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People & Leaders

Presidents


Essayist and Storyteller

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet
1790-1870

President 1840-48
Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

In choosing President Ignatius Few's successor, the trustees of the fledgling college in Oxford performed an unusual coup, appointing a man whose fame far exceeded that of the college, and whose background in education was dwarfed by his experience as an author, judge, politician, newspaper editor, and planter.

Born in Augusta, Georgia, to transplanted New Jerseyites, A. B. Longstreet would grow up to cut a wide swath not only across his native state but also throughout the Antebellum South. After graduating from Yale College in 1813, he studied the law for two years before being admitted to the bar in Georgia. His natural gregariousness and penchant for grasping the nuances of the social and political world soon made him a popular and important figure in public life. Elected a member of the Georgia legislature in 1821, he also established the State Rights Sentinel, a newspaper that would become politically influential as a harbinger of his role in the later secessionist controversies. His most popular book, Georgia Scenes (1835) marked him as an acute observer, a natural raconteur, and a humorist with punch. (An influence on Mark Twain, Longstreet's writing is still anthologized.) During his years in Augusta, Longstreet and his wife, the former Frances Eliza Parker, also housed a nephew, James Longstreet, who would gain fame as commander of the First Corps of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War.
             
In 1825, following an intellectual struggle apparently similar to Ignatius A. Few's, Longstreet joined the Methodist Church and, in 1838, at the age of forty, entered the ministry. It was from the pulpit in Augusta that he was called to the Emory presidency in 1840.
             
Longstreet's inaugural address laid out the philosophy that would guide his presidency, and it is a compelling statement of the best aims of Methodist education in his day. Declaring education and science to be wholly compatible with religious faith, he pledged cooperation with not only the state's other two denominational colleges—the Baptists' Mercer and the Presbyterians' Oglethorpe—but also with the University of Georgia. All four institutions, he thought, met the overarching intentions of the church and the nation, for "All that is dear to the Christian, the philanthropist, the patriot, and the statesman is involved in the moral and intellectual improvement of the people." In embracing the still (but barely) viable method of the manual labor system, Longstreet declared his wish "to raise up a race of men who shall be fitted for the pulpit or the plow, the court or the camp, the Senate or the ship—who, like one of your professors, shall be able to live reputably and usefully, on the banks of the Rhine or the banks of the Alcovi [sic]; to form an American, or at least a Georgian  character, which shall combine all that is useful and brilliant on the other side of the water with all that is sacred and generous on this."

As president, Longstreet instructed the students in mental philosophy, political economy, and "evidences of Christianity." The rest of his first faculty—five men in all—were Methodist clergy: Archelaus R. Mitchell, professor of moral science and English literature; Alexander Means, professor of natural science; and Edward H. Myers, professor of mathematics. Shortly, Professor C. J. Haderman, a graduate of Leipzig and Paris, joined the faculty to teach mathematics, civil engineering, mechanical philosophy, astronomy, and "modern language when required by the faculty." The early faculty were not so much interdisciplinary as multidisciplinary.

Longstreet succeeded marvelously in enlarging the profile of the young college. Although Emory did not send forth its first graduating class (of three members) until 1841—a full thirty-seven years after the University of Georgia's first graduating class—before long Emory rivaled the state university in reputation, and before the end of Longstreet's administration the two schools were graduating equal numbers of students.

In 1848, Longstreet was elected president of Centenary College, in Louisiana, which he served for several years before being elected president of the University of Mississippi. His tenure at Emory had helped to make the college and the town the intellectual center of Methodism in the Southeast, and, despite Emory's continuing financial hardships, had dramatically raised the stature of the college.


Source:  A Legacy of Heart and Mind:  Emory Since 1836.  Gary S. Hauk, PhD

 

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