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On the 16th of March, 1795, Washington addressed the following letter to Gov. Brooke of Virginia
SIR:—Ever since the General Assembly of Virginia were pleased to submit to my disposal titty shares in the Potomac, and one hundred in the James River Company, it has been my anxious desire to appropriate them to an object most worthy of public regard.
It is with indescribable regret, that I have seen the youth of the United States migrating to foreign countries, in order to acquire the higher branches of erudition, and to obtain a knowledge of the sciences. Although it would be injustice to many to pronounce the certainty of their imbibing maxims not congenial with republicanism, it must nevertheless be admitted, that a serious danger is encountered by sending abroad among other political systems those who have not well learned the value of their own.
The time is therefore come, when a plan of universal education ought to be adopted in the United States. Not only do the exigencies of public and private life demand it, but, if it should ever be apprehended, that prejudice would be entertained in one part of the Union against another, an efficacious remedy will be, to assemble the youth of every part under such circumstances as will
, by the freedom of intercourse and collision of sentiment, give to their minds the direction of truth, philanthropy, and mutual conciliation.
It has been represented, that a university corresponding with these ideas is contemplated to be built in the Federal City, and that it will receive considerable endowments. This position is so eligible from its centrality, so convenient 1o Virginia, by whose legislature the shares were granted and in which part of the Federal District stands, and combines so many other conveniences, that I have determined to vest the Potomac shares in that university.
Presuming it to be more agreeable to the General Assembly of Virginia, that the shares in the James River Company should be reserved for a similar object in some part of that State, I intend to allot them for a seminary to be erected at such place as they shall deem most proper. I am disposed to believe, that a seminary of learning upon an enlarged plan, but yet not coming up to the full idea of a university, is an institution to be preferred for the position which is to be chosen. The students, who wish to pursue the whole range of science, may pass with advantage from the seminary to the university, and the former by a due relation may be rendered coöperative with the latter.
I can not however dissemble my opinion, that if all the shares were conferred on a university, it would become far more important, than when they are divided; and I have been constrained from concentering them in the same place, merely by my anxiety to reconcile a particular attention to Virginia with a great good, in which she will abundantly share in common with the rest of the. United States.
I must beg the favor of your Excellency to lay this letter before that honorable body, at their next session, in order that I may appropriate the James River shares to the place which they may prefer. They will at the same time again accept my acknowledgments for the opportunity, with which they have favored me, of attempting to supply so important a desideratum in the United States as a university adequate to our necessity, and a preparatory seminary.
This letter was accordingly communicated to the Assembly at their next session, when the following resolves were passed :
IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES, December 1st, 1795. Whereas the migration of American youth to foreign countries, for the completion of their education, exposes them to the danger of imbibing political prejudices disadvantageous to their own republican forms of government, and ought therefore to be rendered unnecessary and avoided ;
Resolved, that the plan contemplated of erecting a university in the Federal City, where the youth of the several States may be assembled, and their course of education finished, deserves the countenance and support of each State.
And whereas, when the General Assembly presented sundry shares in the James River and Potomac Companies to George Washington, as a small token of their gratitude for the great, eminent, and unrivaled services he had rendered to this Commonwealth, to the United States, and the world at large, in support of the principles of liberty and equal government, it was their wish and desire that he should appropriate them as he might think best; and whereas, the present General Assembly retain the same high sense of his virtues, wisdom, and patriotism ;
Resolred, therefore, that the appropriation by the said George Washington of the aforesaid shares in the Potomac Company to the university, intended to be erected in the Federal City, is made in a manner most worthy of public regard, and of the approbation of this Commonwealth.
Resolied, also, that he be requested to appropriate the aforesaid shares in the James River Company to a seminary at such place in the upper country, as he may deem most convenient to a majority of the inhabitants thereof.
The following are provisions of Washington's last Will:
-As it has always been a source of serious regret with me to see the youth of these United States sent to foreign countries for the purposes of education, often before their minds were formed, or they had imbibed any adequate ideas of the happiness of their own; contracting, too frequently, not only habits of dissipation and extravagance, but principles unfriendly to republican government, and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind, which thereafter are rarely overcome; for these reasons it has been my ardent wish to see a plan devised on a liberal scale, which would have a tendefcy to spread systematic ideas through all parts of this rising empire, thereby to do away local attachments and State prejudices, as far as the nature of things would, or indeed ought to admit, from our national councils. Looking anxiously forward to the accomplishment of so desirable an object as this is in my' estimation), my mind has not been able to contemplate any plan more likely to affect the measure, than the establishment of a University in a central part of the United States, to which youths of fortune and talents from all parts thereof may be sent for the completion of their education in all branches of polite literature, in arts and sciences, in acquiring knowledge in the principles of politics and good gove ernment; and, as a matter of infinite importance in my judgment, by associating with each other, and forming friendships in juvenile years, be enabled to free themselves in a proper degree from those local prejudices and habitual jealousies, which have just been mentioned, and which, when carried to excess, are never-failing sources of disquietude to the public mind, and pregnant with mischievous consequences to the country. Under these impressions,
I give and bequeath in perpetuity the fifty shares which I hold in the Potomac Company (under the aforesaid acts of the Legislature of Virginia,) towards the endowment of a university to be established within the limits of the District of Columbia, under the auspices of the general government, if that government should incline to extend a fostering hand towards it; and until such seminary is established, and the funds arising on these shares be required for its support, my further will and desire is, that the profit aceruing therefrom shall, whenever the dividends are made, be laid out in purchasing stock in the bank of Columbia, or some other bank, at the discretion of my executors, or by the treasurer of the United States for the time being, under the direction of Congress, provided that honorable body should patronize the measure; and the dividends proceeding therefrom are to be vested in more stock, and so on until a sum adequate to the accomplishment of the object is obtained, of which I have not the smallest doubt before many years pass away, even if no aid or encouragement is given by legislative authority, or from any other source.
