Union College News Archives

News story archive

Navigation Menu

Great Union names: William Henry Seward

Posted on Aug 1, 2001

On a September evening in 1816, a slight, redheaded fifteen-year-old boy left his home in the rural village of Florida, N.Y., to board a steamboat for Albany. Changing from steamboat to stagecoach in Albany, he eventually reached his destination — Schenectady and college.

After breakfast at Givens' Tavern, the
youth — William Henry Seward — walked up the hill to Union. Once in the
office of the register, he was immediately introduced to the Rev. Thomas McAuley, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, for an examination to determine his fitness.

McAuley, after questioning the young man for half an hour, pronounced him more than qualified, and Seward was promptly admitted to Union as a member of the sophomore class (he wanted to enter as a junior, but college rules made sixteen the lowest permissible age for entering the junior class). By nightfall, his “chum” was chosen, his room supplied with cheap furniture, and, as he wrote in his autobiography, he “sat down to meditate, with self-complacency, on the dignity of my new situation.”

Seward was an able and determined
student, and three years later he graduated with the highest honors in his
class. His ability and determination would carry him to the highest levels of
service in the United States, and he made his mark on American history as a
politician and statesman of genuine distinction. He is thought by some
historians to be our greatest secretary of state, and by many to be second only
to John Quincy Adams.

Yet we seldom remember him except for
one of the last acts of his career — the purchase of Alaska, or, as countless
schoolchildren have learned to call it, “Seward's Folly.” To note the
200th anniversary of his birth, we present this brief look at one of
the nineteenth-century's most remarkable politicians.

William Henry Seward came to Union at the direction of his father, Samuel, who admired the great and growing reputation of the College's president, Eliphalet Nott.

The elder Seward had been educated a
physician, and added to that the occupations of farmer, merchant, and
politician. When William was three, his father represented Orange County in the
state legislature; the year before William entered Union, his father had been appointed the first judge of Orange County.

It is no doubt an exaggeration to say that an impulse to enter politics is an inherited trait, but the younger Seward did show an early tendency to take after his father. During his junior year at Union, the Republican Party in New York divided into two sections, with DeWitt Clinton, the governor, at the head of one section, and Martin Van Buren at the head of the other. The Van Buren section, eager to defeat Clinton, nominated Daniel Tompkins, then the vice president of the country. Tompkins, on a tour of the eastern part of the state, came to Schenectady, and Union's Republican students invited him to campus.

In his autobiography, Seward noted, “Should I not study carefully the first political speech I was to make, especially when that speech was an address to the greatest patriot and statesman whom my native state had produced? I did study the speech, and I did make it; but, like many
other well-studied speeches, made to or for political candidates in our
country, this effort of mine 'fell on stony ground;' and, in spite of the
advice of the Republican students of Union College, DeWitt Clinton was
re-elected Governor of the State of New York.”

After Seward graduated, he pursued the law, working in law offices in Goshen, N.Y., and New York City. He passed the New York State Bar in 1821 and soon began practicing law, building a reputation as a skilled criminal lawyer (he once used the insanity defense in the case of a black man who had murdered a family in Auburn, N.Y. — one of the first uses of the insanity defense).

His public career at the state and national level began in 1830. He joined forces with the masterful political manager, Thurlow Weed, and won a seat in the state senate as a member from Cayuga County. In 1834, he was nominated by the Whigs for governor; he lost that election but won a rematch in 1838, becoming the first Whig governor of New York. During his four year-term, he tried (often unsuccessfully) to use the power of state government to expand internal improvements, such as railroads and canals, and for public education. He also worked for reform of prisons and insane asylums, won legislation to better the position of immigrants, and became a political
spokesman for New York's antislavery movement.

It was his belief in the antislavery cause that turned Seward into a national figure.

After his term as governor ended in 1843, Seward returned to his law practice in Auburn, N.Y. He had consistently expressed his opposition to slavery, and once back in Auburn as a private citizen, he and his wife, Frances, helped Harriet Taubman and the Underground Railroad by hiding
fugitive slaves in their home.

