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The revival of the interest in debating at the College this year and particularly the "debate with the University of Washington has emphasized the importance of debating as a College activity. In one form or another it has always been a permanent part of college life. It is a matter of tradition that the venerable Hasty Pudding Club at Harvard started with the two-fold object of enabling its members to consume mush and milk, and discuss the problems of the day. The Harvard Union formed in 1831 was a debating club not essentially different from the clubs which exist in practically all schools and colleges of today. The position of debating as an adjunct to the college curriculum was thus early recognized, but debating as a contest is of much more recent growth. Intercollegiate debating in America probably owes its beginning to the fact that after several years' negotiations a debating society at Yale challenged Harvard to two debates, one to be held in Cambridge and one in New Haven. The first debate was held on January 14, 1892, at Cambridge in Sanders Theatre before an audience that crowded that building to the doors. Governor William E. Russell presided, and although there was no decision, the speakers were frequently interrupted by prolonged applause. On March 25 of the same year the return debate was held at New Haven with Senator Chauncey M. Depew the presiding officer. These debates were repeated in 1893 and 1904. After the first year judges attended debates and decided in favor of one side or the other. The debates attracted great attention in the community. Among the presiding officers at the early debates were Dr. Eliot, now President Emeritus of Harvard, Colonel Higginson, Honorable John D. Long, Governor of Massachusetts, President Hadley of Yale, Governor Wolcott, President Patten of Princeton, Governor Guild and others perhaps hardly less well known. Among the judges who rendered the decisions we find the names of President Seth Low of Columbia, Carl Schurz, General Francis A. Walker, Professor Brander Matthews, Bishop Lawrence, Elihu Root, Edward J. Phelps, Ambassador to England, Judge Alton B. Parker, Honorable Oscar S. Strauss and others.
In 1895 Harvard and Yale entered into an agreement, or more properly an understanding, with Princeton, and from that time until the present the three colleges have held annual debates with one another. In 1909 these colleges arranged so that each college would present a team to discuss both the affirmative and negative of the question, the three debates taking place at the three colleges upon the same night. These triangular debates have been conducted regularly since that time, the twelfth having taken place in March of the current year.
Harvard has had rather more than its share of victories since the inauguration of debate. Of the thirty debates held with Yale Harvard has won twenty and Yale ten. With Princeton the score is more nearly even, Harvard having won fourteen and Princeton twelve.
The debating men naturally desired that some insignia be adopted to serve the same purpose that the coveted "H" does to the athlete, and at a very early date the University debating authorities awarded to the men who took part in intercollegiate debates an irregularly shaped medal bearing upon its face a medallion of Cicero and suitably engraved upon the back with the recipient's name and the memorandum of the debate in which he took part. Some time after the Corporation placed the control of debating in the hands of a Supervisory Committee and imposed upon this committee among other duties, that of expending the income of the Coolidge fund for the benefit of debating. This committee in 1908 took over the awarding of the University debating medal, and today this medal in gold is awarded annually to those who take part in the Yale and Princeton debates.
The Coolidge fund has served in many other ways to encourage debating at the University. It was given by Mr. T. Jefferson Coolidge of the class of 1850, who in the year 1899 gave to the College $5000, "the income of which shall be devoted to the establishment of prizes for debating." In addition to the Coolidge Debating Medals an annual, prize of $100 is given to the student who does the best work in the preliminary contests for the selection of the debating team. From this fund also cups for class debates are provided and certain expenses attendant upon the debates themselves.
Unfortunately debating like everything else has had its ups and downs and the interest in it waxes and witnes. During the war, interest in debating was practically dead at the University, although the debates themselves were not given up. During the present year, however, there has been a renewed activity. Harvard for the first time has abandoned a policy of exclusive debating with Yale and Princeton and has held debates with outside colleges. It is perhaps fair to say, however, that the coming debate with the University of Washington will be the most unique contest since the inauguration of intercollegiate debating in 1892. Never before has there been any contest which was at all representative in character. Intercollegiate debates had generally been arranged in groups of three and have meant but little except to the colleges engaged. Nearly as old as the Harvard-Yale-Princeton debates is the so called "Now England League" between Brown, Dartmouth and Williams. None of these colleges or any others have ever held a debate in which there was any pretense that victory meant anything more than a decision in the particular contest at the time. On the twenty-first of this month, however, a debating team from the University of Washington journeys across the country to meet a representative team of this College. That this is a meeting of the champion of the West with the champion of the East is, of course, not true and Harvard would be the last to make any such claim. It is fair to say, however, that the University of Washington, has been rather more successful in its debating career on the Pacific Slope than most of its rivals. And while Harvard does not claim any superiority in the East the fact that intercollegiate debating originated here and that our record shows rather more than our fair share of victories, perhaps entitles us to believe that on this occasion at any rate we are the representative eastern College. This is said with due regard to Yale's victory in the current year. Apparently then a representative team from the extreme West is to meet a representative team of the extreme East.
It is to be doubted if the contest will attract as much attention as the recent football game at Pasadena and yet to those interested in educational matters the event cannot but be of interest. Will we see at Sanders Theatre on the twenty-first a different style of debating than that to which we are used? Probably not, because after all forensic discussion is thousands of years older than football, and the style has not varied much during the centuries. The men who meet Washington will not wear togas which they will loop up with their left hand while they use the right for gestures, but except for such trifling superficialities oral discussion in Cambridge in 1920 probably does not vary much from oral discussion in Greece and Rome before the Christian era. It is safe to say that we will see no innovations. There is nothing similar to the "forward pass" in debating. It may be, however, that this contest will afford the educator with an inquiring mind a better means of contrasting the college student of the East with the college student of the West than was afforded in the recent football game. However that may be, it should be a source of gratification to us all that Harvard is going to meet foemen worthy of her best endeavor and that a resulting victory will be of more than ordinary interest. It is also fortunate that the subject for debate is perhaps next to the League of Nations the most interesting topic before the American people. Whether the United States is to adopt a policy of limiting propaganda against the Government before any overt act takes place, is a question which invites the attention of all students of democratic institutions and upon which opinions widely differ.
Probably there will be no contention made but that the Government ought to prevent injury to itself by prohibiting and punishing words which result in anarchy or crime. Whether the Government should go further and say that it will prohibit and punish the utterance of words which may possibly so result is another question, and it is the question which Harvard and Washington are going to debate.
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