Entrenched Apathy Toward “Horrible Iniquity”: Columbia College Faculty and Slavery, 1784-1865

By Megan Kallstrom

In November 1863, eleven months after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Henry Drisler, professor of Greek and Latin Languages at Columbia College from 1835 to 1894, published a Loyal Publications Society pamphlet eviscerating Christian justifications for slavery.[1] Drisler attacked an April 1863 publication by Bishop John Henry Hopkins of Vermont invoking Scripture to justify American race-based slavery as divinely blessed.[2] Correcting everything from Hopkins’ understanding of Noah’s African descendants to his thoughts on the redemptive power of Christ’s crucifixion, Drisler’s pamphlet methodically discredited every shred of Biblical evidence Hopkins employed to defend slavery.[3] Armed with conviction of faith and his critical eye, within twenty pages, Drisler denounced any possible Christianity-based justification for “that horrible iniquity, the African slave trade.”[4]

Drisler published his pamphlet in the midst of the Civil War, at a time when ambiguity characterized the feelings of many Americans toward slavery. The New York City Draft Riots, spurred on by racism and opposition to the war, had occurred a few months before the release of Drisler’s pamphlet; the mere existence of Hopkins’ text, published in Philadelphia, indicates a considerable presence of pro-slavery sentiment in the North. Drisler’s pamphlet appears as a clear and righteous condemnation of slavery in the midst of this turmoil, establishing this professor, who would eventually become the first dean of Columbia College, as a vocal champion of human rights in a city not always receptive to such thought.[5]

Such an image resonates with the image of Columbia as a place for liberal politics and activism, of students storming Low Library in 1968 or depositing mattresses at its president’s door in 2014. It is tempting to think that this eloquent, thoughtful pamphlet reflected widespread anti-slavery sentiment among the Columbia College faculty, to think of Henry Drisler as the consummate progressive Columbia professor in the decades leading up to and during the Civil War. To be sure, Drisler was not alone among the ranks of Columbia faculty; others expressed anti-slavery views as well. Indeed, Francis Lieber, a professor of History and Political Science from 1857 to 1872, not only publicly condemned slavery, but also was president of the Loyal Publication Society, and therefore oversaw publication of Drisler’s pamphlet.

By and large, though, Drisler, Lieber, and other faculty who voiced anti-slavery sentiments were the exception among Columbia professors, not the rule. Between Columbia College’s opening in 1784 and the end of the Civil War in 1865, the college was home to approximately 89 faculty members.[6] With some exceptions encompassing both sides of the slavery debate, Columbia professors seem to have followed the lead of white New Yorkers more generally. Involved in trade with the South, white New Yorkers reaped the benefits of slavery; as such, most did not actively work to end the institution, although they did not necessarily embrace it.[7] Columbia faculty’s attitudes toward slavery can mostly be characterized as indifference. Neither vociferously pro-slavery nor passionately against it, the majority of faculty members seem to have been apathetic, an attitude that persisted both inside the classroom, in their roles as professors, and outside it, in their personal and public lives. The reasons for this apathy were many—some professors directly or indirectly benefited from slavery, others were deeply racist—but regardless of motive, the majority of Columbia professors seem to have viewed slavery as a simple fact of life not worthy of further consideration, much less either support or challenge. Of the professors who did evince strong opinions on slavery, though, most opposed it in some manner.

The reactions of Columbia faculty to slavery can be contextualized in terms of the views of the broader white New York City community. Faculty indifference toward slavery would not have been unusual; it could be considered more of a norm. New York and New Jersey were slow among Northern states to end slavery.[8] While slavery declined in New York after 1790, the chance does not appear to have resulted from any great change of heart. Moral reasons may have influenced some New Yorkers, such as the Manumission Society’s efforts to lobby slaveowners to manumit their slaves and promotion of the African Free School, but self-interest firmly rooted the decline of slavery.[9] Tensions with the growing free black population led to fears for their safety among whites, and the abundance of wage-workers—who did not need to be housed, clothed, or fed—ultimately may have seemed cheaper to employ than slaves.[10] After abolition, blacks faced discrimination, segregation, “exploitative wage labor, unhealthful living conditions, and…impoverishment.”[11] Among white and black people alike, “repugnant” abolitionist or pro-black sentiment met opposition and violence.[12] New York’s commercial ties to the South also meant that New York’s elite implicitly and explicitly supported Southern slavery, and would even allow “southern slaveocrats to reach into New York City itself” to extradite fugitive slaves.[13] This apathy toward slavery continued even through the Civil War. Some New Yorkers embraced the Emancipation Proclamation with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but others opposed the “radical” Proclamation.[14] If it came to a choice between property rights and human rights, many New Yorkers sided with property rights, even those of rebels, fearful that “freeing the slaves would ruin the South (and indirectly the North).”[15] The Peace Democrats in New York even “wanted to restore the Union as it had existed before the war, with slavery intact.”[16] The conservatism reflected in these New Yorkers’ sentiments could be found on Columbia’s campus as well. Columbia was a conservative place to begin with—“nothing much had changed” between the 1790s and 1850s—and that conservatism held true for slavery as well, to the point that some even suspected Columbia’s unionism to be false: “Columbia’s reputation was shaky at best. Some of the city’s most committed unionists rightly suspected several Columbia trustees of being…Northerners with southern principles or sympathies.”[17] In short, Columbia was a conservative college within a conservative city. While New Yorkers did not actively embrace slavery, by and large, they did not push for its end, and evidence seems to suggest that parallel attitudes could be found on Columbia College’s campus.

