1779-2011: A Look Back at Andover’s Constitution

Although many of the stipulations outlined in the 1778 version of Phillips Academy’s official constitution have been long since abandoned, many values included in the original document have been preserved and are still important aspects of the school. Nearly ten years before the United States’ adoption of the Constitution, the inaugural Board of Trustees of Phillips Academy convened to draft the official constitution of the school, which has been left unchanged for more than two centuries. Despite many peculiarities and outdated clauses, the founders introduced many principles that are still preserved by the school community today, such as the concepts of “Youth from Every Quarter” and “Knowledge and Goodness.” These original members of the Board of Trustees, led by Samuel Phillips Junior, founder of Phillips Academy, included John Phillips, founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, William Phillips, Oliver Wendell, John Lowell, William Symmes, Elias Smith, Jonathan French, Eliphalet Pearson, first headmaster of Phillips Academy, and Nehemiah Abbot. The members of this board, responsible for funding and establishing the school, began by compiling the fundamental dogmas that, they hoped, would define the school. The constitution reads, “Though goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble; yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous; and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.” 233 years after its birth, the constitution of Phillips Academy now sits ownerless in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library Archives, tended to carefully by Timothy Sprattler, Interim Archivist and Associate Director of the Library. “The founders were seeking to establish an institution to educate the coming generations to lead moral lives. They hoped to be an example to others who would be founding similar institutions or to existing institutions that were considering changes,” said Sprattler. “The constitution is the document the founders used to describe the school and their intentions for the school as a place of learning and development.” “[The document] describes the physical makeup of the campus and outlines the course of study in general terms. Besides education, it supports manual labor for the students as a way of fostering industry within the student, now known as work duty. [It] also sets role of administrative positions.” The school’s constitution has remained unchanged since the departure of the inaugural Board of Trustees, even though many of the constitution’s details regarding religion, curriculum and administration have been long since relinquished. Phillips Academy was initially established as a theological seminary for the Christian religion because of the first Board of Trustees’ strict adherence to orthodox Calvinism and strong Trinitarian beliefs, which accepts the notion of the Holy Trinity. The document reads, “It shall be the duty of the Master, as the age and capacities of the Scholars will admit, not only to instruct and establish them in the truth of Christianity; but also early and diligently inculcate upon them the great and important scripture doctrines of One true God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” The text explains that the seminary accepted these views as opposed to “the erroneous and dangerous doctrine of justification by our own merit, or a dependence on self righteousness.” The constitution also stipulates that members of the Board Of Trustees, as well as all members of the faculty, must be of the Protestant faith. “The constitution addresses the topics of fostering piety and educational virtue, that youth need direction to help them become good community members and that all youth should be considered for admittance.” Although the school has abandoned these specific criteria for the Board of Trustees, the background values that the Constitution implies are still prevalent in Phillips Academy, today. The document lists priorities regarding the education of students, now generally renounced by the school. One paragraph states, “The first and principal object of this Institution is the promotion of true Piety and Virtue; the second, instruction in the English Latin, and Greek Languages, together with Writing, Arithmetic, Music, and the Art of Speaking; the third, practical Geometry, Logic, and Geography; and the fourth, such other of the liberal Arts and Sciences or Languages.” The importance of health, productivity and manual labor, now referred to as “work duty,” is also stressed in the constitution, along with guidelines for the disciplinary system and strict instructions for the operation of the Board of Trustees. “[The founders deliberated] about Trustees making rules as necessary, but not any rule that is inconsistent with the rules established by the founders,” said Sprattler. “So no changes have been made, as I understand it.” One paragraph in the charter assigns the power of expulsion to the Trustees. It states, “In order to preserve this seminary from the baneful influence of the incorrigibly vicious, the Trustees shall determine, for what reasons a Scholar shall be expelled, and the manner, in which the sentence shall be administered.” In the text, the founders also reinforce their aversion of moving the campus from its original location in Andover. The constitution reads, “The period may arrive, when the prosperity of this Institution may be promoted by removing it from the place, where it is founded… But unless the good of mankind shall manifestly require it, this Seminary shall never be removed from the South Parish in the town of Andover.” He continued, “The constitution remains that guiding light as we travel through changing times, but always with the greater good in mind.”