An Archive of Unpublished Correspondence Sent to Bowdoin President and Scholar William Allen, from Notables Including Lafayette, and Documenting Previously Unknown Interactions Relating to the College

17 letters acquired directly from Allen heirs and never before offered for sale

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William Allen was an important figure in the history of Bowdoin College. A graduate of Harvard, he served as regent there from 1804 to 1810, when he took over his father’s parish in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In 1817 he became president of Dartmouth University, then left Dartmouth for Bowdoin.

Allen became Bowdoin’s third...

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An Archive of Unpublished Correspondence Sent to Bowdoin President and Scholar William Allen, from Notables Including Lafayette, and Documenting Previously Unknown Interactions Relating to the College

17 letters acquired directly from Allen heirs and never before offered for sale

William Allen was an important figure in the history of Bowdoin College. A graduate of Harvard, he served as regent there from 1804 to 1810, when he took over his father’s parish in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In 1817 he became president of Dartmouth University, then left Dartmouth for Bowdoin.

Allen became Bowdoin’s third president, serving, with one interruption, from 1820 to 1839. He worked to establish the Medical School of Maine and to lead the College through the formation of the new state of Maine in 1820.

He prepared his American Biographical and Historical Dictionary (1809), the first work of general biography published in the United States.

Collection of correspondence received by Allen and retained by his family.

In 1824, nearly a half-century after the beginning of the American Revolution and a quarter-century after the death of George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette accepted the invitation of President James Monroe to tour the United States as an honored guest. There were surely connections to Bowdoin College in Lafayette’s travels.

Wanting to be part of this historic event, and acting on the news that his travel itinerary might bring him to Maine, Bowdoin’s Governing Boards voted on September 1, 1824, to confer upon Lafayette an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Principals at that school, among them President Allen and the descendant of the founder, James Bowdoin, worked to add Brunswick and Bowdoin to Lafayette’s schedule.

Six Letters Documenting Lafayette’s Visit to the United States and a Potential Visit to Bowdoin

Autograph letter signed, August 25, 1824, from Bowdoin Esq. to Gen. La Fayette, a copy evidently sent to Allen, praising his service in the military, citing his ancestor, James Bowdoin, and describing their sacrifice together in the war, inviting him to visit the college and describing the situation in Maine.

“…With the name borne by the College, you are not wholly unacquainted. It was assumed in honour of one of your co-adjutors in that struggle, in which you so generously & decisively aided our oppressed country, as, at this remote day to make America alive in merited expressions of gratitude & of honour. He was one of your correspondents at a time when the unhappy state of our country drew from you the following animated & eloquent expression – I quote a confidential letter to Governor Bowdoin, dated 30 May ’80 – “When allied armies are coming with sanguine hopes- when all Europe are watching this opportunity of fixing, at once, their opinion on the consequence and virtue of America, shall I tell those armies – shall I tell the world, that we have no army to cooperate with the French troops, & that we cannot extricate ourselves from the humiliating inability?”

“The College is in a very flourishing condition, & has on its roles more than 150 students. The Government of the Institution have seized the earliest opportunity of addressing you; and of expressing the estimation in which you are there held, & the gratification it would give them to make humble demonstration of it; if you will permit them.

“I hope it may be consistent with your plans to allow me to communicate to them the agreeable information, that you will honour them with your presence. The remoteness of the Members of the Boards of Trustees & Governors, they being dispersed throughout the state of Maine, has alone prevented a formal address from them.

“I can only add, that the country in which the College is situated is fine, abounding in the comforts & luxuries of life, & in rural & picturesque scenery. It is the most thriving section of the older states; & in the rapid increase of its population, almost vies with its Western sisters. The roads, passing through Portsmouth In New Hampshire , to the College , & even to the head of the navigable water off the Kennebec river, are passed with greater rapidity, facility & comfort, than the same distance in any other direction from our City….”

Autograph letter signed, Gen La Fayette to William Allen, Boston, August 27, 1824, extolling his comrade in arms Henry Knox, who lived in Maine before his death, and saying he is not able to attend commencement.

“Mr. James Bowdoin has been pleased to communicate your kind letter August 23. It could not but add to my degrees for the regrets for the obligation I am under to defer my visit to the state of Maine. My friend Knox is no more; I would find a consolation in lamenting the loss with the fellow citizens among whom he lived and died. Happy I would have been to attend the Commencement of your College, but anticipate another opportunity to express to you my grateful acknowledgement and regard.”

Autograph letter signed, August 27, 1824, James Bowdoin, Boston, describing a visit with Lafayette and his attempts to get him to visit for the upcoming commencement.

