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Title: Inaugural Address of William A. Shaw for the Dialectic Society, April 4, 1821: Electronic Edition.
Author: Shaw, William Andrew, 1804-1884
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 28K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-05-09, Brian Dietz finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Inaugural Address of William A. Shaw for the Dialectic Society, April 4, 1821
Author: William A. Shaw
Description: 9 pages, 10 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Education/Goals and Purposes
Education/UNC Student Associations
Politics and Government/General
Reading and Writing/Reading
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Editorial practices
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Transcript of the inaugural address. Originals are in the University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Shaw argues for the benefits of various studies in college and considers reading a significant branch of improvement apart from the college curriculum.
Inaugural Address of William A. Shaw for the Dialectic Society, April 4, 18211
Shaw, William Andrew, 1804-1884

Page 1

Fellow Members

Exalted to the supreme dignity in this body by your unmerited and truly unexpected suffrages, I am deeply penetrated with heartfelt gratitude for the distinguished consideration with which you have reparded me—Accept my sincere and unfeigned thanks for my elevation to this office; an office which would to me be doubly irksome, were2 I not aware, confident that the same voices which invested me with it, are disposed to be lenient and delicately solicitous "to hide the faults they see," in a fellow mortal. It has been suggested to you from this place, since the first foundation of Society, to consider the utter inability of any individual to give universal satisfaction, in the discharge of his official duties—I am compelled from painful apprehension to renew the intimation, and like my respected predecessors to entreat you to impute my faults to understanding not intention—By a strict regard to the constitution and laws, and a reference to the judgment of the members collectively, I flatter myself that my conduct will not derogate from the dignity of this Society, nor excite the regret of those who have conferred on me me this honourable office—
Permit me now to assume the prerogative of the executive, in this body, to address you on such subjects as are adapted to your present situations with an application of

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of the remarks to your future expectations—We are placed fellow members in a situation enjoyed by few in any country in concsequence of the unequal distribution of the goods of fortune and other circumstances, in constant attendance upon every form of government—There always will be an inequality in pecuniary relations if not in other respects—This at first view would seem a misfortune to man in his present state but upon mature reflection all will admit it to be one of the most essential benefits, bestowed upon him by his Creator—For concieve for a moment all men equal in rank and pecuniary means, and where would be that perpetual circulation of property, which serves to keep all government civil and domestic in its perfect equilibrio—Where would be those arts scientific and mechanical which serve to protect and sustain as well as enlighten and adorn their fortunate possessors—To particularize, what would become of Agriculture, Manufactures, and Commerce without which no nation could subsist and what would insure the continuance of every useful profession, however humble and degraded in its appearance—We see then the benignity of providence in thus witholding from us those things which would be injurious to our welfare—I need not inform you that you are of the favoured part of the community, you are conscious of it by a very superficial glance around the circle of your immediate acquaintance—You are

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perhaps destined to act conspicuous parts on the theatre of life—Some of your when your honoured ancestors shall return to their primitive dust, will by the irresistible command of your country be forced to assume the mantles which they dropped at their final departure, and grasp the slippery reins of government—It is therefore a duty incumbent on you, both for your own interet, and that of your country, to prepare for the important stations which will be assigned to you, and the awful responsibility that will devolve upon you in your political capacity—I shall point out to you as perspicuously as I can, such studies as occur to me the most prominent, in advantage towards the formation of a statesman, professional character or man of learning—The studies of college are of primitive importance to those situated as we are at present and expect to be at some future period of life—They are adapted to the purposes of public and private life and for this reason alone demand our most studious attention—But when we consider that a knowledge of these studies, is an essential prerequisite to association with the polished circles of society, and a just claim to respectability, it ought to be, to us, a grand incentive to application—From the study of dead languages Edmund Burke derived his most noble sentiments beautiful imagery and solid instruction, because he studied them like a philosopher not like a pedant—The study of the mathematics by the frequent exercise of ingenuity

