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American Whig–Cliosophic Society

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The American Whig–Cliosophic Society
TypeStudent debating organization
HeadquartersPrinceton, New Jersey, U.S.
Daniel Shaw '25
Emily Paulin '25
Parent organization
Princeton University

The American Whig–Cliosophic Society, sometimes abbreviated as 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.

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]


The American Whig-Cliosophic Society has its ancestory in the literary institutions of the Plain-Dealing Club (Whig) and the Well-Meaning Club (Clio), both forming in around 1765.[3] An intense rivalry between these clubs led to their suppression by the university in 1769.[3] Persuasion from William Paterson and other alumni led to president John Witherspoon to permit successor organizations.[4] Shortly thereafter, the American Whig Society formed on June 24, 1769 by James Madison, Philip M. Freneau, and Hugh Henry Brackenridge; the Cliosophic Society formed on June 8, 1770 by Nathan Perkins, Robert Stewart, John Smith, and Issac Smith.[3][5][a] Whig derived its name from the "American Whig" used in essays by William Livingston, a trustee of the college, while Clio derived its name from Paterson.[4] Both societies were assigned rooms in Nassau Hall.[7]

Whig and Clio halls in 1903

The societies served as 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, as well as host speakers, dinners, lectures, and social events.

Controversies surrounding speakers[edit]

In 2018, Whig-Clio co-presidents disinvited conservative University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Amy Wax after she had made controversial remarks about the quality of her Black students.[8] In 2020, a conservative member of the society stated 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.[9]

In 2024, the Society voted to adopt a policy of institutional neutrality based on the University of Chicago's Kalven Report and banned considering a speaker's political, ideological, and religious beliefs when inviting them.[10][11]

Governing council[edit]

The Governing Council is the primary decision-making body of the Society when the Assembly, the body that makes up all undergraduate members in good-standing, is not in session. It consists of the executive officers, non-executive officers, and subsidiary heads. The executive officers, which include the President, Vice President, Secretary, President of the Senate, Director of Program, Speaker of the Whig Party, and Chair of the Cliosophic Party, are elected by the members of the Society to one-year terms and each have one vote on the Council.[12]

The Council is responsible for confirming events, appointing non-executive officers, and making other important decisions for the Society. Quorum for binding decisions is at least half of the voting members, and votes are typically conducted by secret ballot. The Council's decisions can be overturned by the Assembly or deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Compliance Committee.[12]

The Society's first female president was Tina Ravitz in 1975.[13]


Samuel Alito, former captain of the Princeton Debate Panel

Princeton Debate Panel[edit]

The Princeton Debate Panel (PDP) is a collegiate debating society that competes in sanctioned debates by the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) league, of which it was a founding member.[14] In the APDA, PDP has won the Team of the Year (TOTY) award a record eight times and the Speaker of the Year Award (SOTY) a record nine times.[14] PDP hosts a high school and a collegiate tournament during the academic year.[14]

Princeton Mock Trial[edit]

Princeton Mock Trial (PMT) is a mock trial program that competes with three teams.[15][16] In the American Mock Trial Association, it ranked 67th in the 2023-2024 season,[17] 124th in the 2022-2023 season,[18] and 175th in the 2021-2022 season.[19] It ranked 2nd in the American Mock Trial Association National Championship in 2014.[20] It annually hosts two Moot Court tournaments for local high schools.[16]

International Relations Council[edit]

The International Relations Council (IRC) is forum for international issues on campus.[21] It houses the Princeton Model United Nations program, which hosts a high school conference, Princeton Model United Nationals Conference (PMUNC) and a collegiate conference, Princeton Diplomatic Invitational (PDI).[21] The program also features the Princeton Model UN Travel Team, which competes on the regional and international collegiate circuits.[21]

Model Congress[edit]

Princeton Model Congress (PMC) hosts an annual model congress conference in Washington D.C. for high schoolers.[22] The conference simulates all three branches of federal government and draws approximately 1,200 participants.[22]

Honorary Debate Panel[edit]