            Indeed, by and large, Columbia College professors appear to have joined in this conservative indifference inasmuch as few seemingly said anything about slavery. There is a dearth of evidence suggesting that professors lectured, spoke, wrote on, or even thought about the subject. Of the 89 professors who taught at Columbia between 1784 and 1865, 61 appear to have expressed no strong opinion on slavery, or at least not one they thought important enough to record. Professors largely do not seem to have discussed slavery, whether to challenge or support it, inside or outside of the classroom. Even in situations where comment on slavery would have been germane, the topic was not broached. One example comes from William Betts, a Professor of Law from 1848 to 1854, who gave an address on the “causes of the prosperity of New-York” to the St. Nicholas Society (an off-campus group) in 1850.[18] Betts attributed New York’s prosperity to many sources, from New York’s geographical advantages to laws under the Dutch government. Not once did Betts identify slavery contributing to economic prosperity, even though slave labor filled New York merchants’ ships, bolstered the South’s ability to trade with New York, and contributed to the economy in many more ways. The faculty’s silence on slavery is further evidenced by a review of students’ lectures notes. It appears that slavery was not a subject of lecture or class discussion, since these notes lack any mention of slavery or abolition, even in classes taught by professors who opposed slavery and on topics where its discussion would be relevant. Lieber, whose publicized dislike of slavery has been previously mentioned, serves as an example. Robert Bage Canfield, class of 1862, took Lieber’s lecture course on history. According to Canfield’s notes, even when discussing the Confederate government, Lieber appears to have stopped short of directly discussing slavery, despite its clear relevance to the subject matter.[19] Similarly, John McVickar, who taught Moral Philosophy, Political Economy, and Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion from 1817 to 1868, opposed slavery on economic grounds, as will be discussed later.[20] However, slavery does not appear to have been discussed in his lectures on political economy. In two separate sets of students’ notes, Wheelock Parmly’s from 1841-1842 and Edward Courtlandt Babcock’s from the later 1840s, the closest McVickar came to discussing slavery’s role in political economy was to disabuse students of the notion that “labor” was inherently “servile,” and “unworthy a free citizen.”[21] McVickar’s oblique reference to slavery, but refusal to engage with it, indicates Columbia faculty’s stilted, conservative attitude toward the topic.

Further evidence of faculty apathy toward slavery comes from the relative prevalence of slaveholding among the Columbia College faculty. While many professors may not have explicitly articulated their views on slavery, a significant number of them owned slaves or strongly benefited from slavery, reflecting a tacit acceptance of the institution. Of the 89 professors who taught at Columbia College between 1784 and 1865, 48 would have been legally able to own slaves. Among these professors, 21 owned slaves (a complete list of which can be found in Appendix A of this paper), 16 did not, and data is unavailable for the remaining 11. Some owned few slaves, such as Medicine Professor William Hamersley (1792-1813) and Chemistry Professor John S. Stringham (1802-1813), both of whom owned one in 1810 and 1800, respectively, according to census records.[22] Some professors who owned slaves later freed them, including Botany, Natural History, Chemistry, and Agriculture Professor Samuel Latham Mitchill (1792-1802), who manumitted two slaves, one in 1809 and one in 1811.[23] (Incidentally, Mitchill supported the New York Manumission Society.) Other professors were significantly more entrenched in slavery. Botany and Materia Medica Professor David Hosack (1795-1811) owned five slaves in 1800, and Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Medicine Professor Samuel Bard (1785-1787), who would become the president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1813, owned eight slaves in 1810.[24] Medicine Professor Edward Stevens (1794-1795) even operated a plantation in Saint Croix in 1796, where no fewer than 12 slaves labored.[25] Slaveholding professors taught everything from Moral Philosophy (Professor John McKnight, 1795-1801, with two slaves in 1790)[26] to Greek and Latin Languages (Professor Elijah Rattoone, 1792-1797, with one slave in 1790)[27] and Law (Professor and President William Alexander Duer, 1829-1842, with two slaves in 1790).[28] Additionally, some professors who were anti-slavery owned slaves, either as they worked to oppose slavery or before they did so. Even Lieber, whose strong anti-slavery opinion has already been noted, owned two slaves during his time in the South.[29] The considerable number of professors who owned slaves further paints the faculty as widely accepting of the institution and loath to question it.

