Kinder Institute: When the Devil Beat Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster statue

Kinder Institute: “The Time the Devil Beat Daniel Webster”


The Kinder Institute at the University of Missouri, a JMC partner program, hosted JMC fellow Rodolfo (Rudy) Hernandez for a lecture on his recent work on the 1844 Supreme Court Case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors. He has also recently written an article on the topic for Starting Points.

2018-2020 Postdoctoral Fellow in American Political Thought & Constitutionalism Rodolfo Hernandez examined the Supreme Court Case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844) in which Daniel Webster challenged a large bequest to the City of Philadelphia to establish an orphanage that explicitly forbade clergy from ever entering the campus. The talk specifically explored the tension between the notion that Christianity is a part of the common law and the free exercise of religion, along with Justice Story’s resolution of this issue.

Friday, May 3, 2019 • 3:30 PM
Jesse Hall, Room 410 • University of Missouri

Free and open to the public

Click here for more information >>



“That Time the Devil Beat Daniel Webster”

By Rodolfo Hernandez


“Stephen Girard, merchant, banker, and the richest man in America at the time, died in 1831. Mr. Girard left the vast majority of his fortune to the City of Philadelphia—approximately six million dollars. In Girard’s final action, his will, he tried to say that good citizenship in a republic could be produced without religion. Girard did this by earmarking two million dollars for the creation of an orphanage for poor, white, orphan males and stipulating that clergy could never enter that campus. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story commented on the effect of the gift in a February 7, 1844 letter, “The curious part of the case is, that the whole discussion has assumed a semi-theological character . . . Mr. Jones and Mr. Webster, contended that these restrictions were anti-Christian and illegal.” Thus, the major issue of the case was whether the will was hostile to Christianity, which would have made it hostile to the common law of Pennsylvania. Was the Devil trying to remove the foundation of all law, education, and society through this bequest?…”

Read the rest of the article on the Starting Points website >>



Rodolfo HernandezRodolfo Hernandez earned his B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Louisiana State University. His work focuses on political theory and American political development, and his dissertation considers the political economy of Abraham Lincoln’s thought, especially as it relates to the principle of equality expressed by the Declaration of Independence. As a graduate student, he was awarded the Huel D. Perkins Fellowship by Louisiana State University and the Richard M. Weaver Fellowship by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Rudy previously taught as a Visiting Instructor at Louisiana Tech University and as a Senior Lecturer at Texas State University. He also has prior government experience including service in Americorps, work as a tax examiner in the U.S. Treasury Department, and eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He joins the Kinder Institute as a 2018-2020 Postdoctoral Fellow in Political Thought & Constitutionalism.

Hernandez is a JMC fellow.

Learn more about Rodolfo Hernandez >>



The Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri is an interdisciplinary, signature academic center on the Columbia campus, jointly operated by faculty from the Political Science and History Departments, in cooperation with other scholars across campus. It is dedicated to excellence in research, teaching, and community engagement on the subjects of American political thought, history, and institutions, with a particular emphasis on the ideas and events of the American Founding and their continued global impact and relevance today. It was created in 2015 by a generous gift from the Kinder Foundation, a family philanthropic foundation started by Rich and Nancy Kinder of Houston, Texas.

Learn more about the Kinder Institute >>



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