Thomas Roderick Dew

Last updated
Thomas Roderick Dew
Thomas Roderick Dew.jpg
13th President of the
College of William & Mary
In office
Preceded by Adam Empie
Succeeded by Robert Saunders, Jr.
Personal details
King and Queen County, Virginia
Education The College of William & Mary
OccupationProfessor of History, Metaphysics, and Political Economy, College of William & Mary
Known forProslavery writings

Thomas Roderick Dew (18021846) was a professor at and then president of The College of William & Mary. [1] He was an influential pro-slavery advocate.



Thomas Dew was born in King and Queen County, Virginia, in 1802, son of Captain Thomas Dew and Lucy Gatewood Dew. His father was a Revolutionary War soldier and founder of Dewsville, a prosperous plantation near Newtown, King and Queen County. He attended The College of William & Mary, graduating in 1820, and subsequently spent several years studying in Europe. [2] :1110 He was a professor of history, metaphysics, and political economy at William & Mary from 1827 to 1836, then President until his death from bronchitis in 1846. [1] He twice declined invitations to run for political office, as well as invitations to teach at South Carolina College (today the University of South Carolina) and the University of Virginia. [3] Shortly before his death, he married Natalia Hay. He died on their honeymoon, in Paris; his remains were later moved to the crypt under the Wren Chapel on the William & Mary campus. [4] His descendant Charles B. Dew is a professor of Southern history at Williams College, and wrote in The Making of a Racist (2016) of his Southern family's tradition of racism. [5]

Dew came to national prominence in 1828 when he attacked the tariff passed that year (also known as the "Tariff of Abominations"). He was a proponent of free trade, arguing that export taxes benefited Northern manufacturers at the expense of Southern planters. He supported state banks over a national bank, stating that centralized banking would give the government too much control over the economy. [1] Dew's largest book was the Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of Ancient and Modern Nations (1853). [2] A source was P. Austin Nuttall's 1840 Classical and Archaeological Dictionary. [6]

Dew and slavery

In 1832, he published a review of the celebrated slavery debate of 183132 in the Virginia General Assembly, A Review of the Debates in the Legislature of 1831 and 1832, which went far towards putting a stop to a movement, then assuming considerable proportions, to proclaim the end of slavery in Virginia. [7] :21–47 The Virginia Legislature's debate was a response to Nat Turner's slave rebellion of August 1831. [8] "Like many other white southerners, he argued that whites and freed blacks could not live alongside one other in peace.... Dew dismissed colonization of freed American blacks in Africa as prohibitively expensive and logistically impractical, and he noted that the deportation of blacks would prevent Virginia from profiting as 'a negro raising state for other states' of the South." [3] While his position was convincing to many Southern readers, Jesse Burton Harrison, of Lynchburg, Virginia, wrote a robust response that argued that colonization (returning slaves to Africa) was possible and that slavery was economically inefficient. [9]

In his inaugural speech as President at William & Mary, "he admonished young planters to resist fanatics who wished to eliminate slavery. Dew emphasized the importance of a broad-based liberal arts education but singled out morals and politics as the most significant subjects of study." [3]

Dew was well respected in the South; his widely-distributed writings helped to confirm pro-slavery public opinion. His work has been compared to that of the Southern surgeon and medical authority Samuel A. Cartwright, who defended slavery and invented the "diseases" of drapetomania (the "madness" that makes slaves want to run away), and dysaesthesia aethiopica ("rascality"), both of which were "cured" with beatings. His 1833 Review was republished in 1849, and collected in The Pro-Slavery Argument, together with writings by Harper, Hammond and Simms. [10]

Many people at the time credited Dew with the defeat of the proposal to end slavery in Virginia in the 1830s. He was opposed to even gradual emancipation. Dew's teaching and his writings influenced the following generations, which opposed Reconstruction and created Jim Crow. [11] :1137–1139

Dew on men and women

In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography , Dew's views on the differences between the sexes are described as follows:

Dew characterized women as modest, passive, virtuous, and religiously devout, attributing these traits to women's physical weakness, which rendered them dependent on male goodwill. He also asserted that men, across all cultures and historical periods, were intellectually superior to women, but he blamed the disparity on differences in the substance and duration of education rather than on unequal natural endowments. Dew argued that it was appropriate to deny suffrage to women because their intense focus on their own families impeded their ability to comprehend broader political developments. [3]

He described the hardships faced by men in the marketplace and the almost brutal strength needed to survive in such a competitive atmosphere. He stated that courage and boldness are man's attributes. For Dew, women were dependent and weak, but a spring of irresistible power.

