William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas Roderick Dew
Amidst the recent apologies for slavery from the legislatures of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, New Jersey, and Florida, there is significant controversy over the wisdom of investigations of institutions' connections to slavery and apologies for those connections.' The divide over attitudes toward apologies falls along racial lines. This Article briefly looks to the controversy on both sides of the apology debates. Among those questions about investigations of the past, universities occupy a special place. Efforts at recovery of their connections to slavery include a study released by graduate students at Yale University in 2001,2 a report by Brown University's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice,3 and the University of Virginia's Board of Visitors' spring 2007 apology for that institution's connections to slavery.4 These efforts lead to a question about whether other schools ought to consider self-investigations. The College of William and Mary is a particularly good place to ask such questions. This Article focuses on Thomas R. Dew, first a professor, then president at William and Mary from 1828 to his early death in 1846. Dew is the author of Review of the Debates in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832, one of the most reprinted arguments on slavery in the years leading into the Civil War. He is also the author of one of the most comprehensive and important histories published in the United States in the nineteenth century, A Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of the Ancient and Modern Nations. Through Dew we can gauge the intellectual connections to slavery, and then ask the important question: what-if anything-is an appropriate institutional response today? We can use Dew's thought to begin a discussion of the virtues and pitfalls of apologies and to assess the value of talk of the connections to the past.