Woodrow Wilson to Richard Heath Dabney




Woodrow Wilson discusses his studies and address to the Tariff Commission with his friend Richard Heath Dabney.




My dear Heath,

The receipt of your letter rejoiced my heart. You great fat Dutchman, you! The idea of your weighing one hundred and sixty-three pounds! How I would like to see you and your beer-wetted paunch! I should like to be with you for more reasons than one, indeed—not only to renew the pleasures of our old University good-fellowship, but also to share your advantages and delights of study. History and Political Science! why they are of all studies my favourites; and to be allowed to fill all my time with them, instead of, as now, stealing only a chance opportunity or two for hasty perusal of those things which are most delightful to me, would be of all privileges the most valued by yours humbly. I have to be content with a very precarious allowance of such good things. My extra-legal education must proceed by slow and unequal stages. It is, of course, somewhat unsatisfactory to be compelled to master a great science as it were by stealth, at such odd moments as one can snatch from engrossing professional studies; but I am inclined to think that knowledge thus acquired in spite of all obstacles is a possession more valued than it would be had its acquisition been easy and prosperous.

However that may be, I am, at all events, very much interested in even the name of your courses and am impelled to beg that you will give me some particular account of them; that you will tell me just what line the German students pursue—especially in Political Science To know what they think the best methods of study would be of much advantage to me. I should like, as far as possible, to go along with you in your work.

Yes, I did speak before the tariff commission; and hard work I had of it, too! The whole thing was done almost upon the impulse of the moment. I had temporarily lost sight of the Commission in its travels and did not know that it was due in Atlanta—indeed, I had not known that it intended coming here—when there came into our office a friend of Renick's, Walter Page of the NY World—who had been travelling about with the commissioners utterly destroying their reputation and overthrowing their adventitious dignity by his smart ridicule—saying that he and the august commission had arrived. We fell into some talk about the commission's work, of course, and before we had gone far Page had discovered my deep interest in and considerable acquaintance with the issues involved and had persuaded me to address the commission the next morning on the general topic of free-trade vs. protection—for, said he, they are much in need of light upon the true principles involved and no one has yet said to them a word upon the general merits of the question. So it was that I hastily prepared a brief and undertook to make a few extemporaneous remarks before this much ridiculed body of incompetencies, influenced by the consideration that my speech would appear in their printed report, rather than by any hope of affecting their conclusions. I found it hard enough work, I can assure you, for the circumstances were most embarrassing. Six commissioners sat around a long table in the breakfast room of the Kimball House and about and behind them sat a few local dignitaries and four or five young men of my acquaintance, besides the reporters usually attendant upon the sittings. Embarrassed by the smallness and the character of the audience, but more especially by the ill-natured and sneering interruptions of the commissioners, I spoke without sufficient self-possession and certainly without much satisfaction to myself; but was compensated for my discomfort by the subsequent compliments of my friends and of the press—especially by the kind words of our congressman from this district, in whose ability I have great confidence, and who was good enough to say that my speech showed that I both knew what to say and how to say it.

I am to meet several other young men this evening, here in our office, for the purpose of organizing a free trade club, as a branch of the Free Trade Club of NY City. I have for some months past had in my head a scheme for the organization of a “Georgia House of Commons,” as I should like to call it, in imitation of the New York Senate of which you wrote me long ago. But as yet I don't know enough suitable fellows here to make such plans possible, and this free trade club is as near as I can come to anything of the kind at present. I am not sufficiently identified with the place yet to lead in such matters and can, consequently, hasten towards them only slowly. By the time this reaches you, you will, I suppose, be on the point of delivering your lecture to that organization with unpronounceable name over which Prof. Giesbredt presides. How I should like to be present to hear it, even though I should, probably, understand not a word of it! You must tell me all about it: its title, contents, &c., and its reception

Where have Toy, Lefevre, Jenkins, Dick Smith, et id omne genus, gone? Are they still at large or have they settled down somewhere to study? Lefevre must feel somewhat chagrined, I should imagine, at being shut off from taking the same liberties with the foreign languages, which he must be constrained to speak with some modesty and caution, that he was accustomed to take with the English. Toy will, of course, rejoice in the German grind, Jenkins in the German beer, and Dick Smith in German powers of acquisition.

I hear, from friends who have recently returned from a visit to Charleston, SC, that Kent and Coleman, in spite of that extremely youthful appearance of theirs which is somewhat against them in the eyes of staid and conservative Charleston, are doing excellently well with their school, as we knew they would, and are establishing a fine reputation for themselves, in a place which is said to contain very efficient teachers and very fine schools, small and large. Hurrah for Charley and Louis! There are some five or six University men practicing law here in Atlanta—some of them doing well, and others, like the potentially great firm of Renick and Wilson, doing very little, but hoping very much. Of course we have something to do, something which is developing into more by slow degrees. In the course of about one year we hope to be meeting expenses after some sort; but at present we are not doing so, not by a very large majority. The fact of the matter is that the profession here is in a very disorganized state and young attorneys are unfairly out-bid by unscrupulous elders. The struggle promises to be a long and a hard one, but a fairer one as time advances.

Don't fail to write to me soon again. I enjoy your letters hugely and all details of your experiences abroad, both studentical and other, are much to my palate.With love,

Your sincere friend,
Woodrow Wilson

Original Format






Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924, “Woodrow Wilson to Richard Heath Dabney,” 1883 January 11, WWP20423, University of Virginia Woodrow Wilson Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.