The Life of Arthur Tappan
Lewis Tappan
New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1871


  MR. TAPPAN took great interest in the election of Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher of Boston to be the senior professor of Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati. It was owing to him chiefly that the appointment took place. For many years he had been desirous of promoting education at the West, especially of young men for the Christian ministry in the valley of the Mississippi. It was therefore with peculiar gratification that he had induced a man of such eminent qualifications to assume the oversight of this theological school. His satisfaction was much increased when he learned that a large number of the students of Oneida Institute, in the state of New York, had decided to resort to Lane Seminary to prosecute their studies. He encouraged the trustees in the enterprise, and held out to them expectations of liberal pecuniary aid.

  While the students were pursuing their studies with energy and success, and interesting themselves in the great topics of the day, preparatory to entering upon the duties and responsibilities of life, the anti-slavery cause, among other questions, came up for discussion. The students had already formed societies for different objects, such as, for Inquiry on Missions, for Mutual Improvement, a Bible Society, a Foreign Mission Society, a Colonization Socie-


ty, and a society for Miscellaneous Discussion. These societies had been formed without the formality of asking permission either of the faculty or the trustees. Neither body took any exception to them. When the students saw fit to add to the number an Anti-Slavery Society they submitted to Dr. Beecher, at his request, the preamble and constitution. He expressed his entire approbation of their spirit and sentiments.

  The anti-slavery and the colonization questions had become exciting ones throughout the whole country, and the students deemed it to be their duty thoroughly to examine them, in view of their bearing upon their future responsibilities as ministers of the gospel. The condition of the colored people in the neighborhood, many of whom had escaped from bondage in the adjacent states, added to the interest felt in these questions.

  The trustees became alarmed, fearing a loss of interest in the seminary, a loss of funds, and a loss of students. The professors, though generally sympathizing with the students, shared to some extent the apprehensions of the trustees, and were unwilling to oppose them. They advised the students not to discuss either the anti-slavery or the colonization question, as the subjects were exciting, and the discussion of them would be likely to excite opposition in the neighborhood, and might result in serious differences among the students themselves. A committee of students waited on the faculty, and expressed to them their confidence, that they could


discuss grave moral questions, of deep public interest, without quarrelling among themselves; they also stated that they should feel it their duty to go forward in the discussion, if it was not prohibited. They were assured that no prohibition was intended. The discussion therefore proceeded, and was conducted with almost entire unanimity.

  The trustees soon expressed a determination to prevent all further discussion of the comparative merits of the policy of the Colonization Society, and the doctrine of immediate emancipation, either in the recitation rooms, the rooms of the students, or at the public table; although no objection had previously been made to the free discussion of any subject whatever. During the vacation that followed, in the absence of a majority of the professors, this purpose was framed into a law, or rule, of the seminary, and obedience to it required from all.

  The trustees laid down the doctrine that "no associations or societies ought to be allowed in the seminary, except such as have for their immediate object, improvement in the prescribed course of studies." This was followed by an order in these words: "Ordered that the students be required to discontinue those societies [the Anti- slavery and Colonization societies] in the seminary."

  When this arbitrary order of the trustees was passed, Dr. Beecher was on a journey to New England, in the interest of Lane Seminary. In the hearing of thousands, at Boston, New York, and


other places, he had spoken of the students in high terms. "They are," he said, "a set of noble men, whom I would not at a venture exchange for any others." Professor Stowe also "had vindicated the character of the students, asserted their diligence in study, their respectful demeanor towards the faculty, their obedience to law, and their Christian deportment." On his return to the West, and while in New York, Dr. Beecher invited several prominent abolitionists to meet him and Rev. Dr. Skinner, at the Tract House, on subjects growing out of the recent discussions at Lane Seminary. Accordingly, Arthur Tappan, John Rankin, S. S. Jocelyn, S. E. Cornish, and several others attended. Dr. Beecher stated that he had conferred with leading men, in Boston and elsewhere, with respect to the difficulties between the trustees and the students, and he had invited the present meeting to see if the discordance between anti-slavery men and colonizationists could not be harmonized. He said that he did not think the differences were so great that this could not be effected without material sacrifices of opinion and feeling. Both parties, he added, believed slavery to be an evil, and both desired its removal, if it could be effected peacefully and on righteous principles.

