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Correspondence of The Cincinnati Gazette 27 May 1859

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When Horace Mann corresponded with The Cincinnati Gazette in May 1859, Antioch College was experiencing one of its more notable financial meltdowns, the details of which Mann lays out fairly clearly in his opening paragraphs. As with his presidency, Mann’s letter addresses perceived slights with far more precision and alacrity than the money problems that had people at each other's throats, a standard criticism of his tenure both in his time and by history. The slights in question were leveled by William Mills, the “Yellow Springs Man” who had wrested Antioch from Lebanon, Ohio (the complainant featured in the last installment of Stacks) in 1852.

By 1859 Mills’ reputation was in tatters much like his fortune, which had diminished steadily since the Panic of 1857, and he was facing bankruptcy. The College he’d had no small hand in realizing was in much the same state, having recently been auctioned for its considerable debts, though the winning bid had come from a member of the Antioch Board of Trustees, New York banker Francis A. Palmer. Now saved from itself, Antioch was reincorporated in part to protect it from the future claims of creditors, much to Mills’ consternation, which he expressed liberally in the newspapers. Considering the sale of the College fraudulent and its creditors cheated, in the May 25 issue of The Xenia Torch Light he wrote: “Antioch is falsely proclaimed free...such then are the auspices and position of the President under which the new organization flings its banner to the world, as a free, liberal and christian institution; and as is often the case, where a great wrong has been perpetuated, the holy offices of religion are invoked.”

Never one to let such remarks go unaddressed, here Mann escalates the battle of words into a war that would continue through one of the hottest summers ever recorded in Ohio.

Horace MannWilliam Mills
Horace Mann and William Mills, combatants in a war of words through the summer of 1859.


Correspondence of The Cincinnati Gazette

Yellow Springs, May 27, 1859

    A card signed by Mr. William Mills of Yellow Springs, and impugning the honor and good faith of some of the persons who have contributed to the recent purchase and reorganisation of Antioch College, seems to demand an answer, that the public may be disabused of the errors into which that article may have led them. While I reply to what the paper alleges and implies, I hope to avoid imitating its spirit.

    In June, 1857, the Trustees of Antioch College assigned its property for the benefit of its creditors, the institution being then in a hopelessly insolvent condition. The assignee was F.A. Palmer, esq. of New York City. It was hoped, however, that before the property should be sold, the friends of the College would raise sufficient money to purchase it. Accordingly a Convention was held at Franklin, Ohio, which organized measures for this purpose. At a later period, an important modification or addition was made to the plan. By this it was proposed, not only to raise money enough to buy the College, but enough also to pay all its debts. To accomplish this enlarged object, no amount of diligence, effort or expense has been spared. Public meetings have been held, cities have been canvassed, pamphlets published, not less than eighteen Journeys, from west to east, or from east to west, have been made for this sole purpose, all at private expense. If the time bestowed on. this object, by men otherwise full of business, could be aggregated into one period, it would not amount to less than a decade of years. And to show not only the zeal but the success of the effort, actual bona fide subscriptions were obtained to the amount of more than $80,000.

    In the mean time, the largest creditor of the College—the Connecticut Insurance Company—obtained judgment against the College, and an order for Its sale. Every party adversely interested knew all these facts. Mr. Harlan, President of the Board of Trustees, and one of the parties liable (if any are so), gave his official concurrence to every step that required it.

    Previous to the sale, the College property must be appraised, and, before the new charter, it had to be appraised again—two appraisements, with only a few days between them.   Both sets of appraisers were fair, substantial men, against whom no word of exception, so far as I know, has ever been taken. The first set appraised it at $60,000; the second at less. Mr. Mills remarks that the property had been appraised previously at $138,000. That, however, was years ago, and the appraisement was made, as it then of course should have been, with reference to cost and general value. The last two appraisements were made with reference to present cash value. Considering the shrinkage and collapse of real estate in this place, the estimates were much alike.

    On the 19th of April last, the representatives of donors and laborers in this cause assembled here. Our Eastern friends brought more than forty thousand dollars in cash. This was as much as intelligent men then supposed the College would sell for. Had any disposition existed to wrong any man—any desire not to be generous, and not to pay off the liabilities of the old College, and release its sureties, here certainly was ample chance to exercise it.   But what was done?