“I received your obliging letter, desiring me in the manner which should seem best, to express to General Lafayette a wish that he would be present with you on Wednesday next. The letter arrived on the day of the Commencement at Harvard the General being under engagements for the whole of that day, and of the next, after 10 am, and as it was necessary to give him and yourself early notice of the subject, I forewith wrote him a note of which the enclosed is a copy. And at the same time sent him your letter.

“Yesterday morning I called upon him, with a view of obtaining an intimation of his intentions; but they were not formed. I have, just now, repeated my visit, and have learnt from him that he is unavoidably deprived of his intended visit to Maine, at this time; at which he expressed regrets. I shall probably have written answer from him; and will then communicate again with you. In the meantime, I conceive it important to you to know his determination….My object with regard to him, in being as early as possible in any communication of your wishes was to prevent an engagement elsewhere as e.g. , at Providence; a Committee from which place in behalf of the Town and College, waited upon in effectually the morning after he received my note.

“I have other reasons for framing my note and for sending it. I was not certain that his advisors himself were aware of the present state of Maine; nor that the former would intimate to him anything on the subject, even if they were aware of it. He was their guest and it might be thought indelicate so to do. Besides this, I had got an intimation of his strong desire to visit Portsmouth…”

Autograph letter signed, John D. Wells, June 16, 1825, of the newly created Bowdoin medical school.

“Your letter enclosing one to Gen. Lafayette was received this morning – I immediately conferred with Mr. James Bowdoin on the subject – & it was determined to deliver your letter & invitation in person, if we could find a moment when he was sufficiently unoccupied to receive us – we were accordingly introduced to him this evening at Mr. Lloyds. He begged us to express to the Gov’t of the College his best wishes & his regret that it is impossible for him to go further than Portland. He told us that he could not leave this town till Tuesday next – on Wednesday he will be in Concord N.H. leaves that place on Thursday & expects to arrive in Portland on Saturday – on Sunday evening he leaves P for Vermont & is obliged to be in Albany again on the 30th of June – He repeated to us again in the most cordial manner his regret that he could not visit our college – We thought ourselves fortunate in obtaining an interview – for Committee’s from many towns are unable even to see – his time is so entirely occupied.”

Address, June 1825. “General Lafayette’s answer to the president of the Brunswick college,” likely in the hand of President William Allen, praising the work being done at Bowdoin college, where “the hope of the country are instructed in every literary and scientific branch”.

“With the highest sense of respect and gratitude I received the kind visit of the trustees and students of Brunswick College, the testimonies of their esteem and friendships which you have expressed, sir, in so flattering and kind terms, and the much valued diploma with which you have been pleased to honor an American veteran. While I much regret not to be able to offer those sentiments, at the seat of your so interesting institution, I thank you for the opportunity you have afforded me of a personal acquaintance with you gentlemen of that college, where young republicans, the hope of the country are instructed in every literary and scientific branch, and above all in the first of all sciences, the science of freedom, equal rights, and self government; and while I join in your liberal wishes, for the enfranchisement of mankind, while I am highly obliged to your kind feelings in my behalf, I beg you to accept my warmest good wishes, and most grateful acknowledgements.”

Autograph letter signed, Jas. Bowdoin, no date but August 1825, send along a note of Lafayette, which Allen evidently chose to keep.

“Believing, as I have all along done, that it would be very acceptable to you to have a few lines from General Lafayette to preserve in the archives of the College, as well for curiosity’s sake as to show that you were not backward in respect toward him, it gives me pleasure to enclose a short letter from him.

“These are strong proofs of haste in its composition; such as e.g. the additament to your name & the prefix to my own. If you should make the letter public, I beg you to correct these errors.

“The reference to Knox is a fine one, & the letter generally strikes me very agreeably.

“I sincerely hope that the Commencement may pass off in accordance with your wishes. It is more probable that I shall be deprived of the pleasure of being present….”

Lafayette finally reached Maine in June 24, 1825, arriving in Portland to great fanfare. The Brunswick Light Infantry had marched the 26 miles to Portland in uniform to be one of three military escorts present. The crowd of 15,000 included Bowdoin Trustees, Overseers, and students, who heard Stephen Longfellow (the poet’s father), deliver greetings from the city. In presenting the honorary degree, Bowdoin President William Allen called the last surviving general of the Revolutionary War “…an enlightened and unshaken friend of regulated liberty.”  Ever gracious, Lafayette responded, “While I much regret not to be able to offer these sentiments at the seat of your so interesting institution, I thank you for the opportunity you have afforded me of a personal acquaintance with you, Gentlemen of that College, where young republicans, the hope of the Country, are instructed in every literary and scientific branch, and above all in the first of all sciences, the science of freedom, equal rights, and self-government…”

Daniel Webster, Longfellow, the Great Supreme Court Case of Allen vs. McKeen and Its Effect on the College

In 1831, the state of Maine passed a law requiring all college presidents to resign and be reinstated only if they could muster a 2/3 vote of the governing body. This was a problem for William Allen, whose popularity was not high. He sued to block the law and the case wound its way to the Supreme Court, where Judge Joseph Story delivered his opinion on the case, stating that the court had found that the college was a private corporation and therefore not subject to such interference by the state.

