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THE Land-Grant College Acts not only demand a separate chapter in any account of Morrill's life; they form a chapter in the educational history of the country. Among those to whom their author is more than a name, many, if not the greater part, know him as the father of the land-grant colleges and count them as his greatest monument. They have called forth many eulogies and are still the subject of reports, discussions, speeches, and periodical encomiums upon their author. As early as 1888 a report of the United States Bureau of Education contained the statement that, “next to the Ordinance of 1787 the Congressional grant of 1862 is the most important educational enactment in America.” " Andrew D. White, for many years President of Cornell University and later Minister to Germany, rated Morrill's work in this field very high.
It is she said], in my opinion, a service which deserves to be ranked, and which future historians will rank, with those of Hamilton in advocating the Constitution, of Jefferson in acquiring Louisiana, and of Clay in giving us a truly American policy.
Mr. Morrill's service in this respect is all the more noteworthy when we consider the time when it was rendered. It was the darkest period of the Civil War, and yet, full of confidence in the future of the Republic, and largely, indeed, to better that future, he introduced and carried this great measure. Since the Romans quietly bought and sold the lands on which the Carthaginians were encamped in the neighborhood of the Eternal City, there has been no more noble exhibition of faith in the destiny of a republic.
* The History of Federal State Aid to Higher Education. U.S. Bureau of Education, 1888.
Various features of the measure showed exceeding breadth and depth of statesmanlike feeling, and one of the strongest of them is the fact that these institutions were not put into the hands of a bureaucracy at Washington or elsewhere, but left to be developed by the good sense of each State in accordance with its necessities. The result has been that we have nearly fifty noble institutions, each suited to its environment, and to many of them individuals have given enormous sums in order to supplement the work originally contemplated."
It has often been said, as if to minimize the achievement, that Morrill “builded better than he knew”; experts in the field have declared that he “knew very little of education. His wish was ‘to do something for the farmer’”; * the implication being that the act amounted to little more than a casual bit of legislation framed to meet a political contingency. Such a view is very far astray. It mistakes the nature of the act and the nature of the man who framed it. Morrill was no specialist in education, but the experts of 1917 too easily forget how recent is the knowledge and theory from which their authority is derived and might well compare with modesty the “expert” theory of 1855 with Morrill's sound and reasonable views. t
His bill was not the work of a mere amateur or of a mind untouched by culture. From his early manhood Morrill was known as a well-read man; his friends were men of cultivation; for these he had a natural affinity; his library, and still more his modest volume, “Self-Consciousness of Noted Persons,” reveals a love of books, a sensitive taste, and a range of reading that would do credit to a professed man of letters. Along with this general basis of cultivation he pursued a special interest in education. A reference in one of his letters shows that in 1865 he had drawn up a Course of Study which he seems to have shown to some of his friends, but which has not survived. Though he lacked — and remained constantly aware of the deprivation – a university training, he had used his opportunities so well that by 1848 he had become known as an educated man and was chosen in that year to the Board of Trustees of Norwich University. He declined that election on grounds highly creditable both to his knowledge and his ideals of college education. The correspondence is enlightening, for it shows that he declined because he was not satisfied that Norwich University was exercising due discretion in granting honorary degrees and preserving her scholarly reputation. He was one of the incorporators of the University of Vermont in 1865, and served for many years on the Board of Trustees where his counsel was constantly sought and greatly valued. His correspondence with Daniel C. Gilman, of Johns Hopkins, Andrew D. White of Cornell, President Buckham of the University of Vermont, show him in full sympathy and fellowship with the company of scholars. When he came to frame his Agricultural College Act, as it was first called, he brought to the task knowledge fully abreast of his time and ideals not unworthy a scholar. He drew the bill with an earnest desire to open college doors to farmers' sons and others who lacked the means to attend the colleges then existing. And having drawn it, he supported and urged it with a zeal inspired by memory of his own thwarted hopes and with the tenacity of a true Vermonter. It took five years to make the bill a law, but he never slackened his efforts until he had brought it to pass. There is nothing casual or contingent visible here: no appeal to party convenience; no aim to catch a passing breeze of politics. Fortunately, we can clear up very fully the origin and history, the motive, and the whole course of the act; for among Morrill's papers is a record which he set down, apparently in 1874, and which, though written in pencil, shows his usual care in statement and in phrase. It throws much light on the times and on some of the actors. It brings back for a moment the scenes and actors of the Civil War period, it illustrates the rough and thorny path of a private bill in Congress, and it reveals something of Morrill's art in the conduct of legislation.
* New York Daily Tribune, Saturday, March 25, 1899. .* Henry S. Pritchett, in Carnegie Foundation Bulletin no. 10.
The idea of obtaining a land grant for the foundation of colleges I think I had formed as early as 1856. I remember to have broached the subject to Hon. William Hebard, the former member of Congress from the 2d District, and he observed that such a measure would be all very well, but that of course I could not expect it to pass. Where I obtained the first hint of such a measure, I am wholly unable to say. Such institutions had already been established in other countries and were supported by their governments, but they were confined exclusively to agriculture, and this for our people, with all their industrial aptitudes and ingenious inventions, appeared to me unnecessarily limited. If the purpose was not suggested by the well-known fact of the existence of Agricultural Schools in Europe it was supported by this fact and especially by constant reflections upon the following points, viz.: First, that the public lands of most value were being rapidly dissipated by donations to merely local and private objects, where one State alone might be benefited at the expense of the property of the Union. Second, that the very cheapness of our public lands, and the facility of purchase and transfer, tended to a system of bad-farming or strip and waste of the soil, by encouraging short occupancy and a speedy search for new homes, entailing upon the first and older settlements a rapid deterioration of the soil, which would not be likely to be arrested except by more thorough and scientific knowledge of agriculture and by a higher education of those who were devoted to its pursuit. Third, being myself the son of a hard-handed blacksmith, the most truly honest man I ever knew, who felt his own deprivation of schools (never having spent but six weeks inside of a schoolhouse), I could not overlook mechanics in any measure intended to aid the industrial classes in the procurement of an education that might exalt their usefulness.
Fourth, that most of the existing collegiate institutions and their feeders were based upon the classic plan of teaching those only destined to pursue the so-called learned professions, leaving farmers and mechanics and all those who must win their bread by labor, to the haphazard of being self-taught or not scientifically taught at all, and restricting the number of those who might be supposed to be qualified to fill places of higher consideration in private or public employments to the limited number of the graduates of the literary institutions. The thoroughly educated, being most sure to educate their sons, appeared to be perpetuating a monopoly of education inconsistent with the welfare and complete prosperity of American institutions. Fifth, that it was apparent, while some localities were possessed of abundant instrumentalities for education, both common and higher, many of the States were deficient and likely so to remain unless aided by the common fund of the proceeds of the public lands, which were held for this purpose more than any other. Upon these points and some others I had meditated long and had delved in more or less statistical information, convincing to myself but not the most attractive for a public speech, as I have often found such data, indispensable as it is to the basis of most of our legislative measures, less welcome than even very cheap rhetoric interesting to few and entertaining to none. Discreet legislators cannot get on without reliable facts. Certainly I was not clear that I could succeed in carrying through Congress the College Land Bill, but I had nearly determined to attempt it, and, like a young lover after the engagement, I sought the advice of some of the old members of the House and Senate, who almost uniformly said: “You can try, but of course it is of no use.” This would have killed the project if they had not in many instances immediately added, “It would be a grand measure, however, and so far as my vote is concerned you shall have it.” The Bill was introduced December 17, 1857, and I tried to have it referred to the Committee on Agriculture, but that was defeated and the bill was sent to the Committee on Public Lands (105 to 89), known by me to be hostile to the measure, but, if enough of those friendly to the bill could be mustered to pass it, an adverse report by that Committee, Cobb of Alabama, Chair