A Consequential Life: David Lowry Swain, Nineteenth-Century North Carolina, and Their University Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
  • Whichard, Willis P.
  • Shortly before David Lowry Swain's thirty-second birthday, the North Carolina General Assembly elected him the state's twenty-sixth governor. He remains its youngest. In the context of his time he was an activist executive, prodding the state to develop its infrastructure, thereby promoting economic development, which in turn would sustain universal public education (although then for white males only). As Swain's constitutionally limited time as governor was expiring, The University of North Carolina trustees elected him its president. He would occupy the position until shortly before his death almost thirty-three years later. Under Swain's leadership the University would grow to be second only to Yale in student enrollment. He was largely responsible for student admissions and conduct, faculty hiring and supervision, and promoting the University to a broader public, both state and national. Notwithstanding the title "president," he remained known as "Governor Swain." The appellation was apt. The larger life of North Carolina, and to no small degree the United States, continued to reflect his fingerprints. As university president he avoided overt partisan activity, yet stayed deeply involved in the political life and public policy of his state and beyond. His leadership in matters of historic preservation was uncommon and exemplary. The Civil War devastated Swain's university. At its end those who would have been its students were in battlefield graves or recovering from war wounds. The able-bodied among them were busy reviving neglected family farms. A tuition-driven university could not sustain the resulting financial losses. Other lingering problems, and concerns for the president's health, surfaced with the fiscal difficulties. Only a regime change, the University trustees concluded, could revive the University's fortunes and secure its future. A little over a month later Swain, the deposed president, would be in his grave. Over half a century ago historian Hugh T. Lefler viewed Swain as a North Carolina leader who perhaps merited full-length biographical treatment. A Consequential Life fills this perceived gap in the state's biographical literature. It not only details the life and work of the man who was arguably the state's most significant nineteenth-century leader; in the process it also recounts the history of the state's university in the three-plus decades when he was the focal point of its life.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Book
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
  • Coates University Leadership Series
  • Publisher
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library
  • 9781469666198
  • English

This work has no parents.

In Collection: