The “Third Professor’s House” was built in 1837 by Thomas H. Wade as a duplex. It was meant to house two faculty members and their families. Enslaved people owned by professors also lived in the house and on the property. It was named after Francis Lieber (1798 or 1800-1872) by the Board of Trustees in 1946 because the former professor lived in the residence from 1837 to 1856. The trustees wished to recognize “the magnificent contribution which he made to this institution and to the freedom of the mind of man…notwithstanding his attitude on slavery.” Lieber was opposed to slavery, which the Trustees found a mark against him in 1946.1
Lieber’s ties to South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina:
- Longtime professor of history and political economy, 1835 to 1856.
- Published his most well-known works while at the College
- Unsuccessfully attempted to become president of the college, was denied due to his federalism and suspected antislavery sentiments. Lieber left the College (1856).
- Was an internationally known scholar and was considered one of the finest scholars in the history of South Carolina College
- Attempted to stop the formation of a Southern Rights Association at the College, advocated against secession in South Carolina in 1850 and 1851.
- Founded the Encyclopaedia Americana
- Owned two or more enslaved people while living in South Carolina but dedicated himself to immediate abolition after he moved north in 1855-6.
- Wrote General Orders No. 100 (known as the Lieber Code) in 1863, which established the United States Army’s articles of war and codes of conduct. The code asserts that Black soldiers are equal to white soldiers, and that African American refugees who reach Union lines must be free.
- Chaired the Loyal Publication Society and was affiliated with the Union League Club,
publishing pamphlets in favor of the U.S. war effort and abolition.
Francis Lieber was born in Berlin in the Kingdom of Prussia on March 18, 1798.2 His father, Friedrich Wilhelm Lieber, was an iron dealer. Lieber was often arrested as a young man for his involvement in German nationalist movements. He fought with Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher at Waterloo in 1815, and even joined an ill-fated expedition to fight in the Greek Revolution in 1822. Lieber studied in Berlin, Dresden, and received a doctorate from Jena in 1820. Lieber was technically prohibited from entering Prussian universities and even was watched closely by Prussian authorities, who questioned and twice imprisoned him for a total of four months.
In 1826, Lieber traveled to London, where he met Matilda Oppenheimer. They married in 1829 and had four sons. One of his sons, Guido Normal Lieber, is believed to be the only South Carolina College alumnus to fight for the U.S. Army in the Civil War. He was a colonel. Hamilton and Norman Lieber also served in the Union army. Their brother, Oscar, enlisted in Wade Hampton’s South Carolina Legion and fought for the Confederacy. Though born in Massachusetts and educated in what is today Germany, Oscar was the state geologist of Mississippi from 1850 to 1851 and then appointed as South Carolina’s mineralogical, geological, and agricultural surveyor in 1855. Oscar Lieber died in Richmond, Virginia, in June 1862 from wounds sustained in battle a month before.3
In 1827, the Liebers traveled to Boston, where Francis managed a gymnasium and swimming school. To further support his family he wrote for German newspapers; edited, translated, and wrote much of the 13-volume Encyclopedia Americana; and prepared numerous articles and lectures. The encyclopedia in general brought him great renown, as he was able to meet and interview nationally prominent scholars and leaders such as current president Andrew Jackson. Lieber was an advocate for prison reform along the lines of the Pennsylvania system, and translated and annotated Alexis de Tocqueville's On the Penitentiary System in 1833. He also authored a travel journal, Letters to a Gentleman in Germany in 1834. Despite these accolades, his Plan for Education prepared on behalf of Girard College (1834), and his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1830, Lieber did not obtain a permanent position until he joined South Carolina College in 1835.
