Francis Wayland (1796-1865), fourth president of Brown University, was born in New York City on March 11, 1796. His parents had emigrated from England three years earlier. His father became a Baptist minister in 1807. Wayland entered Union College in 1811 and graduated in 1813. He studied medicine in Troy, and in the winter of 1814-15 attended medical lectures in New York City. Abandoning medicine to study for the ministry, he enrolled at Andover Seminary in 1816 and studied for one year under Moses Stuart before lack of funds forced him to withdraw. He was a tutor at Union College from 1817 to 1821, coming under the influence of President Eliphalet Nott, and in 1821 was called as minister of the First Baptist Church in Boston. He gained recognition for his sermon, “The Moral Dignity of the Missionary Enterprise,” preached before the Baptist Missionary Society of Boston in 1823, and his discourses of “The Duties of an American Citizen” in 1825. Brown awarded him an honorary D.D. degree in 1822 and elected him a Fellow of the Corporation in 1825. He returned to Union College as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1826. Wayland’s new fame in the Baptist church brought him the election as Messer’s successor as president of Brown in December 1826. He took up his position in February 1827, determined to improve the conduct of the students who had become unruly during the controversy prior to Messer’s resignation. In this connection he revived an earlier rule which required the officers of the college to visit the students’ rooms and added further that the officers should “occupy rooms in College, during the hours appropriated for study.” This rule could not be complied with by the professors of the medical school, whose livelihood relied on their medical practices, and they severed their connection with the College, along with Professor Tristam Burges, whose attendance at the College was interrupted by his service as a member of the United States Congress. Wayland also increased the hours of instruction, which had been decreased in the spring term to two per day for juniors and one for seniors, to three recitations per day throughout the year. He set out to correct the reliance on textbooks with a new rule, “No text book shall ever be brought into the recitation room, except at the recitation of the Learned Languages.” His own method of teaching involved the analysis of the lessons by the students, who were called on in turn, with frequent review of the work already covered. He favored free discussion in the classroom, stating, “I also caused it to be understood that our subject was one in which they and I were equally interested. Therefore I not only allowed, but encouraged, my pupils to ask questions with reference to any portion of the lesson recited, or of the lecture delivered.”
President Wayland authored widely recognized textbooks on moral philosophy, intellectual philosophy, and political economy. The Elements of Moral Science was first published in 1835, The Elements of Political Economy in 1837, and The Elements of Intellectual Philosophy in 1854. In 1840 he visited England, Scotland, and France to study education abroad, and in 1842 wrote Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System in the United States, urging changes in higher education. Lack of support for his views caused the offer of his resignation as president in 1849, which in turn brought about the consideration of the Corporation and the withdrawal of the resignation. His Report to the Corporation of Brown University on changes in the system of collegiate education, read March 28, 1850, was accepted and laid the foundation for the “new curriculum” with more flexible entrance and degree requirements and the introduction of elective subjects.
Wayland was morally opposed to slavery, but was not an abolitionist. He did not believe that the federal government had the right to eradicate slavery in the states where it existed. He also believed that the federal government did not have the right to enact the Fugitive Slave Law, and therefore had no qualms about breaking the law, as he wrote to his son about a slave he had befriended, “I gave him money, clothes, mittens, and shoes. It is a clear case of humanity, and I was happy to give him shelter. ... I am glad you sent the poor fellow.” When the Dorr Rebellion broke out in Rhode Island, Wayland supported the extension of suffrage to non-landowners which Thomas W. Dorr represented, but did not support Dorr, who had been elected governor under the Constitution of the People’s Party formed in 1841, contending that the cause, though good, did not justify the overthrow of the legally constituted government and the attempt to impose the will of a doubtful majority.
Wayland practiced what he preached. His first “Law of Parents” in the Elements of Moral Science was “The right of the parent is to command, the duty of the child is to obey.” When Wayland found his second son, Heman Lincoln Wayland 1849, to be “more than usually self willed” at the age of fifteen months, he set about correcting the child by starving him until he succumbed to his father’s will over a day later. The elder Wayland described his success in “A Case of Conviction,” signed “A Plain Man,” in The American Baptist Magazine for October 1831. This contribution was duly noticed in the Literary Subaltern on December 1, 1831 in an article entitled “Analogy of Brutality,” reminiscent of Wayland’s recent address, “A Discourse on the Philosophy of Analogy,” before the new Phi Beta Kappa society. On December 30 the same paper published a clever poem about the recalcitrant child, the authorship unknown (and the line, “Phi Beta Kappa’s he shall love – The Delphi’s he shall spurn,” not quite enough to attribute the work to Tristam Burges, leader of the spurned Federal Adelphi society, who was known to have been a writer of light verse).