In 1849 Seward was elected to the United States Senate and, on March 11, 1850, in his first major speech, he electrified the country by declaring that the territorial expansion of slavery was contrary to the U.S. Constitution and “higher law.”

“But there is a higher law than the
Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain and devotes it to the same noble purpose. … And now the simple, bold, and awful question which presents itself to us is this: Shall we who are founding institutions, social and politicial, for countless millions; shall we, who know by experience the wise and the just and are free to choose them and to reject the erroneous and the unjust; shall we establish human bondage or permit it by our sufferance to be established? … Sir, there is no Christian nation, thus free to choose as we are, which would establish slavery.”

In the north, his “higher law” speech made Seward the foremost political leader of the anti-slavery forces. In the South, his position was roundly condemned. (The idea of a higher law probably came from the man who taught Seward — Eliphalet Nott. Nott, in his sermons, frequently
referred to the idea of a higher law, and Seward was very much influenced by

In the mid-1850s, the Whig Party collapsed, to a great extent the victim of disagreement over slavery between Northern and Southern Whigs. Seward, Weed, and others established the Republican Party, which held its first convention to nominate a candidate for president in 1856. Seward wanted to run, but was persuaded by Weed to wait four years. Two years later, in Rochester, N.Y., Seward again electrified the country with his
“irrepressible conflict” speech.

Discussing the slave system and the free-labor system, Seward noted that the two have existed in different states because the Union is a confederation of states. But increasing population, together with a network of railroads and an expanding commerce, is bringing the states closer
together, he said.

“Thus, these antagonistic systems are
continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.

“Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators and therefor ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation or entirely a free-labor nation.”

The speech caused Roger Tanney, chief justice of the Supreme Court, to say that if Seward were elected president in 1860 he would refuse to administer the oath. It caused many Southerners to accuse Seward of setting the tone that led to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, and it led a Richmond newspaper to offer a $50,000 reward for the head of that traitor, William H. Seward.

Despite his controversial public face, Seward entered the 1860 race for the Republican presidential nomination. As the convention approached, he softened his words — bot not enough. Despite his prominence and influence, the Republicans turned to a candidate who, it was thought, would have a better chance of carrying states in the lower part of the North — Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. On the third ballot, the moderate candidate –Abraham Lincoln — was nominated.

Seward was hurt by the defeat. But buoyed by letters urging him to remain active in the party, he campaigned actively for Lincoln. A few weeks after the election, Lincoln offered Seward the position of secretary of state in his cabinet. The offer was accompanied by a warm letter in which Lincoln praised Seward's position, integrity, learning, and great experience.

Seward made several mistakes in his first months in the State Department. He presented Lincoln with a paper titled “Thoughts for the President's
Consideration,” which not only suggested policies he thought the president should follow but also, in essence, volunteered to make the decisions if the president wouldn't. Contained in the paper was the notion that Lincoln should threaten war against France and Spain for violating the Monroe Doctrine in Mexico and the Caribbean; the idea seemed to be that provoking foreign powers might unify American opinion at home and perhaps prevent the coming of a civil war.

Lincoln put Seward in his place, but kindly enough so that Seward remained in the cabinet. He became a valued advisor to the president and the person with whom the president was most relaxed. The relationship was undoubtedly helped by the fact that Seward was optimistic and had great faith in his country. His diplomatic correspondence was written to solidify Northern public opinion and at all times showed a confidence in the
outcome of the war. He also met the practical issues of the day with skill,
most notably keeping the European powers from intervening in the American
domestic struggle.

The night that President Lincoln was assassinated, a conspirator of the assassin went to Seward's home to kill the secretary of state. Seward suffered knife wounds in the attack, which resulted in an outpouring of sympathy and support for Seward. Less than a month later, President Andrew Johnson conducted a cabinet meeting at Seward's residence, a tribute to his importance in the government.