The Honorary Debate Panel (WCHDP) sponsors and promotes prize debates at Princeton University.[23] 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.[23]

James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service[edit]

Adlai Stevenson II, a member of the Whig Society and recipient of the James Madison Award

The James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service is a longstanding tradition and the highest distinction bestowed by the Whig-Cliosophic Society to individuals committed to the "betterment of society" who have confronted "some of society’s biggest challenges". The first woman woman recipient was Golda Meir in December 1974.[13] The full list of recipients is below.[24]

In March 2021, the Society voted to revoke Senator Ted Cruz's award after his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election based on false claims of voter fraud.[25] The Society reversed course a month later and decided not to revoke the award.[26]

No. Recipient Year
1 Dean Acheson 1960
2 Robert Meyner 1961
3 Stuart Symington 1962
4 Maxwell Taylor 1963
5 Adlai Stevenson 1964
6 Harlan Cleveland 1965
7 Claiborne Pell 1966
8 John Harlan 1967
9 Roy Wilkins 1968
10 Earl Warren 1969
11 Averell Harriman 1970
12 Robert F. Goheen 1971
13 Walter Cronkite 1972
14 J. W. Fulbright 1973
15 Golda Meir 1974
16 William O. Douglas 1975
17 Mike Mansfield 1976
18 Leon Jaworski 1978
19 Roger Baldwin 1979
20 Millard C. Farmer 1980
21 Potter Stewart 1981
22 Jacob K. Javits 1982
23 Bob Hope 1984
24 George Kennan 1985
25 Paul Volcker 1986
26 Warren Burger 1987
27 Barry Goldwater 1988
28 C. Leslie Rice, Jr. 1989
29 Ralph Nader 1990
30 Jesse Jackson 1991
31 Sarah Brady 1994
32 Robert MacNeil 1995
33 Patricia Schroeder 1997
34 Bill Clinton 2000
35 Kofi Annan 2002
36 William Frist 2003
37 Sandra Day O'Connor 2003
38 George Shultz 2004
39 Stephen Breyer 2006
40 Antonin Scalia 2008
41 Jeffrey Sachs 2009
42 Prince Hans-Adam II 2010
43 Chen Guangcheng 2013
44 Ben Bernanke 2014
45 Jimmy Carter 2015
46 Ted Cruz 2016
47 Terri Sewell 2020
48 Mark Milley 2023

Notable members[edit]

The Society has had many notable members throughout its history. In politics and government, members have included U.S. Presidents James Madison[27] and Woodrow Wilson;[28] Vice Presidents Aaron Burr[27] and George M. Dallas;[29] and Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito,[27] Oliver Ellsworth,[27] and William Paterson.[1] Influential scholars such as John Rawls[30] and Joseph Nye[31] have also been members. The society has also included renowned writers and journalists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald[32] and Booth Tarkington.[33] Other prominent members have included Adlai Stevenson II,[27] Ted Cruz,[27] Ralph Nader,[34] and Paul Sarbanes.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clio formally acknowledged the Well-Meaning Club in 1820 as its ancestor, moving its founding date back to 1765.[3] The connection between Whig and the Plain-Dealing Club is uncertain, with no member of Whig guaranteed to have been a member of the ancestor club. Clio's relationship with the Well-Meaning Club is more certain, with several of the founders of the club at Clio's founding; any member of the club was also made a member of Clio. On the contrary, it is unclear when Whig began recognizing members of the Plain-Dealing Club as their own. Separately, Clio had separate motivations for recognizing the Well-Meaning Club, as the founders were more prominent: William Paterson, Oliver Ellsworth, Luther Martin, Tapping Reeve, Robert Ogden, Johnathan Edwards, Waightstill Avery, and Hezekiah James Balch. The Plain-Dealing Club did not have a similar level of prominent founders, leaving Whig to remain with their 1769 founding.[6]