Lieber taught at South Carolina College as a professor of history and political economy from 1835 to 1856. One of Lieber’s colleagues called him “a star of the first magnitude . . . one of the brightest and most illustrious on the rolls of the faculty.”4 His students called him “Old Bruin” and remembered his classes as inspiring and exciting, though others called him tough, hot-tempered, and impulsive. Lieber once tried to expel a student for stupidity.5 Lieber wished to use his position as a springboard either to college presidency or to move to a more desirable post at Harvard. He dubbed faculty meetings at the College “much like the conclave of mummies.”6 He longed to return North and referred to the South as his “exile,” frequently asking his friends for assistance in finding another station. Despite this, he made friends in Columbia: James Louis Petigru, David James McCord, Henry Junius Nott, and William C. Preston were all frequent visitors and correspondents.7
Despite his frequent requests for employment elsewhere, it was in Columbia where Lieber published his more noteworthy works: Political Ethics (1838-1839); Legal and Political Hermeneutics (1837-1838); Essays on Property and Labour (1843); and Civil Liberty and Self-Government (1853). Previous university historians claimed that “the ‘Golden Age’ of the institution [South Carolina College] can in large measure be called the age of Francis Lieber.” Others called Lieber “the most distinguished scholar in the history of the institution.”8 As a political theorist, Lieber supported free will, individualism, natural law, a limited state excepting public interest causes, free trade, property rights, monogamy and the family, and opposition to organized labor.9 Attempting social reform in his state, he invited nurse and friend Dorothea Dix to speak, and her visit moved officials to reorganize the state hospital in Columbia.10
In 1849, college president William C. Preston fell ill, and Lieber served as acting president of South Carolina College until 1851. He wished to make the position permanent, but theology professor James Henley Thornwell was appointed instead. Thornwell and Lieber were not friends; though Lieber respected Thornwell’s intellect, he resented Thornwell’s self-righteousness and Calvinism and stated that the University under Thornwell’s presidency was “like a man walking about in catacombs.”11 In 1854, Thornwell retired, and Lieber again sought the position in a contest that garnered much controversial and public attention. Lieber’s nationalist leanings and advocacy for strong national government were not popular in the states’ rights South, and outgoing President Thornwell supported mathematics professor Charles F. McCay. McCay was new to the college, in contrast to Lieber’s two decades of experience and reputation for being an excellent instructor who brought national prestige to the college. McCay was not supposed to be elected — he was merely a ploy to deadlock the election, making Lieber an unacceptable candidate. McCay’s successful election was an embarrassment, as a nonentity now filled a distinguished post.12 Lieber blamed Thornwell’s followers as well as “Bitter Calvinism,” his Unionist views, and suspicion that he was an abolitionist in his defeat.13 He was not entirely wrong — the Board of Trustees were reluctant to appoint such a controversial figure as president. South Carolina governor James H. Adams was also an enemy of Lieber’s. Lieber resigned as a professor in 1855 and left South Carolina and the south the next year.14
After South Carolina, Lieber taught political science and history at Columbia College in New York from 1858 to 1867, and then at Columbia Law School until his death in 1872. At the law school Lieber taught constitutional history and public law with a specialty in international law. He was the first political scientist to propose the codification of existing rules of international law. During the Civil War Lieber supported the Union and organized the Loyal Publication Society, drafting legal briefs for colleagues such as Henry Halleck, Edwin Stanton, and Charles Sumner. He quietly helped to craft a legal defense of Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in 1861, and traveled to Washington, D.C. to award President Lincoln with an honorary degree from Columbia College. The New York Times reprinted Lieber’s Columbia lectures on “The Laws and Usages of War.”15
After Lieber’s friend Henry Halleck was appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army in 1862, Lieber began advising military and political leaders in earnest. Attorney General Edward Bates solicited Lieber’s opinion on the legality of North Carolina governor Edward Stanley’s mandate that runaway slaves be returned to their masters, and Lieber's response reprinted in the New York Evening Post. In it, Lieber argued that all African Americans who “presents himself to our trues as coming from the enemy and claiming our protection” are free.16 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requested and received essays from Lieber on the legality of “military use” of free Blacks and enslaved people, and Lieber fully sanctioned the inclusion of Black soldiers in the U.S. Army.17
In 1862 Lieber mentioned to Halleck that he was working on a set of guidelines for the treatment of guerilla combatants. When Lieber sent him the resulting Guerrilla Parties Considered with Reference to the Laws and Usage of War Halleck ordered 5000 copies to distribute to the army. In December 1862, Halleck and Stanton appointed Lieber to a committee to revise the Articles of War, which resulted in the Lieber Code, or General Orders No. 100: "Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field." This directed soldiers' personal conduct when faced with various ethical dilemmas in the field and was considered the standard on military law, as well as the basis of international understanding on the conduct of war. Lieber and other commission members finalized this work in May 1863.18
In 1863, Lieber was appointed chairman of the publication committee of the Loyal Publication Society and became a member of sister organization the Union League Club. The Society published essays and pamphlets in favor of the war effort, and the Union League Club donated $40,000 to Black New Yorkers affected by anti-Black riots in July 1863. In 1864, Lieber became president of the Loyal Publication Society, and increased their abolitionist publications. When the society disbanded in 1866, Lieber cautioned that the work was not done:
“There are many roots of slavery left in the ground, though the trunk has been cut down, and these roots must not be allowed to shoot forth new sprouts. The roots themselves must be torn up – a work of the greater difficulty with us, because slavery attached itself in our country to a race...A free Negro stood always much nearer to the slave, legally and socially, than to the freedmen of the dominant people.”19
Lieber penned the New York Union League’s recommendations for Reconstruction and did not advocate for universal Black suffrage. Disagreeing with Sumner on the topic, Lieber suggested a universal literacy test.