  Dr. Skinner also expressed a hope that contention would cease, and that Christian men, who aimed to promote the welfare of the colored race, would no longer be at variance on subjects of so much im-


portance, and which involved the peace of the country and the world.

  They were replied to by Mr. Tappan, and other friends of the anti-slavery cause present. They stated the principles and aims of the two societies, and the measures that had been pursued by them, showing that both in principle and conduct, they were diverse and in direct opposition. One of them considered slaveholding a crime against man and a sin against God; that the government had been founded on the doctrine of the equality of man before the law; that Christianity inculcated love to our fellow-men, and discarded prejudice, alienation, and tyranny in all their forms; that this country was the birthplace and home of the colored man, bond and free, and that here he should be allowed his freedom, his civil and religious rights; that coercing him, directly or indirectly, to leave the country was inhuman and unchristian; and that genuine love to the people of color would best be manifested in administering to their comfort and welfare on their native soil.

  Colonizationists, on the other hand, while professing to send to Liberia only those who went with their own consent, offered, in fact, to the colored people, merely a choice between two evils, and choosing either, instead of being a benefit to them, was opposed no less to humanity than to the constitution of the Colonization Society itself. The society had its origin, and main support in prejudice against color; this caste feeling was strengthened by it;


sending to Africa ignorant slaves, emancipated for the special purpose, and a degraded portion of the free people of color, did not tend to the civilization and elevation of themselves, or the people of that country. Intemperance and war were both fostered by sending rum and guns with the expatriated people; and the existence of the Colonization Society was a hinderance to the prevalence of anti-slavery sentiments. The discussions were earnest but mutually respectful and kind. The two reverend gentlemen were assured that all they had said had been attentively considered and weighed, but it did not remove objections to the Colonization Society, or lessen attachment to the anti-slavery cause.

  Dr. Beecher expressed very great surprise and disappointment. Being pressed on the subject of the recent course of the trustees of Lane Seminary, in forbidding discussions on the slavery question, he in the most emphatic manner declared that their action did not meet his approbation, as he believed in the absolute right of the students to confer together and discuss the subject of slavery and colonization. He also said he would never consent to the suppression of such discussion in the Seminary.

  The meeting was closed by a most appropriate and fervent prayer, offered by the colored brother, Mr. Cornish, suggested, as was felt, by the Holy Spirit. He alluded with deep pathos, to the wrongs inflicted upon his people, to the wicked prejudice and sufferings under which they groaned, to the gratitude they felt in hope of deliverance through


friends raised up to plead and defend their cause to the injurious influence of other schemes in creating hostility to the country and to Christianity, and he implored the benediction of the Almighty upon the advocates of his people, then present, and all of similar heart and mind throughout the land. Mr. Tappan and the other brethren felt greatly strengthened and refreshed by such an utterance. It seemed as if the whole body of the people of color was pleading at the Throne of Grace.

  Dr. Beecher returned to Lane Seminary. He found that the trustees were resolute, the faculty fearful and undecided, and the students determined and unyielding, repudiating the doctrine laid down by the trustees, and the "order" based upon it. Dr. Beecher said the "order" could not be repealed at present, and advised the students to remain in expectation that it might ere long be disregarded. They replied that their self-respect and future usefulness would not allow of their obedience to the "order," or of their remaining members of a seminary, one of whose laws they should be constrained to violate. In what they had already done, they had violated no law of the seminary, they had made no failure in their duty as students; and in view of the assurance that the law or rule would not be repealed, they asked and received honorable dismissions to any seminary they might desire to unite with, and withdrew from Lane Seminary, publishing a "Statement of Reasons," to which fifty-one students attached their signatures.


