The causes of the
riots that led to the resignation of President L. C. Garland (right) and most of
the faculty are complicated. The great distance of the faculty housing from the
college buildings left the professor reluctant to pay repeated calls upon the students.
Then too, the faculty had not received anything like their proper pay, a factor
diminishing whatever enthusiasm there might have been for garrison duty. In 1846
Garland was owed over twenty-one hundred dollars in back pay, and the other professors
(Duncan, Doggett, and Hardy) were owed over eighteen hundred dollars each.
The tutor's pay was three hundred fifty dollars behind. The income of the college
had shrunk to approximately half of what it had been a decade before. Producing
this catastrophic decline in wealth was a drastic falling off in the number of students:
over one hundred in residence in 1837 to under fifty in 1846. The decline forced
the trustees in June 1845 to board up part of the new college building, perhaps
half of it. The trustees refer to the South Passage of the College wing; since the
main building ran east and west and the annex north and south, no other explanation
fits. Years later, William A. Smith remarked that student opinion (with the dormitory
system especially) under given circumstances has a controlling influence paramount
to the administration of any laws which the board of Trustees can make. It often
gives rise to customs habits and usages which are transmitted from year to year
by a kind of hereditary succession, and which are usually exceedingly disastrous
to good order, scholarship, and morality.
The riots were precipitated by academic problems. In june 1846 the freshmen were
examined in algebra: one second, six thirds, and nine not sustained. Professor David
Duncan, father of one of the unfortunate boys, blamed the tutor and wished him publicly
censured. Professor J .W. Hardy supported the tutor, and Garland, trying to please
everyone, joined with Hardy and promised the class that the first month of the next
session (i.e., September 1846) would be devoted to a review of algebra. Then, for
reasons now unknown, he refused to allow the review. Duncan noted that Garland reaped
the fruits of this.
The reader may imagine the hot September nights with fifty or so students of all
ages running around in a building 187 feet long and four stories high. The exasperated
tutor suppressed one disturbance only to find another erupting in another part of
the building that can be reached only by running down four flights of stairs and
climbing another four. It became easier to bolt his own door, perhaps even to barricade
it. Only President Garland had the proximity and position to act. What could he
do? His mild entreaty and rebuke failed. Repeated threats to report individuals
to the faculty for trial were empty, for as the school was dependent upon the students'
fees for sustenance, dismissal was unlikely. A half dozen or more students went
to Clarksville without permission and returned after midnight one Saturday. On Monday
morning in the chapel Garland denounced as eyeservants the students who had violated
their promise to obey the college laws. These remarks only provoked more student
disorder, perhaps because servant was the constant synonym for slave.
The next Saturday a drunken riot erupted in the college between midnight and 1 A.M.
that aroused Garland from his home. He suppressed it and identified five or six
students. Again, there were only private admonitions and sermons in the chapel.
The next Friday there was another riot. Still. nothing was done but talk. Emboldened,
the students burned Garland in effigy, tore gutters down from the buildings, and
wreaked other havoc. Accounts of what actually occurred are very scanty. Garland
was nearly hysterical, concentrating on minor details and self-justification. Of
course, details of the events would have been known to the trustees. Burning Garland
in effigy connects the episode with Duncan's explanation.
In the wake of these outrages, Garland quit in disgust.
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Reprinted from Professor James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History