Thomas Roderick Dew: economist, educator, and pro-slavery advocate

Mansfield, Stephen S, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gaston, Paul M., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Mayo, Bernard, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

The career of Thomas Roderick Dew illustrates how effectively a quiet man, from the forum of a classroom and writing desk, can exert considerable influence on the thinking of his contemporaries. Dew is remembered today chiefly as a pro-slavery advocate, although his one public statement on slavery was the essay which he wrote at the age of twenty-nine. Many of his contemporaries knew him as a writer on economic subjects of concern to Virginia and the South, and Dew himself would have placed his service as professor and president of the College of William and Mary near the top of his achievements. To appreciate Dew's career it is necessary to combine these various facets of the man, to see them as they were interlaced in his actual experience, and in their proper sequence.

There is no one reason to explain why Dew has become a nearly forgotten man, resurrected in occasional, and often erroneous, footnotes. That no study of more than a few pages exists is probably due to the fact that only a small fraction of Dew's correspondence has been preserved. Also, educators and economists are usually less likely to be interesting subjects of study than politicians, and Dew studiously sought to avoid partisan involvement, even when writing on controversial subjects. Such a small factor as his unpretentious name may help to explain why the college he served so conspicuously has failed even to name a building after Dew while so honoring several lesser men.

Because of the paucity of biographical material and correspondence relating to Dew, this study is not envisioned as a comprehensive account of his life. Rather, it is an attempt to examine his role as educator, economist, and pro-slavery advocate, primarily through his published writings, interwoven with enough biographical information to place his work in perspective within his career, and to trace modifications in his thinking on certain issues. Once this is done, it becomes easier to see Dew in relation to the other leading spokesmen for the concerns of the Old South.

MA (Master of Arts)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:37:03.

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