Who Yale Honors
Nathaniel W. Taylor
Nathaniel W. Taylor presided over the creation of the Yale Divinity School and created what came to be known as "New Haven theology." Taylor had been among those mentored most closely by Dwight: "Professor Taylor considered himself the spiritual and theological child of President Dwight" (145). In 1822, the Yale Divinity School was created, and Nathaniel W. Taylor was appointed its first professor, to the "Dwight Professorship of Didactic Theology" (146). He became "the central figure in the Seminary, in the minds of the students" (147).
One of Taylor's official functions was to preside over the Divinity School's "Rhetorical Society," a debating group attended by the entire student body. An evening would be framed with a question. Two sides would debate it, the presiding officer (Nathaniel W. Taylor) would decide a winner. The students assembled would then vote for or against the presiding officer's decision.
The following questions were debated. The opinion of the "President" is here always that of Nathaniel W. Taylor; the opinion of the "Society" is that of the students' reaction. Through these debates, which occurred as late as 1853, less than a decade before the outbreak of the Civil War, Taylor shaped a generation of Yale students.
Here are some of the recorded disputations (148):
The most surprising aspect of these debates is their date and their location. They were held inside Yale and were led by Nathaniel W. Taylor, who then presided over the Yale Divinity School and supported slavery into the 1850s. The majority of the students often (though not always) reaffirmed his support for slavery. Late in life, Taylor's support for slavery decreased, and two years before he died he stood up publicly and supported efforts to prevent Kansas from being admitted as a slave state.
The Taylor debates were not the first time that Yale faculty led debates announcing an "official" position in support of slavery. As early as 1768, the following question was used for the final disputations for the M.A. degree:
The correct answer to this question must have been "Yes," for Ezra Stiles received a letter of objection, stating "I do not like it that they should publickly assert ye lawfulness of keeping slaves." (149)
Trained by Timothy Dwight, both Nathaniel W. Taylor and Moses Stuart became public figures and educators who used their positions at Andover and Yale to further their pro-slavery ideologies as late as the 1850s, the decade just prior to the Civil War.