Seward's optimism and his democratic faith, which had played such an important role during the Civil War, were manifested in a different way in his years as secretary of state under Johnson. The purchase of Alaska illustrates.

Russia, weakened by the Crimean War, became eager to sell what we now know as Alaska. The U.S. Senate, however, was bitterly opposed to the administration, and the chairman of the Foreign relations Committee did not agree with Seward on the problems of reconstruction. In addition, the
public at large seemed to have little use for what they quickly dubbed
“Seward's Icebox.” Seward persevered, however, and in 1867 the Senate
voted thirty-seven to two to support the treaty Seward drew up. The wisdom of
the decision was soon apparent. By 1900 Alaska had yielded in fish, furs, and
gold nearly $150 million, and the revenue tax on sealskins had brought in a sum larger than the purchase price of $7.2 million.

Less noticed in 1867 were his efforts that led to the acquisition of the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean. And if he had had his way, he would have gone farther. He negotiated a treaty for the acquisition of the Dutch West Indies; he toyed with the idea of incorporating the Dominican Republic into the United Srates; he advocated the annexation of Hawaii; he pursued acquiring the right to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama; and
he examined the possibility of establishing American naval bases in the
Caribbean. But public opinion did not support such expansionism, and Seward
retired from the State Department in 1868. He spent much of his remaining years traveling and was working on a book about his trips when he died at his home in Auburn in 1872.

Read More

Continue the Union family tradition

Posted on Aug 1, 2001

To encourage the Union family tradition, the admissions
application fee is waived for children of alumni and siblings of current
students or alumni. To arrange for the waiver of the $50 fee, call Lilia
Tiemann, Alumni Admissions Coordinator, at 518-388-6084 and give her the name,
address, high school, and year of graduation of your child or sibling.  She will be happy to mail you an
application.  The candidate should note,
either in the application or on a separate sheet, his or her connection to you
and your graduation year. 

Read More

Remembering William Henry Seward

Posted on Aug 1, 2001

Why would a freshman at Union
organize a campus party for an alumnus born 200 years ago?

When the
student is Jeremy Dibbell – energetic chairman of the College's Republican Club
and longtime admirer of the alumnus, William Henry Seward – the answer is easy.

was a national figure and our most famous alumnus, Chester Arthur
notwithstanding,” Dibbell says. “I think we should do a lot more to honor him.”

party was held May 16, Seward's birthday, and a small but enthusiastic group gathered
to hear speeches, eat cake, and view mementoes of the 1820 graduate who went on
to become one of the country's most distinguished secretaries of state.

party was the most recent of several activities in an effort that has come to
be known as the William Seward Memorial Project. It began in the spring of
2000, when five students — Phoebe Burr, Erika Mancini, Duncan Campbell Crary,
Jeremy Newell, and Cal Crary – decided they wanted to create a memorial to the
ideals that Seward held – the abolition of slavery, the bettering of the
American public schools, the improvement of the American political system, and
the boosting of the national economy. They raised more than $3,000 from
classmates, and Dibbell hopes for more from future classes. Exactly what form
the memorial would take is undecided, although a local artist has created
models of a statue.

have Chester Arthur House, his statue, his desk, and other memorabilia on
campus,” Dibble says. “I think we should do more to remember Seward, who, in my
mind, should have been president.”


Read More

Charlie Scaife — catalyst for chemistry — retires

Posted on Aug 1, 2001

“You don't need a lab to do
science – you just need a kitchen,” says Professor of Chemistry Charles Scaife.
In fact, if you're visiting the Scaifes' family kitchen, on some days you're
likely to find “science going on, not supper.”

excitement of hands-on science has taken Scaife and his wife, Priscilla, far
beyond the Union campus. During two unusual sabbaticals, he visited no
university, did no research, wrote no paper, working instead with elementary
schoolchildren (to date, more than 35,000 of them) to spark an interest in the
marvels of science.

white labcoats decorated by their daughters with balloons, hearts, apples,
snakes, and chemical formulas, the Scaifes use everyday items — balloons,
Alka-Seltzer tablets, rulers, vinegar, baking soda, empty film canisters,
magnets, breakfast cereal, pennies, Ziploc bags — to demonstrate scientific
principles in a way that taps into kids' natural curiosity.

