A Builder of Democracy

Charles Horton Cooley
Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan

Here in Ann Arbor, the quaintly-named home of the University of Michigan, a man old in years but fresh and cheerful, in spirit as a child has just laid down one of the most notable tasks that ever a man took up. To organize the intellectual progress of a pioneer state, and by his success to extend that organization all over the rising West, was the work of President Angell and of the men whom he knew how to call to his assistance. That the University of Michigan was the first in development of those vast state institutions, devoted to ideals of learning and leadership and yet upheld by the votes of the common people, is scarcely better known than the fact that Mr. Angell has had the guidance of that development for nearly forty years.

If one had to say just what qualities

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<image of James R. Angell>

( 212) made possible his success, one could perhaps find no two words more appropriate than faith and adaptability.

He has, in the first place, a notable faith in human nature, in the better instincts of the young and the good sense of the plain people, which made him patient and optimistic in the midst of manifold trials from the vagaries of the populace both inside and outside of his institution. "Never lose faith in the boys and girls," I have heard him say to an assembly of teachers, and no sentiment is more spontaneous than this in his own mind. Indeed a kindly, almost childlike, interest in people, simply as people, was and is one of the most endearing traits about President Angell. So long as it was humanly possible to do so he knew every student by name, often keeping track of them in their later careers, and his inquiries about them and about their sisters and cousins had no touch of professionalism but were the natural expression of a peculiarly sociable spirit. And as a teacher he is of that school, old but never antiquated, which holds that vital power is first of all personal, and is transmitted only by sympathetic contact of man with man. In this the pupil may give as well as receive, and he thinks it the high privilege of a teacher that he may keep the youth of his spirit by sympathy with the young.

He has also faith in truth and honest dealing which he has expressed by life-long loyalty to them. Shallow writers and talkers, astonished at his influence over all sorts of men, including legislators, have sometimes described President Angell as a man of profound and almost Italian subtlety and management. In fact there is nothing of the sort in him ; if there were his influence would be far less than it is. His nature is essentially simple and downright, disliking indirect methods and always trusting rather to principles than to manipulation. The sole foundation for the notion in question is a manner which can be blandly impenetrable when he chooses, and his frequent practice—much like that of Lincoln—of avoiding what he regards as premature or unnecessary issues. No one understands better the value, at times, of masterly inactivity, or has more patience to practice it. Some people decry a man who will not declare himself on one side or the other of any and every question which they themselves are agitated about; but the more judicious know that this capacity of reserve is a trait of strong character, and one most useful to the president of a university supported by public opinion. In no other sense is Mr. Angell the accomplished politician he is sometimes represented to be. He is not a schemer and never, one may be sure, made any close study of the party politics of the state, but trusted to patience, courtesy and the righteousness of his cause.

Indeed, along with an urbanity which is never insincere or profuse, there is a kind of Puritan rigor about him (brought, perhaps, from the New England town where his ancestors had lived since they came over with Roger Williams) which never compromised any essential principle, but brought all questions to a moral test. He is a man whom one always felt to have standards which he was prepared to maintain, if necessary, against the world. While he has the greatest respect for custom and opinion and likes to conform when he can, there are certain things that latterly have be-come not uncommon among men of his calling which he will not do, especially things that might be described in general as pretence. In writing or speaking one who has known him throughout his term of service never heard him tell anything but the exact truth (if he told anything), without exaggeration or dissimulation. He never made any claim for the university, before the public or the Legislature. which the soberest study of the facts would not have verified word for word. To speak as a partisan, claiming as much as you think you can get believed, was impossible to his conscience.

To one who knows him it seems hardly necessary to say that merely personal reputation or aggrandizement had no visible part in his thoughts. No doubt, as a young man, he had ambition, but it was more than satisfied by the conspicuous work to which he was called, and in later life the impression he left was one

( 213) of personal humility. Living on a salary (very moderate in amount, especially during the earlier part of his term) he gave his mind and all the resources of himself and his household wholly and gladly to public service.

He has, moreover, a very practical faith in God, a present and living conviction that He works in the world and that man exists for His service. This belief, which in him includes an intimate consciousness of the personal leader and model of Christians, he carried about with him as an unfailing support in a career in which, from first to last, annoyances, great and small, were an unfailing element. Few remember in these later days that at one time (and that a long time) a large and bitter faction in the state, including a great part of the active politicians, were hostile to him and assailed him with obloquy : but so it was ; and the I dignity and equanimity with which he remained faithful to his trust rested upon a feeling that God had put it in his hands and it was not for him to lay it down. We too easily forget in the applause that follows great achievement, that it is seldom attained save by those who know how to endure vituperation.

The adaptability I have mentioned was shown in the address—based upon sympathy—with which he conformed himself to the conditions of his work. Coming out of the East, a man of the utmost refinement after the best New England tradition, a chip of the same block as Emerson, Lowell and Longfellow (indeed some of that group were his personal friends) he had to deal with students drawn mostly from the frontier, and with legislators and trustees who were rarely scholars and not always gentlemen. These he met and conquered not by cultivating the lower arts of the politician, or in any way derogating from his

own dignity and culture, but by simple honesty of word and purpose. If a westerner was at first a little suspicious of that finer breeding which could not be concealed, he soon respected it as he came to feel that there was an honest man behind it.

He is one who up to this his eighty-first year has never fallen into deep ruts of any sort, never ceased to grow with the growth of life, never taken on that shell of habit which renders many men of advancing years incapable of appreciating anything but the past. "A man who has ceased to learn," he would say, "is unfit to teach"; and his own fitness was never threatened in this way.

Thinking that Mr. Angell's great service was as a builder of that public education upon which the hopes of democracy rest, I shall say little of his relation to social questions in the narrower sense. He believed, and frequently said in his addresses to students, that the just solution of the moral problems arising out of our industrial development should be one of the foremost aims of young men enjoying the privilege of higher education. He himself took a direct part in this work as a lecturer on political economy, before a special professor of that subject was appointed; as president, by fostering with special care that and related branches of study, and even by serving as arbitrator between labor and capital, as in the case of certain street-railway difficulties in Detroit. Although his duties were not such as to make him a specialist in the newer sociology and philanthropy, he had a general knowledge of and sympathy with them, and (which is more to the purpose) it was the whole tendency of his work and of his character to build up in our country those conditions upon which their success must depend.


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