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Letter from Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick to Charles Manly, October 14, 1856


Letter from Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick to Charles Manly, October 14, 1856


Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick


"Letter from Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick to Charles Manly, October 14, 1856," Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick's Views on Slavery and Dismissal from the University, Documenting the American South, The University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, (accesssed on February 13, 2012).




Miller, Jennifer



Original Format



Chapel Hill, Oct. 14, 1856

Dear Sir:

I am glad that the executive committee did not yield to a popular clamor and remove me from my situation here. For I believe that if I can have a full and fair hearing before the Trustees, the censure implied in the resolutions which you possed will be found to be more than my offence merited, tho' as matters now stand it was as little as I could expect.

No one more than myself acknowledges the justness and propriety of the usage which prohibits members of the faculty from agitating topics relating to party politics. But there are instances when it seems to me the usage may be disregarded. In fact about eight years ago one of the ablest and most learned professors in the University thought it incumbent on himself to define his position on the slavery question. But the principle circumstance which I would plead in extenuation of this breach of a well known usage is the manner in which I was attacked. If members of the faculty have their hands tied they should be shielded from assault. I am a citizen of the state, a native if there is any merit in that, and have always endeavored to be a faithful law abiding member of the community. But all at once I am assailed as an outlaw, a traitor, as a person fit to be driven from the state by mob violence, one whom every good citizen was bound to cast out by fair means or foul. This was more than I could bear. It seemed to me that I ought to resent it as a tyranical interference with the rights of private opinion. So that in judging my case it will be necessary to keep in mind the gross insults contained in the charges brought against me by the "Standard." What I had said here about voting for Fremont amounted to almost nothing, as no one expected that an attempt to form an electoral ticket would be made. In fact I heard an influential citizen say he would vote for Fremont himself if he thought the electing him would bring about a dissolution of the Union, whilst I would vote for him to make the Union stronger.

But the state of the case which comes home to the Trustees more directly than any other is the influence my course will have upon the prosperity of the University. My own opinion is that if the newspapers will let the matter rest it will soon be forgotten. The election will soon be over, one of the candidates will probably be elected, and the others will soon cease to be talked of. What I said of slavery is neither fanatical incendiary nor inflammatory, I have never held abolitionist views. If my reasons for keeping the increase of the slave population at home are good, of course no one will blame me for setting them forth. If my reasons are unsound I have erred on a question upon which there always has been, and probably always will be, an honest difference of opinion among thinking men. It is only a short time since I saw an article in a Virginia paper denouncing professor Bledsoe of the University of Va, because he admitted in his book on Liberty & Slavery that the interests & prosperity of the territories where slavery does not now exist, might be best advanced by excluding it. But for that opinion he was not treated as an outlaw, nor any attempt made to drive him from his chair.

But I am not disposed to find fault with the action of the Trustees. Some of the newspapers pretend that I am only wishing to be dismissed in order to attain to profitable martyrdom. If I were base enough to resort to such a miserable trick my denying the charge would go for nothing. I do not believe however that such a charge will be made by anyone at all aquainted with the circumstances which placed me in my present position. I had not sought the election from the Trustees, and yet the appointment was most acceptable to me. When I graduated I received a subordinate situation in one of the scientific offices of the general government, a place not at all subject to the prescriptions of party. My services were so far acceptable that I was promoted at the end of the first year, and at the time I resigned that situation my salary was equal to that offered me by the Trustees. It was against the advice of some of my best friends that I made the exchange. I have always acted on the principle that a good citizen will serve his native state in preference to any other. And I thought the situation offered me by the Trustees was one in which I might find honorable and useful employment, and at the same time do something for the good of my native state. Whether my labors here have been successful I will leave for others to determine. In coming here I sacrificed all other prospects. I have been here only long enough to begin to take root, and to be driven out now when I am just faint started seems hard. But I will not ask anything unreasonable of the Trustees. It is well known that my chair does not belong to the regular academic course. My students are, just those who enter for a scientific course. Of these I have had fourteen during the present session. 2nd the regular academic students are permitted during the senior year, to substitute studies in my Department for a part of the regular course. Forty four seniors have during this session "elected" studies in my department. If anyone therefore is afraid for his son to recite to me he has but to say that he wishes him to take the "old course" in the senior year.

As I said before I believe that all this trouble about politics will soon pass over. If it does not and it is apparent that my usefulness is lost or greatly impaired I will not ask to be retained longer. The "scientific school" is a venture in which I have staked a great deal, and therefore respectfully ask that whatever final action the Board may take that they would act with caution and deliberation. For my own part I am very sorry that I have been the occasion of trouble to the committed. But I hope that when they come to know me better they will find me to be one not deserving to be driven from the state by hue and cry.

Very respectfully
your obt servant

B. S. Hedrick

Hon. Charles Manly
Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the University of N.C


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Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick , Letter from Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick to Charles Manly, October 14, 1856 , Civil War Era NC, accessed April 17, 2024,