From the below unpublished correspondence related Allen’s efforts in the case, it appears he attempted to enlist the representation of Daniel Webster, who recommend Greenleaf. He also received the support of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Autograph letter signed, August 2, 1832, Daniel Webster, Mansfield

“I have rec’d yrs of July 28th. On their preliminary and practical questions, I think it will be much more convenient for you to take counsel of Mr. Greenleaf. I do not know, for example, how inconvenient it may be for you to leave this State, nor do I know your present precise relations to the College, so as to see how the question may be affected by your removal. It will be well, I think, for you to see Mr. Greenleaf, & if, in the course of your consultations, any particular question arises, on which my opinion may be wanted, I will give it a brief and answer with a statement.

“I am so far off my motions for motions so uncertain, that I cannot undertake to direct in all the preliminaries and incidents of the suit. In these things you will find it much less troublesome to yourself Dear Sir with Mr. Greenleaf who is near and who is entirely competent to give you advice and direction.”

Autograph letter signed, Daniel Webster, July 24/25, 1832

“I have rec’d yrs of the 20th — I do not think it will be in my power to attend the Supr. Court of Maine in November.  At any rate, I could not now agree to do so.

“As to the Court, in which it may be advisable to bring the suits you must understand that suit can only be brought in that State where the defendants live, or in which they may be found.  If you remove into another State, you may then sue the Trustees in the Circuit Court of U.S. in Maine; if you stay in Maine, you can only sue in the Circuit State Courts.  The Circuit Court sits Oct. 1 at Wiscasset, Judge Story presiding & this action might then be tried if parties should be ready.”

Autograph letter signed, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, July 31, 1833.

“I have just received your friendly note. I certainly regretted very much that I could not meet your family and the Senior Class last evening, not only because it would have given me much pleasure to have been with you, but also lest any student should infer from my absence, that perfect harmony did not prevail in the Executive government; an inference which might arise in some minds from this circumstance, taken in connexion with the fact that my father was professionally opposed to your claims in the late College case, a fact which I have always sincerely regretted….”

The President of Harvard invites Allen to give the Dudleian lecture in May 1830.

Autograph letter signed, Josiah Quincy, Cambridge, Mass, January 13, 1830

“At a meeting of the Trustees of the Trustees of the Dudleian lecture at Harvard University, you were unanimously elected, to deliver the next lecture, on the second Wednesday of May next; – the subject of it being, in the language of its founder “for the maintaining, explaining, and proving the validity of the ordination of minister or pastors of the Churches and for their administration of the sacraments, or ordinances of religion, as the same hath been practiced in New England, from the first beginning of it & so continued to this day.

“I shall be obliged by an early acknowledgement of this letter and your decision as to the acceptance of the appointment, which I hope will be favourable.”

Edward Everett Looks to Publish a Review of President Appleton’s Addresses

Autograph letter signed, Edward Everett, Cambridge, May 20, 1821, requesting a review of President Appleton’s addresses. Appleton was Bowdoin’s second president.

“It would furnish a highly suitable occasion for calling the notice of the reading public, in distant parts of our country, to the growing importance of your college, and thus furnish an additional illustration of the scientific and literary progress of N. England”

“I am very desirous of procuring for the next number of the North American Review, a review of the late President Appleton’s addresses. As a notice of them could not come with greater propriety, than from the quarter, where their value was most directly witnessed and felt, I have ventured to apply to you for this purpose. And I should be sure of doing an acceptable service to the public, could I engage you to prepare the Review in question. It would furnish a highly suitable occasion for calling the notice of the reading public, in distant parts of our country, to the growing importance of your college, and thus furnish an additional illustration of the scientific and literary progress of N.England…”

Edward Everett, William Allen and the removal of the Native Americans

In 1830, Everett had given a now-famous speech on the remove of the “Indians”, saying, “The evil, Sir, is enormous; the inevitable suffering incalculable. Do not stain the fair fame of the country. . . . Nations of dependent Indians, against their will, under color of law, are driven from their homes into the wilderness. You cannot explain it; you cannot reason it away. . . . Our friends will view this measure with sorrow, and our enemies alone with joy. And we ourselves, Sir, when the interests and passions of the day are past, shall look back upon it, I fear, with self-reproach, and a regret as bitter as unavailing.”

Autograph letter signed, E. Everett, Charlestown, July 7, 1830.