    More than $21,000, raised at the West, had been placed in my hands as Trustee. This $21,000 was raised to meet a claim on which Mr. Mills and others were liable. The trust deed had been drawn by counsel the preceding year; but when it came to be examined under the new state of facts which had intervened, it was found that not one of its conditions had been fulfilled, and no signer was bound by it. Nor were these failures matters of form only—they were matters of substance. But what did the contributors do? Repudiate it and leave him, and them to pay it? No! With the exception of three contributors, whose joint donations amounted to but $2,000, the performance of the conditions was waived, and only one of the former conditions retained, namely: That the old College property should be conveyed to and held by the new corporation. Thus, after the $21,000 had been conditionally promised, and through failure of the conditions had come back into our hands, it was re-pledged for the relief of Mr. Mills and his compromisers.

    Does this look like “treachery”, or “fraud”, or “pledges broken”. or “assurance falsified”, or “confidence misplaced”?

    In one respect, and in one respect alone, the plan failed. Beside the $21,000 of which I was the trustee, our able and faithful agents, Messrs. Fay and McWhinney, had obtained bona fide subscriptions at the West for from $15,000 to $20,000 more. But by a non-performance of conditions as to time, these subscribers were discharged. Most of them declined to pay, and less than $4,000 were collected from the whole. It is not these, however, whose good faith Mr. Mills impugnes; but the faith of those who did waive conditions under which they were equally protected. Of all these facts he was as well informed as any one.

    At this juncture the sale was made—a fair, open, public sale. Weeks before, Mr. Palmer had written to Mr. Mills, Mr. Harlan and others, to produce their highest bidder at the sale. The friends of the College not being able to bid enough for the property to liquidate all the debts, and no other bidder, appearing, Mr. Palmer, with a view to securing his own claim, became the purchaser, at $40,000. Upon subsequent consultation, however, Mr. Palmer agreed to transfer his purchase to those friends representing the collected funds, provided they would exert themselves to remunerate him as far as possible for his loss. Mr. E.M. Birch of Yellow Springs, who had promised to give land to the new corporation, certainly worth $4,000, perhaps worth $10,000, transferred this gift to Mr. Palmer. Individual a in other States had also pledged themselves to obtain not less than $4,000 for the new College. This also was diverted from it a intended channel and devoted to the payment of debts. Some College professors waived claims for debts due, and all this to help pay the indebtedness of the old College, although it had been already purchased. With this assistance it was understood that Mr. Palmer would assume the residue of the debts—at least to the amount of the $15,000 raised in New-York. There was still some indebtedness left, consisting of legal expenses, &c. This, I say, was the understanding of Dr. Bellows and Mr. Butler of New-York, Mr. Quincy of Boston, Mr. Carter of Chicago, Mr. Partridge of St. Louis, Mr. Fay, Mr. Weston and myself of this place. That this was the understanding of Dr. Bellows and Mr. Weston is proved by their public statements since made.

    But, surely, no supposed or real failure on the part of any one individual justifies general charges of “treachery” or “fraud”, or other dishonour. I may add, further, that while Mr. Mills was pondering these very charges of “fraud”, “pledges broken”, &c, Dr. Bellows in New-York and Mr. Fay and I in this place, were doing all we could to change Mr. Palmer’s stand point, and to induce him to release Mr. Mills and his co-sureties.   I cannot but believe that when Mr. Mills sees these facts in their true light he will regret the sweeping imputations of his article.

    One other point, though somewhat of a personal nature, is too important to be omitted.   The Faculty and teachers of the College are to-day its creditors to the amount of more than $10,000. The students stood nobly and confidingly by the College through all its dark scenes of pecuniary, adversity, and we, though on bread-and-water allowance of salary, stood by them.   Mr. Birch's donation, and the others above referred to, would have placed us on a better footing. The Faculty and teachers surrendered their chance of being reimbursed from these, that the avails might go toward the payment of the remaining debts supposed to have been assumed by Mr. Palmer. If either party had Just cause for objecting to the Jubilee, was it Mr. Mills or the Faculty?

    But the Faculty appointed the Jubilee, their own loss notwithstanding. Nor did they fail on that occasion to express their regrets that, first, on account of the failure of the Western subscription, and, second, on account of their disappointment in regard to Mr. Palmer, every honest debt of the old College was not on that day satisfied.