Additionally, at least five professors, regardless of whether they owned (or could have owned) slaves themselves, reaped indirect but significant benefits from slavery. Four—Bard, John McVickar, Robert Watts, and Edward Delafield—came from families that not only owned slaves, but also gained significant amounts of wealth as merchants, plantation owners, and other professionals dependent on slavery. This family wealth presumably bolstered these professors’ access to education, and therefore contributed to their eventual success in their academic and professional lives. Bard, who (as previously mentioned) owned slaves, was the son of John Bard, a surgeon-turned-plantation-owner who “secured his family’s economic position by investing in land and slaves…with a resident overseer to ‘support his the said John Bard[’]s slaves in good and sufficient Cloathing and Bedding.’”[30] McVickar acquired this slave-based wealth when he married Samuel Bard’s daughter, Eliza; McVickar was also the “heir of a West Indies and China trader whose ships carried the products of slavery and opium.”[31] Another heir apparent was Robert Watts, professor of Anatomy from 1860 to 1867, the great-grandson of the rich, powerful slave trader (and King’s College trustee) John Watts.[32] Although Robert and John lived decades apart, his great-grandfather’s wealth nevertheless would likely have led to advantages for several generations, enabling Watts to receive his medical education, crucial to securing his livelihood as a professor. Edward Delafield, a professor of Midwifery from 1860 to 1875, was the son of John Delafield, a merchant whose marine insurance business made him one of the wealthiest men in New York City.[33] As with many businesses at the time, marine insurance depended in large part on slavery; while marine insurers often failed to specify in writing the exact nature of the seaborne cargo they insured when dealing with slave ships, “slaves were insured just like any other thing that the farmers owned, that the slave owners owned.”[34] The connections between the insurance business and the slave trade were numerous, and the significant extent of the wealth that John Delafield derived from his marine insurance trade from the 1780s to 1820s, when slavery and the slave trade (both African and interstate) were still legal, strongly suggests his involvement with the slave trade. Additionally, to a lesser degree, the family of Charles Anthon, a professor of Greek and Latin Languages from 1820 to 1867, owed its livelihood and success to slavery. Anthon’s father worked as a surgeon for the Dutch West India Company for approximately 15 years.[35] The Dutch West India Company was a major presence in the slave trade, intertwining Anthon’s family deeply with the business.[36] To be clear, familial involvement with or profit from the slave trade did not mean that these professors, as individuals, were pro-slavery. Indeed, while Bard owned slaves, McVickar, Delafield, Watts, and Anthon do not appear to have owned slaves in their individual households, and McVickar even explicitly wrote about the economic problems the practice of slavery caused. Nevertheless, slavery clearly enabled some members of the faculty to receive the educations they did and the opportunities that followed.

Although 21 professors did own slaves, 16 of the legally able 48 did not. As in the case of slaveholding professors, no trend, such as academic specialty, seems to have affected slaveholding status. Professors who did not own slaves taught subjects as diverse as their slaveholding counterparts. From Moral Philosophy (John Daniel Gros, 1787-1795, and John Bowden, 1801-1817) to Chemistry (John Griscom, 1813-1820), professors who did and did not own slaves had the same range of academic interests, sometimes seemingly working side by side.[37] Some of these professors—including Gros, Griscom, and McVickar—expressed anti-slavery sentiments in writings or other records; others were silent all around on the topic.

For most Columbia College professors, clearly, slavery was not an issue that merited a crusade to end or defend it. But when professors did speak up on the issue, what did they say? Approximately 28 (out of the total of 89, less than a third) professors expressed distinct views on slavery. (A more detailed list of these 28 professors can be found in Appendix D of this paper, and a timeline of these views at Columbia can be found in Appendix E.) Of these 28, none were pro-slavery, although four of these 28 were pro-Southern or contributed to justifying slavery. The remaining 24 were loosely anti-slavery, but for different reasons, to different degrees, and with different goals.

While no professor appears to have explicitly expressed strongly pro-slavery views, one professor advanced racist scientific thought and three were pro-Southern. All four taught at Columbia after 1840, and their sympathies do not appear to have been made clear until the 1860s. Dr. John C. Dalton, Jr. was a professor of Physiology and Microscopic Anatomy at Columbia College from 1860 to 1889; he would become president of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1884.[38] In 1861, during the Civil War, Dalton penned a treatise on human physiology in which he analyzed the size of cerebra in the human brain. He stated that “the size of the cerebrum in different races…corresponds with the grade of their intelligence. The size of the cranium…is smallest in the savage negro.”[39] He further asserted that the largest cranium belongs to the “enlightened” white races, implying that black people’s intelligence was innately inferior to that of white people.[40] To be sure, Dalton was not pro-slavery—indeed, during the Civil War, he served as a brigade surgeon for the Union, where he interacted with some of the freed “contraband” slaves that the Union army sheltered.[41] Nevertheless, Dalton’s treatise contributed to race science, a body of science, later rightfully debunked, that justified degradation of black people and supported slavery.

Beyond Dalton, three Columbia College professors displayed pro-Southern sympathies. The first to was Charles W. Hackley, professor of Mathematics and Astronomy from 1843 to 1861.[42] In December 1860, Hackley wrote a letter to then-Senator Jefferson Davis stating that Hackley’s “sympathies are entirely with the South.”[43] While Hackley urged Davis to let the territories decide their own slavery policy upon gaining statehood, he did so only on the ground that “those regions whose climate and productions require it would inevitably become slave States, and afford abundant room for the necessary expansion of your domestic institution,” meaning that he had no problem with slavery’s expansion.[44] While Hackley did not explicitly endorse slavery in this letter (or elsewhere), his ideas for its perpetuation and clear support of the South link him to the survival and expansion of slavery.

Hackley was relatively moderate in his sympathies toward slavery compared to the two other pro-Southern professors, both of whom actively sought to serve the Confederacy. Professor Theodore Gaillard Thomas, Columbia College professor of Obstetrics, Diseases of Women and Children, and Medical Jurisprudence from 1863 to 1879, joined the Columbia College faculty midway through the war;[45] prior to becoming a faculty member, he attempted to serve the Confederacy. Thomas was a native of South Carolina, and although he had worked in New York since 1855, he returned to the South to aid the Confederacy when the war broke out.[46] Ultimately, he did not stay in the Confederate States, for reasons that are unclear. One source suggests that Thomas left of his own volition, “believing that he could best serve his country in New York City”;[47] another source states that the Confederacy “declined” his services.[48] Regardless of reason, Thomas was back in New York by 1863, but his defection nevertheless speaks to a strong support of the South.