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and judgment strengthens the mind and enables us to withstand the assaults of sophistry and deception—The study of Rhetoric is absolutely necessary to form "taste and direct Genius"3—The studies of Natural philosophy4 is perhaps the most important part in science from the magnitude of its subject and the valuable information, which it imparts—Moral Philosophy,5 explains the nature and obligation of our duties6 to God and man, and amply discusses the principles of politics and jurisprudence, with which, unquestionably every public character ought to be profoundly conversant—I have thus concisely stated to you the principal studies of college with their evident advantages; I deem it tedious and altogether unnecessary to particularise further as in a short time they will demand your immediate consideration—
Permit me notw to call your attention to a branch of improvement unconnected with the college requisitions, and in which I flatter7 myself we shall concur in opinion I mean reading. We live at a peculiarly fortunate era, for which period the benevolence of providence has reserved us—Blessed with a republican government, wherof Liberty and equality are the chief characteristics, all the other blessings of heaven showered down upon us with a perennial hand, one would think that the measure of our felicity was filled up—But these are not the only blessings bestowed on us—Those who lived at an earlier period of the world, were necessitated to form principles and devise regulations, for their public and private conduct

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without any guide but judgment unenlightened as it was in those days, and their own frequently rash and impetuous inclination—Every species of policy among them, was only experimental, formed on no model on account of the non existence of any—Hence by considering the liability of human beings to error, we can assign the true reason of the failures and imperfections of early governments—=This= History is the mirror which reflects to us the causes of the downfal of so many states and nations—If we even trace government to the 16th century, we shall find a gross ignorance of those principles, requisite to maintain good order in Society—The most enlightened nations of that age were tormented with the most disastrous revolutions, wars and intestine commotions—The causes of the defection of those nations, have been transmitted to posterity by the impartial and authentic information of able historians—By availing ourselves of those principles, which, experience shewed them, were congenial to the success and prosperity of the nation, and equally avoiding those abuses which proved pernicious to them, we are consequently able to form a polity which should possess the advantages, without the defects of ancient governments—By this, though undoubtedly in connection with other circumstancs our wise and patriotic ancestors, were enabled to rear a government which defies all human power and excites all human admiration—They considered the advantages and evils of every government, within their knowledge adopted the former and discarded the latter from their civil policy and jurisprudence—It remains with us by our future conduct to insure its continuance

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and evince our gratitude to its founders, which cannot be more eminently exhibited, than by preserving the sacred and precious deposit with which they have entrusted us—It was from knowledge derived from books, in connection with other circumstances, and by a comparison of the advantages and evils incident to other governments, that our constitution, was consolidated—Let it be our study then to peruse such books, as will, by shewing us the principles on which the government was founded, inspire us with such sentiments and enable us to take such measures as will render it firm and unalterable—But reading is not only a clue to the labyrinths and intricate mazes of government but it is, in fact, the study of human nature—If in history we meet with characters, who have distinguished themselves, we are naturally disposed to examine the motives, which actuated their conduct during life—By frequent investigations, of this sort, we become conversant with human nature the knowledge of which far transcends, any acquisition within the reach of human powers—Another and, one by no means to be overlooked, is that reading furnishes a rich and various store of ideas, on almost every subject and leads the way to another more eminent advantages, "fluency of speech" and elegance of diction and solidity of matter—When ideas are clear and abundant, they can always be expressed by those who concieve them, in strong and energetic language, and by reading chaste and elegant authors, we acquire a chaste and copious style—Regard must be had, too, to the kind

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of books which we peruse, for nothing is more apparent than that, the sentiments of an author will be adopted by the reader or at least his mannner of reasoning or thinking—If a person impartially peruses the works of Hume, Shaftsbury and other sceptical writers, it is evident, that they would acquire their sceptical manner—A knowledge of the most important facts which have transpired, is requisite to form a complete scholar and man of public business, and he that is without some knowledge derived from books is deprived of most of the sublime pleasures of fancy and imagination—Besides, no man destitute8 of this species of literary knowledge, is admitted to that rank and respectability, which he would otherwise hold; and the rational and delightful enjoyments of conversation will be denied to him, on account of the superficiality of his acquisitions, in this part of polite literature—Not that I concieve, you regard this subject with indifference, have I addressed you on this point, a superficial glance would convince me to the contrary, but the repetition of the advantages of the9 duties of society would perhaps be tedious, being so well understood—I therefore presumed to desert the usually subjects, though I am aware that you are perfectly acquainted with the one which I have introduced, yet, this seat gives a licentiousness to its occupant which in another situation would be extremely liable to fix on a private person, the imputation of vanity and persumption—

