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Harvard College Laws Belonging to Student Caleb Cushing, Future Congressman and U.S. Attorney General, also Signed by Harvard’s President
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[HARVARD UNIVERSITY]. Pamphlet Signed. Laws of Harvard College. For the Use of Students. Copy belonging to Sophomore Caleb Cushing, with his signature and that of John Kirkland, President, on page 68. Cambridge: University Press, [ca. September 30] 1814. 84 pp., 5½ x 9 in.

Inventory #25600       Price: $2,750


Candidates for admission into Harvard College, shall be examined by the President, Professors, and Tutors…” (p3)

All persons, of whatever degree, residing at the College, and all under graduates… shall constantly and seasonably attend the worship of God in the Chapel, and public worship at the usual place on the Lord’s day and upon public fasts and thanksgiving.” (p12-13)

The scholars shall keep in their respective chambers, and diligently follow their studies, excepting half an hour after breakfast, from twelve till two, and after evening prayers, until nine o’clock. Undergraduates, absent from their chambers in the hours assigned for study, or after nine o’clock in the evening, without sufficient reasons, shall be fined…” (p15)

The students are required to manifest reverence for religion, to respect the laws of morality and the laws of the land, and to observe modesty, civility, and decorum.” (p24)

There shall be annually a public examination, to be conducted in such manner, as the Corporation shall direct…” (p32)

All the Officers of instruction and government, and Graduates and Undergraduates, who have studies in the College, shall constantly be in commons, while actually residing at the College, vacation times excepted, and shall breakfast, dine, and sup in the Commons halls at stated meal times, except Waiters; saving also in case of sickness, or other necessity…” (p40)

The books, most suitable for the use of the Undergraduates … shall be borrowed by them, but by special license. When there are two or more sets … the least elegant shall be lent first.” (p46)

The Corporation having made large repairs upon the former edifices of the College, and recently erected costly buildings, uniting accommodation with neatness and elegance; having also, for ornament and use, caused a border of trees and shrubbery to be planted and cultivated around the College grounds, and made other improvements for the benefit of the Students, and the dignity of the University; they rely on the Students to consider the value of such objects of convenience and taste, and the rights of property, and scrupulously to avoid committing waste or damage upon any of the structures, appurtenances, or improvements of the Institution.” (p56)

Page 68 includes partially manuscript personalization noting the date of Cushing’s admission:

Cantabrigiœ, 7 bris die 26mo A D 1813/ Admittatur in Collegium Harvardinum

[signed:]   Caleb Cushing   /   [signed] Johannes T. Kirkland Praeses.

[pasted in:] #E tabulis Universitatis transcriptum. [University Transcript of the table.]”

Historical Background

The General Court of Massachusetts founded Harvard College in 1636. The Harvard Corporation was created by the Charter of 1650 as the college’s primary governing board. In 1810, the Federalist-controlled Massachusetts legislature altered the composition of the Board of Overseers to weaken the power of Republican legislators, limited the number of clerical members of the Board to fifteen and added fifteen laymen. Between 1812-1814, as control of the legislature see-sawed, each side jockeyed for control over the college through the composition of its Board of Overseers. In 1814, with Federalists again in control of the Massachusetts Senate, the 1810 regulation was reinstated and remained in place for forty years, until 1855, when the legislature transferred the election of the Board of Overseers to graduates of the College, a tradition which continues today.

The War of 1812 affected Harvard College mostly indirectly. The conflict largely ended cross-Atlantic trade with Great Britain for a time. The College had to get roofing slate from a New York supplier rather than its original source in Wales to finish Holworthy Hall in the summer of 1812, and in June 1814, the British captured and burned the college-owned sloop Harvard, which had been used to deliver firewood for the college from Maine. On more academic matters, the war delayed book deliveries from Great Britain for two years. When news of the war’s end arrived in February 1815, the peal of bells and boom of cannon announced the news to the entire village of Cambridge.

John T. Kirkland (1770-1840), a Congregational minister, was president of Harvard College from 1810 to 1828, and is remembered primarily for his lenient treatment of students, at least by the standards of his day. His tenure included the completion of University Hall and the establishment of both the Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Law School.

Caleb Cushing (1800-1879) was born in Massachusetts and entered Harvard College at the age of thirteen. He graduated in 1817, when he gave the salutatory oration. He was one of the first six students to attend the new Harvard Law School in 1817 and received a master’s degree in 1819. Cushing taught mathematics at Harvard from 1820 to 1821. Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in December 1821, he began a practice in Newburyport in 1824. After serving in the Massachusetts legislature and touring Europe, Cushing won election as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1835 to 1843. President John Tyler nominated Cushing to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, but the nomination was voted down in the Senate.

Later in 1843, Tyler appointed Cushing as the first U.S. minister to China. The next year, Cushing negotiated the Treaty of Wang Hiya, the first between the two countries. Under pressure from American merchants, the appointment was made to counter British dominance of Chinese trade. The treaty gave the U.S. most favored nation status, equal to the treatment of Britain, established five treaty ports, and fixed tariffs on trade. Though the treaty was more beneficial to the United States, it did grant the Qing empire the power to confiscate American ships operating outside treaty ports, and it withdrew American consular protection for citizens who were trading in opium.

During the Mexican War, Cushing was the colonel of a Massachusetts regiment. Though he saw no combat, he gained promotion to brigadier general. Cushing was defeated as the Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor in 1847 and 1848, but served again in the state legislature and as mayor of Newburyport until his 1852 appointment to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce appointed Cushing as Attorney General of the United States, a position he held until 1857.

A “doughface,” Cushing presided over the Democratic National Convention in 1860, until leaving with the southern delegates. He then presided over the convention that nominated John C. Breckinridge for the presidency. (The Democratic party split between Breckinridge, Bell and Douglas allowed Lincoln to be elected without the vote of any Southern states.) Cushing supported the Union during the Civil War, and President Andrew Johnson appointed him as one of three commissioners to revise the laws of Congress from 1866 to 1870. In 1874, Grant nominated Cushing as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but opposition forced Grant to withdraw the nomination. Cushing instead served as U.S. minister to Spain from 1874 to 1877.

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