Richard Sears McCulloh was a successful defector. A Maryland native, McCulloh served as a professor of Chemistry, Mechanics, and Physics at Columbia College from 1854 to 1863. On September 25, 1863, McCulloh abruptly resigned his post in a letter to Columbia College President Charles King (incidentally, an abolitionist and strong supporter of the Union), stating that while he would remember Columbia fondly, “it should encite no surprize that one, born and reared a southerner, prefers to cast his lot with that of the South.”[49] Not to be outdone, the Columbia Board of Trustees, led by the incensed King, responded by expelling McCulloh from his post and striking his name from college records.[50] As a Confederate, McCulloh worked under the code name “Constantinople” to design chemical weapons to be used against the North, such as a poisonous gas;[51] these weapons do not appear to have been utilized.[52] Some have suggested that McCulloh was even a paid spy working for the Confederacy before this defection.[53] As for slavery itself, McCulloh disliked the slave trade, stating that it had been “justly condemned,” but spoke highly of Southern slavery and the benefits slaves purportedly received: “The slaves of Louisiana are civilized and intelligent. … They are generally far better fed, better clothed, better provided for, and better treated” than workers in Europe.[54] McCulloh’s sympathy for the South may have been an outlier among Columbia faculty, but the depth of his support marks him as an important outlier nevertheless.

Although vocal in their support of the South, Hackley, Thomas, and McCulloh still represented a tiny segment within the minority of Columbia faculty who took a position on the subject of slavery. The other 24 largely expressed anti-slavery sentiments. Few trends specific to Columbia professors can be detected among this opposition—the amount of support for Manumission or Colonization largely rose and fell along the same lines as city- or nationwide support of the movements. Sentiment against slavery was clearest toward the beginning and end of the 1784-1865 period, with 11 professors at Columbia opposing slavery between 1784 and 1800, and then again between 1860 and 1865. Both of these periods coincided with moments when anti-slavery sentiment in New York could also be expected to be higher. With regard to the former period, the push for legislation for gradual emancipation occurred between 1784 and 1800, with the first gradual emancipation law being passed in 1799; with regard to the latter period, while New Yorkers were clearly not uniformly anti-slavery during the Civil War, Unionism and anti-Southern sentiment coalesced to make New Yorkers slightly more anti-slavery. Anti-slavery sentiment among Columbia College faculty reached its lowest point in the period from 1810 to 1820, again paralleling attitudes in the rest of New York. There was only one anti-slavery professor at Columbia from 1811 to 1812 (John Kemp, professor of Mathematics, Natural History, and Geography, 1786-1812) and then from 1813 to 1817 (Griscom). This nadir in opposition followed the effective crumbling of slavery in New York in 1810, and perhaps reflected a feeling, even if misplaced, that recent reforms had satisfactorily resolved issues of slavery and race.

These professors’ anti-slavery sentiment was not uniform; they had different ideas for why and how to end slavery. Some professors merely supported a particular movement, and others delivered speeches against slavery or advocated for political change. There were gradual abolitionists, manumissionists, and colonizationists, and several professors participated in multiple movements—Griscom supported all three. Some professors condemned slavery for moral or religious reasons; others thought it economically harmful. Some merely supported a movement; others more actively worked to end slavery. Two professors supported gradual abolition: William Pitt Smith (professor of Materia Medica, 1792-1795) and Griscom. While both Smith and Griscom were also manumissionists, and Griscom was also involved with the American Colonization Society, evidence suggests that some of their most active contributions came as part of an effort for gradual abolition, a movement that called for state governments to outline and enforce a gradual end to slavery.[55] Both Smith and Griscom actively encouraged their state legislatures (New York and New Jersey, respectively) to support gradual emancipation legislation. After leaving Columbia in 1795, Smith was elected to the New York state legislature, where “he took a warm and decided part on the subject of a gradual emancipation [the gradual emancipation bill] of slaves in the state of New York,” and made strenuous, invigorating speeches urging the legislature to pass it.[56] Although Smith died in 1796, before the bill passed, his vigorous advocacy reflects intense opposition to slavery. Similarly, though not in the capacity of an elected official, Griscom signed a 1796 petition to the New Jersey legislative assembly “seeking an act for the gradual abolition of slavery.”[57] While Griscom opposed slavery on multiple fronts, his political effort supporting gradual abolition reflects a decisive and active stand against slavery.

Beyond abolitionism, several Columbia professors also supported the movements of manumission and colonization, with manumission being the more popular of the two. Similar to gradual abolitionists but viewed as less extreme, manumissionists also opposed slavery and campaigned for legislation ending it, but also encouraged individual slaveowners to free their slaves of their own volition and in their own time. Among the faculty, twelve professors supported the New York Manumission Society, according to its membership records from 1785 (its inception) through 1827.[58] (A complete list of these professors can be found in Appendix B of this paper.) The Manumission Society provides an example of the complexities of anti-slavery sentiment: many members of the Manumission Society did, including some Columbia professors and continued to own them or manumitted them long after joining. While Kemp, Duer, and rhetoric and logic Professor and College President Benjamin Moore were members of the Manumission Society during its first year (1785), the census shows that Duer owned slaves as late as 1790, and both Kemp and Moore owned slaves as late as 1810.[59] While Kemp manumitted one slave (of four that he owned as of 1810) in 1812, and Moore manumitted both slaves in 1811 and 1813, Duer does not seem to have done so.[60] The Manumission Society also exemplifies how not all professors opposed slavery with the same fervor. James Kent, professor of law from 1793 to 1798 and again 1823 to 1847, was a member of the Manumission Society in 1785. Although he considered slavery evil, Kent also believed Blacks to be inherently inferior, writing that Blacks “even when free are essentially a degraded caste,” and that the South “ought to be let alone, and [that] time, self-interest and reflection will gradually undermine domestic slavery in these states, as it has done in New York.”[61] His sentiments stand in stark contrast to the political activism of Smith and Griscom, indicating the fractures even among the anti-slavery minority.