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With a few remarks upon your present in reference to your future situation I will conclude, and relieve you of your impatience—We are all probationers in this world and know not what the Divine providence has in reserve for us—A hasty view of this, like most other10 of the gifts of the Almighty, would perhaps incline us to the opinion that the most of his bounties were of immaterial value—But concieve a person to have full and perfect prescience of his future destiny where should we search for those latent, heaven-born, principles, which stimulate human exertion to the atchievements of grand and important designs—All you will admit, will be extinct. [all will cease to operate to make room for the entrance of luxury, folly, and dissipation] omit this, obs[c]ure, box if on one hand his fate was prosperous he would sink into a state of listless stupidity, if unfortunate heart-rending melancholoy would succeed, so that both would equally render him unfit to transact the business of society whether civil or domestic—What will apply, in this case to individuals will evidently apply to nations. Thus we see the benevolence of God exemplified to his creatures, in this, as, in every other case—Every man, is in some degree, the author of his own fortune, and in order to succeed in life, he should acquire the necessary claims to the public favour—Let this stimulate your industry, and perseverance, in every branch of improvement, within your power—Conscious of the opportunities, you enjoy, and the responsibility, which may devolve on

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you, exert yourselves to "act well your parts, to"11 whatever station or profession you may be called. in life. You will thus be beloved and respected by your, friends, relations and acquaintances, and esteemed by your most inveterate enemies—The consciousness of having performed the duty assigned to you will cheer your declining years and you will descend to the tomb, lamented and honoured, by the tears of thousands, of your countrymen—That profidence may aid you in the pursuit of useful knowledge, preserve, and prosper you through your lives and at last recieve you at last into his kingdom, is the fervent prayer of him who now addresses you.

William A Shaw —1821.

7 verso page


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. The speech has been bound and subsequently separated from its binding. The verso of the last page, the bottom third of which has been cut away, contains the following endorsement in Shaw's hand: "Inaugural Address/of William A Shaw /April 4th, 1821—/ Raleigh North Carolina."William Andrew Shaw (1804-84) , a student from Raleigh, NC, was admitted to the Dialectic Society on August 26, 1818, and was elected president on March 14, 1821, three weeks before assuming the office. On April 4, 1821, the Society minutes report that "Mr William Shaw took the chair Chair and delivered his address," the principal duty of the president (Vol. 6, UA). Shaw served as Dialectic Society president through April 29, 1821. He graduated from the University in 1821, received an MA in 1831, and became a physician and Presbyterian minister.

2. Shaw wrote were on top of was.

3. Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) begins with a discussion of the relationship between taste and genius: "This talent [genius] or aptitude for excelling in some one particular, is, I have said, what we receive from nature. By art and study, no doubt, it may be greatly improved; but by them alone it cannot be acquired. As genius, is a higher faculty than taste, it is ever, according to the usual frugality of nature, more limited in the sphere of its operations" (Blair 27).

4. Natural philosophy, or physics, includes the study of the properties of matter, the laws of motion, mechanics, hydrostatics, hydraulics, pneumatics, optics, electricity, and magnetism. Professors of natural philosophy frequently also taught geography, chemistry, and astronomy.

5. Moral philosophy includes the study of history, politics, ethics, economics, and jurisprudence.

6. Shaw wrote i on top of y.

7. Shaw wrote l on top of a second f.

8. Shaw wrote d on top of i.

9. Shaw wrote th on top of so.

10. Shaw wrote t on top of f.

11. Alexander Pope, Essay on Man IV, vi (1734): "Act well your part, there all the honour lies."