  It is an admirable production, both in temper and argument, and concludes as follows:

  "Finally, we would respectfully remind the trustees, that even though students of a theological seminary, we should be treated as men—that men, destined for the service of the world, need, above all things in such an age an this, the pure and impartial, the disinterested and magnanimous, the uncompromising and fearless—in combination with the gentle and tender spirit and example of Christ; not parleying with wrong, but calling it to repentance; not flattering the proud, but pleading the cause of the poor. And we record the hope that the glorious stand taken upon the subject of discussion, and up to the close of the last session, maintained by the institution may be early resumed, that so the triumph of expediency over right may soon terminate, and Lane Seminary be again restored to the glory of its beginning.

"CINCINNATI, Dec. 15, 1834."

  Dr. Beecher regretted the decision of the students, but he did not exercise the wisdom and firmness that the exigency required. He might have thrown himself into the breach, and said to the trustees, "I have never had such an opportunity; I cannot be separated from such 'noble men;' you must repeal the 'order,' or I shall feel constrained to put myself at the head of these students and lead them elsewhere." Had he done this, he might have saved the seminary from the loss of such a band of moral heroes, and gained to himself a repu-


tation beyond any thing that he had previously acquired.

  But, on the contrary, he acquiesced in the arbitrary rule of the trustees. A truly noble and fearless man in many respects, the opposition that prevailed at the seminary and throughout the country seemed to overcome him. Born to be a leader, under some circumstances, this eminent man failed at this time in an essential attribute of leadership of moral and religious enterprises. He had previously avowed in his lectures at the seminary, as was understood, that true wisdom consists in advocating a cause only so far as the community will sustain the reformer. Is this Christian philosophy? Does it accord with the conduct of the prophet Daniel, or that of the martyrs and confessors of ancient times? Is it possible that the glorified spirit of BEECHER now approves such a sentiment?

  Mr. Tappan, though he anticipated good results from the decision of the students, was greatly disappointed at the course taken by the trustees and the faculty. He had induced Dr. Beecher to leave a field of usefulness in Boston, to assume a post deemed second to none other in its prospective usefulness; he had promised to endow a professorship, or what was equal to it; he placed a high value upon the students who had repaired to the institution to place themselves under the theological and ethical teachings of "a master in Israel;" and his bright anticipations were, for the moment, eclipsed. But good often proceeds from seeming evil. Pro-


idence had provided an asylum for the students, who had also met with a grievous disappointment, and the patron and the students soon rejoiced together.

  It was natural that Mr. Tappan should feel grieved that one on whom he had so greatly relied, one with such rich endowments, with such zeal, eloquence, and influence, one who had so "earnestly contended for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints," should, when all these qualifications seemed gifts of God to be called into exercise at such a crisis, have been restrained by his view of expediency, overlooking, as would seem, the example of those who said: "We ought to obey God rather than men."

  He the more regretted it because it seemed to be the settled policy of his clerical friend, with regard to moral reforms, as will appear from the following statement. At a time subsequent to the departure of the students from Lane Seminary, Dr. Beecher called at the store of Mr. Tappan, where he was remonstrated with for the course he had taken at that institution. He justified it, and said, "The anti-slavery doctrines, if true, ought not to be pushed to such an extremity." He was respectfully asked, "If, doctor, when you preached your sermons on intemperance, many years since, you had known all the principles connected with the temperance reform that you now know, would you not have divulged and enforced them at the time?" He replied, "I would not have done it."


  Mr. Tappan, believing that what is right is the highest expediency, considered that a golden opportunity had been lost by this venerable man to achieve increased influence and more extensive usefulness. In view of the history of Lane Seminary and Oberlin College impartial men will decide.

  The following letter from THEODORE D. WELD, who was one of the students of Lane Seminary, gives interesting facts in relation to the exodus of the students, besides his estimate of Mr. Tappan's character:

HYDE PARK, Mass., Jan. l, 1870.

  . . . . I cherish the memory of Arthur Tappan with deep reverence, and garner it among my most precious things. So simple in all his tastes and habits, so quiet and modest, yet so firm, independent, and conscientious, that nothing could swerve him from the right—so careful and deliberate in forming conclusions, yet instant and indomitable in executing. Economical in spending, yet always bountiful in giving. So faithful and true, so scrupulously just in all things. Never seeking his own; of few words, each straight to the point, and that a deed, and how often a great one; so earnest in daring for the weak against the strong. The race has a right to know more of one of its great benefactors; and I rejoice that it is about to get through you some part of its due.