  1. ^ a b "Whig and Clio Debating and Literary Societies". Princetoniana. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c Niu, Samuel. "The Whig-Cliosophic Society and Slavery". Princeton & Slavery. Princeton University. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Looney 1996, p. 4.
  4. ^ a b Durkee 2022, p. 488.
  5. ^ Giger, G. Musgrave (1865). History of the Cliosophic Society, from 1765 to 1865 (PDF). Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., Printers. p. 68.
  6. ^ Beam, Jacob Newton (1933). The American Whig Society of Princeton University. Society. pp. 13–17.
  7. ^ Looney 1996, p. 5.
  8. ^ Zymeri, Jeff (January 3, 2019). "U. Debating Society Whig-Clio Struggles to Grapple with Internal Dissension, Charges of Anti-Conservative Bias". The Princeton Tory.
  9. ^ Hoffman, Adam (January 4, 2021). "The New Strategy to Suppress Conservative Voices on Campus". The National Review.
  10. ^ "Freedom of Expression Code". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. January 18, 2024. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  11. ^ "Speaker's Code". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. January 18, 2024. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  12. ^ a b "Constitution of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  13. ^ a b Looney 1996, p. Xi.
  14. ^ a b c "Princeton Debate Panel". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  15. ^ "Princeton Mock Trial". 27 January 2016.
  16. ^ a b "Princeton Mock Trial". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  17. ^ "American Mock Trial Association 2023-2024 Team Power Rankings" (PDF). American Mock Trial Association. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  18. ^ "American Mock Trial Association 2022-2023 Team Power Rankings" (PDF). American Mock Trial Association. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  19. ^ "American Mock Trial Association 2021-2022 Team Power Rankings" (PDF). American Mock Trial Association. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  20. ^ "National Championship Trial Results". American Mock Trial Association. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  21. ^ a b c "International Relations Council". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  22. ^ a b "Princeton Model Congress". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  23. ^ a b "Honorary Debate Panel". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  24. ^ "James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Princeton University. December 7, 2020.
  25. ^ Mukherji, Aniket; Blake, Kalena (March 4, 2021). "Whig-Clio votes to rescind James Madison Award from Sen. Ted Cruz '92". The Daily Princetonian.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ a b c d e f "Notable Alumni". The American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  28. ^ "Whig‐Clio Society at Princeton Observes Its 200th Anniversary". The New York Times. 1975-09-28. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-05-16.
  29. ^ "Senate Debates Team Students With Guest Figures". The Daily Princetonian. Vol. 99, Special Class Of 1979 Issue, no. 73. July 25, 1975. p. 72.
  30. ^ "J. P. HUMES '43 CHOSEN HEAD OF DEBATING CLUB Newly Formed Group, Holding First Meeting, Decides Upon Seven Freshmen For Officers. WILL JOIN WHIG-CLIO IN FALL". The Daily Princetonian. Vol. 65, no. 52. April 12, 1940. p. 1.
  31. ^ Deford, Frank (January 7, 1958). "Holt, Nye Among 32 Selected For U.S. Rhodes Scholarships Harvard Winners Top Oxford List". The Daily Princetonian. Vol. 81, no. 142. p. 1.
  32. ^ "OVER THREE HUNDRED FRESHMEN JOIN HALLS Small Percentage Of Entering Men Sign Up For Literary Societies WHIG AHEAD Has 174 Signed Up While 148 Signify Intention Of Joining Clio Hall". The Daily Princetonian. Vol. 37, no. 93. October 15, 1913. p. 1.
  33. ^ "Whig, Clio Were Once Rivals". The Daily Princetonian. Vol. 91, Special Class Of 1971 Issue, no. 72. June 15, 1967. p. 1.
  34. ^ Nancy Bowen (1 April 2002). Ralph Nader: Man With a Mission. Millbrook Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7613-2365-5. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  35. ^ "Undergraduates To Elect Sophomore Councilmen". The Daily Princetonian. Vol. 75, no. 262. May 14, 1952. p. 1.

Works cited[edit]

  • Looney, J. Jefferson (1996). Nurseries of Letters and Republicanism: A Brief History of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society and its Predecessors, 1765-1941. Princeton: American Whig-Cliosophic Society.
  • Durkee, Robert (2022). The New Princeton Companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

External links[edit]