He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1809, attended Andover Theological Seminary and served as president of Dartmouth College from 1828 to 1863. Lord was able to bring the college out of debt, improve the overall curriculum, and raise admission levels. Though he began as an abolitionist, Lord eventually changed his views toward a pro-slavery stance, basing his change on his strongly held views of sin and divine providence. Regardless of this change, Lord did not prevent African-Americans from attending Dartmouth, and several African-American students were admitted to the college, among them Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs (who graduated in 1852).
Ultimately, his views on slavery brought a storm of controversy as the nation entered the Civil War, earning him the enmity of several members of the Board of Trustees, including Amos Tuck (1835), a founding member of the Republican Party, and close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Matters came to a head in 1863 when Lord prevented the granting of an honorary degree to President Lincoln. Ultimately, this resulted in actions by the Trustees that essentially warranted his removal from office. However, Lord tendered his resignation.
He continued to live in as an active member of the Dartmouth College community, in Hanover, New Hampshire, until his death in 1870.