Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: South Carolina College Faculty’s Account of Student Disturbances, 7 February 1822


South Carolina College Faculty’s Account of Student Disturbances


Of the SOUTH-CAROLINA COLLEGE, with respect to the late occurrences, desire to state,

THAT during the month of January, 1822, the Classes of Students had repeatedly, in a body, absented themselves voluntarily sometimes from prayers, and sometimes from recitations. It became necessary to stop this practice; for otherwise the College business would be subject to the controul of the Students. The Faculty therefore gave notice, that if any class of Students should, in future, absent themselves from recitation improperly, and without reason, the Faculty would proceed to suspend one tenth of the class taken by lot, and so on, whenever the offence should be repeated. On Monday, January 28th, the Junior Class absented themselves from the President’s usual recitation at 2 o’clock, without any discoverable reason. They were called up two by two the next morning, and told that as they had voluntarily omitted to perform their College duties, and incurred the penalty of suspension, it was necessary for the Faculty to ascertain whom they could, and whom they could not depend upon: and as a more lenient measure than suspending all or any of them peremptorily, the Students of the delinquent class were called upon to make a promise in writing to obey the laws of the College; which promise, (after hearing their objections) was drawn up in the following terms. “We promise on our honour, to obey the laws known to be in force in this College: to enter into no combination to resist them: and to perform the duties enjoined upon us by the Faculty, under the authority vested in them by the Trustees.

Many of the Junior Class did sign a promise to this effect; but during the sitting of the Faculty, returned and withdrew their names; declaring their determination to act with their class. Many of them on signing the paper declared the same intention, and all those who have been suspended, acted upon it. In fact, it is a system prevalent throughout the College; and it renders the laws of the Institution and the orders of the Faculty mere nullities, when they incur the disapprobation of a majority of the Students, to whom the minority are expected to submit. The Faculty finding this spirit prevalent among the class on Tuesday, deferred their proceedings till the next morning, to give time for the Students to reflect.

It is proper to observe that as the Students were thus called up before the Faculty, they were asked,

Have you any objection to make to the conduct of the Faculty, either as to their attention to your improvement, or to your comfort and convenience? None of them had any such objection to make.

They were asked,—Have not the Faculty always treated you with lenity, and with every reasonable indulgence? This also was admitted by all of them.

They were asked,—Have you any reason to assign why you did not attend the recitation on Monday? The answer uniformly was, “I waited to see if any of the other Students of the class came out.”

Some of the Students objected to sign the paper, because they were sufficiently bound already. To which, the Faculty replied, that a more formal obligation had been rendered necessary by the conduct of the class.

Some of them urged, that the other classes ought to be called on to sign the paper: to which it was answered, “we have no present complaint against the other classes.”1

Others objected to promise obedience to the laws generally, because they knew not which were in force: our reply was, “we want no promise but as respects the laws known and considered in force by yourselves;” and the wording of the paper was limited accordingly.

Others were willing to sign a paper, declaring their willingness to submit to the punishment imposed on breach of the laws, if they should be discovered in breaking them. We replied, “our wish is to prevent breaches of the laws, rather than punish them.”

Others objected that we ought to have confined ourselves to the promised suspension of one tenth of the class: we replied, that whether we had so suspended one tenth or not, the conduct of the whole class had authorized us to require some additional pledge of future good behaviour from such as should remain; more especially, as within a day or two, great improprieties had been committed by some of the Students. In fact, this was a most ungracious objection; inasmuch as we have ascertained, that after the threat of decimation, the Students of that class met privately, and resolved by a majority, that if the Faculty should proceed to decimate one tenth, the rest of the class would ask for dismission, and leave the College.

Another objection is, that we require them to pledge their honour: to which we reply by referring to the 1st sect. ch. 8, of the laws, p. 30. “The rewards and punishments of this Institution shall be addressed to the sense of duty, and to the principles of honor2 and shame.”

On the Wednesday morning, about twenty of the Junior Class refused to sign the foregoing paper, and eight complied. Those who refused to sign the paper were suspended ’till the meeting of the Trustees in April. Their offence in deliberately refusing to attend the recitation, was of itself a sufficient ground of suspension, and we proposed the written promise as an alternative of a milder nature. When this alternative was rejected, with a bold and avowed declaration that “they would act only with a majority of the class,” it put on the character of mutiny. No observation however was made by the Faculty on this conduct; because they had determined to refrain from any remark that might tend in the slightest degree to irritate the minds of the young men; and this course of conduct in words and in manner, has been steadily adhered to.

But on many of the succeeding evenings, to the present time, the College has exhibited a scene of riot and disturbance, which, for the honor of the Institution, the Faculty refrain from detailing. In these disturbances, we believe many of the suspended Students have borne no part. We are sorry however to say, that strong symptoms of a deliberate intention to break up the College, by a tyrannical system of intimidation exercised toward the peaceable part of the Students, have been but too manifest.

It having been rumored that the Governor of the State was to be in Columbia on Saturday, the Faculty closed, with a proposal, that the question should be left to the decision of Trustees, to be convened during his stay. Such a meeting was held, and the following opinion was given.