After the war, Lieber served as archivist for captured Confederate documents in addition
to his position at Columbia Law School. He also served as an official for the United
States and Mexican Claims Commission from 1869 to 1872. Lieber died in New York City
on October 2, 1872.
Lieber and Slavery
Privately, Lieber thought that slavery was a “nasty, dirty, selfish institution,” and frequently wrote antislavery letters to his northern friends while in the South. Slavery, he wrote “is and remains a great evil and misery in our time. Absolute power when granted will often be abused.”20 Lieber loathed the slave society of South Carolina and dubbed it an intellectual backwater, but knew he needed to stay silent about his beliefs to keep his job and safety in the state. This silence was not enough to ingratiate him to Southerners, however, as he stated that even “reticents” who did not openly applaud slavery “are treated like accusers.”21 Lieber publicly denied that he was an abolitionist, as he did not seek to bring about an immediate emancipation of slavery and break the law of the United States.22 Lieber broke with his friend Charles Sumner over the issue of immediate abolition, as Lieber found both abolitionists and secessionists too radical and bent upon destroying the Union. Sumner called Lieber a “slavery apologist” in response, and Lieber ended the friendship for many years. “Here [in the South] I am called an abolitionist, there [the North] I am taunted as a slaveholder,” he bemoaned.23
Privately Lieber kept in-depth scrapbooks on slavery, observing aspects of enslaved daily lives and culture, health and nutrition, wages, work habits, linguistics, and attitudes. He noted with glee every time a Southerner condemned slavery. He wrote five anti-slavery letters to John C. Calhoun, but never sent or published them. "It is not the North that is against you," he warned Calhoun anonymously, "It is mankind, it is the world, it is civilization, it is history, it is reason, it is God, that is against slavery.24 Lieber joined with B.F. Perry to advocate against secession in 1850 and 1851. He also tried to delay the formation of a Southern Rights Association on the South Carolina College campus in 1851, which almost led to his house being sacked by a mob.25
Despite his private distaste for slavery, Lieber owned slaves in Columbia. He owned three people in 1840 and two in 1850. The Liebers bought Betsey and Elsa, a mother and daughter, from a North Carolina slave trader in 1836. According to Lieber, Betsy explicitly asked that Lieber buy both her and her daughter to keep the family together. The trip was pre-meditated, and he consulted with two Southern friends before he made the purchase.26 Matilda Lieber was overcome with guilt at the purchase: “though absolutely convinced that we did right under the given circumstances,” she was “very much moved by the matter” and had a “severe headache.” Lieber seemed guilty as well, as he justified in his scrapbook his five reasons for making the purchase:
- Where slavery exists, it is far better to own slaves than to hire them. They feel attached to the master, because they are entirely dependent upon him, and the master not only feels more interest in them but can also do something for them, habituate them to good manners etc., whereas he has no influence over hired slaves.
- It is no injustice to have slaves where slavery exists and emancipation does not happen. We know that we want to be good to them, and they shall be treated as kindly as anywhere. Alas, to whom, and whereto, might the mother have been sold
- We want to make them into good servants, and encourage them to cleanliness.
- There is a constant turnover with hired slaves, and they themselves by far prefer to be with their master than elsewhere. A good slave hates to be sold or hired out.
- We believe it will be cheaper for us.