Works by Thomas R. Dew

Briefer pieces, letters, speeches

Archival material

Dew's family papers [12] and papers from his time as president of the College of William and Mary [13] can be found at the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary.

Related Research Articles

The nullification crisis was a United States sectional political crisis in 1832–33, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, which involved a confrontation between the state of South Carolina and the federal government. It ensued after South Carolina declared that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of the state.

George Fitzhugh

George Fitzhugh was an American social theorist who published racial and slavery-based sociological theories in the antebellum era. He argued that the negro "is but a grown up child" who needs the economic and social protections of slavery. Fitzhugh decried capitalism as practiced by the Northern United States and Great Britain as spawning "a war of the rich with the poor, and the poor with one another", rendering free blacks "far outstripped or outwitted in the chase of free competition." Slavery, he contended, ensured that blacks would be economically secure and morally civilized. Nonetheless, some historians consider Fitzhugh’s worldview to be fascist in its rejection of liberal values, defense of slavery, and perspectives toward race.

Edmund Ruffin

Edmund Ruffin was a wealthy Virginia planter and slaveholder. In the last three decades before the American Civil War, his pro-slavery writings received more attention than his agricultural work. Ruffin staunchly advocated states' rights and slavery, arguing for secession years before the Civil War, and became a political activist with the so-called Fire-Eaters. Ruffin is given credit for "firing the first shot of the war" at the Battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861 and fought as a Confederate soldier despite his advanced age. When the war ended in Southern defeat in 1865, he committed suicide rather than submit to "Yankee rule."

Henry St. George Tucker Sr. American judge

Henry St. George Tucker Sr. was a Virginia jurist, law professor, and U.S. Congressman (1815–1819).

James Henry Hammond

James Henry Hammond was an attorney, politician and planter from South Carolina. He served as a United States Representative from 1835-36, the 60th Governor of South Carolina from 1842-44, and United States Senator from 1857-60. He was considered one of the major spokesmen in favor of slavery in the years before the American Civil War.

Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb

Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was an American slave owner, lawyer, author, politician, and Confederate States Army officer, killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg during the American Civil War. He is the brother of noted Confederate statesman Howell Cobb.

Nat Turners slave rebellion 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia

Nat Turner's Rebellion was a rebellion of black slaves that took place in Southampton County, Virginia, in August 1831, led by Nat Turner. The rebels killed between 55 and 65 people, at least 51 of whom were white. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831.

Proslavery Ideology that perceives slavery as a positive good

Proslavery is an ideology that perceives slavery as a positive good or an otherwise morally acceptable institution.

Samuel A. Cartwright

Samuel Adolphus Cartwright was a physician who practiced in Mississippi and Louisiana in the antebellum United States. Cartwright is best known as the inventor of the 'mental illness' of drapetomania, the desire of a slave for freedom, and an outspoken critic of germ theory. During the American Civil War he joined the Confederate States of America and was assigned the responsibility of improving sanitary conditions in the camps about Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana.

The history of the College of William & Mary can be traced back to a 1693 royal charter establishing "a perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and the good arts and sciences" in the British Colony of Virginia. It fulfilled an early colonial vision dating back to 1618 to construct a university level program modeled after Cambridge and Oxford at Henricus. A plaque on the Wren Building, the college's first structure, ascribes the institution's origin to "the college proposed at Henrico." It was named for the reigning joint monarchs of Great Britain, King William III and Queen Mary II. The selection of the new college's location on high ground at the center ridge of the Virginia Peninsula at the tiny community of Middle Plantation is credited to its first President, Reverend Dr. James Blair, who was also the Commissary of the Bishop of London in Virginia. A few years later, the favorable location and resources of the new school helped Dr. Blair and a committee of 5 students influence the House of Burgesses and Governor Francis Nicholson to move the capital there from Jamestown. The following year, 1699, the town was renamed Williamsburg.

Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Albert Taylor Bledsoe was an American Episcopal priest, attorney, professor of mathematics, and officer in the Confederate army and was best known as a staunch defender of slavery and, after the South lost the American Civil War, an architect of the Lost Cause. He was the author of Liberty and Slavery (1856), "the most extensive philosophical treatment of slavery ever produced by a Southern academic", which defended slavery laws as ensuring proper societal order.

Adam Empie

Adam Empie was an Episcopal priest in North Carolina and Virginia, who also taught and served as President of the College of William and Mary.

John Augustine Smith

John Augustine Smith was the tenth president of the College of William and Mary, serving from 1814 to 1826.

Nathaniel Beverley Tucker

Nathaniel Beverley Tucker was an American author, judge, legal scholar, and political essayist.

Henry Ruffner

Henry Ruffner, was an educator and Presbyterian minister, who served as president of Washington College. Although a slaveholder, Ruffner became known for criticizing slavery as impeding Virginia's economic development before the American Civil War, although that controversial position caused him to resign his college presidency and retire to his farm.

James Strange French (1807-1886) was a lawyer, novelist, and later hotel keeper.

Jesse Burton Harrison (1805–1841) was an American anti-slavery lawyer and author.

Charles B. Dew is an American author and historian, specializing in the history of the Southern United States and the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era. He has published three books, one of which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is the Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College.

Slavery as a positive good in the United States

Slavery as a positive good was the prevailing view of White Southern U.S. politicians and intellectuals just before the American Civil War, as opposed to a crime against humanity. They defended the legal enslavement of people for their labor as a benevolent, paternalistic institution with social and economic benefits, an important bulwark of civilization, and a divine institution similar or superior to the free labor in the North. Proponents of enslavement as "a good — a great good" often attacked the system of industrial capitalism, contending that the free laborer in the North, called by them a "wage slave", was as much enslaved by capitalist owners as were the African people enslaved by Whites in the South.

William Andrew Smith (1802–1870) was an American college president and clergyman.


  1. 1 2 3 Ely, Melvin Patrick; Loux, Jennifer R. "Thomas R. Dew (1802–1846)". Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography . Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  2. 1 2 Brophy, Alfred L. (2008). "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas R. Dew" (PDF). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. 16: 1091–1139. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Ely, Melvin Patrick; Loux, Jennifer R.; Dictionary of Virginia Biography (2015). "Thomas R. Dew (1802–1846)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities in partnership with the Library of Virginia.
  4. Swem Library Special Collections Research Center Archives. "Papers, ca. 1830-1967" . Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  5. Pitts, Leonard (September 2, 2016). "A white Southerner searches for the source of his family's racism". Washington Post . Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  6. Nuttall, P. Austin (1840). A classical and archaeological dictionary of the manners, customs, laws, institutions, arts, etc. of the celebrated nations of antiquity, and of the middle ages. To which is prefixed A synoptical and chronological view of ancient history. London: Whittaker. OCLC   2667864.
  7. Brophy, Alfred L. (2016). University, Court, and Slave: Prolsavery Thought in Southern Courts and Colleges and the Coming of Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0190625931.
  8. Brophy, Alfred L. (June 2013). "The Nat Turner Trials". North Carolina Law Review . 91: 1817–80. SSRN   2281519 .
  9. Harrison, Jesse Burton (1832). Review of the slave question : extracted from the American Quarterly Review, Dec. 1832, based on the speech of Th. Marshall, of Fauquier, showing that slavery is the essential hindrance to the prosperity of the slave-holding states : with particular reference to Virginia, though applicable to other states where slavery exists. By a Virginian. American Quarterly Review.
  10. Harper, William; Hammond, James Henry; Dew, Thomas Roderick; Simms, William Gilmore (1853). The Pro-Slavery Argument. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co.
  11. Brophy, Alfred L. (2008). "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas Roderick Dew" (PDF). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. 16. pp. 1091–1139.
  12. "Dew Family Papers". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on 27 June 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  13. "Office of the President. Thomas Roderick Dew". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on 26 June 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2011.

Further reading