James Madison Papers

Thomas Barclay to James Madison, December 1825

At your present meeting, Gentlemen, the case of my expulsion will come under your consideration. But before you give decided sanction to the sentence passed on me by the Faculty, I trust I shall not be denied the privilege of being heard. And, as the rigour of my sentence prohibits my personal appearance, I take the liberty of making, through these lines, an appeal to your impartiality of judgement.

I should be far from attempting any justification of my conduct, if it had been the willful doing of wrong, or intentional violation, either of any law of the land, or of any established regulation for the government of the students of the University.

Nor should I attempt a vindication of the conduct which incurr’d so severe a sentence, if it had been contumacious demeanor, or thoughtless contempt of authority.

But I was prompted by motives, and I acted on principles, which, when I have explained, you cannot but admit were, if not justifiable, at least pardonable.

I should not have the presumption to trouble you with this address if I did not consider myself very much aggrieved.

The order, issued by the Faculty, for disobeying which, I was expelled, commanded me, with some fifteen or twenty other students, to confine ourselves to our respective dormitories, for the space of two hours under penalty of a major punishment.

When I was called up before the Faculty, I was first told, that they had been informed, that I had treated the order with contempt.

But I explained to them that I was not conscious of any intentional disrespect or contempt in my bearing toward the order, when it was issued. I presume tho’, that that charge grew out of the following circumstance. Before I rose from bed in the morning, I heard some person tapping for admittance at the door of my dormitory, which I am free to confess was locked against the sheriff, and not for a moment imagining that it might be the janitor, I made no reply. This might be deemed by the faculty, resistance or refusal to recieve and obey the order. But so far from refusing to look at it; when I came out of my room-door, starting to breakfast, and seeing the janitor standing a short distance up the colonade with a paper in his hand, I called him to me and made inquiry of what it was. But before I had opened it, or read a single word, one of my fellow-students, who knew the contents, took it from me, with good intention on his part; and that was the reason why I passed on to breakfast without reading it.

As student of the University, I was bound to obey the laws enacted by the Visitors, for it’s government: And I always felt myself bound to submit to the authority, given, by the visitors to the faculty: also to all the legitimate regulations of the Institution. But I concieved, in my humble judgement, that that order was an exercise of power not given to the faculty. There is but one clause in the code of enactments where I can see any delegation of such power; the 81st passed October 1825. in the following words--

"The Faculty shall have power, from time to time, to prescribe regulations of police, not inconsistent with the laws of the land, or the enactments of this board, which regulations shall be submitted to the Visitors, at their next meeting, and shall be in force till disapproved by the Visitors, or repealed by the Faculty."—Now if I understand the meaning of the clause, the Faculty are empower’d to "prescribe regulations of police," such as they may think requisite and necessary for the good order and well-conducting of the Institution.

But these regulations, I should think, ought to be equally binding on all the students generally, and not on any particular one, or any sett that the Faculty may select. I dont know that the order was in opposition to any expressed or written law of the land, but it is the opinion of many, better versed on the subject than myself, that it was inconsistent with the spirit of the laws of this country. More over, the sense is not explicit, whether any such regulation shall be valid or put in force untill "submitted to the Visitors at their next succeeding meeting."

I am far from being singular in the opinion, that the Faculty transcended the powers entrusted to them by the Visitors, and trespassed on the rights of the students. Such is one reason why I did not consider the order binding on me. I might urge other pleas, but I do not write this with the desire of inclining you in my favor, or of entreating leniency. You will (I think) plainly see that I have had too severe a visitation of justice from the Faculty: an infliction of punishment overportioned to the crime.

I was very much surprised, on reading my note from the Faculty, to see that I was charged with "Contumacy in their presence." I feel very confident that I recollect every thing that passed during my examination before the Faculty, even to the expressions of question and answer, and I am not aware of any thing that escaped me, that could be construed into the slightest semblance of contumacy. To be sure I plainly stated, that I did not strictly confine myself to my dormitory, as commanded by the order: and I omited stating, what might have been some palliation, that I was in my dormitory with the door only partly open, at the time when the sheriff came.

But it is probable, that my saying "do as you please gentlemen" was considered by the Faculty as a defiance. It was merely intended as telling them, that I had acted according to the dictate of my sense of right, and that I was willing to submit to whatever punishment they might think proper to impose. I cannot concieve what my "contumacy in their presence" consisted in, unless it was in being too candid in confessing disobedience to the order: I am sure I used no disrespectful language, but perhaps, there was not courtesy enough, or I was too plain in saying that "I knocked about University just as if there had been no such edict issued by the Faculty."

I might have expressed myself more obsequiously to be sure, but I did not feel as if I had committed any thing for which I ought to be humble.

Ms (ViU). Addressed to the Board of Visitors.

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