Evidence suggests that fewer Columbia professors participated in colonization activities than Manumission Society efforts, but on average, the professors who were colonizationists tended to be more active within the movement. While colonization was a movement to end slavery, as manumission and gradual abolition were, the former’s goals differed significantly. Colonizationists wanted to send all black people to Africa; ending slavery would only be a byproduct of such action. According to 1835, 1837, and 1840 New-York Colonization Society Records, Samuel Turner (professor of Hebrew Language and Literature, 1830-1861) and Duer both belonged to the NYCS, the latter as its president, overlapping with his term as Columbia College president.[62] Additionally, Griscom and Charles Frederic Chandler (professor of Analytical and Applied Chemistry, 1864-1877) both belonged to the American Colonization Society, with Griscom sitting on the board of managers for the New-York Colonization Society as well.[63] (The list of these professors can also be found in Appendix C of this paper.) The fact that half of all Columbia College professors who were involved with these two societies held leadership roles speaks to the class with which Columbia College was associated in Manhattan. The Colonization Society was home to “the cream of Manhattan society,” and such high levels of involvement speak to the Columbia and its professors’ place in perpetuating such elitism.[64]

Several Columbia professors harbored anti-slavery sentiments without necessarily subscribing to a particular movement. There were three intertwining but distinct reasons underlying this anti-slavery sentiment: moral, religious, and, to a lesser extent, economic. Moral grounds constituted professors’ predominant rationale for opposition to slavery. Two professors (including the aforementioned Drisler) disliked the institution for predominantly religious reasons, and only McVickar based his opposition to slavery on mainly economic grounds. A priest as well as an economist, McVickar’s reasons for opposing slavery intertwined with religion, but mainly reflected an economic standpoint. In a treatise on political economy, McVickar wrote about the problems slavery causes within society, specifying that “slave labour is exploded for its expensiveness.”[65] This “inexpedience,” he argued, made slavery “opposed to the peace, good order, and permanent prosperity of the community,” which McVickar classified as God-given blessings that people should strive to achieve.[66] McVickar’s focus on slavery as a predominantly economic wrong was unique among Columbia faculty, and his treatise—published in 1825, before discussion on slavery grew overwhelmingly divisive—provided a valuable, objective reason to curtail the use or expansion of slavery in the debates and decades to come.

Religious opposition to slavery is evident not only in the previously discussed work of Drisler, but also in the beliefs expressed by Charles Murray Nairne, a professor of Ethics of Jurisprudence, Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, and Literature, who worked at Columbia from 1857 to 1882. While Nairne did not publish any work on slavery by himself, he did edit and help write “Evidences of Christianity,” an 1879 treatise that decries slavery. The treatise reads, “The slave trade destroys more in a year, than the Inquisition does in a hundred, or perhaps hath done since its foundation,” and calls on Christianity to “prevail against the worse slavery of the West Indies.”[67] While the treatise was published after the Civil War, suggesting that it was not necessarily about American slavery, the anti-slavery sentiment is strong enough that Nairne’s opposition to American slavery can be inferred. Nairne viewed Christianity both as motivation and means to end slavery, linking to Drisler’s 1863 pamphlet and further illuminating religious anti-slavery sentiment among faculty.

Moral grounds were by far the most prevalent reason for Columbia College professors to oppose slavery. This moral rejection can be seen in some of the professors who taught earliest in this period—such as William Cochran, professor of Greek and Latin Languages, 1784-1789, who viewed slavery as “revolting[ly]” inconsistent with the Declaration of Independence—to some who taught latest, such as Lieber. Just as with manumission, the degrees to which these anti-slavery professors acted on these moral sentiments varied widely. For some professors, evidence of their moral opposition to slavery is limited to one piece of writing. Mariano Velazquez de la Cadeña, Spanish Language and Literature professor from 1830 to 1860, co-wrote and published a Spanish Language textbook in New York in 1865. One of the sentences used to demonstrate English-to-Spanish translation reads, “My good young lady, have pity on a poor fugitive slave.”[68] However, no other aspect of his work or life left behind indicates a particularly strong antipathy toward the practice.

Three of the professors who were most vocal about their moral opposition to slavery were John Daniel Gros, Chandler Robbins Gilman, and Lieber. John Daniel Gros, professor of Moral Philosophy, German Language, and Geography from 1787 to 1795, wrote and published several essays on the topic, in which he bluntly condemned slavery on moral and religious grounds. Gros believed that, regardless of how civilized a slaveholding nation could be, “slavery itself…does not cease to be inhuman, unnatural and disgraceful to all mankind.”[69] He additionally warned of slavery’s religious repercussions, as the “unnatural justice of slavery” meant that slaves were “kept ignorant with respect to their duties to God and to men,” posing potential problems for slaves as well as their masters who failed to obey the will of God.[70] Gros may have been unique among anti-slavery professors in that he did discuss slavery (and presumably his opposition to it) in his classes; his criticism of slavery purportedly inspired one 1793 senior commencement address, “On the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade.”[71] In a telling detail, though, compared to McVickar and Lieber, two other anti-slavery professors who avoided discussing slavery in class, Gros had by far the shortest career at Columbia. Lieber taught at Columbia for fifteen years, and McVickar for fifty-one; Gros only stayed for eight.