“I duly received your favor of the 19th June. My engagements since have been such, as to have no leisure to reply to it. I am much gratified with your favourable opinion of my speech on the Indian question. I am very apprehensive that the Contemplated mischief will be consummated before the Supreme Court of the United States can interfere; & should this not be the case, I am not without apprehension, that the interference of the Court, instead of saving the Indians from destruction, would bring ruin on the Court; which (as the Superintendent of the Indian Bureau tells the Indians) “has no friends to spare”. But we must trust Providence & under Providence, the strong expression of the Public Sentiment in different parts of the Country.”

Everett goes on to praise Allen’s biographical dictionary, for which is well known

“I am well acquainted with your biographical dictionary, having used it habitually, ever since its publication, and with great advantage. I am very happy to hear, that there is a prospect of a new Edition. As your letter appears to contemplate some expression of opinion by me, in the usual form of a recommendation, I beg here to add, that, while I could, with a clear conscience & great cheerfulness, give such a recommendation, in the amplest terms. Yet the number of applications made to me, ( in consequence I presume of my having been once the Editor of a literary Journal,) to express an opinion of works has been so great, as to oblige me to come to a resolution, altogether to withhold my name. In two or three instances, circumstances, which I deemed peculiar, led me to swerve from the resolution, & always to my subsequent regret. You might not think, by this formal apology, that I attach any great importance to giving or withholding my name; I wished only to give a reasonable account to you for not immediately complying with your request.”

William Ellery Channing and the new General Literature professorship at Bowdoin

Autograph letter signed, William Ellery Channing, Brunswick, ME, August 26, 1823, recommending Richard Dana for the new General Literature professorship at Bowdoin.

“I have understood today through Dr. Shatthuch of Boston that a new professorship of General Literature has been or is about to be established in Brunswick College, and that my cousin Richard Dana Esq. of Cambridge has been named as a candidate for it. Dr. Shattuch has also intimated a wish that I would express to you my opinion of Mr. Dana. I do this with great pleasure for I think highly of his claims and have an earnest desire to see him fixed in a situation where a mind so highly gifted may find a field for his powers. The evidence of his ability are before the publik, and they seem to me… among the most distinguished literary men of our country. This love of literature is ardent, and his sensibility to the beauty and characteristics excellences of the best writer quick and strong. This attachment to the old English writers has been thought to betray him occasionally into grandness of style; but his later productions are little, if at all open to this charge. This character is unreproachable, his religious principles firm and operative, his sense of duty strong, and I doubt not that he will discharge most conscientiously and usefully any duties he may undertake. You of course will make a just allowance for any partiality which may grow from my connexion with Mr. Dana; but to myself I seem to be now performing an act of justice as well as gratifying my feelings. Be assured of my interest in the prosperity of the institution over which you preside, and in your personal happiness.”

Maine’s Governor Robert Dunlap, on behalf of the citizens of Brunswick, as Allen retires, attempts to keep him from leaving the community

Autograph letter signed, Robert Dunlap, Brunswick, January 23, 1839. “A few of your neighbors and friends being together the last evening at the house of Dr. Lincoln, and learning that you had recently intimated the possibility of your remaining in the this town, felt desirous of stating to you the satisfaction with which this intimation is received. They have requested me on their behalf and that of their families to express to you a deep interest in yourself and family and an assurance that to them and to the whole of your acquaintance in this place, so as their knowledge extends, your remaining here would be peculiarly gratifying. While they hope that circumstance may conspire to induce you to continue your residence among us, they would also request you to accept assurance of their high esteem and regard. I avail myself of this occasion to repeat the expression of great personal regard….”

3 previously unknown letters of John Quincy Adams relating to Bowdoin College

Autograph letter signed, John Quincy Adams, August 29, 1826

“I have received your very obliging invitation of the 22d inst’n to attend at the approaching Commencement at Bowdoin College on the 6th of next month – an invitation which I should have taken the greatest pleasure in accepting as well for the gratification which I should have derived from a visit to my fellow citizens in the State of Maine, as for the delight with which I should have offered the progress of her youthful sons, in the pursuits of Literature and Science. I find myself however deprived of these advantages by avocations of an indispensable nature – I hope it is only an enjoyment postponed.

Letter signed, John Q. Adams, Department of State, Washington, 31 May 1820

In pursuance of a Resolution of Congress of the 19th January late, I have the pleasure of transmitting to you herewith, one copy of the Journal of the Federal Convention, recently printed by order of Congress, the receipt of which I will thank you to acknowledge.

I have the honour to be, very respectfully, Sir, your most humble and obedient Servant –

Letter signed, John Quincy Adams, Department of State, Washington, November 6, 1822.

I have forwarded to you a Copy of the Additional Census of Alabama, in virtue of an Act of Congress of the 7th of March last; the receipt of which you will be pleased to acknowledge.

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