'Snowball Rebellion' rocked Oxford campus in 1848
By Jim Blount
A student prank went astray in the winter of 1848 and the ensuing discipline thinned enrollment at Miami University and threatened the future of the Oxford institution that a few years earlier had been one of the largest in the nation. The event has been labeled "the Snowball Rebellion."
The incident at a university later proudly known as "the mother of fraternities" had its origin seven years earlier when Miami's first president, Robert Hamilton Bishop, was replaced by George Junkin. It was an acrimonious change with Junkin expected to be a tougher disciplinarian.
That year trustees also adopted a resolution that said that "faculty be requested to require every student . . . known to be connected with a secret and invisible society . . . to withdraw" and it is "unlawful for any student in the future to become a member."
The 1841 resolution was a reaction to the fraternity movement that began in Oxford in 1835. Three years later, "Miami University had become the fourth largest university in the nation, with an enrollment of 250 students, exceeded only by the enrollments at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth," wrote Dr. Phillip R. Shriver in his 1998 book, Miami University: A Personal History.
Junkin, an ardent pro-slavery advocate, didn't last long. He was replaced in 1845 by Erasmus D. McMaster, who, like previous Miami presidents, was a Presbyterian clergyman.
"In the mid-1840's President McMaster was having troubles," wrote Walter Havighurst in The Miami Years. "Controversy over the Mexican War divided the college, and epidemics of smallpox and cholera made it uneasy. The long quarrel between the faculty and the fraternity-ridden literary societies hung over the campus like a cloud. It was a restive, smoldering college."
That atmosphere set the stage for the spontaneous "Snowball Rebellion."
Wednesday evening, Jan. 12, 1848, "it all began innocently enough," said Shriver, "when a dozen Miami students returned from downtown Oxford where they had attended a church prayer meeting -- hardly a likely place for a rebellion to begin. It had been snowing . . . and the campus was covered with a thick blanket of snow."
The young men engaged in a traditional snowball fight "until someone had the bright idea of forming a larger snowball" that Shriver described as "so large one student couldn't push it." It continued to grow and require more manpower, and more large snowballs were formed.
The group targeted Old Main, a building housing classrooms, the chapel and administrative offices, including the president's office. The snowballs were rolled into Old Main, some blocking doors.
McMasters was determined to identify and expel the culprits. The doomed students reacted by compounding their action Thursday night, Jan. 13. Shriver wrote "they were determined now not only to fill the lobby and some of the rooms with snow, but to reinforce the snow by using the entire winter fuel supply of the university, which consisted of many cords of cut wood." They also added chairs, benches, desks and tables to the snow mass. They cut down the bell atop Old Main and dumped it in the college cistern.
McMasters canceled classes and "convened the faculty as judge and jurors," Shriver explained. "And when a student would finally be compelled to admit his involvement and would be expelled, his brother students having hired a brass band, would serenade the expellee and carry him out of the room and across the campus on their shoulders, a hero."
Eventually, every fraternity member was expelled. Havighurst said "the senior class was reduced from 20 to nine, the junior class from 12 to five." Only 68 students enrolled the next fall (1848-49).
"President McMaster was soon dismissed by the trustees, mainly for his uncompromising rigidity in expelling the participants in the Snowball Rebellion," said Shriver.
Havighurst said Miami had "a new climate" under President William C. Anderson in 1849. "A liberal, humane, broadly-experienced man," Anderson "made a new start, bringing the faculty closer to the students than they had been since [President] Bishop's time."
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Threat of war with Michigan delayed canal completion
By Jim Blount
When Ohio legislators authorized a canal system in February 1825, they didn't fund the entire plan. Part of the first phase was building the Miami Canal through Butler County between Dayton and Cincinnati. It would take 25 years to complete other segments. Among unforeseen obstacles was the threat of a civil war between Ohio and Michigan.
For decades, writers have assumed that the Toledo War, as it was called, is the basis for the intense Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry that will be renewed this weekend. It is seldom mentioned that the schools didn't meet on the football field until 60 years after the border dispute.
Ground was broken south of Middletown on the Miami Canal July 21, 1825. An historical marker identifies the site at the northeast corner of Verity Parkway and Yankee Road in Middletown.
Canal construction proceeded south from Middletown. The first water flowed into the canal July 1, 1827, from a mill race north of Middletown. By August 1827, trips were made between Hamilton and Middletown. The first boats from Cincinnati reached Middletown Nov. 28, 1827. The first run between Cincinnati and Dayton was in January 1829.
Some funding for the Miami Extension Canal -- to connect Dayton and Toledo -- was to come from the sale of public lands along the route. The U. S. Congress had designated the land in 1828.