Another professor who seems to have opposed slavery on moral grounds was Chandler Robbins Gilman, professor of Obstetrics, Diseases of Women and Children, and Medical Jurisprudence from 1860 to 1865. Gilman’s opposition to slavery manifested uniquely among his peers: through his fiction. In addition to being a doctor and professor, Gilman was a writer, and several of his published works featured slave or ex-slave characters, most of whom were presented in a sympathetic light or otherwise made an argument, indirect or direct, against slavery. Gilman personally opposed slavery; in the 1820s, well before the Civil War, he “turned down a professorship at a Virginia university because he refused to rear and raise children in the slave-owning South.”[72] His stories reflected his views. One of his books, Legends of a Log Cabin (1835) uses characters of slaves and sympathetic slaveowners to suggest that the immorality of slavery is so great that even the kindest masters and mistresses in the world cannot mitigate its inherent evil. Works of fiction may have reached a different, potentially broader, audience than academic treatises on philosophy or physiology, and Gilman’s unique contribution demonstrates not only Columbia College faculty’s diverse opposition to slavery, but also the myriad impacts it could have

Finally, Lieber was perhaps the most vocal moral opponent of slavery, both on and off campus. He expressed his opposition to slavery both directly and indirectly through multiple outlets. Indirectly, as president of the Loyal Publication Society, he published anti-slavery writings (such as Drisler’s pamphlet). More directly, Lieber himself published or publicly stated his opposition to slavery multiple times. To be sure, Lieber’s thoughts on slavery were complicated and evolved over time, particularly due to time he spent teaching in the South. While never pro-slavery, and always believing “the institution was vicious,” Lieber wrote that abolition was a “foolish solution of violent and impractical persons”; he additionally thought that white people naturally should rule over other races “because they assemble all the good qualities which are scattered among the other races.”[73]  Later, though, after his move to the North and the outbreak of Civil War, Lieber either felt freer to express his opposition to slavery, or his feelings against it deepened. He denounced “its unrighteousness” frequently, even supplementing his moral outrage with economic critique, condemning “the sacrifice it [slavery] involved of justice to profit.”[74] Lieber believed that because slavery went against “all progress and civilization,” it “did not exist by the law of nature…Therefore, forbidding slavery in the territories was no deprivation of property,” providing a joint economic and moral critique not only of the institution itself, but also the property rights defense of slavery.[75] Lieber’s anti-slavery stance was strong enough by 1865 that, in reaction to the war’s end, he proposed and publicized a series of constitutional amendments, the centerpiece of which was an amendment that “would forever abolish slavery in the United States.”[76] (His proposal overlapped with, but did not directly create, the Thirteenth Amendment.) Lieber justified the sweeping scope of such a proposal by saying that the abolition of slavery merits “the stamp of the nation’s moral consciousness, and the nation’s constitutional frown.”[77] Lieber’s stance on slavery was made clear even on the conservative campus: in 1861, there was a flag-raising ceremony on Columbia’s campus to commemorate the burgeoning war, and Lieber’s contribution to the proceedings was a song he wrote and Columbians performed.[78] Lieber’s song repeatedly and pointedly celebrates the freedom of the North, calling the flag the “Bright Union-emblem of the free,” and referring to the North as “Freeland.”[79] Even though he may have refrained from mentioning slavery in lecture, Lieber still clearly publicized anti-slavery sentiment on campus as well. Lieber’s clear and vocal opposition to slavery on moral, and somewhat economic, grounds makes him one of the more zealously anti-slavery professors, and again indicates the different degrees and forms of anti-slavery sentiment present on Columbia’s campus from 1784 to 1865.

For all of this anti-slavery sentiment, though, it is still crucial to bear in mind that while Lieber was outspoken, the majority of his colleagues remained silent on slavery. Most faculty displayed the general indifference that most New Yorkers felt toward slavery. With some notable exceptions, Columbia College professors did not actively fight to kill or to sustain slavery, and did not discuss the matter inside or outside of classrooms. This indifference speaks to Columbia’s role within the city, as a bastion of power as well as a molder of minds. Columbia College, and King’s before it, was founded in large part to educate the elite of New York. The sons of New York’s wealthiest citizens, such as John Watts, Jr., attended; students such as Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton went on to lead the city, state, and nation.[80] A Columbia degree was not just an education; it was a status. As such, Columbia as a whole both relied on and strengthened the status quo and the systems that supported such elitism—of which slavery was undoubtedly one. Instead of questioning that elitism, faculty mostly sustained it, preferring to live within proverbial ivy towers than to open the campus gates and grapple with an evil as insidious and inhumane as slavery. They did not work to sustain slavery, but they did little to hasten its slow death, either; given Columbia’s influence, one has to wonder if they could have.

Appendices:

Appendix A. Professors Who Owned Slaves – 26

Appendix B. Professors in the Manumission Society – 28

Appendix C. Professors in the Colonization Society – 29

Appendix D. All Professors with Stances on Slavery – 30

Appendix E. Timeline of Professor Opinions on Slavery and the South – 39

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[1] Officers and Graduates of Columbia University: General Catalogue, 1754-1900 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1900), http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015076344566;view=1up;seq=45. Page 35; Henry Drisler, Bible view of slavery, by John H. Hopkins, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont, examined (New York: Loyal Publication Society, 1863), Sabin Americana, Gale, Cengage Learning, 25 March 2015 http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/Sabin?af=RN&ae=CY3802712804&srchtp=a&ste=14.

