Henry Philip Tappan

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Henry Philip Tappan
File:Henry Philip Tappan.jpg
Born April 18, 1805
Rhinebeck (village), New York
Died November 15, 1881(1881-11-15) (aged 76)
Vevey, Switzerland
Nationality US
Title 1st President of the University of Michigan
Predecessor office abolished in 1821, previously held by John Monteith
Successor Erastus Otis Haven
Spouse(s) Julia Livingston
Children John L. Tappan

Henry Philip Tappan (April 18, 1805 – November 15, 1881) was an American philosopher, educator and academic administrator. He is officially considered the first president of the University of Michigan.[1]

A pioneer in the transformation of American university curricula, he was instrumental in fashioning the University of Michigan as a prototype for American research universities, and has been called the "John the Baptist of the age of the American university."[2] His academic career was ultimately cut short by personality clashes with the university's Board of Regents, and he finished his life in self-imposed exile in Europe.


Early life

Henry Philip Tappan was born on April 18, 1805 in the village of Rhinebeck (village), New York.[3] His father was of Prussian descent and his mother of Dutch descent. He attended Union College and studied under its president, Eliphalet Nott, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1825. He graduated from Auburn Theological Seminary[4] two years later and planned a career in ministry. He became associate pastor at the Dutch Reformed church in Schenectady, New York for one year, and was then pastor at the Congregational church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[5] He married Julia Livingston on April 7, 1828.[6]

A throat affliction[6] prompted him to leave for a trip to the West Indies, and upon his return he joined the faculty of the University of the City of New York (now NYU) as a professor of philosophy.[7]

Philosophical Writings

Tappan embarked on writing a series of philosophical treatises[8] that began to influence thinking in Europe. He received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Union College in 1845.[7] He toured Europe between 1849 and 1851 and became increasingly convinced of the superiority of the "German model" (or Prussian model, as it was known at the time) of public education, in which a complete system of primary schools, secondary schools, and a university are all administered by the state and supported with tax dollars.

The German model had first gained widespread attention through the 1835 publication of Sarah Austin's English translation of Victor Cousin's Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia, originally prepared for the French Minister of Public Instruction and Ecclesiastical Affairs in 1831. This model stood in direct contrast to the prevailing state of higher education in the U.S., where virtually all institutions of higher learning were privately run with no official connection to any public school system, which were themselves rare.[9]

Principally due to the Cousin report's influence on two men, John Davis Pierce and Isaac Edwin Crary, the basic tenets of the German education model had made their way into the Michigan Constitution of 1836,[10] which officially chartered the University of Michigan and was the first state constitution in the U.S. to truly embrace the German model.[11] The specific implementation outlined therein, however, proved unwieldy in practice, and for some time the Board of Regents made little progress in implementing the vision for the university, even postponing indefinitely the appointment of a Chancellor in favor of a rotating roster of professors who performed the day-to-day administrative duties.[12]

President of the University of Michigan

University of Michigan (1855) by Jasper Francis Cropsey, showing the campus shortly after Tappan's arrival. Cropsey and Tappan were friends and this was painted when Cropsey was in Ann Arbor at Tappan's invitation.[13]

In 1850, the state of Michigan adopted a new state constitution[14] that created the office of President of the University of Michigan and directed the newly elected Board of Regents to select someone for the office. They sent a representative to the East to solicit recommendations, and former Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft recommended Henry Tappan. Despite this recommendation, the regents first elected Henry Barnard of Connecticut,[15] who declined the offer.[16] Although John Hiram Lathrop (then Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison) was also considered for the job following Barnard's refusal, Tappan was unanimously elected on August 12, 1852.[17] His starting salary was $1,500 per year.[3]

Tappan was proud of the fact that while he was president of the University of Michigan, faculty were hired based not on their religious connections, but on their capacities within their field of study.[18]

Tappan was also a strong proponent of the German model of university curriculum, which emphasized research, laboratory study, elective courses, and the increased importance of science and engineering, rather than the "British model" of recitation in a core classical arts curriculum that typified most major American universities of the time. His proposed elective course included "besides other branches, Civil Engineering, Astronomy with the use of an Observatory, and the application of Chemistry and other sciences to agriculture and the industrial arts generally." [19] Shortly after his arrival, Michigan became the second university in the country (after Harvard) to issue Bachelor of Science degrees.[20] Tappan also had plans for a graduate program, once the undergraduate curriculum was more fully developed.[21]

Tappan received a Doctor of Laws degree from Columbia College in 1854.

Removal as President

Despite the success of the flourishing university, Tappan's aristocratic bearing and perceived tendency to magnify his own importance did not sit well with the new regents who had been elected in 1858, many of whom came from rural areas and were without advanced education—only two of the ten members were college graduates themselves. One regent, Donald McIntyre, a strict prohibitionist, disapproved of Tappan's serving wine at dinner.[22][23] Another, Ebenezer Lakin Brown, had a particular dislike for Tappan's lofty airs, and at the board's June 25, 1863 meeting, he introduced a resolution removing Tappan as president. It passed unanimously, after which the regents also fired Tappan's son John as university librarian and appointed Erastus Otis Haven as the new president.