    And more: Mr. Mills, on the day of the Jubilee, authorised Mr. Fay to assure students and audience that he (Mr. Mills entertained no unkind feelings toward any one except Mr. Palmer; that he entirely exculpated every one else, naming especially the President of the College. It is true that, after Mr. Fay had ascended the rostrum, he received a note from Mr. Mills, requesting him to withhold what he had before authorised him to say; but his reasons for withdrawing the permission were prudential only, not implying any change of sentiments toward the parties. And on the grounds, Dr. Warriner, an inmate of Mr. Mills’s family, affirmed, as explicitly as language can affirm anything, that Mr. Mills reproached or accused no one but Mr. Palmer; that he exonerated the President from all blame, and that Mr. Mills had said so to him. Dr. Warriner did not say this by “authority”, but of Me own knowledge. And how could Mr. Mills, as an honorable man, feel otherwise than as he authorized Mr. Fay to express, and as Dr. Warriner did express, toward those parties who, for the past year, had labored to produce a result which, if it had not freed him from all his liabilities, had certainly freed him from $27,000 of them, and promised to free him from about $21,000 more

    Mr. Mills says that the President, at the Jubilee, “felicitated himself and all sympathizers that the sale took place according to law, and ridiculed the idea that any one could now disturb their title, and cast reproach upon all who would complain or seek to interfere with their possession thus acquired.”

    The facts are these. After the Jubilee was appointed, and our faithful band of students was assured that at last they had found an educational home, a formidable effort was made to shake their confidence, after all, in the permanence of the institution. They were told that the sale could be annulled, &c. To stifle this alarm, the Faculty authorized and requested the President to make a statement in their behalf in regard to the perpetuity and impregnability of the new College. This was done, but not a word of “reproach” was cast upon anybody. Mr. Mills was not there to hear, and I utterly disclaim it. A fair degree of confidence was expressed that our literary castle was at last secure.

    I am informed by counsel, that the 446th Section of the 37th Chapter of the Ohio Code applies to our case, which is as follows: “if any judgments, in satisfaction of which any lands or tenements are sold shall, at any time thereafter be reversed, such reversal shall not defeat or affect the title of the purchaser or purchasers,” but the matter of the purchase money shall be adjusted between judgment creditor and debtor. That is, the title under a sale is valid, even after reversal of judgment.

    Under these circumstances we felt warranted in congratulating ourselves on the security to which we believed we had attained after so long a period of suspense and uncertainty, and in giving opportunity to our students to express their joy in this public manner.

    On the concluding paragraph, in which Mr. Mills complains of our publicly offering our devout thanks to God for His providential blessing, and invoking His guidance and aid in the proper employment of this trust, for His glory and the good of the world, I offer no criticisms. I leave It to stand in its own light.


    We the undersigned, member of the Faculty of Antioch College, indorse and approve of this above statement of President Mann, as being true and just, according to the best of our knowledge and belief.

    We would also state, that to our knowledge, Mr. Mann has ever exhibited a deep interest in all plans having for their object the payment of the debts of the Institution, and the relief of those persons who were sureties, and that he has for a long time past, devoted to this object an exhausting portion of his time and energies. His pecuniary donations toward the accomplishment of this end have been of the most liberal character. Beside the sum of $5,000 subscribed at one time, he has expended hundreds of dollars in collateral ways upon the same object. It is our profound conviction that without his personal influence and assiduous efforts, not one-fourth part of the munificent Boston donation would ever have been obtained.

    While, therefore, we fully appreciate the early, manifold, and generous sacrifices of Judge Mills in behalf of our institution, and would give him all due honor therefore, we cannot suppress our surprise and regret at the tone of his article, and the manifest injustice it does Mr. Mann.


Yellow Springs, May 28, 1859

    The trust in my hands was a judgment debt. Every lawyer knows, that to retain priority of lien on real estate, by virtue of a judgment, a levy must be made within a year. In this case, the year expires on the 29th inst. Hence, to prevent the value of the trust from being impaired in my hands, thus rendering myself liable, I was compelled to order a levy. I understand that this was made a subject of complaint. But it can have no effect, whatever, upon the judgment debtor—its object being, not a sale, but only a continuance of my priority of lien, until the condition in the second release is complied with. It is at most, therefore, only a question between two judgment creditors, which one shall have priority of lien. Shall we, who have it now, retain it, or by allowing the year to expire without levy, permit some other creditor to take precedence of us?