To help pay canal debts, Ohio also received 500,000 acres of federal land within the state. Ohio lawmakers agreed Dec. 31, 1831, to sell that land with proceeds funding the extension. But state and federal officials disagreed on how the money could be spent. The dispute wasn't resolved until January 1834.
By that time, Ohio had awarded a contract to build a canal section between Dayton and Troy. Work was slowed by another setback, a cholera outbreak in Dayton and Troy that included canal workers among the victims.
Meanwhile, Indiana had started a related project. Ground was broken at Fort Wayne Feb. 22, 1832, for the Wabash & Erie Canal, a 462.5-mile waterway. The W&E's northern terminus was to be Toledo. The last 87.5 miles of the W&E was in Ohio, where it would join the Miami Extension Canal.
A remaining stumbling block was the Toledo War, an Ohio-Michigan boundary dispute that had simmered for years. The first survey in 1802 set Ohio's northern boundary at the mouth of the Miami of the Lake (later known as the Maumee River).
After the War of 1812, a Michigan Territory survey moved the border south to an eastern extension of the most southern point of Lake Michigan. Another survey favored Ohio and the 1802 division. For several years, the federal government refused to intercede.
The boundary became critical when Ohio planned a canal connected with Lake Erie shipping in the disputed tract. If Michigan prevailed, the lake port and its trade and economic benefits would go to Michigan, not Ohio. The contest intensified when Michigan Territory sought statehood in 1835.
The prized land measured seven miles north-to-south near Lake Erie and 11 miles wide at the Indiana line and totaled 520 square miles. It included Toledo, a port on Lake Erie.
Both governors called out militia to enforce their claims. The dispute heated when Michigan troops captured nine Ohio boundary commissioners in the contested land that ran from the mouth of the Maumee River at Lake Erie to the Ohio-Indiana border.
President Andrew Jackson ordered federal negotiators and soldiers to the troubled area. June 15, 1836, Jackson signed an act that set Ohio's northern boundary and enabled Michigan to become a state. The act recognized Ohio's boundary claim. To compensate, Congress granted the Upper Peninsula, then part of Wisconsin Territory, to Michigan, which became the 26th state Jan. 26, 1837.
During the bloodless war, Ohio considered diverting the northern extension canal east around the disputed land to Sandusky, bypassing Toledo.
But the 1836 settlement averted combat in the Toledo War and work continued on the extension canal. In 1845, Ohio completed the 249-mile canal that linked Cincinnati on the Ohio River and Toledo on Lake Erie. March 14, 1849, Ohio legislators renamed the system, which served Butler County, the Miami & Erie Canal.
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Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007
Will Hamilton observe Abraham Lincoln bicentennial?
By Jim Blount
Will Hamilton participate in the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial that begins in a few weeks? Will the City of Sculpture erect a monument to commemorate the Kentucky native's speech in Hamilton before his election as the 16th president? Because of numerous Butler County connections, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the "Great Emancipator" deserves local attention.
Feb. 12, 2008, is the official start of the national celebration of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial. It will begin near Hodgenville, Ky., where the 16th president was born Feb. 12, 1809. The two-year observance will continue through Feb. 12, 2010.
Lincoln made one visit to Hamilton, but it was an important appearance. His whistle stop Sept. 17, 1859, was between major political speeches in Columbus and Cincinnati on behalf of Ohio Republican candidates. About 1,000 people heard his brief remarks at the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad depot, then at South Fourth and Ludlow streets.
"This beautiful and far-famed Miami Valley is the garden spot of the world," he is reported to have said from the rear of a railroad passenger car. "My friends, your sons may desire to locate in the west; you don't want them to settle in a territory like Kansas, with the curse of slavery hanging over it. They desire the blessings of freedom, so dearly purchased by our Revolutionary forefathers," he noted.
Lincoln came to support William Dennison, an 1835 Miami University graduate and an early leader in the newly-formed Republican Party in Ohio in the mid 1850s. Dennison was elected governor in 1859. Two years later, Gov. Dennison responded to Lincoln's call for troops. Under his leadership, Ohio exceeded its quotas for volunteers.
Lincoln's five Ohio speeches in September 1859 are considered an extension of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois. The trip also introduced Lincoln to Ohio Republicans, who were instrumental in his winning the new party's nomination in 1860. When four Ohio delegates switched their votes from a favorite son to Lincoln, he gained the momentum that led to his nomination.
Many Americans learned of Lincoln's nomination in Chicago in news reports written by a Butler County native. Murat Halstead -- a native of Paddy's Run (now Shandon) -- pioneered "immediate journalism." Halstead covered seven nominating conventions that year, telegraphing his daily accounts to his Cincinnati newspaper. Those reports were reprinted in other newspapers.