Upon his removal, Tappan remarked, "This matter belongs to history; the pen of history is held by Almighty Justice, and I fear not the record it will make of my conduct, whether public or private, in relation to the affairs of the University."[23] He immediately left Michigan and moved his family to Europe, residing in Berlin, Paris, Bonn, Frankfurt, Basel, and Geneva.[24]

Tappan's firing was unpopular with students and the broader community, as it came with no warning, at a time when the university was more successful than ever, for no wrongdoing other than personal friction with the regents, and from a board whose terms in office were all expiring (save one) in just a few months and who were due to be replaced with new regents (already elected) who had expressed a desire to form a better working relationship with Tappan.[22] Henry Barnard, by then the editor of The American Journal of Education, called the dismissal an "act of savage, unmitigated barbarism" in light of Tappan's work being "without a precedent in the educational history of the country."[25] At the suggestion of his supporters, Tappan himself wrote a lengthy response to his dismissal, generally praising the first Board of Regents and excoriating the second as incompetent, and also singling out certain faculty members for criticism.[26]

When the new Board of Regents took office in 1864, the flood of support for Tappan led them to consider re-hiring him, but in the end they felt it would be disruptive to the university, in light of Tappan's subsequent response.[27]

Later Years

Henry Tappan in his later years

In 1874 and 1875 the Board of Regents passed resolutions commending Tappan's service to the university and inviting him to return to Ann Arbor to be honored; the latter expressly withdrew "any censure express or implied in the resolutions which severed his connection" to the university.[28] Tappan, who had moved to Europe after his firing, expressed a desire to return, but twice deferred accepting the invitation, citing first his age[29] and then the health of his daughter.[30]

He never returned to Michigan and died in his villa in Vevey, Switzerland on November 15, 1881, where he is buried overlooking Lake Geneva.[24]


  • The Tappan Professorship of Law was created in 1879, with former Michigan governor Alpheus Felch the first to hold it.[31]
  • Tappan Hall, the oldest extant classroom building on the University of Michigan campus, was finished in 1894. It currently houses the History of Art Department and the Fine Art Library.[32]
  • Tappan Elementary School was built on East University Avenue, Ann Arbor, in 1885. It was sold to the University of Michigan in the 1920s and renamed East Hall.
  • Tappan Junior High School was first opened in 1925 in the Burns Park area of Ann Arbor. The building was renamed Burns Park Elementary School after a new and larger junior high school facility opened nearby in 1951.
  • Tappan Junior High School (now Tappan Middle School, East Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor, Michigan) opened its doors to new students in 1951.



  1. The University of Michigan was established by the Michigan state constitution in 1837, and was governed directly by a Board of Regents until the office of President of the University was created by a constitutional convention in 1850. The modern University of Michigan now traces its founding date to 1817, when its precursor the University of Michigania was established, but the president of that institution, Rev. John Monteith, has never been officially considered to be a president of the University of Michigan. (Bentley Historical Library 2004)
  2. Wilbee 1967 cited in Marsden 1994, p. 103
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shaw 1920, p. 45
  4. Marsden 1994, p. 106
  5. Hinsdale 1906, p. 217
  6. 6.0 6.1 Moore 1915, p. 482
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hinsdale 1906, p. 41
  8. Tappan 1840, Tappan 1841, Tappan 1844
  9. Hinsdale 1906, p. 16
  10. State of Michigan 1836
  11. Hinsdale 1906, p. 17
  12. Hinsdale 1906, pp. 35–37
  13. "People Who Shaped The Detroit Observatory". University of Michigan. Retrieved 2009-11-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. State of Michigan 1850
  15. Board of Regents 1852a, p. 517
  16. Board of Regents 1852b
  17. Board of Regents 1852c, p. 521
  18. name=Adams, Herbert B. The Study of History in American Colleges and Universities, Bureau of Education Circular of Information No 2, 1887, p 94
  19. qtd. in Kitzhaber, Albert R. Rhetoric in American Colleges 1850-1900, 28
  20. Shaw 1920, p. 47
  21. Kitzhaber, Albert R. Rhetoric in American Colleges 1850-1900, 28
  22. 22.0 22.1 Shaw 1920, p. 54
  23. 23.0 23.1 Utley & Cutcheon 1906, pp. 252–255
  24. 24.0 24.1 Hinsdale 1906, p. 218
  25. Moore 1915, p. 491
  26. Tappan 1864
  27. Board of Regents 1864
  28. Board of Regents 1875
  29. Tappan 1874
  30. Tappan 1879
  31. Board of Regents 1879
  32. University of Michigan History & Traditions, retrieved 2007-08-24<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Cousin, Victor; Austin, Sarah (1835), Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia; Addressed to the Count De Montalivet. With Plans of School Houses., New York: Wiley & Long, OCLC 2648924<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Frieze, Henry S. (1882), A Memorial Discourse on the Life and Services of Rev. Henry Philip Tappan, University of Michigan, OCLC 13253076<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Perry, Charles M. (1933), Henry Philip Tappan, Philosopher and University President, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0-405-03715-5, OCLC 5463783<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wilbee, Victor R. (1967), The Religious Dimensons of Three Presidencies in a State University: Presidents Tappan, Haven, and Angell at the University of Michigan, PhD Thesis, University of Michigan<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Academic offices
Office abolished in 1821
Title last held by
Rev. John Monteith
President of the University of Michigan
Succeeded by
Erastus Otis Haven