American Whig–Cliosophic Society

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The American Whig–Cliosophic Society
TypeStudent debating organization
HeadquartersPrinceton, New Jersey
Parent organization
Princeton University

The American Whig–Cliosophic Society (Whig-Clio) is a political, literary, and debating society at Princeton University and the oldest debate union in the United States.[1] Its precursors, the American Whig Society and the Cliosophic Society, were founded at Princeton in 1769 and 1765 by James Madison, William Paterson, Oliver Ellsworth, and Aaron Burr.

Originally two separate organizations, the American Whig Society and the Cliosophic Society were the primary student organizations at Princeton until the end of the 19th century. They "functioned in many ways as separate colleges within the College of New Jersey," creating their own schedule of classes and offering diplomas to graduates." Clio's members were usually northerners, while Whig's typically came from the southern states.[2]

In the decades before the Civil War, the societies frequently debated the subject of slavery. Despite their regional differences, both societies voted regularly in support of slavery's continuation and in opposition to emancipation. The subject united the two societies, which otherwise often disagreed.[2]

Competition from eating clubs, sports teams, and other student activities eventually drew members away from the societies. Prompted by declining memberships, the societies were merged to form the American Whig–Cliosophic Society in 1928. The organization's modern role is to serve as an umbrella organization for political and debating activity at Princeton. The Society frequently hosts events open to all Princeton students, as well as to faculty and community members. These include the Society's monthly Senate Debates on topics related to national or campus policy, lectures and discussion dinners with guest speakers, and social events. The Society also oversees four subsidiary groups: the International Relations Council (IRC), Princeton's Model Congress (PMC), Princeton Debate Panel (PDP), and Princeton Mock Trial (PMT).

The two original societies continue as "houses" within the larger American Whig–Cliosophic Society, with Whig considered the more liberal house and Clio the more conservative.[2]


Samuel Alito '72, former captain of the Princeton Debate Panel

Princeton Debate Panel (PDP)[edit]

The Princeton Debate Panel competes regularly against teams such as the Oxford Union, the Cambridge Union Society, and the Hart House Debating Club. It competes most frequently in the American Parliamentary Debate Association league, of which it is a founding member, and where it currently holds the record for most Team of the Year (TOTY), Speaker of the Year (SOTY), and Novice of the Year (NOTY) awards.[3] It also won (as of 2018) five National Championships and a record eight National Championship top speaker awards.[3] It also hosted the World Universities Debating Championships three times. Its alumni include Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito,[4] international relations scholar Joseph Nye,[5] and diplomat John Foster Dulles.[6][7]

Princeton Mock Trial (PMT)[edit]

Princeton Mock Trial is a top-15 nationally-ranked mock trial program.[8] It ranked 2nd in the American Mock Trial Association National Championship in 2013 and won the AMTA Regional Tournament held at Princeton in 2008. It annually hosts a Moot Court tournament for high school students from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

International Relations Council (IRC)[edit]

Adlai Stevenson II '22, an active member of the Whig Society and later recipient of the James Madison Award. The Princeton Debate Panel's annual collegiate tournament is named in his honor.

The International Relations Council is the biggest subsidiary of Whig-Clio in terms of membership. It hosts Sunday weekly meetings for students to discuss international events and developments. It also sponsors two annual international affairs conferences: one for the high school level Princeton Model United Nations Conference (PMUNC) and one for the collegiate Princeton Interactive Crisis Simulation (PICSIM). PMUNC, the high school Model UN conference hosted by the IRC, attracts some 1000 high school students from around the world.

Model Congress (PMC)[edit]

Currently,[when?] Princeton Model Congress offers high school students the opportunity to simulate the experience of serving in Congress, sitting on the bench as a Supreme Court Justice, counseling the Commander in Chief as a member of the Presidential Cabinet or covering the Federal Government in print as a part of the Press Corps. The conference draws approximately 1,200 participants.[citation needed]


Whig-Cliosophic Honorary Debate Panel[edit]

The Whig-Cliosophic Honorary Debate Panel (WCHDP) sponsors and promotes prize debates at Princeton University. Incumbent to this purpose is the goal of not only rewarding but fostering top-caliber debate at Princeton. Annually-held debates and oratory contests include the Lynde Prize Debate, the Class of 1876 Memorial Prize for Debate in Politics, the Maclean Prize and Junior Orator Awards, the Walter E. Hope Prizes in Speaking and Debating, the Spencer Trask Medals for Debating, and the William Rusher ’44 Prize in Debating.

James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service[edit]

The James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service is a longstanding tradition and the highest distinction bestowed by the Whig-Cliosophic Society. Past recipients include:[citation needed]

Governing Council[edit]

The Governing Council of the Whig-Clio Society is in charge of managing the affairs of the Society. The positions of President, Vice President, Director of Program, President of the Senate, Secretary, and Whig and Clio Party Chairs are elected by all members of the Society to serve 1-year terms. The elected officers also select a corp of appointed officers.

Notably, Tina Ravitz, Class of 1976, was the Society's first female President.

Stances on right-wing figures[edit]

The Society has taken a number of stances against controversial conservative political figures. In 2018, Whig-Clio co-presidents disinvited conservative University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Amy Wax after she had made negative remarks about the quality of her Black students.[9] In 2020, a conservative member of the society complained that he had proposed inviting Washington Post columnist George Will and Federal Judge Neomi Rao to speak at the society, but its governing council had voted not to.[10] In March 2021, the Society voted to revoke Senator Ted Cruz's James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service after his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election based on false claims of voter fraud.[11] The Society reversed course a month later and decided not to revoke the award.[12]

Notable alumni[edit]

The Society was founded in 1765 by prominent Princetonians including President James Madison and Vice-President Aaron Burr. Alumni in modern times include Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz, and Senators Adlai Stevenson and Ted Cruz. A full list of notable Whig-Clio alumni is linked below.

Other historic societies[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Niu, Samuel. "The Whig-Cliosophic Society and Slavery". Princeton & Slavery. Princeton University. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Hall of Fame". 16 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Samuel A. Alito - 1972 Nassau Herald (Yearbook) entry".
  5. ^ "Daily Princetonian 7 January 1958 — Princeton Periodicals".
  6. ^ "Daily Princetonian 2 May 1905 — Princeton Periodicals".
  7. ^ "Daily Princetonian 19 May 1905 — Princeton Periodicals".
  8. ^ "Princeton Mock Trial". 27 January 2016.
  9. ^ "U. Debating Society Whig-Clio Struggles To Grapple With Internal Dissension, Charges Of Anti-Conservative Bias". 3 January 2019.
  10. ^ "The New Strategy to Suppress Conservative Voices on Campus". National Review. 4 January 2021.
  11. ^ "Whig-Clio votes to rescind James Madison Award from Sen. Ted Cruz '92". 4 March 2021.
  12. ^ Kane, Christopher (11 April 2021). "Whig-Clio Reverses Course After Voting To Rescind Sen. Ted Cruz's James Madison Award". Princeton Tory. Retrieved 25 December 2021.

External links[edit]