- Mathilda wants to thoroughly educate the slave women.27
When owned by the Liebers, Betsy was allowed to visit her mother-in-law in New Bern, North Carolina, every Christmas and dressed fashionably. She also was permitted to sell cakes and suppers to undergraduates at the College and kept her revenue. Elsa, however, became pregnant out of wedlock in 1841, which Lieber bemoaned and attributed to “sexual abandonment” among enslaved Americans. She and her child died in childbirth.28 Matilda was devastated, and Francis also grieved, yet also noted that her death cost him money: "The pecuniary loss we sustain is also great; considering Betsy's poor health and that no one would wish her alone, we lose, all in all, fully one thousand dollars, the hard labor of a year."29
Over a year after he purchased Betsy and Elsa, Lieber went to Richmond on “the business” of purchasing a slave and moved on to Washington when he had no luck. He seemed well-versed in the business of negotiating for the ownership of a person, as he refused to pay more than $500 for a teenaged boy. He knew $500 as a price was on the low end, as “for less it is not well possible to get a boy.”30 He also knew to check the quality of enslaved peoples’ teeth, and their backs for whipping scars. Lieber eventually purchased Isaac and Henry, whom he rented out to others. Perhaps he let them keep some of their earnings, as was a common practice when hiring out enslaved people. He also hired a fourteen-year-old enslaved boy named Tom for $4.50 a month. Though Lieber wrote indignantly at the lack of clothing and bedding that Tom arrived with, decrying hard-hearted men who allowed slavery for financial gain, this incident did not seem to prompt Lieber into selling his own enslaved people.31
Lieber’s antislavery ideas had their limits. Against miscegenation, he cringed when his son played with Black children, as a “disgusting intimacy with…negroes…leads to every thing else bad when they grow older.” He wrote that slavery had a degrading effect on the behavior of African Americans, believing that there was a greater intelligence among household slaves than “plantation negroes.” Enslaved people were also “incredible liars, not because they are mischievous, but because they were never taught to be responsible for their actions and look at them from a moral standpoint.”32 Yet though he believed, for instance, “in the inferiority of the Ethiopian race,” this did not prevent him from “seeing that they are men” with the “capacity for education and progressive transmission of culture.”33 Both supporting and conflicting his idea that enslaved people were good liars, he noted that they “know and think probably more than people believe they do,” hiding their real abilities from their enslavers.34 Lieber also voiced a prescient understanding of racism: “the question is not slavery, but negroism. The free negro stands in every consideration here in the South almost on a level with the slave. His freedom does not elevate him, but his negroism, though it consist only in a shade of yellow, degrades him.”35
Once freed from the social constraints of the South, and shocked by the violent caning of former friend Charles Sumner by South Carolinian Preston Brooks in 1856, Lieber finally became an abolitionist and openly expressed his repugnance with slavery. “Sometimes nations go on so that nothing but a war will make a period of reason possible,” he said after Sumner’s near death. “And so I think it is now with the South and North.” The election of pro-Southern James Buchanan in 1856 was unacceptable to Lieber: "The victory of Southern bullyism; the acknowledgment of Northern men that, right or wrong, they yield because the South threatens to secede, will inflame and inflate proslavery to such enormity and obscene tyranny over the free states, and madden it in its ungodly course of extending slavery within the U. States and into neighbouring countries.”36 Lieber spoke at a pro-Lincoln event for German Americans in October 1860.37
Lieber endorsed the quick emancipation of slaves during the war, even desiring that the Constitution be amended if necessary: “I do not wish to be misunderstood on the slavery question. My opinion—I give it as the individual opinion of a citizen—is that negroes coming into our lines must be, and are by that fact, free men; for, on the one hand, the United States cannot become auctioneers of human beings, and, on the other hand, our soldiers cannot see in a human being anything but his humanity….The mixture of the two ideas [human being and “chattel”], man and thing…is a forced one—forced by municipal law or violence.”38
The Lieber Code declared that any Black refugee who reached Union lines should be “immediately entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman.” “To return such person into slavery,“ the Code declared, ”would amount to enslaving a free person, and neither the United States nor any officer under their authority can enslave a human being.” Article 57 declared that Black soldiers were equal to their white counterparts, and Confederate soldiers who captured and enslaved a Black U.S. soldier should be put to death as punishment. Lieber was most proud of the articles of the Code that involved slavery. 39
Historians have debated Lieber’s antislavery stance, recognizing that though he privately
critiqued the institution, for twenty years he befriended his Southern neighbors and
owned slaves himself. Before the mid-1850s, he even condemned abolitionists as being
too radical and willing to go against the laws of the United States. Only when he
left the South did Lieber fully and loudly embrace immediate abolition even at the
cost of disunion.
