The American Whig-Cliosophic Society is the nation’s oldest collegiate political, literary, and debate society. Its founders include William Paterson (Class of 1763), James Madison (Class of 1771) and Aaron Burr (Class of 1772). The Whig Society and the Cliosophic Society were originally separate groups and throughout the 19th century, competition between the two for members and stature was intense.
Outgrowing its original quarters in Nassau Hall and subsequently Stanhope Hall, the University constructed two identical wooden neo-Classical halls, which were completed in 1838. With flourishing membership in the 1890s, A. Page Brown designed two marble buildings to take the place of the original structures.
While president of Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, a proud alumni, would regularly tell freshmen that “the superiority shown in after life by a man who has received a Hall training over one who has not.” But by the end of the First World War, membership and activity in both societies had so declined that a merger of the once bitter rivals became inevitable and was finally ratified by the Trustees of the Societies in 1941, whereupon the operation of Clio Hall was transferred to the University, and Whig Hall became the official home of the new American Whig-Cliosophic Society.
A friendly rivalry, however, continues to this day between Conservative and Liberal members, who consider themselves “Clios” and “Whigs”, respectively, and take their places on opposite sides of the Senate chamber, to adversarially continue the nearly two and a half century’s tradition of Parliamentary Debate.
Whig-Clio continues to be the center of Campus debate, sponsoring the world-renowned Princeton Debate Panel and Princeton Mock Trial Association, both of which have won countless distinctions of the highest caliber over the years, as well as the very prestigious International Relations Council, Model Congress, and Woodrow Wilson Honorary Debating Panel.
Whig-Clio has also continued in its tradition of annually bestowing the James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service, which has, in recent years, resulted in captivating public lectures from Honorees as prominent as former President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.