[2] John Henry Hopkins, “Bible View of Slavery” (1863), HathiTrust, http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009565487.

[3] Ibid., 3, 8, 9.

[4] Ibid., 18

[5] “Columbia’s Deans: No. 1, Henry Drisler, L.L.D,” Columbia Daily Spectator 49, no. 88 (January 25, 1916), http://spectatorarchive.library.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/columbia?a=d&d=cs19160125-01.2.41#

[6] Officers.

[7] Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris, ed., Slavery in New York (New York: The New Press, 2005), page 114.

[8] Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pages 285-6.

[9] Ibid., 348-9.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Burrows, Gotham, 547; Berlin, Slavery in New York, 145.

[12] Burrows, Gotham, 558, 552.

[13] Ibid., 560.

[14] Ibid., 885.

[15] Ibid., 886.

[16] Ibid., 885.

[17] Robert McCaughey, Stand, Columbia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), page 104; Jane Singer, The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), http://bit.ly/1KKL7I2, page 100.

[18] William Betts, The causes of the prosperity of New-York : an anniversary address delivered before the St. Nicholas Society of New York, December 3rd, 1850 (New-York: New York, 1851), Sabin Americana, accessed April 15, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KLbXjg.

[19] Robert Bage Canfield, “Robert Bage Canfield Manuscripts, 1858-1862,” Columbia Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

[20] John McVickar, Outlines of Political Economy, (New York: Wilder & Campbell, 1825), http://bit.ly/1F5kEGk, page 137.

[21] Wheelock H. Parmly, “Notes from the Lectures of John McVickar on Intellectual Philosophy, Moral Science, and Political Economy as taken down by Wheelock H. Parmly (A.B. 1841 A.M. 1845), 1841-1842,” Item 24, Columbiana Manuscripts, Columbia Rare Books and Manuscript Library; Edward Courtlandt Babcock, “Notes from the Lectures of John McVickar on Political Economy as taken down by Edward Courtlandt Babcock (A.B. 1849),” Item 89, Columbiana Manuscripts, Columbia Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

[22]William Hamersley in the 1810 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1xqQcD5; “James S Stringham in the 1800 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1aADMP5; “James S Stringham in the 1810 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1BBHRbd.

[23] Harry B. Yoshpe, “Record of Slave Manumissions in New York During the Colonial and Early National Periods,” The Journal of Negro History: 26 (1941), accessed April 18, 2015, DOI: 10.2307/2715051, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2715051.

[24]David Hosack in the 1800 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1GF6Wsi; “Samuel Bard in the 1810 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed April 17, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KN8KzC; Thomas A. Horrocks, “Bard, Samuel,” American National Biography, accessed March 30, 2015, http://bit.ly/1JsbzoG.

[25]Unnamed in the St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Slave Plantation and Town Head Tax Lists, 1772-1821,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 22, 2015. http://ancstry.me/1GF5F4x

[26]John McKnight in the 1790 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1HVY4js.

[27]Elijah Rattoon in the 1790 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1NvsN7q.

[28]William Duer in the 1790 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1yrBx5H.

[29] Harmut Keil, “Francis Lieber’s Attitudes on Race, Slavery, and Abolition,” JSTOR, accessed March 30, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Ij6l15. Page 13.

[30] Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivy (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), page 228-9.

[31] Wilder, Ebony and Ivy, 229.

[32] “Robert Watts, M.D.,” Ancestry Library, accessed May 1, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KKTymv; Clifton James Taylor, “John Watts in Colonial and Revolutionary New York,” published March 1981, accessed May 1, 2015, http://bit.ly/1ILQTdj; Wilder 63.

[33] Robert E. Wright, “Delafield, John,” American National Biography, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.anb.org/articles/10/10-00401.html?from=../12/12-00204.html&from_nm=Delafield%2C%20Edward.

[34] Virginia Goark, “Slave Policies,” The New York Times, May 5, 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/05/nyregion/slave-policies.html.

[35] Meyer Reinhold, “Anthon, Charles,” American National Biography, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.anb.org/articles/20/20-00028.html?a=1&n=charles%20anthon&d=10&ss=0&q=1; Gail Schneider, “Anthon’s Notes: A Special Collection in the Archives and Library of the Staten Island Museum,” Staten Island Museum, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.statenislandmuseum.org/images/uploads/collections/Anthons_Notes_Finding_Aid.pdf.

[36] Reinhold, “Anthon”; “Dutch West India Company,” The Gilder Lehman Institute of American History, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/origins-slavery/timeline-terms/dutch-west-india-company.

[37]John D Gross in the 1790 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015 http://bit.ly/1Rc603c; “John Bowden in the 1810 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://ancstry.me/1CnzMdN; “John Griscom in the U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 20, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KLlW8a;

[38] Thomas P. Gariepy, “Dalton, John Call, Jr.,” American National Biography, accessed May, 2, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KKiV86; Officers.

[39] John C. Dalton, Jr. M.D., A Treatise of Human Psychology; Designed for the Use of Students and Practitioners of Medicine, (Philadelphia, Blanchard and Lea: 1861), page 408.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Liz Francis, “Letter from John Call Dalton, Jr., to Charles Henry Dalton, 19 December 1861,” Massachusetts Historical Society, accessed May 2, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Eegg0X.