  You asked me what I know about Arthur Tappan's promise to Mr. Vail of $10,000 for Lane Seminary. I find that I cannot recall the details with sufficient accuracy to set the whole matter right, and therefore had best not attempt it. I had the facts from Mr. Vail, and from your brother, and distinctly recall the fact that to me, it seemed perfectly clear that, under the circumstances, your brother was fully justified in taking the course that he did.*


  You asked me to state what I know of his gifts to the colored schools of Cincinnati. When the antislavery students of Lane Seminary established evening-schools for the adults, and day- schools for the children of the three thousand colored of Cincinnati, your brother wrote to me, saying in substance, "Draw on me for whatever is necessary for the schools, teachers, househire, books, &c."

  As the students were occupied with their studies and recitations in the daytime, it was necessary for them to get others to teach the day-schools, and as none but earnest abolitionists would teach negroes gratuitously, or were fit for the work, your brother paid the travelling expenses to Cincinnati of a number of young ladies from central New York, and of others from Northern Ohio for that purpose. The young ladies declined all compensation for teaching, and your brother paid their board.

  The amount that he advanced for the use of the schools, I have now no means of stating. As soon as Mr. Tappan heard that the trustees of Lane Seminary had passed a law dissolving the Anti- Slavery Society, and prohibiting anti-slavery discussions, and that the students, finding that the faculty would enforce the action of the trustees, were preparing to withdraw to a neighboring village, he wrote to me enclosing a draft for a thousand dollars, to be expended in hiring a building where they might room, in buying such books as they might need, and in paying for their board, &c. The letter also empowered me to draw on him at sight for whatever they might need in addition, during the autumn and


winter, or until some permanent provision for completing their course might be made. He also requested that all who decided to return to their friends, or to go to other institutions, and were in need of funds, should be provided with whatever was requisite. As I entered the Anti-Slavery lecturing field in Ohio soon after, I do not know what other amounts were forwarded by your brother to help classmates in their Anti-slavery Patmos at Cumminsville.

  Heartily sorry that I cannot help you, my dear long time friend. in your labor of love, and with ever vivid memories of our associate labors in the blessed old cause—old yet for ever new, I am ever faithfully yours,



  Mr. Tappan, notwithstanding his agency in bringing about the removal of Dr. Beecher from Boston to Cincinnati, and his grief at separating from one whose character and services he had held in high estimation, and from whose labors at Lane Seminary he had anticipated large results, felt compelled to take the part of the students. He furnished many of them with means of reaching other institutions, or of prosecuting a winter's study in a neighboring village. A large number of them made arrangements to repair to Oberlin Seminary, Ohio, having received satisfactory assurances that no attempt would be made there to prevent free discussion, or oppose the resolution of the students to repudiate caste, and treat the colored people, in the seminary and out of it, as equal with themselves before the law and the gospel. He resolved to afford them all the aid in his power in building up at that place, a school of the prophets. He prevailed on the Rev. Charles G. Finney to succeed


Dr. Beecher, as the spiritual guide and instructor of the students. With the twelve thousand dollars he contributed, a spacious brick building was erected at Oberlin, which in honor of him, the trustees named "Tappan Hall."*

  He promised additional aid, but his adverse circumstances prevented the fulfilment of his intentions. This was a source of extreme regret to him, as well as the officers and students. Providence, however, raised up other benefactors, and a collegiate as well as theological department was organized. The number of students increased from year to year, able and self- denying instructors were secured, multitudes of young persons of both sexes received instruction, revivals of religion occurred every year, and the history of the institution shows clearly that the Holy Spirit guided the founders, and has made it a name and a praise in the whole land.