Scaife, “Kids need that hands-on aspect. Teachers do, too – one of our tasks is
to make teachers comfortable, let them see, hey, this isn't hard to do. And
that they can teach science even with limited resources.”

conduct interactive science classes in the schools during the day, and in the
evening, hold Family Science Nights. Their sabbaticals have been so rewarding,
in fact, that the Scaifes will devote more of their time to this work after his
retirement, which begins this summer.

idea of teaching hands-on science to kids was born in 1986. Scaife had been
working for NASA on a crystal-growing project, which was destroyed in the
Challenger space shuttle explosion. Asked to talk to schools about the
disaster, he began to perceive a low level of interest in and understanding of
science, and to realize how little science was being taught. “We're talking
about elementary schools now – science may be in the curriculum, but teachers
may or may not have taken science themselves, and they're uncomfortable with
it. Those who do teach science often do so directly from a textbook, so it's
dry, it's dull, it's not fun.”

was during his first sabbatical, in 1994, that the Scaifes were able to take
their idea on the road. The day when a front-page Wall Street Journal
article featured Scaife's work, a rash of phone calls ensued. “This was during
break, so we were down at our cabin in Pennsylvania. Nobody supposedly knew
where we were, but at 8 a.m. that day, calls started coming in. By 11 a.m.,
calls from the West Coast kicked in. Some people even wanted to contribute to
what we were doing and asked where they could send a check!”

when the program took off. “Most of what we end up doing now is through word of
mouth,” says Scaife. “They ask me how we advertise? I say, 'As little as possible!'

Albuquerque for five weeks of last year's sabbatical, the Scaifes taught in
fourteen schools – “a large enough proportion that we really had an impact. One
teacher volunteered to serve as Family Science Night coordinator. Sandia Labs,
which helped host and pay for our stay, has since mimicked our Family Science
night kit, and is making it, along with their scientists, available to the
schools. Albuquerque seems a good model. If you can get schools together, your
effort is more likely to sustain itself.”

days, the Scaifes are also giving training workshops for retirees and
scientists, and they're making appearances in museums and libraries. They're
even training students to give science presentations at birthday parties.

service has been central to the Scaifes, who have been active in financially
supporting overseas missions and Habitat for Humanity projects, as well as
leading groups of teenagers in summer home repair initiatives through Reach, a
national, nondenominational church group. As with the science shows, says
Scaife: “The work motivates the kids  –
they get a real sense of their abilities.” 

does he keep up with the demand for his science program? “It helps that
Priscilla is very organized. She has clotheslines strung up in the attic, where
she hangs labeled Ziploc bags, in alphabetical order.”

sometimes the demand is still too great to meet. “You can't be concerned with
that,” says Scaife. “I guess I've learned how to say no, or 'not this year, but
maybe next year.' “




experiments from the Scaife's traveling science classes:

— Filling a Ziploc bag with water and then pushing
a pencil into it (because the polymer seals right up, no one gets wet)

— Dangling washers on a string hanging from the
ceiling to demonstrate that the shorter a pendulum, the faster it moves

Dissolving Alka-Seltzer tablets in hot and cold
water to show how heat speeds up most chemical reactions

— Having kids make constellation viewers out of
film canisters and learn to identify some constellations

— Using an eyedropper, seeing how many drops of
water can accumulate on the surface of a penny — to illustrate surface tension
of water

— Extracting iron filings from crushed Total
cereal using a magnet.

— Holding a paper cup containing water over a candle
to show that water absorbs heat and keeps the paper from getting hot enough to

— Blowing through a straw to turn an acid-based
lavender liquid clear as carbon dioxide bubbles through it

— Playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a yardstick
to demonstrate the relationship between math and music.

— Floating a pencil in salt water and fresh water,
determining what fraction of the pencil was above the surface, to demonstrate
additional buoyancy of salt water.