During the 1860 campaign, voters learned more about Lincoln in an authorized biography by William Dean Howells, later a literary giant. Howells -- a Hamilton resident 1840-48 -- was a 23-year-old editorial writer for a Columbus newspaper when he produced the 94-page Lincoln biography. It was published in June 1860, affording voters ample time to become familiar with the 51-year-old Lincoln before the fall election. Howells' book was advertised as the "authorized biography."
After Lincoln's election, Ohio Republicans recommended Howells for a position in the first GOP administration. In 1861, he was appointed U. S. consul at Venice, Italy, a post that gave Howells time to travel, observe European culture and gather material that later became part of his varied writings.
In 1866, a year after Lincoln was assassinated, Howells joined the staff of Atlantic Monthly, an important step in his long literary career. Howells -- regarded as "the dean of American letters" -- produced 35 novels, 35 plays, four books of poetry, six books of criticism and 34 miscellaneous volumes. He also was the author of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles before his death in 1920.
Despite the local links, Lincoln gained only 39.2 percent of Butler County votes in 1860, prevailing in only three of 13 townships (Oxford, Liberty and West Chester). He carried Ohio by 44,380 votes in winning the four-man presidential contest.
Additional local connections during Lincoln's Civil War administration will be covered in this column next week.
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Lincoln supporters and critics had local connections
(Second of a two-part series)
By Jim Blount
The two-year observance of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial will spotlight the 16th president and those who supported and criticized the Civil War leader. That includes several people with Butler County connections.
The two-year national celebration will begin Feb. 12, 2008, and continue until Feb. 12, 2010. Lincoln was born Feb. 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Ky. He resided in Indiana before becoming a successful lawyer in Springfield, Ill.
As noted last week, Lincoln spoke in Hamilton Sept. 17, 1859, about a year before he was elected president. Much of the nation learned details of Lincoln's nomination at the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago through the newspaper reports of Murat Halstead, a Shandon native. William Dean Howell, who spent much of his boyhood in Hamilton, wrote an "authorized biography" of the nominee.
Three Ohioans were in Lincoln's cabinet -- Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (1861-64), Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1862-65) and Postmaster General William Dennison (1864-65).
Dennison was one of three Midwest governors with Miami University connections during the Civil War. Dennison, an 1835 graduate, governed Ohio 1860-62. Oliver P. Morton -- a Miami student 1842-45 -- headed Indiana 1861-67. Richard Yates -- a student in Oxford 1828-30 -- directed Illinois 1861-65. They backed Lincoln's war policies and their states supplied troops and materials for the Union cause.
Dennison, a Cincinnati native, was chairman of the 1864 Republican convention that renominated Lincoln.
Also a cabinet member was Caleb Smith, secretary of the interior 1861-63. Smith -- a Miami student 1825-26 and later a lawyer in Cincinnati and Connersville, Ind. -- was well known in Butler County. In the 1850s he led promotion and financing of the Indiana portion of the Junction Railroad. The Junction line (now part of CSX) was built west from Hamilton and Oxford to Indianapolis before the Civil War. Smith also was president of the 1860 Indiana Republican convention that nominated Lincoln.
During Lincoln's abbreviated second term, his vice president was Andrew Johnson, a pre-war Tennessee Democrat. He was the only southern senator who remained loyal to the U. S. in the tense summer of 1861.
Johnson was a guest of a Hamilton man who, despite membership in a rival political party, had befriended the Tennessee representative when both were in the U. S. Congress. Sen. Johnson spent part of his "exile" with Lewis D. Campbell, his former House colleague. Campbell resided in a two-story house at the southeast corner of Second and High streets in Hamilton. Johnson became president when Lincoln died April 15, 1865.
Lincoln's severest critic was Clement L. Vallandigham, who represented this area in the U. S. House from May 25, 1858, until March 3, 1863. The Dayton Democrat received his most enthusiastic voter support in Butler County, particularly in Hamilton.
Besides Butler, the district included Montgomery (Dayton) and Preble (Eaton) counties. Voters in the latter counties rejected Vallandigham, but his Butler County votes were enough to overcome the deficit. When Vallandigham left Congress, he ran for governor of Ohio while in exile in Canada. In 1864, he was unsuccessful in seeking the Democrat presidential nomination.
Vallandigham lost the 1862 congressional election to Robert C. Schenck, an 1827 Miami graduate. Schenck -- who resigned his brigadier general commission to run for office -- won when Warren County (Lebanon), a Republican stronghold, was added to the district.
Another Lincoln critic was Rep. Daniel W. Voorhees of Indiana, a native of Liberty Township in Butler County.
As in 1860, Lincoln failed to carry Butler County in 1864. Democrat George B. McClellan beat Lincoln, 3,787 to 2,676, in Butler County. But Lincoln won Ohio by more than 60,000 votes.
David Banker, a young farmer from Poasttown, was a private in the Ohio Union Light Guard Cavalry, on duty at the White House when Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater.