the door and cut a hole big enough to crawl through.
The noise awakened some of the College boys. They arrived in time to arm themselves with sticks of firewood from the hallway and to trap the enemy inside the Social Friends’ room. “It appears to me we are in a cursed poor scrape,” the village shoemaker, one of those inside, was heard to say. “I had rather be in a nest of hornets than among the college boys when they get mad and roused up.” Shoemakers evidently weighed their words carefully in those days.