You can find some of these experiments on the Union
College kids' website (www.kids.union.edu), with more to come. The site also
includes information on the program, future workshops, book reviews and other
resources, and related links.

Read More

Great Union names: Isaac Jackson

Posted on Aug 1, 2001

What began as an outlet for stress became history, and this summer we celebrate the 170th anniversary of Jackson's Garden, a uniquely beautiful spot on the Union campus. We also celebrate the life of Isaac Jackson, who graduated from Union 175 years
ago, in 1826.

The visitor with questions about
nineteenth-century names on campus will have little trouble finding information
about Nott or Arthur.

But what about the third name that almost every visitor will encounter – the Jackson of Jackson's Garden?

Who was Isaac Jackson, and why did he cultivate peace of mind through gardening?

According to Jonathan Pearson, who kept a diary at Union as a student in the nineteenth century, Professor of Mathematics Isaac Jackson was “a small excitable man, of tolerable health, and hard working and faithful in his duties ….”

“Captain Jack,” as his students affectionately called him, was, according to Pearson, “about 4 ft. 9 in, with a high receding forehead, sharp eyes and remarkably intelligent phiz …. With students he is remarkably familiar and jesting … enthusiastic in everything he undertakes – a great lover of gardening and mathematics of little dignity, great good sense, and a quick penetrating mind.”

Another view of Jackson came from President Eliphalet Nott Potter's Commencement address in 1878, the year after Jackson died: “Often in evenings, coming out of his study to the drawing-room, he contributed his share of entertainment by reading aloud or by his cheerful and instructive conversation .… In my childhood … I … often watched him wheeling along the garden-chair which he had devised for the comfort of his aging mother, delighting in her enjoyment of the scene and pointing out the beauties
of flower-bed, lawn or grove, which he kept dressed with unceasing care. He was
always neatly and simply attired, slight in form, well built and active, with clear, piecing eye looking out from under a large and prominent brow; his head finely developed, his voice frank and friendly as he welcomed one to his study or garden. And that garden played no small part in extending the reputation of the College.”

And a former student took a different perspective, anonymously writing a twenty-verse poem to Jackson (see
separate story), published in 1909.

Jackson's own journals give few insights into the man, although we do know that he was a man dedicated to his work and his students, and a man who tended toward overwork. He also suffered from depression and ill
health. But what he's best remembered for today is the hobby he pursued
enthusiastically and creatively – gardening and horticulture.

Jackson knew his gardens. So certain of this was President Eliphalet Nott that he encouraged Jackson to use as much land as he wanted around the brook or “kill” to make a garden. Nott, whose early vision for the Union campus included a garden, said, “Go on, Jackson, you can have all the ground you want.”

In 1831, the year Jackson was promoted to professor, he started cultivating a
triangle-shaped garden plot. When he started, he found a few beds of poor
flowers or vegetables and tangled vale. In his forty-six years as
“Superintendent of the College Garden,” he ended up shaping an 8 ½-acre
retreat. He designed and tended formal gardens, a ceremonial amphitheater,
fruit tree and shrub groves, walks, and woodland. The simplicity of design
reflects his Quaker roots.

He gave tours of the gardens to visitors, including architect Samuel Parsons, park-maker Frederick Law Olmsted, and John James Audubon, who, in a letter to his wife afterwards, said, “I was extremely kindly treated by that excellent man Jackson and his good wife; supped with them, and walked with him through the superb garden and grounds.”

Isaac Wilbur Jackson was the grandson of John Jackson, of Londongrove, Pa., whose garden was recognized by 1777 as an important national botanic collection. Isaac was born on Aug. 29, 1804, to William and Phebe Jackson, and he and his brother, William, were raised as Quakers in Canterbury (now
Cornwall-on-Hudson), N.Y. At seventeen, Isaac traveled north to attend the
Albany Academy, graduating in 1824 with distinction in mathematics and
classics. From there, he moved to Union, where he would stay for the rest of his life.

