Saturday, June 17, 2006

Princeton gave Abraham Lincoln "doctor of laws" degree in 1864

Abraham Lincoln accepted an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the College of New Jersey [now Princeton University] in 1864 after his reelection to a second term. New Jersey did not vote for Lincoln in 1864, and Lincoln's opponent in 1864 would later become Governor of New Jersey. In the timeline of Civil War events, Lincoln's reply letter to the College of New Jersey was written just after the fall of Savannah, Georgia to troops of General Sherman, so that Lincoln was likely in an upbeat mood. One notes that Princeton contributed roughly equal numbers of troops to Union and Confederate forces.

The honorary degree was conferred at a meeting of the trustees on December 20, 1864, and President Maclean wrote to Lincoln the same day to inform him of their action.

Just as Ben Franklin is referred to as "Dr. Franklin" (because of an honorary degree), one could refer to "Dr. Lincoln."

Lincoln's reply letter is as follows:

Executive Mansion
Washington, December 27, 1864

My Dear Sir:
I have the honour to acknowledge the reception of your note of the 20th of December, conveying the announcement that the Trustees of the College of New Jersey have conferred upon me the Degree of Doctor of Laws.

The assurance conveyed by this high compliment, that the course of the government which I represent has received the approval of a body of gentlemen of such character and intelligence in this time of public trial, is most grateful to me.

Thoughtful men must feel that the fate of civilization upon this continent is involved in the issue of our contest. Among the most gratifying proofs of this conviction is the hearty devotion everywhere exhibited by our schools and colleges to the national cause.

I am most thankful if my labors have seemed to conduce to the preservation of those institutions under which alone we can expect good government and in its train sound learning and the progress of the liberal arts.

I am, sir, very truly
Your obedient servant

Dr. John Maclean

Of Lincoln's text about "approval of a body of gentlemen," see however

an earlier IPBiz post

In passing, I note that Dean Badger of the University of Chicago Law School had a great comedic skit on taking (and keeping) applications and money sent to the Princeton University School of Law (a nonexistent entity.)


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