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Title: Letter from William Polk to Joseph Caldwell, May 16, 1803: Electronic Edition.
Author: Polk, William, 1758-1834
Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Bari Helms
Images scanned by Bari Helms
Text encoded by Amanda Page
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 14K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-06-24, Amanda Page finished TEI/XML encoding.
Title of collection: University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Letter from William Polk to Joseph Caldwell, May 16, 1803
Author: W.W. Polk
Description: 4 pages, 4 page images
Note: Call number 40005 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Letter from William W. Polk to Joseph Caldwell May 16, 1803
Polk, William, 1758-1834

Page 1
Raleigh 16th May 1803


Your letter of the 13th currt, informing of the present disgraceful and disorderly state of our University, was duly received; and I had prepared accordingly and should have been with you tomorrow, accompanied by those of the Trustees who reside in this place, but for the arrival here of Messrs Learey, Benton , and Nunn:— from the concurrent Report of these Gentlemen, we are led to believe, that the shameful necessity which was about to drag forth the Trustees, has been done away since the date of your letter and no longer exists.
Bound as I am as a Trustee, and additionally so as President of the Board, to watch over the interests and prosperity of the University; I have felt both pride and pleasure in the very favorable Reports I have from time to time had, of the growing and flourishing state of that Institution, and of the decent and orderly demeanor and industrious habits of the students there: judge then of my disappointment, surprize and astonishment, on reading your letter above mentioned! That native Americans, Carolinians, young men possessing the advantages of Education and therefore sensible of its indispensable necessity and high importance to their Country, should be so unmindful of their standing in society, and so lost to every proper sense of the duty they owed to themselves and to others, as to unite in conspiring the destruction of that

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Seminary, to which of all others they had been and were like to be most indebted; is such a dark deed, such a matricide like act, such a crying sin against themselves, and their Country, that I can scarcely prevail on myself to allow it a place in the Catalogue or List of human Crimes; even when viewing nature in its darkest shadow and most depraved habits. The Characters you mention as the principals in this disgraceful and lawless business, as far as I recollect, are well nigh grown, and therefore probably of lawful age or nearly so: that those men therefore (for we will no longer consider them Boys) towards whom their friends and acquaintances look forward with such high and flattering expectation, and for whom they have heretofore indulged such fond predilection and performance, should, at this late and inauspicious day, be guilty of the deplorable madness and folly of rashly sacrificing their Characters and fame, and laying in dust and ashes the fairest prospects of their Country, through the destruction of her best anchor and hope, her University, is too much: it is folly, in its most gigantic and hideous shape: insanity, replete with consequences too direful and deleterious to be tolerated:— in fine, a deed of the kind meditated would operate as the work of Treasons against the State, and would prove instantly productive of such incalculable mischief, and ultimately of such probable and dreadful evils, that the mind of the virtuous and patriotic cannot find to be painfully affected and [bound] to shudder, even at a distant contemplation of them:— and yet these young men are too enlightened and informed to be in any-wise ignorant, that their late reprehensible conduct had a direct tendency to, and was completely fraught with, all these and many

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other dreadful evils:— upon the whole, there have been few occasions indeed, through which my feelings have been more wounded or my indignation more roused and excited, than by reading the dreadful account stated in your letter. But for the arrival of the Gentlemen above mentioned, viz. Messrs Learey, Benton , & Nunn, I should have set out to the University fully & fixedly determined, to expell, with the most marked ignominy and disgrace, every student who should be found to have been guilty of giving, hearing, or receiving, or rather accepting a Challenge, of the nature you mention: and in such sentiment and decision, I am authorized to say, there would not have been a dissenting Trustee.
If this disgraceful and unfortunate business is in fact settled and done with, as we are told; or shall be immediately so settled and done with, and that with proper deference and respect towards the Faculty; then and in such case, I shall wish to forget and bury it in oblivion: but if it neither has been nor shall be so settled, before the return of my Express; I have to request, that, in such case, you inform me of it by his return; to the end I may adopt the necessary measures for the trial and punishment of all concerned; whether as principals, aiders or abettors; and this I will not fail to do, however painful & disagreeable the task, on or before Sunday next. Fixed and determined as I am, faithfully to discharge the duty I owe my Country, on this and every other occasion, if called on to act: I could yet hope, the unpleasant & ungracious task, the bitter Cup

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of blasting the fame and dimming the reputation of those whom I could wish to respect I honor, might pass from me: and in the hope that it may so pass, I hereby authorize and request you to read this my letter publickly and aloud to all the students of the University, including as well those mentioned by name in your letter, as the others; and to detain my Express, if you shall judge it proper and necessary, for the space of one day. If, unfortunately for those students who shall be found concerned, and unhappily for the Trustees (who would far rather have cause to amend than to reproach or condemn) you shall find yourself, in the issue of this distressing business, constrained to ask their attendance; then and in that case, I would request of you to send Expresses to Gov. Davie , Mr Alves, Mrr Bennehan and Mr Cameron, desiring their attendance, in my name, at the University, on Sunday next; in order that this disgraceful & unfortunate business may be taken up and acted on the following day.

With respectful considerations,
I remain Sir,
Your obt Serv.,

W. W. Polk

I have not patience to reflect on the madness & folly, of young men of such attainments & promising expectations, then about to sacrifice the peace of their parents & friends, and consign their own names to infamy & disgrace, and all for the gratification, the low gratification, of some low revenge, some petty & boyish quarrel.