Thomas Roderick Dew

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Thomas Roderick Dew
Thomas Roderick Dew.jpg
13th President of the
College of William & Mary
In office
Preceded byAdam Empie
Succeeded byRobert Saunders, Jr.
Personal details
King and Queen County, Virginia
EducationThe College of William & Mary
OccupationProfessor of History, Metaphysics, and Political Economy, College of William & Mary
Known forProslavery writings

Thomas Roderick Dew (1802–1846) was a professor at and then president of The College of William & Mary.[1] He was an influential pro-slavery advocate.


Thomas Dew was born in King and Queen County, Virginia, in 1802, son of Captain Thomas Dew and Lucy Gatewood Dew. His father was a Revolutionary War soldier and founder of Dewsville, a prosperous plantation near Newtown, King and Queen County. He attended The College of William & Mary, graduating in 1820, and subsequently spent several years studying in Europe.[2]: 1110  He was a professor of history, metaphysics, and political economy at William & Mary from 1827 to 1836, then President until his death from bronchitis in 1846.[1] He twice declined invitations to run for political office, as well as invitations to teach at South Carolina College (today the University of South Carolina) and the University of Virginia.[3] Shortly before his death, he married Natalia Hay. He died on their honeymoon, in Paris; his remains were later moved to the crypt under the Wren Chapel on the William & Mary campus.[4] His descendant Charles B. Dew is a professor of Southern history at Williams College, and wrote in The Making of a Racist (2016) of his Southern family's tradition of racism.[5]

Dew came to national prominence in 1828 when he attacked the tariff that passed that year (also known as the "Tariff of Abominations"). He was a proponent of free trade, arguing that export taxes benefited Northern manufacturers at the expense of Southern planters. He supported state banks over a national bank, stating that centralized banking would give the government too much control over the economy.[1] Dew's largest book was the Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of Ancient and Modern Nations (1853).[2] A source was P. Austin Nuttall's 1840 Classical and Archaeological Dictionary.[6]

Pro-slavery advocacy[edit]

Dew was an advocate for slavery.[7]

In 1832, he published a review of the celebrated slavery debate of 1831–32 in the Virginia General Assembly, A Review of the Debates in the Legislature of 1831 and 1832, which went far towards putting a stop to a movement, then assuming considerable proportions, to proclaim the end of slavery in Virginia.[8]: 21–47  The Virginia Legislature's debate was a response to Nat Turner's slave rebellion of August 1831.[9] He argued that whites and freed blacks could not live alongside one other in peace. Dew dismissed colonization of freed American blacks in Africa as prohibitively expensive and logistically impractical; that Blacks did not want to go was of no importance to him. He noted also that the deportation of blacks would prevent Virginia from profiting from its breeding and export of negros, as "a negro raising state for other states" of the South.[3] While his position was convincing to many Southern readers, Jesse Burton Harrison, of Lynchburg, Virginia, wrote a robust response that argued that colonization (sending freed slaves to Africa) was possible and that slavery was economically inefficient.[10]

In his inaugural speech as President at William & Mary, "he admonished young planters to resist fanatics who wished to eliminate slavery. Dew emphasized the importance of a broad-based liberal arts education but singled out morals and politics as the most significant subjects of study."[3]

Dew was well respected in the South; his widely distributed writings helped to confirm pro-slavery public opinion. His work has been compared to that of the Southern surgeon and medical authority Samuel A. Cartwright, who defended slavery and invented the "diseases" of drapetomania (the "madness" that makes slaves want to run away), and dysaesthesia aethiopica ("rascality"), both of which were "cured" with beatings. Dew's 1833 Review was republished in 1849, and collected in The Pro-Slavery Argument, together with writings by Harper, Hammond and Simms.[11]

Many people at the time credited Dew with the defeat of the proposal to end slavery in Virginia in the 1830s. He was opposed to even gradual emancipation. Dew's teaching and his writings influenced the following generations, which opposed Reconstruction and created Jim Crow.[12]: 1137–1139 

Dew on men and women[edit]

In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Dew's views on the differences between the sexes are described as follows:

Dew characterized women as modest, passive, virtuous, and religiously devout, attributing these traits to women's physical weakness, which rendered them dependent on male goodwill. He also asserted that men, across all cultures and historical periods, were intellectually superior to women, but he blamed the disparity on differences in the substance and duration of education rather than on unequal natural endowments. Dew argued that it was appropriate to deny suffrage to women because their intense focus on their own families impeded their ability to comprehend broader political developments.[3]

He described the hardships faced by men in the marketplace and the almost brutal strength needed to survive in such a competitive atmosphere. He stated that courage and boldness are man's attributes. For Dew, women were dependent and weak, but a spring of irresistible power.

Works by Thomas R. Dew[edit]

Briefer pieces, letters, speeches[edit]

Archival material[edit]

Dew's family papers[13] and papers from his time as president of the College of William and Mary[14] can be found at the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary.


  • A non-existent book by Dew, Inequality Is the Basis of Society, appears in the Spaghetti Western Sabata (1969), in which the book is read by a villain. A character reads a quotation from it: "The responsibility of command is to use lesser men."


  1. ^ a b c Ely, Melvin Patrick; Loux, Jennifer R. "Thomas R. Dew (1802–1846)". Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b Brophy, Alfred L. (2008). "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas R. Dew" (PDF). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. 16: 1091–1139. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 9, 2014. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Ely, Melvin Patrick; Loux, Jennifer R.; Dictionary of Virginia Biography (2015). "Thomas R. Dew (1802–1846)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities in partnership with the Library of Virginia.
  4. ^ Swem Library Special Collections Research Center Archives. "Papers, ca. 1830-1967". Archived from the original on July 20, 2021. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  5. ^ Pitts, Leonard (September 2, 2016). "A white Southerner searches for the source of his family's racism". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 25, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  6. ^ Nuttall, P. Austin (1840). A classical and archaeological dictionary of the manners, customs, laws, institutions, arts, etc. of the celebrated nations of antiquity, and of the middle ages. To which is prefixed A synoptical and chronological view of ancient history. London: Whittaker. OCLC 2667864.
  7. ^ Eastland-Underwood, Jessica (2022). "The whiteness of markets: Anglo-American colonialism, white supremacy and free market rhetoric". New Political Economy. doi:10.1080/13563467.2022.2159354. ISSN 1356-3467.
  8. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (2016). University, Court, and Slave: Prolsavery Thought in Southern Courts and Colleges and the Coming of Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190625931.
  9. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (June 2013). "The Nat Turner Trials". North Carolina Law Review. 91: 1817–80. SSRN 2281519.
  10. ^ Harrison, Jesse Burton (1832). Review of the slave question : extracted from the American Quarterly Review, Dec. 1832, based on the speech of Th. Marshall, of Fauquier, showing that slavery is the essential hindrance to the prosperity of the slave-holding states : with particular reference to Virginia, though applicable to other states where slavery exists. By a Virginian. American Quarterly Review. Richmond, Printed by T.W. White.
  11. ^ Harper, William; Hammond, James Henry; Dew, Thomas Roderick; Simms, William Gilmore (1853). The Pro-Slavery Argument. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co. Archived from the original on 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  12. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (2008). "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas Roderick Dew" (PDF). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Vol. 16. pp. 1091–1139. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-07-09. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  13. ^ "Dew Family Papers". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on 27 June 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  14. ^ "Office of the President. Thomas Roderick Dew". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on 26 June 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2011.

Further reading (arranged by date)[edit]