William B. Rogers Describes Students' Political Meetings at UVA
November 14, 1844

In this "Memoranda of Official Transactions," William B. Rogers describes two political meetings at UVA in November 1844: a temperance procession and an election-day celebration.

Novr 14th. About 11 o’clock last night after I had returned my attention was attracted by the voices of a party of persons approaching the eastern range by the pathway leading from the style near Heiskells’. They were marching in regular order with torches in their hands and accompanied by a drum + I believe two violins. After moving along the eastern range they turned up the road adjoining Judge Tuckers + entered the gate at the foot of the Lawn. After pausing at this point for a little they resumed their march, and proceeded along the eastern arcade to the Rotunda. Here they remained a few minutes, the music being from time to time interrupted by loud political huzzas + by what appeared to be short speeches. They then proceeded to the western range + very soon after dispersed, a part of them returning to town by the path in which I had first seen them approach. With the exception of the noise made in the portico of the Rotunda, I saw nothing disorderly in their conduct, + as soon as the meeting was dispersed the students who were parties to it, returned in perfect quiet to their rooms.

              On finding that the procession was coming upon the Lawn I determined to go out to induce them to retire, but after dressing myself, I found they had left the Rotunda and were preparing to disperse.

              The following morning, I was told by the Proctor that the procession just referred to was composed partly of students + partly of citizens of Charlottesville, who had been partaking of a temperance supper at the Monticello House, at which Mr. Randolph + himself were present, + that the students who partook of it had gone without concealment knowing that he would be there and expecting also to meet Prof. Harrison, + not supposing that their participation under the circumstances in a festival conducted on temperance principles would be esteemed a violation of the Laws of the University. Learning also from him and others who were at the supper that the Students present conducted themselves with great propriety and entirely avoided the ban, + having seen in the conduct of the procession no indications of their having indulged unlawfully, I concluded that it would be inexpedient to take any action on the subject farther than to make it known to them that their attendance at the supper was a violation of the Law, and was overlooked on this occasion only in consideration of their misapprehension of regulations, + because of the orderly + sober manner in which they had conducted themselves throughout the affair.

Novr 16. Soon after the opening of the session an agreement was made among the students, that the triumph of either of the great political parties of the country should be celebrated by an illumination in which as on like occasions formerly all were to unite. The proctor + myself anxious if possible to put an end of this usage, presented to some of the more active and influential of the students, such reasons against its continuance as we thought best calculated to deter them from their purpose, and considering the spirit in which these representations were recd, we were led to hope that the proposed celebration would be abandoned. Learning however that at a meeting of students including some of both parties, held on the 14th, it was resolved to have the illuminations on the night of the 15th + seeing that any attempt at coercive prevention would be interpreted as an arbitrary interference with what had grown to be the usage on such occasions, + was therefore regarded by the students as their [illegible] right I thought it wisest to oppose no obstacle to their preparations, but aided by the proctor + such of my colleagues as were disposed to mingle in the scene, so to guide + counsel the active leaders of the proceedings as to restrain the general excitement and if possible prevent the tumult and inebriety usually attendant on such occasions.

              With this intention, as the hour for illumination approached I went on the Lawn, and mingling with those who were busy in making preparation, aided them by suggesting as to the best and safest disposition of the lights + bonfires, at the same time urging them to exert themselves in preserving good order throughout the evening.

              As soon as eight o’clock, the appointed hour was sounded by the Bell the candles were all lighted + the six tar barrels placed on the brick walls were fired. At this moment a procession from Charlottesville with [illegible], bearing torches, and escorting Mr. Leake, made its appearance at the foot of the Lawn, + marching towards the Rotunda was greeted by the assembled crowd of students. But a short time before I had learned that this gentleman had been invited by the students to address them + was expected to be present. I regretted to hear this but was too late to have an interview with him, as the moment the procession reached the Rotunda he was loudly called for + immediately began his speech. The calm + liberal tone however in which he spoke relieved the fears I at first entertained lest unpleasant feelings should be aroused by expressions of party triumph or denunciation. I felt therefore that this part of the proceedings was chiefly to be regretted on account of the imputation of partisan feeling + unbecoming political warmth to which in the minds of strangers it might expose the University.

              After the close of Mr Leakes speech a general wish was expressed that I would make a short address. I obeyed the invitation, giving it to be understood that I could say nothing of the exciting political questions of the day, + hoping by calling up some general patriotic topics to guide the enthusiasm of the crowd in a safer + more kindly direction.

              Two or three short addresses of similar import succeeded mine, and then the procession marched [illegible] the Lawn pausing at the houses of Prof Harrison, Judge Tucker + Dr Rogers, each of whom returned the courtesy by a brief speech.

              After again marching to the Rotunda by the eastern side of the Lawn the company separated, one part consisting chiefly of the visitors from town proceeding in order to Col. Woodleys residence, + the students who remained quickly dispersing to their several rooms. In a few moments after this, the lights were extinguished, the embers of the bonfires were separated, and by ten o’clock the Lawn + the premises generally were restored to their usual tranquility.

              In reference to the general conduct of the students, throughout the celebration I deem it but just to add that the persons present who had witnessed former occasions of the same kind concurred in expressing great pleasure at the unexampled good order + amiable feeling with which this festival was conducted as well as at its quiet + early termination. During the event only one instance of intoxication came under my notice, and this was in the person of a student who throughout the last session as well as since the commencement of the present had maintained a high character for capacity and good deportment. I found him quite intoxicated + loudly resisting the efforts of his friends to withdraw him from the scene. Soon after I spoke to him he was led off. The following morning he called upon to apologize for his conduct expressing great mortification at what had occurred + submitting himself to whatever penalty I thought proper to impose. Deferring any decision in the case until I could obtain the opinion of some of my colleagues, I dismissed him in suspense as to the result, but on the next day finding that in such cases it had been usual with the Chairman to act with especial indulgence, I administered a solemn caution to him, and having received his assurance that he would in future avoid the like offence, I determined to take no further action in the matter.


William Barton Rogers Papers, Department of Distinctive Collections, Massachusetts Institute of Technology