To the students, Wayland was a stern father-figure. Charles T. Congdon wrote in his Reminiscences;
“He was disobeyed with fear and trembling, and the boldest did not care to encounter his frown. He was majestic in manner, and could assume, if he pleased, a Rhadamanthine severity. It was a calamity to be called into that awful presence; and no student, of whatever character, ever made the least pretence of not being frightened at the summons. ... However loosely our tongues might wag, we thoroughly respected and even reverenced the president; and upon public occasions, when he put on his academic gown and cap, we were rather proud of his imposing appearance. ... In his later days, I have been told he exhibited marked urbanity and sweetness of disposition. Certainly there were small traces of either when any undergraduate was detected in an act of meanness or a flagrant violation of the university statutes. He had a heavy foot for a student’s door when it was not promptly opened after his official knock.”He made a lasting impression on James B. Angell 1849, who wrote in Memories of Brown:
“The discipline of the college was wholly in his hands. In administering it he was stern, at times imperious. But no graduate of his time ever failed to gain from him higher ideals of duty or lasting impulses to a noble and strenuous life. He said so many wise things to us and uttered them in so pithy and sententious a style that one could never forget them. I presume that my experience is like that of others, when I say that hardly a week of my life has passed in which I have not recalled some of his apt sayings and to my great advantage. Is there any better proof than that of the power of a teacher over his pupils?”His students also observed their president’s habit of chewing tobacco. Edward H. Cutler 1857 recalled, “A mat lay in front of the platform in the chapel on which he regularly spat before going up into the desk at morning prayers,” and William H. Pabodie 1855 wrote, “It was too flagrant a failing not to be attacked, so at one of the semi-annual exhibitions there appeared on the ‘mock programme’ prepared for the occasion the announcement that ‘Dr. Wayland, with his accustomed accuracy, will now snuff a candle with tobacco juice at a distance of five paces.’”
Wayland retired in 1855, and moved to a new home at the corner of Governor and Angell Streets. When the bell rang for the opening of the new term after his resignation, he happened to be walking near the campus, and hearing the bell, remarked to a student passing by, “No one can conceive the unspeakable relief and freedom which I feel at this moment to hear that bell ring, and to know, for the first time in nearly twenty-nine years, that it calls me to no duty.” In a letter to his friend, Bishop Alonzo Potter in 1859, he wrote, “you cannot keep a college in a right course any longer than while you hold the helm yourself. I almost ruined myself in laboring for this college, and I believe that I saw its true position. As soon as I left it, all retrogressed, and my work for 29 years is nil.” He remained in Providence where he served as pastor of the First Baptist Church and was actively involved in community life. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, Wayland declined an invitation to attend and address a public meeting in the evening, whereupon it was decided that the citizens should come to his house. This they did, fifteen hundred strong, in the pouring rain, and went away comforted. This was the last time he addressed his fellow-citizens, as he died on September 30, 1865.
His eldest son, Francis Wayland, Jr. 1846, became Dean of the Yale Law School, and his second son, Heman Lincoln Wayland 1849 became president of Franklin College in 1870. Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, founded in 1853, was named for Francis Wayland in recognition of his interest in its establishment and his gift of books which was the beginning and nucleus of its library. The town of Wayland, Massachusetts was also named for him. In 1847 he donated five hundred dollars to the town, which with an equal amount raised by subscription made it possible to open a free library in the town in August of 1850. Since 1957, May 15 has been celebrated as Francis Wayland Day at Keio University in Japan. The date is the anniversary of May 15, 1868, when the Battle of Ueno raged within sight and earshot of the school, while Fukuzawa Yukichi, founder of the school in 1858, continued to read to his students from Wayland’s Elements of Political Economy, which Fukuzawa had brought back with him from a visit to the United States the year before.