As a student, he served in the College Cadets, Company A, earning the rank of
“captain” as well as the nickname of Captain Jack. (A proponent of military
drill and physical fitness, he continued as captain long after he graduated, marshalling the students for Commencement processions each year.)  He was also a founding member of Kappa Alpha Society, and he graduated with distinction in the classics and first honors in math and chemistry. Staying on as a math tutor after graduation, he was promoted in 1831 to professor of mathematics and philosophy.

He moved into the North College faculty residence with his wife, the former
Elizabeth Pomeroy, of Pittsfield, Mass., and there they raised five children. Jackson was an active mentor and disciplinarian of residence hall students, and he was known to have treated students “like family.”

He was well recognized in his academic field, writing several textbooks, including Elements of Conic Sections, An Elementary Treatise on Optics, An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics, and Elements of Trigonometry, Plane
and Spherical
, and he received an honorary degree from Hobart College.

Much of what we know about Jackson's Garden is through his extensive garden
journals, describing garden space names, construction techniques, plant and seed sources, and material and labor expenses. Some entries record the receipt of species from national horticulture centers. He liked the exotic, procuring from Japan a small ginkgo tree, and from China a root of Japanese tree peonies. Gardening so defined Isaac Jackson that a former student wrote, “To really know
him one must know his garden for in its beauty was portrayed the beauty of his

In 1876, a celebration of his fiftieth anniversary of teaching at Union brought
many former students back to campus. A year later, he died of a stroke. His
funeral services were, fittingly, conducted in the garden, under the historic Nott Elm, and he was buried in the family plot in Vale Cemetery in Schenectady. His daughter, Julia Jackson Benedict, took over care of the garden. When she died in 1925, Union's garden had benefited from nearly a century of loving attention from the Jackson family.

The Garden

Joseph Jacques Ramee's 1813 plans for the Union campus included the first landscape gardening plan at a North
American college. Although there is no record of any gardens constructed
according to his designs, he did specify gardens for the site where Isaac
Jackson began tilling the soil in 1831.

Today, Jackson's Garden is the oldest continuously cultivated garden on a college or university campus in the United States, and one of only a few public gardens in the country established by 1850 that has survived in its original location.

The eight-and-a-half-acre garden, home to ninety-three species of shrubs and trees, is built along Hans Groot's Kill, the stream that runs through the Union campus and empties into the Mohawk River near the former American Locomotive Works. The gardens feature perennials with open plots of grass and shrubs bounded by tree-lined paths.

Just step inside Jackson's Garden and see Isaac Jackson's legacy for yourself.
Secluded and peaceful, his garden today still calms and lifts the spirits of
the most anxious college student or professor.

Intersections with history


Isaac Jackson born; Thomas Jefferson elected U.S. president; Eliphalet Nott named Union College president; running time of stage line between Albany and New York reduced to three days, fare fixed at eight dollars.


Jackson graduates from Union; Erie Canal is one year old; Mohawk and Hudson River Railroad chartered;
Americans celebrate fiftieth anniversary of Declaration of Independence; Thomas Jefferson and John Adams die.


Jackson becomes professor of mathematics and philosophy, begins gardens; Nat Turner's slave rebellion takes place; James Monroe dies; “DeWitt Clinton,” first steam locomotive, makes initial trip over first passenger line in U.S. from Crane Street Hill, Schenectady, to Lydius Street, Albany (taking one hour and forty-five minutes to cover the twelve and one-half miles).


Jackson dies of a stroke; Schenectady-Saratoga steam railroad line becomes part of D & H system; Union College begins publishing the student newspaper Concordiensis.

Isaac Jackson's Journals

Jackson's journals are, for the most part, impersonal, cataloging annuals, biennials, shrubs, must-procure lists, horticultural experiments, I-have-for-exchange lists, and accounts. But
a closer look through more than 1,100 pages yields other items:

— A draft reference for a former student:

“This is to certify that the Rev. John J. Van Antwerp whilst an undergraduate of this institution published with me an extensive course of elementary math, and was distinguished for the accuracy and extent of his acquirements in that
department. Since he was graduated, I have repeatedly examined his pupils in
mathematics for admission to Union. I have invariably found them unusually well qualified, exhibiting the most marked indications of having been thoroughly drilled and instructed. …I believe him to be an able and accomplished teacher of youth.”

