In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Board of Trustees bans dueling, the contract for construction of the infirmary is awarded, and more.
April 8, 1917—James Barnes of the Class of 1891 outlines a proposal for privately financing an aviation school to Princeton University’s Committee on Military Instruction.
April 10, 1799—In response to a faculty report about a growing trend of students engaging in duels with one another, the Board of Trustees establishes a new policy. They declare any student caught dueling or attempting to duel be subject to immediate expulsion, promising that they “will never fail to match every instance of this crime with the highest expression of their detestation and abhorrence and to subject the perpetrators to that just and pointed infamy which their aggravated guilt demands.”
The expulsion of Alfred Powell of the Class of 1799, pictured above, seems to have been the primary inspiration for the Board of Trustees imposing the penalty of expulsion for dueling. Powell, unlike other students involved, was unapologetic about challenging his peers to duels. Image from Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104).
Question: Did Aaron Burr, Jr. take part in a Whig or Clio debate in which he argued against dueling? What information on Aaron Burr, Jr. exists within university records?
There is nothing in the records of either organization, in early University records, or in Burr’s memoirs that would confirm that such a debate took place. The records of Clio debate topics begin in 1792, Whig in 1802; unfortunately any records of earlier debate topics would have been destroyed in the 1802 Nassau Hall fire. The records of the University actually contain very little original material pertaining to Aaron Burr Jr. ‘1772, at least partially as a result of the aforementioned Nassau Hall fire. Most significantly, he is listed several times in the minutes of the Trustees among the graduates of the Class of 1772. From other sources such as the Pennsylvania Chronicle, we know that he delivered several orations at commencements while he was a student. Other Aaron Burr primary sources held by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections are gathered in two collections held by the Manuscripts Division:
Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Collection
Fuller Collection of Aaron Burr (1756-1836)
The University Archives also holds a sizable alumni file for Burr which contains clippings and some early reference correspondence between researchers and various University secretaries about his life, focusing mainly on his affairs after leaving the College of New Jersey. The file also contains reproductions of several paintings, engravings, and sketches of Burr. James Madison’s alumni file contains a similar folder of portraits.