William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform, a Biography

By Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
Washington and Lee [1897-1900]

WILSON had faced the facts of retirement realistically and accepted a position as fitting to his condition as it was logical to his career. It was while considering an invitation to join the New York law firm of Sterling and Shearman that he was offered the presidency of Washington and Lee University. Altogether as impecunious in 1897 as he had been upon entering office in 1883, he had all but made up his mind to accept the New York offer when Isidor Straus and Cleveland, concerned about his physical fitness, were able to persuade him that five thousand a year and a comfortable house in Lexington, Virginia, would be better than twelve or fifteen thousand in New York.1 Moreover, according to Newton D. Baker, with whom he discussed the matter, he knew that he would be happier in Lexington; 2 in his diary he rationalized wistfully that after all he would merely be moving from his home in "the upper valley to a new home in the same glorious valley." Also connected with Washington and Lee were two of his closest friends of congressional days--John Randolph Tucker and Henry St. George Tucker, father and son--the former the University's most prominent professor of law and the latter a member of its board of trustees. To these considerations Walter Hines Page, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, added the obvious need of a leading university below the Potomac, where the training of too many young men, he said, had been left to denominational colleges. "To build up a great school at Lexington that should have nothing of the medieval cloister life," he wrote Wilson a few days before he sent in his acceptance, "would be, I think, the very noblest work a man could do. . . . The gospel world is a sound eco-

____________________
1
Diary, January 20, 22, 1897.
2
Baker, Memorandum.

-254-

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