Naming the Building
What is now Lieber College was built in 1837 as a faculty double residence on the Horseshoe, originally named Third Professor’s House. It was named after Lieber, who lived in the building from its construction to his departure from the school, in 1946, when the university converted faculty housing into classrooms and office buildings. It was the faculty that requested university president Norman Smith read their letter asking that “the Board of Trustees...give the name of Lieber College to the building in which Francis Lieber lived in token of our recognition of the magnificent contribution which he made to this institution and to the freedom of the mind of man.” The letter remarked that Lieber wrote his most famous works and reared his children—including “deeply loved” Confederate Oscar Lieber—when living on campus in the then-named “Faculty Residence No. 2.” Trustee Edwin G. Seibels “informed the Board of the veneration in which Doctor Lieber was held by faculty and students at the University, notwithstanding his attitude on slavery.” In fact, this “attitude on slavery” was viewed by the Board as a mark against him, even in 1946.40
The enslaved people that Lieber owned lived on campus in the faculty housing with his family. In 1840, when professor Stephen Elliott lived in the other half, there were at least 11 total enslaved people living on the grounds of Lieber College. Betsy, Elsa, and Tom would have lived in either Lieber College or the outside quarters. Slaveowner Joseph LeConte and pro-slavery theologist James Thornwell also lived in the house at some point in their tenure. It was also the home of Richard Greener in 1873.
1 Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina, 11 Dec 1946, University Archives, South Caroliniana Library, hereafter SCL.
2 There is some debate as to whether Lieber lied about his age for military service and thus was really born in 1800.
3 Remembering the Days: An Illustrated History of the University of South Carolina, The Institute for Southern Studies (Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan Company, 1982), xv; “Francis Lieber Papers,” SCL.
4 Dan G. Ruff, “Lieber, Francis” South Carolina Encyclopedia Online 8 Jun. 2016.
5 Elizabeth West, The University of South Carolina (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 15.
6 Faithful Index: The University of South Carolina Campus, University of South Carolina Office of Information Services (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1976), 10.
7 Michael O’Brien. Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860.(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 83.
8 Faithful Index: The University of South Carolina Campus, 9.
9 “Francis Lieber Papers,” SCL.
10 Faithful Index, 10
11 Francis Lieber to Dorothea Dix, 12 Jan. 1852. Quoted in O’ Brien, Conjectures of Order, 83.
12 O’Brien, 93.
13 Dan G. Ruff, “Lieber, Francis”
14 Faithful Index, 10.
15 Samara Trilling, “A Tale of Two Columbias: Francis Lieber, Columbia University and Slavery” Columbia University & Slavery website
16 Lieber, “The Duty of Provisional Governors,” New York Evening Post 20 Jun 1862
17 Trilling, “A Tale of Two Columbias”
19 Lieber, “Pamphlets, Feb 1, 1864 to Feb 1, 1865,” 39. Quoted in Trilling.
20 Francis Lieber, Letters to a Gentleman in Germany, written after a Trip from Philadelphia to Niagara (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1834).
21 Quoted in O’Brien, 78.
22 Francis Lieber, “Letter to the Editor” Columbia (SC) Telescope 16 Jul. 1835.
23 Francis Lieber to George Hilliard, quoted in O’Brien, 78.
24 Francis Lieber, “Five Letters to the Hon. John C. Calhoun On the Present Slavery Question, By Tranquillus, Letter First,” Lieber Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Hereafter LP.
25 Frank Friedel, “Francis Lieber, Charles Sumner, and Slavery” Journal of Southern History 9.1 (Feb. 1943), 87.
26 O’Brien, 75.
27 Francis Lieber, “Slavery Notebook,” 10 Jan. 1836, LP.
28 O’Brien, 75.
29 Francis Lieber to Matilda Lieber, 1, 4 Sep. 1841, Lieber Papers, Huntington Library.
30 Ibid, 25 Jul. and 8 Sep. 1837, Lieber Papers, Huntington Library.
32 Francis Lieber, Slavery Notebook, quoted in Hartmut Kiel, “Francis Lieber’s Attitudes on Race, Slavery, and Abolition” Journal of American Ethnic History 28.1 (Fall 2008), 20.
33 Francis Lieber, “Letter on Races,” Boston Daily Journal 6 Jun. 1851, quoted in O’Brien, 75.
34 Francis Lieber, Slavery Scrapbook, quoted in Kiel, “Francis Lieber’s Attitudes on Race, Slavery, and Abolition,” 20.
35 Francis Lieber, Slavery Scrapbook, c. 1850, quoted in Kiel, 24.
36 Friedel, “Francis Lieber, Charles Sumner, and Slavery,” 91-2.
38 Francis Lieber to Charles Sumner, 19 Dec. 1861, in The Life and Letters of Francis Lieber ed. Thomas Sergeant Perry (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1882), 322.
39 Articles 43, 57, and 58 of General Orders No. 100: The Lieber Code quoted in Trilling.
40 Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina, 11 Dec 1946, SCL.