There not being a sufficient number of Trustees in the town of Columbia to constitute a board, the undersigned can only express their individual opinions. They are persuaded that the whole management of the College discipline is vested in the Faculty, whose injunctions are to be complied with, even when disapproved, until the complaints of the Students can be laid before a Board of Trustees. With respect to the late occurrences in the College, the undersigned are of opinion that the suspended Students have no reasonable expectation of receiving support from the Trustees, and have not entitled themselves to any such support. This opinion the undersigned express, on a careful and attentive consideration of the statements on both sides of the question in dispute. We think the Students would act properly and prudently in complying with the requisitions of the Faculty, who have the power in that case of remitting the punishment which they have proposed to inflict; and we wish also to apprize the Students, that the Board of Trustees cannot act upon any report of the Faculty until the stated meeting in December next, nor grant any relief to the Students until that time, even if they should be disposed to do so.


Columbia, February 3d, 1822.

The Faculty aver that their conduct has been not only uniformly assiduous, but lenient, mild, and indulgent; and so will it be found, on examining the Students themselves. In the present instance, they were guided entirely by these feelings; and adopted the measure in question as the most lenient they could devise; and they have strong reason for suspecting, from the violent opposition made to it, that it was among the most effective measures they could have devised.

They deny that it is unjust; because the promise required, contains nothing that ought not to be required. They deny that it is novel or unprecedented; similar written promises of obedience to the laws being universally required in every College in England, and being common among the Northern Colleges of our own country: and the authority exercised is fully given by § 9, of p. 34, of the printed laws, viz:—“As there may be offences and misdemeanors against which no special provision is made in these laws, the Faculty are authorized, in such cases, to punish in such way as may appear reasonable and necessary, and agreeable to the usages and laws of other Colleges.”

But the question is not, whether the measure be precedented, or unprecedented; but whether it was a measure right and proper in itself; and rendered expedient by the occasion on which it has been adopted. If however, precedent be called for, we are prepared to shew that we have pursued the regular course of proceeding in use at this College; and acquiesced in hitherto, without remonstrance or complaint.

Extract from the Book of Minutes of the Faculty.

“In compliance with the resolution of the Faculty of October 8, 1817, that we should sign upon the minutes, an acknowledgement of our former misconduct, and a promise that we will hereafter pay strict obedience to all the laws of the Institution, we do now sign our names.” (Three Signatures.)

A record of a written acknowledgement to the same effect, but more full, on the part of ———, is to be found on the minutes of December 8, 1818.

The Faculty are not persuaded that they have erred in the course adopted: nor are they inclined to recede from the measures they have taken. The wild spirit of insubordination and combination among the Students, threatens the very existence of the Institution; and must, at all hazards, be suppressed: for it is manifest, that the struggle now is, whether the discipline of the College shall be resigned to the Students, or retained by the Faculty.

THOMAS COOPER, M. D. President.

The following statement distributed by the Junior Class of Students in their own defence,3 will compleat the view of this subject.

nothing extenuate nor set down aught in malice.”

As the late transactions in the South-Carolina College may come to the ears of the public, magnified by prejudice, and exaggerated by ignorance, some of those who have been witnesses to them, now take the liberty of giving a fair, candid, and impartial statement of facts:

About the middle of this month, the Students, without having any just or satisfactory reason,4 absented themselves from prayers. The Faculty, knowing that if such acts went unpunished, no discipline or subordination could ever subsist in the Institution, resolved, if ever a similar circumstance occurred, to decimate each class, and suspend every tenth member, and communicated this resolution to the Students. Nothing of note occurred until the 28th, when the Junior Class refused to attend recitation. The Faculty now, instead of putting their resolution into effect, and suspending one tenth of the class, chose to adopt another method, the most unprecedented and unexampled in the annals of the Institution. They called up first two members of the class, and shewing them a paper, ordered them to sign that paper or suffer suspension. In it was contained a promise, wherein they bound themselves by their honour, not to infringe a single law of College, or enter into any combination against the Faculty. Now these young men, not having one moment’s time to deliberate on the subject, and seeing suspension staring them in the face, thought proper to subscribe their names. They were then not permitted to leave the room, to inform their class-mates of the arbitrary proceedings of the Faculty, but under some specious pretence, were detained and compelled to behold their fellow-students imposed upon in the same manner. However, when a majority, or near a majority had signed their names, they were permitted to retire—They then communicated to the others what had occurred. No sooner had it become known, and the injustice of the measure perceived, than all those who had signed their names, with the exception of a few, resolved to erase them; and those who had not subscribed, determined not to do so, when called upon. When they had acquainted the Faculty with this resolution, a day for deliberation was given them, which only served to strengthen their determination. On the next day they were required again to make the promise, and those who refused to do so, being twenty in number, were suspended for three months. These are the facts, let the public judge for themselves.

Broadside (DLC: TJ Papers, 221:39541); with several words underscored by hand as noted below, presumably by Thomas Cooper.

The governor of South Carolina was Thomas Bennett. nothing extenuate nor set down aught in malice is from William Shakespeare, Othello, act 5, scene 2.

1Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

2Word underscored.

3Preceding four words underscored.

4Preceding seven words underscored.

Index Entries

  • Bennett, Thomas; as governor of S.C. search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); and student misbehavior at South Carolina College search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); president of South Carolina College search
  • education, collegiate; and student misbehavior search
  • Gregg, James; and South Carolina College search
  • Hayne, William Edward; and South Carolina College search
  • schools and colleges; laws and regulations governing search
  • schools and colleges; student misbehavior at search
  • Shakespeare, William; Othelloreferenced search
  • South Carolina; governor of search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); faculty at search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); laws and regulations governing search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); president of search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); student conduct at search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); trustees of search
  • Taylor, John (of South Carolina); and South Carolina College search