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October 7, 2011

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William Neal Hambleton of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was already 32 years old when he entered the Antioch Preparatory Department in 1855. Prior to entering school, he'd been a farmer, cabinetmaker, and teacher. He was already a physician, a graduate of the American Hydropathic Institute that Thomas and Mary Gove Nichols had operated in Cincinnati previous to the establishment of the Memnonia Institute of Yellow Springs. As an adherent to the Nichols' already unpopular ways, at least as far as the president and faculty of Antioch College were concerned, it would not take Hambelton long to run afoul of them both.

In the College's earliest days, its bookstore was in downtown Yellow Springs, and in 1856 William Hambleton was its manager. There, among college texts such as Page's Theory and Practice of Teaching, Gray's Botanical Text Book, and Jahn's History of the Hebrew Commonwealth, he sold the works of the Nichols', and it was that practice (particularly the sale of their twin indictments of marriage, Mary Lyndon and Marriage: Its History and Results) that placed him at odds with a faculty determined to expunge the Nichols' influence from the student body.

On the 28th of February, Mann held a meeting in the village to form a committee whose charge would be to influence the Nichols' landlord to not allow them to occupy the nearby Glen Forest Water Cure at all. The occasion took him by the bookstore, where he spied Hambleton's advertisements for the controversial books accompanied by a sign that read “error alone fears investigation.” Summoned before the faculty the next day, Hambleton was told to either stop selling these works to other students or to withdraw from Antioch College.

Hambleton initially accepted the faculty's conditions, then thought better of it. He submitted a statement to the faculty, a transcript of which follows, and left school with his principles intact, going on to a highly varied career. Hambleton would sail for California to search gold in 1859, crossing the Isthmus of Panama along the way, only to return to Ohio the following year to drill for oil. He would practice medicine and dentistry in such far-flung locales as McConnellsville, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, Red Wing, Minnesota, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In time the itinerant Hambleton would settle down to a 160 acre farm near Atchison, Kansas, where he would be a frequent contributor of poetry and political tracts to the local newspapers.

Yellow Springs, March 1st 1856

To the Faculty of Antioch College.

“Alas! Alas! How art the mighty fallen.”

Gentlemen. While conversing with you yesterday, I acceded to a proposition of longer continuance, as a student in this institution, from which after more mature reflection, I this morning shrink back as from the clutch of a monster. After due reflection and calculation of the cost, I find I cannot afford to “sell my birthright for a mess of porridge.” My birthright, and my inherited duty to the Mother who bore me, and endeavored to instill into my mind, from the pure fountain of her own virtuous life, a high regard for truth in deed, as well as word. My duty to my fellow man to render him all the aid in my power to acquire a knowledge of the truth; and my duty to myself, to regard principles more than temporary advantage, however desirable at the moment it may appear; all combine to impell me to utterly refuse to remain in this, or any other institution for a single day, upon any such humiliating conditions. Humiliating to me, from the fact that I cant conceive of your right, to dictate to young men, who's beards indicate mature manhood, what sciences they may study, what fountains of truth they may drink from, and facts and philosophy they may not investigate. And thus narrow down their scope of vision, and plane of thought, to the same limits which your minds, diferently constituted, may be able to grasp. And if you have no right to dictate the limits of their investigation within the bounds of justice; then you have no right to decide to whom they may apply for aid in such investigation. And if you admit the right of students to read said proscribed books, which you are well aware you cannot prevent; then you must also concede to my right to sell them.

Gentlemen, I am well aware that it is a very easy thing to accomplish, for a student to request his friend (a resident of the village) to come to my room and purchase for him certain books, which he examined, but dare not purchase himself of me. And thus you see he would get the book, and I keep inviolate my obligation to you; not knowing of course at the time, but that the gentleman was buying the book for himself. But this is not my mode of doing business. Although I admit we are creatures of circumstances and sometimes compelled to choose the least of two evils, yet I cant think the present circumstances sufficient to justify me, in the position I then assumed but which I now uterly repudiate. And when I further reflect upon the recent intolerant and mobocratic expressions and proceedings, of the citizens of this place, and duely consider the part assumed in that disgraceful transaction, by a portion of the Faculty of Antioch College; who being present and participating in the transactions of the meeting, and in fact, giving character to it; hearing that body express determination to set all law at defiance, subvert all order observed in civilized countries, and with mob and torch execute their dark designs of ruthless persecution, upon a peacefull, law abiding citizen, against who,s moral character they dare not utter one single accusation, and whom they charge with no crime except an honest difference of opinion. I say, when I behold the members of this faculty, listoning to such assertions, and witnessing such transactions, and yet utering not a word, and raising not a hand to quell this spirit of mobocratic outlawry; I am impelled to the conclusion, that the advantages to be attained, by a continuance as a student in this institution, are not such as to justify any great sacrifice of moral principle. For it is said “evil communications corrupt good morals.” And further, “we must judge of mens principles by their actions.”  Now if those acts are to be taken as a criterion by which to judge, I would say the source from which they eminate, are not such as to inspire in the minds of the rising generation, a clear perception of those eternal principles of justice and truth, which will bear possessor in triumph through those searching times, “that try mens souls.”

Now Gentlemen, with this candid, honest and dispassionate expression of my views and opinions, upon this important and monumenteous subject; which in my estimation, involves every principle of justice, tolerance and regard for the rights of our fellow man, and the opinions of those differing honestly with us; I await your decission.

If you have any other terms to propose, which I can as an honest lover of justice and truth accept, by which I can continue as a student in this institution, I shall be happy to do so. But if you have no such terms to offer, then I shall respectfully withdraw.

Gentlemen, in thus addressing you, I have duely reflected upon the position you occupy in community, and the power you wield over the destenies of mankind, for good or for evil. For good if your lives and teachings are characterized by a love of peace, order, justice and truth.  But for evil incalculable, if your position in society, teachings and example, are prostituted to the encouragement of injustice, fraud, anarchy and confusion.

Hence, the importance of the occasion, the subject and the circumstances, have all conspired to induce me in the desire, to speak with a force and clearness, worthy the Gentlemen I address.

Yours Respectfully,

W.N. Hambleton