The Brush Hill Debate Club Journal 1857-59
The thoughtful and forward-thinking settlers of Brush Hill (which became Fullersburg) valued learning and personal growth. A formal debate club was organized by community leaders in 1857, and a committee was appointed to draft by-laws and a constitution. As noted in its preamble, "Education and Improvement are the grand objects of our existence," and members pledged to "avail ourselves of all means within our reach for improving our minds and adding to our stock of knowledge." Over fifty male residents originally participated in the club, including Benjamin Fuller and six of his extended family members (Edwin, Morell, David, Reuben, John and Lewis). Benjamin also introduced a motion inviting the local ladies to "take part with us by means of essays, speaking, or any way they may deem proper," addressed below.
The presidency of the club rotated with the meetings, which occurred in the evening during the winter months on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The members gathered at the schoolhouse, where candles were used for lighting. Chief disputants were chosen in advance along with the topics for discussion, which were presented in formal debate terms. For example, the first subject recorded in the journal was "Resolved that Columbus deserves more credit for discovering American than Washington for defending her." The decision for each topic was recorded as either "Affirmative" or "Negative" in the journal.
An incredibly broad range of subject matter was introduced and debated at the Brush Hill Debate Club meetings. Interestingly, a sensitive topic was introduced but apparently changed before the scheduled meeting on 12/30/1857, which was "Resolved that the intellectual faculties of woman are
equal to those possessed by man." Members chose to readdress the less controversial question discussed the previous week, instead. Two years later, after the members determined that women
should have the right to vote, the topic of male intellectual superiority was again introduced and
decided in favor of the men.
The debate club meetings spanned 1857-1859, or right before the Civil War, which began in 1861.
Graue Mill in Fullersburg was a notable stop on the Underground Railroad, which provided assistance
to escaped slaves from Confederate states on their paths to freedom. Settlers of Fullersburg were sympathetic to both African Americans and Native Americans, who had been relocated out of Illinois. Benjamin Fuller taught the Potawatomi how to shoe horses before they left the area, and
in turn, they presented Ben's young son John a pony as a gesture of appreciation. As an adult member of the debate club, John introduced the question of whether the "Indian has more cause of complaint against the white man than the Negro." The Fuller family had good relations with the Native Americans; however, there was even more sympathy within the debate club for the African victims of slavery.
Although the ladies of Brush Hill were invited to participate in the debates as they saw fit, they chose not to. They attended the meetings, however, and on one occasion performed a musical number for the sake of entertainment. Their song was "well received and caused considerable merriment." A formal motion was introduced to thank them for their contribution.
The construction of a railroad in 1864 south of Fullersburg changed the dynamic of the area, along with the Civil War. It is unknown whether or not the Brush Hill Debate club continued into the 1860's. In the summer of 2020, Fullersburg Historic Foundation was contacted by a treasure hunter who had come across the debate journal in a storage locker in Texas. Foundation president Don Fuller, the great-great grandson of Benjamin, negotiated the return of the journal to the foundation. This unique primary historical source has since been photographed and studied by foundation members and local historians. The journal provides a great deal of insight into the intellectual depth and character of the early settlers of the Brush Hill/ Fullersburg area.
The topics of the debates as recorded in the journal are below, along with their outcome; "A" is for Affirmative and "N" for Negative.
Columbus deserves more credit for discovering America than Washington for defending her. (A)
Money has more influence with mankind than education. (N)
Works of Nature are to be admired more than works of Art. (A)
The Indian has more cause of complaint against the white man than the Negro. (N)
Man is architect of his own character. (N)
Love is a stronger incentive to action than hate. (A)
There is more enjoyment in anticipation than in participation. (N)
War has been more productive of misery than intemperance. (A) (Note--this probably refers to
a lack of restraint regarding alcohol.)
The maxim "Our country right or wrong," is not always a just one. (N)
Capital punishment ought to be abolished. (N)
The art of printing has been more beneficial to man than the art of navigation. (N)
Man acts more on policy than principle. (A)
Ambition has been the cause of more misery to mankind than superstition. (N)
(Repeat--man is architect of his own character.) (N)
(Repeat--ambition has been the cause of more misery to mankind than superstition.) (A)
Topic introduced and later dropped --The intellectual faculties of woman are equal to those possessed by man.
Intoxicating drinks have caused more misery than War. (N)
(Repeat--capital punishment ought to be abolished.) (A)
The condition of the lower classes in Europe is more to be deplored than that of the Slaves of the United States. (A)
France has been more benefitted than England by the assistance rendered the U.S. during the Revolution; replaced by repeat question "Navigation is a more useful art than printing." (N)
The Financial Crisis has been beneficial to the Country. (N)
The persecution of the Mormons by the U.S. is unjustifiable. (N)
The United States would be benefitted by building a Pacific Rail Road. (A)
Nature teaches more beautiful lessons than Books. (A)
The influence of the physical world is the formation of man's character. (A)
Fictitious writings are beneficial. (A) (Note--this could be a factor of Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.)
Education has more influence in the concerns of mankind than Money. (N)
(Repeat--Intoxicating drinks have caused more misery than war.) (A)
Works of Nature art more to be admired than works of Art. (A)
(Repeat--The Indian has more more right to complain of the white man than the African.) (N)
Man is governed more by civil laws than moral. (N)
(Repeat--Columbus deserves more praise for discovering America than Washington for defending
Party spirit is not beneficial. (N)
The elective franchise ought to be extended to women (A).
(Not able to be read.)
The decision of the Virginian court in regard to John Brown is right. (N)
Resolved that a representative ought to always obey the will of his constituents. (Indiscernible)
(Topic not able to be read.)
The male's intellectual faculties are superior to the female's intellectual faculties. (A)
The Bible teaches eternal punishment after death. (A)
The Bible is God's word or is authentic. (A)
The doctrines of Christianity tend to diminish human happiness in this life. (N)
Man's conscience is not always a correct moral guide (replaced by question below)
Man's condition is better in a married state over single. (A)
Signs of the time indicate the destruction of the Roman Catholicism. (A)
The people of Illinois should adopt and enforce the _____ Liquor Law. (A)
Use of tobacco as an indulgence is injurious to the user. (A)
(Repeat--Man's enjoyment is more anticipation than participation.)
Sue Devick, M.A., Fullersburg Historic Foundation