[42] Officers.

[43] Charles W. Hackley, “Letter from Prof. Hackley, of New York,” The Liberator, September 4, 1863, accessed March 27, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Kewvj6.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Officers.

[46] Jan Onofrio, South Carolina Biographical Dictionary, Volume II (St. Clair Shores: Somerset Publishers, Inc., 2000), http://bit.ly/1cj8VHE, page 302; “Necrology: Judge Henry B. Tompkins, Theodore Gaillard Thomas,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 4 (1903): 193-194, accessed May 1 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27575025.

[47] Ibid.

[48] “Obituary Notice: Theodore Gaillard Thomas, M.D., LL.D.,” The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire 3 (1903): 588, accessed May 1, 2015, http://bit.ly/1PmXPgN.

[49] Milton Halsey Thomas, Professor McCulloh of Princeton, Columbia, and Points South, Princeton: Princeton University, 1947, page 23.

[50] Ibid., page 24.

[51] John F. Hartranft, Edward Steers, and Harold Iolzer, The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution, (Washington, D.C.: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), page 148, http://bit.ly/1JP98Qq.

[52] Ian Post, “A Narrative in the Documents: the Gibbs Affair,” Off the Shelf: Notes from Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, November 4, 2014, accessed April 28, 2015, http://bit.ly/1EPf2gd.

[53] McCaughey, Stand, 143.

[54] Richard Sears McCulloh, “Reply to the Review by Mr. Avequin, of New Orleans, of M’Culloh’s Report on Sugar,” De Bow’s Commercial Review, 1848, accessed April 20, 2015, http://bit.ly/1GQ9Qa3, page 40.

[55] “[Document, 1785 January 25],” The Papers of John Jay—Columbia University Libraries, New-York Historical Society, accessed March 27, 2015, http://bit.ly/1F6Te2V; Isaac T. Hopper, “A List of the Members of the New York Manumission Society,” Triptych | Tri-College Digital Library, accessed March 26, 2015, http://bit.ly/1IPVIlJ.

[56] Timothy Alden, A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions, with Occasional Notes (New-York: S. Marks, 1814), http://bit.ly/1IfdHSa, page 209; The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (New York: Mott Memorial Hall, 1879), http://bit.ly/1EWSzPB, page 34.

[57] “John Griscom in the U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820,” Ancestry Library, accessed March 29, 2015, http://bit.ly/1IMwBQU.

[58] “[Document]”; “A List of the Members.”

[59] “John Bowden”; “William Duer”; “Benjamin Moore.”

[60] Yoshpe.

[61] “[Document]”; John Theodore Horton, James Kent: A Study in Conservatism, 1763-1847 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1969), page 275.

[62] Colonization Society of the City of New York, “Proceedings of the Colonization Society of the City of New York : at their third annual meeting, held on the 13th and 14th of May, 1835 : including the annual report of the board of managers to the society,” Slavery and Anti-Slavery, 1835, accessed April 5, 2015, http://bit.ly/1KjTcmd; Colonization Society of the City of New York, “Fifth annual report of the Colonization Society, of the City of New-York : with the constitution of the society,” Slavery and Anti-Slavery, 1837, accessed April 5, 2015, http://bit.ly/1dOH7LL; Colonization Society of the City of New York, “Eighth annual report of the Board of Managers Colonization Society, of the City of New-York City Colonization Society : presented may, 1840,” Slavery and Anti-Slavery, 1840, accessed April 5, 2015, http://bit.ly/1coUIZI.

[63] Sarah Schutz, “Africa’s Glory and America’s Hope: Columbia’s Involvement in the African Colonization Movement,” 2015; Hugh Barbour, Quaker Crosscurrents: Three Hundred Years of Friends in the New York Yearly Meetings (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1995), http://bit.ly/1zAmkoX, page 71.

[64] Burrows, Gotham, 548.

[65] McVickar, Outlines, 187.

[66] Ibid.

[67] William Paley, Evidences of Christianity (New York: R. Carter & Brothers, 1879), accessed via Google Books May 2, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Iftn7Q, pages 482, 477.

[68] M. Velazquez and T Simonné, The Spanish Language (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1865), page 467, http://bit.ly/1bxvRSj.

[69] John Daniel Gros, Natural Principles of Rectitude (New-York: T. and J. Swords, 1795), http://bit.ly/1E884Ap, page 291.

[70] Ibid., 337.

[71] David C. Humphrey, From King’s College to Columbia, 1746-1800 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), page 300.

[72] David Patterson, Early American Nature Writers (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2008), accessed May 2, 2015, http://bit.ly/1FPRo54, page 163.

[73] Joseph Dorfman and R. G. Tugwell, Early American Policy: Six Columbia Contributors (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), http://bit.ly/1P10q54, page 254.

[74] Ibid., 297

[75] Ibid., 279.

[76] John R. Vile, “Francis Lieber and the Process of Constitutional Amendment,” The Review of Politics 60 (1998), page 537, accessed April 2, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1407987.

[77] Ibid., 538.

[78] Dwight Carroll Miner, “Papers on the History of Columbia University, 1938-1978,” Columbia Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Box 31.

[79] Francis Lieber, “Our Country and Her Flag,” August 1, 1861, ProQuest, accessed April 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1JQQZlg.

[80] “Who Was John Watts, Jr.?” January 14, 2014, Trinity Wall Street, accessed May 5, 2015, http://bit.ly/1H2vZHC.