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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

George Washington Given the First LL.D. Degree Granted by University

President Considered Sending His Son Here, Where Youth Dissipated Less

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

George Washington was the recipient of the first LL.D. ever given by Harvard College. It was voted to him by the Corporation and Overseers of Harvard University, in accordance with the prevailing spirit after he had driven the British from Boston in March 17, 1776, and "as an expression of the gratitude of this College for his eminent services in the cause of his country and to this society, on April 3, 1776.

The degree, written in Latin, was signed by all the member of the Corporation excepting John Hancock, who was in Philadelphia practicing signing the Declaration of Independence, and it was immediately published in the newspapers with an English translation. The diploma was composed by Samuel Langdon of the Class of 1740, who was President of the University from 1774 to 1780; this document still stands on the records of the Corporation.

Washington kept no diary during the year 1776, and so little can be found concerning his impressions of Harvard at that period.

First the diploma recited in picturesque Latin Washington's public career until April 1776. Then, after briefly relating his rescue of Boston from the "naves et copias hostium", the diploma confers the degree "Doctor Utriusque Juris."

Washington had often considered sending his step-son to Harvard College. This fact is mentioned in a letter written to David Stuart from Mt. Vernon, January 22, 1799:

"My opinion has always been that the university in Massachusetts would have been the most eligible seminary to have sent him to; first, because it is on a larger scale than any other; and secondly, because I believe that the habits of youth there, whether from the discipline of the school, or the greater attention of the people generally to morals and a more regular course of life, are less prone to dissipation and excess than they are at the colleges south of it, it may be asked, if this was my opinion, why I did not send him there? The answer is as short as to me it was weighty; being the only male in his line, and knowing (although it would have been submitted to) that it would have proved a heart-rending stroke to have him at that distance, I was disposed to try a nearer seminary of good repute, which, for some cause or combination of causes, has not, after the experiment of a year, been found to answer the end that it was contemplated.

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