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Samuel Stanhope Smith
Samuel Stanhope Smith, Princeton’s seventh president (1795-1812), was an early defender of the unity of mankind—arguing that environment, not innate biological differences, determined one’s race. His convictions, however, did not prevent him from owning slaves himself, and his teachings ultimately influenced Princeton alumni to establish the American Colonization Society.
Princeton and Slavery: Holding the Center
Princeton University, founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746, exemplifies the central paradox of American history. From the start, liberty and slavery were intertwined.
Slavery in the Curriculum
John Witherspoon and Samuel Stanhope Smith’s curriculum emphasized Scottish moral philosophy, providing early Princeton students with a new philosophical framework for opposing slavery even as pro-slavery apologists used the same philosophical concepts to defend the practice of owning slaves.
Betsey Stockton (1798?-1865), enslaved as a child in the household of Princeton president Ashbel Green, became a prominent and respected educator in Princeton, Philadelphia, and the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawai'i).
Princetonians in Kentucky
Princeton’s early students from Kentucky reflected their state’s ambivalent attitude toward slavery. Though many Kentuckians opposed the institution and the state never seceded from the Union, slavery did not end in Kentucky until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Prominent state and national leaders from Kentucky, including Princeton alumni, also supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.
"An Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion"
Samuel Stanhope Smith's "Essay on the Cause of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species," originally published in 1787.