  At the "breaking up" at Lane Seminary, and while Mr. Finney was preaching at the Broadway Tabernacle in the city of New York, he was solicited to go to Oberlin. He has narrated the facts in a letter to the compiler as follows:

  ARTHUR TAPPAN proposed that I should go West long enough to get the students into the ministry; and he offered to pay all the bills. He was very earnest in this request, but I did not see how I could leave New York, as I felt great reluctance to leave the Tabernacle, and told him that I did not see my way clear unless sufficient funds should be guaranteed. . . . Messrs. J. J. Shepherd and Asa Mahan came to New York to persuade me to go to Oberlin, as professor of


theology. The proposal met the view of Arthur and Lewis Tappan. . . . . The brethren in New York offered to endow professorships if I would spend half of each year in Oberlin. I offered to go on two conditions: 1, that the trustees should never interfere with the internal regulations of the school, and 2, that we should be allowed to receive on equal footing colored students. . . . . The trustees had a great struggle to overcome their prejudices. The brethren in New Yolk agreed in an hour or two to endow eight professorships.

  Brother Arthur Tappan's heart was as large as all New York, and I might say as large as the world. He was a small man in stature, but he had a mighty heart. . . . . When I laid the case thus before him he said: "Brother Finney, my income, I will tell you on this occasion, averages about a hundred thousand dollars a year. Now if you will go to Oberlin, take hold of the work, and go on and see that the buildings are put up, and a library and every thing provided, I will pledge myself to give my entire income, except what I want to provide for my family, till you are beyond pecuniary want." Having perfect confidence in brother Tappan, I said, "That will do; thus far the difficulties are out of the way."

  Mr. Finney further states:

  It was agreed between myself and my church that I should spend my winters in New York, and my summers at Oberlin. . . . . When this was arranged I took my family to Oberlin; the students of Lane Seminary came and the trustees put up barracks or shanties, in which they were lodged. Students soon flocked here. I was authorized to get a large tent. . . . a hundred feet in diameter. There was a streamer at the top, on which was written in large characters, "HOLINESS TO THE LORD." The text was of great service. Arthur Tappan said: "I want the institution to be known. Collect what money you can, and spread the knowledge of your enterprise through your agencies as far as you can. I do not want you to spread an abolition flag, but carry out your design of receiving colored students upon the same conditions that you do white students; and see that the work be not taken out of the hands of the faculty,


and spoiled by the trustees, as was the case at Lane Seminary. Just let it be known that you thus receive students, and work your own way on, the best you can. Go and put up your building as fast as possible, and for whatever deficiency of funds there may be, after making efforts through your agents, you may draw on me, and I will honor your drafts to the extent of my income from year to year."

  I came on the ground with this understanding; but it was further understood between brother Tappan and myself, that his pledge should not be made known to the trustees, lest they should fail to make due efforts as he desired, not merely to collect funds, but to make the wants and objects of the institution known throughout the land. . . . . We pushed on. The location was bad, and it cost thousands of dollars to overcome obstacles. . . .

  By the commercial crash of 1837, brother Tappan and nearly all the men who had subscribed the funds for the support of the faculty were prostrated. We were without funds for the support of the faculty, and fifty thousand dollars in debt, without any prospect that we could see of obtaining funds from the friends of the college in this country. Brother Tappan wrote to me at this time, acknowledging the promise he had made me, and expressing the deepest regret that he was wholly unable to fulfil his pledge. Our necessities were then great and to human view it seemed as if the college must be a failure. We had to resort to new subscriptions.

  Mr. Finney, in relating afterwards the difficulties with Hudson College and Mr. Coe, said: "Arthur Tappan wrote to put me on my guard against going to Hudson. I found his prediction verified and declined going to Hudson."*

  At the time the students were meditating upon the subject of repairing to Oberlin, the views of the trustees and faculty were not settled on the subject


of receiving colored students, and treating them as equal in all respects with white students. Though they were Christians considerably in advance of the prevailing sentiment of the churches, they had not wholly renounced the hateful prejudice against the people of color that so generally prevailed in the country and in the churches. The Lane Seminary students were fully aware of this, and determined not to go to Oberlin until both free discussion and the right treatment of colored students were fully secured.

  The subject so enlisted the feelings of the pious inhabitants of Oberlin, that earnest and persevering prayer was offered, especially by a band of godly women. The result was an acquiescence if not entire harmony of views in the board of trustees, and the adoption of a resolution that students should be received and treated irrespective of color. It was also decided that in the boarding-houses and elsewhere, no observances should be allowed that infringed upon this rule. CASTE has found no asylum or toleration at Oberlin since that day.

