A Builder of Democracy[1]

Charles Horton Cooley

ON APRIL 1 died James B. Angell who, for thirty-eight years preceding his retirement in 1909, was president of the University of Michigan. 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 in the development of the first of those vast state institutions, devoted to ideals of learning and leadership and yet upheld by the votes of the common people.

If one had to name one quality which. more than any other, made possible his achievement, one could perhaps select none more distinctive than his faith.

He had, 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 was more spontaneous than this in his own mind.

He had also faith in truth and honest dealing which he 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 was nothing of the sort in him; if there were his influence would have been far less than it was. His nature was essentially simple and downright, disliking indirect methods and always trusting rather to principles than to manipulation.

While he had the greatest respect for custom and opinion and liked to conform when he could, there were certain things that latterly have become not uncommon among men of his calling which he would 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.

He had, 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.

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 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.

He was one who never fell into deep ruts of any sort, never ceased to grow with the growth of life, never took 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.

Although President Angell made no profound study of 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.



  1. This appreciation is, in part, a reproduction of one written for THE SURVEY at the time of Mr. Angell's retirement in 1909.

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