Yale: A Short History

Church and State

Jonathan Edwards; America's first religious philosopher, author of Freedom of the Will, prophet of the "Great Awakening," missionary to the Indians, and (briefly) President of Princeton
The 1742 Library;
recovered and arranged as Rector Thomas Clap ordered it. These volumes may be seen in Beinecke Library

Church and State
The great objective of fitting young men for service "both in Church & Civil State," required a basic education for all (future ministers to study divinity afterwards). Christian nurture, classical learning, and collegiate living were to be the means of instruction - with tuitions, colony grants, advice and moral backing from the clergy, and occasional gifts from benevolent strangers providing a precarious support.
In 1722 the Congregational orthodoxy of the struggling College - a prime reason for its founding - received its first shock when Rector Timothy Cutler and the lone Tutor declared for Episcopacy. They both were dismissed. Faculty subscription to a confession of Congregational orthodoxy was required, and in 1724 the brilliant young Jonathan Edwards, B.A. 1720, was lured back as Tutor; but it was four years before a new Rector could he found and the Reverend Elisha Williams (1726-39) could reunite the College, repair public confidence, and stabilize the enrollments at the level of 15-20 students in a class.
Hardly had Williams retired when the College encountered further shocks, but this time from within the Congregational fold. In the religious freshening known as the "Great Awakening," the formidable Reverend Thomas Clap (Rector 1740-45, President 1745-66) first excoriated the enthusiastic but often unlettered "New Light" revivalists, then also alienated the Conservative "Old Lights," most especially when he withdrew the students from the First Society (Center Church) and founded the College Church (1757- ), today the Church of Christ in Yale University.

The Invasion of New Haven, 1779; drawing by Ezra Stiles  

Clap also managed the establishment of Yale's first chair, the Livingston Professorship of Divinity, and in 1755 appointed to that office the Reverend Naphtali Daggett, B.A. 1748, who would succeed him when he was finally driven from office by student rebelliousness and lack of public support. Through the persistent post-Stamp-Act restlessness and the outbreak of the Revolution, Daggett then served 11 years pro tempore (1766-77) "would you have it pro aeternitate?" he asked.
Early in the Revolution, the Trustees turned to the Reverend Ezra Stiles (I778-95), a moderate, ceremonious individual with a questing and open mind, a scholar of almost universal curiosity and learning. He had charted Halley's Comet and could draw battle maps; he was at home with Hebraic learning and the new Enlightenment ideas. Stiles hoped to develop his College into a University - but the times were hardly propitious. Soon after the outbreak of hostilities the College had been visited with inflation, distemper, and food shortages so severe that at times the students had to be sent home or dispersed to the inland towns. Dawn of 5 July 1779 found Yale's diminutive President watching with a telescope from the College steeple as a huge fleet off New Haven Harbor landed the British expeditionary force which presently captured the town.

Timothy Dwight, 1752-1817; grandson of Jonathan Edwards. Author and "Hartford Wit", noted schoolteacher, New England intellenual and Federalist "Pope", he is remembered as Yale's most commanding and influential President.  

