From time to time, PAW editors have an idea for a theme, and then go about assigning articles that fit the idea. In the case of this issue, however, the stories came first. Both of our feature articles are historical; both have implications for issues that are very much in the public eye.
The first, by Princeton history professor David A. Bell *91, concerns politics and charisma. Who comes to mind when you think of political charisma today? A bombastic businessman? A balding New England socialist? Perhaps a Princeton alum who mastered the art of soaring rhetoric as a college debater and adds flourish with a pair of black ostrich-skin “argument boots”?
For Bell, the story of modern political charisma begins with Pasquale Paoli, who ruled Corsica in the middle of the 18th century and was chronicled by an enamored James Boswell. Boswell’s portrait, Bell writes, was of “a paragon of nature who led by virtue of his extraordinary personal gifts, and who bound his followers to him through sheer, intense emotion.” Bell concludes that those qualities — and the right chronicler — are as important today as they were then.
Our cover story, by historian Nicholas Guyatt *03, tells the story of Samuel Stanhope Smith 1769, Princeton’s seventh president. Guyatt focuses on his role as a theorist of race. Before walking in to occupy President Eisgruber ’83’s office in Nassau Hall office last fall, members of the Black Justice League demanded a role in naming campus buildings by pointing to Stanhope Hall, across the green. Smith, for whom the building was named, opposed slavery but favored segregation; he felt African Americans could be “improved” to resemble whites. Is he best viewed as a progressive for his time — or a racist for ours?