— A to-do list:

“Grocery Bill – Look well to it – let wine alone – manage wisely

Meat – must be very prudent – buy not much mutton or beef this winter – nor early in summer – let poultry quite alone….

Garden and house – be as economical as pos. – save by small things – purchase as few tools as possible….”

— A modern-sounding resolution to himself:

“Health miserable because I have eaten and drunken unwisely for some days past. Now I begin this very day and temperance shall reign. Make an entry in my book after each meal for a few days.”

— His own recipe for liquid manure:

“Put into a three-gallon tub ¼ of its contents of recent sheep or poultry dung, add a gallon of scalding water…and mash the mass till the chunks are broken up – and then fill the tub with cold rainwater – stir this mixture twice and let it settle, then clean liquor only is to be added/used? This must be used very sparingly, by the pint or quart, or for vines, by the gallon – and once or twice a week. It may be better to let it stand for several weeks and let it ferment.”

Other entries include payments received as an instructor at the African School,
probably the school established on White Street in 1833 by the Schenectady
African School Society. Teaching there would have combined a commitment to
public service with support of abolition and the religious tenets of the Society of Friends.

A Poem for Captain Jack

(Published anonymously in a 1909 edition of the Union Alumni monthly)

To Isaac W. Jackson


When poets sang, in days of yore,

We often see it stated,

To some illustrious conqueror,

Their odes were dedicated.


I have a right then, in these times,

When progress reigns, God bless her,

To sing, in ragged reckless rhymes,

To a beloved Professor.


You're not the largest man on earth,

Not do I love by weight, sir;

I like your noble soul, your worth,

Your mind and talent great, sir.


I like your skillful reasoning powers,

And fine imagination;

For these, with judgments such as yours,

Would grace the highest station.


I like you for your language pure,

Your diagrams explicit,

You make your meaning too so sure,

The veriest fool can't miss it.


I like your manly gentleness,

Your witticisms merry,

Your energetic earnestness,

Your tinge of military.


Nor qualities alone I see,

I like your sunny smile, sir,

When, spite of class formality,

You act yourself, the while, sir.


I like you for your heart so true,

Your glance and lip expressive,

Your well-arranged “Mechanics” too,

But that would be digressive.


I like you, that bold impudence

You dare to lay the lash on,

And, like a man of sterling sense,

Look down on foolish fashion.


I like you for the charity

You never fail to show, sir.

When students, from anxiety

Blunder in what they know, sir.


I like you, that to you 'tis given,

Perhaps by inspiration,

To hear the harmony of heaven,

Attuned at the creation,


When morning stars together sang

To see earth roll along,

And heaven's high vaults with echoes rang,

As angels caught the song.


And then again I like in you,

Those very speaking eyes, sir,

Grown, “deeply, beautifully blue,”

From thinking of the skies, sir.


And all who've your “Optics” say

With beauty they are fraught, sir;

Full of light and clear as day,

And eloquent with thought, sir.


You breathe life through the ghastly pile

Of mouldy mathematics,

You kindle interest by your style

In “Statics” and “Dynamics.”


You take the student by the hand,

And spite of predilections,

He feels he treads a charmed land,

While conning “Conic Sections.”


I like in you that taste refined

For horticultural pleasures,

For it bespeaks a health mind

And body, priceless treasures.


I like you, that when asked for aid,

You do not pause and waver,

And seem suspiciously afraid

To do a friend a favor.


But day departs, – the red light flows

Aslant the sheet I'm writing,

And round your name more radiance throws

Than the poor soul inditing.


All virtues shine transcendently

In you, Professor Jackson,

And each of them I finally

Must be to put the “max.” on.

Read More