  Mr. Tappan made no effort to have the seminary an abolition institution, in such a sense as to exclude differences of opinion and free discussion. He had no desire to force conformity to the principles or rules of the majority; but he did insist as a condition of receiving his patronage, that students should be admitted irrespective of color, that entire freedom should be allowed on the anti-slavery question, and that a high order of religious instruction should be


given, especially in favor of revivals of religion. He would be tolerant, but never submit to the "gagging" principle. It was not his nature, and it was abhorrent to his principles.

  The experiment of having youth of both sexes taught in the same institution had also his entire approbation, and its great success at Oberlin pleased him to the end of his days. Had his prosperity continued, Oberlin would have had no more liberal patron. He loved the self-denying professors for their sound principles, firm adherence to them, and rejoiced with them in the success of their labors and in the evidences of Divine favor in answer to their prayers, and the prayers of others.

[Appendix] 7.


  The following resolution was unanimously adopted by the board of trustees of Oberlin College at its regular annual meeting in August, 1865, and ordered to be entered upon its records.

  Arthur Tappan one of the oldest and munificent patrons of Oberlin College having departed this life, therefore, resolved, that in his death the college has reason to deplore the loss of one of its truest and noblest and most valued friends. Yet, on the other hand, to rejoice that his great


life was well done, and that so ripe in years and rich in munificence and toil, he has at length entered upon his glorious rest. Under the blessed influence of such a life, and such a death, we are quickened to fresh endeavor to follow him in the simplicity of his consecration to God and humanity, and in his steadfast devotion to the great principles of Christian benevolence.

  The foregoing is a true copy of the records.


[Appendix] 8.


  IN a letter to the compiler from Mr. Finney, of a recent date, he says: "I regard Arthur Tappan as one of the best men I ever knew. He was as modest as he was good. I am happy to hear that you are preparing a sketch of his life. Will you lay aside all fear of being accused of too highly appreciating a brother, and let the church have the whole portrait? Tell us all about his appropriations for Christ and humanity, and the opposition he met with on that account. Do you know that he paid the expense of getting up and running Sabbath- schools, by the students that left Lane Seminary? Mr. Streeter, one of them, mentioned the fact here at a public meeting two years ago, and said that until Mr. Tappan's death, the matter was, by his request, kept secret. Mr. Streeter spoke of the amount given as considerable. You are aware that just before I was invited to Oberlin, he was urging me to come West long enough to take that class through a course of theology. To furnish rooms and whatever was requisite, and he would defray the expense. . . . Many have since given much of their abundance,' but who among them as privately and of course as unostentatiously pledged his whole income for church and humanity. The magnificent donations of Peabody and others do not compare relatively with Arthur Tappan's. I see that Joshua Leavitt is requested to write a history of the anti- slavery movement. He will do as well as any man unacquainted with the influence of Oberlin on the whole Northwest. The fact is that Oberlin turned the scale in all of the Northwest. No man can tell the story right unless he knows this. Although Arthur Tappan failed to do for Oberlin all that he intended, yet his promise was the condition of the existence of Oberlin as it has been. God bless you.


* A former professor writes: "All I know in respect to Mr. Arthur Tappan's subscription to the funds of Lane Seminary, is what was repeatedly stated, and I believe published, that it amounted to ten thousand dollars. It was said that he proposed to secure it, but Mr. Vail, the agent, regarded this as unnecessary; and that it was not paid simply because he became unable to do so in consequence of his financial embarrassments. Mr. John Tappan states: "Brother Arthur subscribed, I think, fifteen thousand dollars, and was the originator of Dr. Beecher's going to Lane Seminary. He failed before he was called upon for payment, after Dr. Beecher had left. I afterwards paid half of the amount, viz. $7,500, and referred Dr. Beecher to friends and connections for the rest of it." The actual sum subscribed by A. T. was $20,000, the interest of which he paid for several years.* See Appendix 7, for resolutions on decease of Mr. Tappan.* See Appendix 8, for letter from Mr. Finney.