Was there ever a time when politics were stormier than right now? Kenyon's archives suggest there was.
Americans are bitterly divided. Anger and anxiety seem to be corroding public morale. Was there ever a time when politics were stormier, more raw, than right now?
An obvious candidate would be the Civil War. Kenyon went through that cataclysm, of course, and the College’s archives contain a number of documents offering a taste of the period’s turmoil and intense passions. The handbill pictured here advertises a campus celebration marking the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1865, complete with plans to burn Davis in effigy. Note that one of the marshals, and a member of the “Committee of Arrangements,” is J.J. McCook. This is presumably John James McCook, who, like his brother, Charles Morris McCook, had interrupted his Kenyon studies to enlist. The brothers were part of the “Fighting McCooks,” an Ohio family that sent 14 men into battle for the Union. Charles was killed in 1861 at the first Battle of Bull Run: Surrounded by Confederate soldiers, he refused to surrender and was shot dead. He was 18.
Perhaps the archives’ most notable Civil War holding is a collection of letters to and from Bishop Charles Pettit McIlvaine, Kenyon’s second president (1832-1840) and later an emissary sent by President Lincoln to England to argue against British recognition of the Confederacy. In 1864, McIlvaine wrote to Salmon Chase (Philander Chase’s nephew, President Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury, and later the chief justice of the Supreme Court) expressing his joy at the abolition of slavery. The collection also includes a letter to McIlvaine from Bishop Alfred Lee of Delaware, who at war’s end pondered the question of reconciliation with the Southern Episcopal church. Lee argued that the Southern bishops and clergy, by supporting slavery in their teachings, “promoting sectional hatred” and embracing Southern independence “with indecent haste,” bore more responsibility for the war than anyone except “the leaders of the Conspiracy.”
The Greenslade Special Collections and Archives makes these and many other documents available online at digital.kenyon.edu/greenslade.