The College papers had been sent out, and happily the soldiers soon withdrew without burning the buildings, but precarious times continued. Later, as the war moved south, the enrollments multiplied, the College prospered, and Stiles managed to convert religious hostility and political suspicions of the College into renewed support by the "State". In these same Revolutionary years, the students had absorbed Enlightenment attitudes and turned rationalistic. But on Stiles' death the eloquent and masterful Timothy Dwight (1795-1817) took charge, encouraged the believers, recalled the wayward, overawed the rebellious, and helped prepare the College for the series of revivals which, with the aid of the "Second Great Awakening" and of prayer meetings and "days of prayer" for colleges, were to continue intermittently until the Civil War. From earliest times, of course, Yale's graduates had heard the call to religious service: in the first forty years a good half of them became ministers, and in this calling served also the intellectual interests of New England. The Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, B.A. 173 3, and the Reverend Samuel Johnson, B.A. 1714, became the first presidents of Dartmouth and King's College (Columbia), while the Reverend Jonathan Dickinson, B.A. 1706, and no fewer than five other graduates helped found and preside over the infant College of New Jersey (Princeton). Again in the early nineteenth century, while the Reverend Nathaniel W. Taylor was reshaping the "New England Theology" and the intuitive Reverend Horace Bushnell was venturing beyond theology toward a transcendental faith, Yale's ministerial graduates became founders of towns and churches in our western territories, helped staff the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, sailed out as missionaries and educators to Hawaii and the Pacific archipelagos, helped open the gates of China, and salted South Asia and the Near East with the Word as taught in New Haven.
The Civil War again brought a sharp religious decline (as it did also in scholarship), but in 1879 a group of undergraduates formed the Christian Social Union - after 1881 the Yale YMCA or Dwight Hall - which organized religious work on the campus and with time came to man a wide range of welfare activities. Graduate Secretary Amos Alonzo Stagg, B.A. 1888, baseball and football hero and future football coach, founded Yale's first mission in the New Haven slums. In 1907 another Secretary of Dwight Hall conceived the Yale Hope Mission, where for well over half a century the city's derelicts would find shelter. And out of the volunteer concerns of a handful of Yale graduates in the late '90s would emerge that religious-medical-educational enterprise long to be known as Yale-in-China (today Yale-China Association). To these traditions of moral concern and of work for community well-being, recent classes and students from the Graduate, Medical, Law and Divinity Schools have continued to make imaginative and significant additions. Compulsory chapel was maintained until 1926. From 1823, however, when the Statement of Faith for Faculty and Officers was abolished, the College gradually became more generally Protestant and undenominational. By 1900 Yale could no longer be called a Congregational establishment. And in the twentieth century were added first a Chaplain, then the St. Thomas More Chapel for Catholic communicants; next a Hillel Foundation and Rabbi for the increasing number of Jews; and special chaplains or ministers for the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Disciples of Christ and members of the United Church of Christ. Among the religious organizations by 1976 were a Christian Association, the Latter Day Saints, the Society of Friends, the Christian Science Association, a Yoga Society and a Baha'i Club. Respect for religious feeling and the sense of Christian obligation remain; but over the centuries the ethos of the place has turned generously ecumenical and humanitarian. Yale's relations with the State have followed a more uneven course. The early College benefited annually from small Colony grants. And in 1751-53 a second college building, Connecticut Hall - later "South Middle" in the old Brick Row and today again Connecticut Hall - was made possible by a lottery and the capture by the Colony of a French frigate. But after the "Great Awakening" political tempers flared, and in 1763 the redoubtable Clap had to beat off attempts to subject the College to the Assembly. Thus was set the precedent for Yale's freedom from government interference - but also the disturbing precedent of no more annual grants from Connecticut. For almost forty years the College had to struggle on its own. Yet again, after the Revolution and the hard times which followed, the learned Ezra Stiles made a bargain with the State (1792), whereby much-needed monies were obtained for new buildings (the old Brick Row), while the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and six Senior Assistants (Senators) were added to the reverend partners or Successor Trustees who constituted Yale's governing board or Corporation. For a generation this compromise gave tolerable satisfaction but, with the people of Connecticut growing ever more secular and democratic, in 1817 the State adopted a new constitution, began chartering rival colleges, and ceased to help.
So Yale turned to its own graduates. First it founded a Society of the Alumni (1827), with their aid raised the celebrated Centum Millia Fund (1831-36), in 1853 built an Alumni Hall, in 1872 secured the right to substitute six elected alumni for the six inactive Senior Senators, in 1899 elected its first lay President, Arthur Twining Hadley, B.A. 1876, and as the twentieth century opened began to substitute out-of-state and non-clerical Trustees for the Connecticut clergymen who had always constituted the Successors. Yet clergymen are still among the most valuable Fellows of a Corporation long noted for its calibre. And still today the ex-officio membership of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut on Yale's governing board survives to remind men of the days when the existence of the College would not have been possible without the aid of the State. As for that larger State, the Federal Government, it has perhaps been forgotten that for thirty years after the Civil War, under the Morrill Act, the United States subsidized Yale's Sheffield Scientific School as the Land Grant College of Connecticut (I863-93). But recently Federal contributions to the University through student aid, medical research, and the sciences have become too substantial and too necessary to be ignored. So once Yale was, and now is again, dependent in part on government support.

Back to Resources on Yale History

Contents | The Beginnings | Church and State | The Government of the Faculty | Teaching and Great Teachers | Course of Study
The College System | The Breed of Students | Residential Colleges-and Coeducation | The Making of the University | Recent Developments
Yale's Graduates and the Nation | Rectors and Presidents | Books about Yale | Factual and Statistical Data