The hundred shares, which I hold in the James River Company, I have given, and now confirm, in perpetuity, to and for the use and benefit of Liberty Hall Academy, in the county of Rockbridge, in the commonwealth of Virginia.
We shall continue this Historical Development of the National Aspects of Education through successive administrations, down to the action of Congress at its last session-with a notice of which we introduce a speech from Gen. Garfield on the subject.
II. EDUCATION—A NATIONAL INTEREST.
SPEECH OF JAMES A. GARFIELD OF OHIO, IN THE HOUSE OF
REPRESENTATIVES, JUNE 8TH, 1866, ON A Bill “To EstaBLISH A NATIONAL BUREAU OF EDUCATION," REPORTED BY THE SELECT COMMITTEE* ON THE MEMORIAL OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS.
At the conclusion of a general discussion of the bill, the previous question upon the bill and the pending amendments was demanded and seconded, and the main question ordered ;
Mr. GARFIELD spoke as follows: I did intend to make a somewhat elaborate statement of the reasons why the select committee recommended the passage of this bill; but I know the anxiety that many gentlemen feel to have this debate concluded, and to allow the private bills now on the calendar and set for this day, to be disposed of, and to complete as soon as possible the work of this session. I will, therefore, abandon my original purpose and restrict myself to a brief statement of a few leading points in the argument, and leave the decision with the House. I hope this waiving of a full discussion of the bill will not be construed into a confession that it is inferior in importance to any measure before the House; for I know of none that has a nobler object, or that more vitally affects the future of this nation.
I first ask the House to consider the magnitude of the interests involved in this bill. The very attempt to discover the amount of pecuniary and personal interest we have in our schools shows the necessity of such a law as is here proposed. I have searched in vain for any complete or reliable statistics showing the educational condition of the whole country. The estimates I have made are gathered from various sources and can only be approximately correct. I am satisfied, however, that they are far below the truth.
Even by the incomplete and imperfect educational statistics of the
*The Committee consisted of Garfield of Ohio, Patterson of New Hampshire, Boutwell of Massachusetts, Donnelly of Minnesota, Moulton of Illinois, Goodyear of New York, and Randall, of Pennsylvania
Census Bureau, it appears that in 1860, there were in the United States 115,224 common schools, 500,000 school officers, 150,241 teachers, and 5,477,037 scholars; thus showing that more than six millions of the people of the United States are directly engaged in the work of education.
Not only has this large proportion of our population been thus engaged, but the Congress of the United States has given fifty-three million acres of public lands to fourteen States and Territories of the Union for the support of schools. In the old ordinance of 1785, it was provided that one section of every township, one thirty-sixth of all the public lands of the United States, should be set apart and held forever sacred to the support of the schools of the country. In the ordinance of 1787, it was declared that “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
It is estimated that at least $50,000,000 have been given in the United States by private individuals for the support of schools. We have thus an interest, even pecuniarily considered, hardly second to iany other. We have tolerably complete school' statistics from only :seventeen States of the Union.
Our Congressional Library contains no educational reports whatever from the remaining nineteen. In those seventeen States there are 90,835 schools, 190,000 teachers, 5,107,285 pupils, and $34,000,000 annually appropriated by the Legislatures for the support and maintenance of common schools. Notwithstanding the great expenditures entailed upon them during five years of war, they raised by taxation $34,000,000 annually for the support of common schools. In several States of the Union more than fifty per cent. of all the tax, imposed for State purposes, is for the support of common schools. And yet, gentlemen are impatient because we wish to occupy a short time in considering this bill!
I will not trouble the House by repeating common-places so familiar to every gentleman here, as that our system of government is based upon the intelligence of the people. But I wish to suggest that there never has been a time when all our educational forces should be in such perfect activity as at the present day.
Ignorance-stolid ignorance-is not our most dangerous enemy. There is very little of that kind of ignorance among the white population of this country.
In the Old World, among the despotic governments of Europe, the
great disfranchised class—the pariahs of political and social life—are indeed ignorant, mere inert masses, moved upon and controlled by the intelligent and cultivated aristocracy. Any unrepresented and hopelessly disfranchised class in a government will inevitably be struck with intellectual paralysis. Our late slaves afford a sad illustration.
But among the represented and voting classes of this country, where all are equal before the law, and every man is a political power for good or evil, there is but little of the inertia of ignorance. The alternatives are not education or no education ; but shall the power of the citizen be directed aright towards industry, liberty, and patriotism, or, under the baneful influence of false theories and evil influences, shall it lead him continually downward till it ruin both him and the government?
If he is not educated in the school of virtue and integrity he will be educated in the school of vice and iniquity. We are, therefore, afloat on the sweeping current; we must make head against it, or we shall go down with it to the saddest of destinies.
According to the census of 1860 there were 1,218,311 free white inhabitants of the United States over twenty-one years
who could not read nor write, and 871,418 of those were American-born citizens. One-third of a million of people are being annually thrown upon our shores from the Old World, a large per cent. of whom are uneducated, and the gloomy total has been swelled by the 4,000,000 slaves admitted to citizenship by the events of the war.
Such, Sir, is the immense force which we must now confront by the genius of our institutions and the light of our civilization. How shall it be done ? An American citizen can give but one answer. We must pour upon them all the light of our public schools. We must make them intelligent, industrious, patriotic citizens, or they will drag us and our children down to their level. Does not this question rise to the full height of national importance and demand the best efforts of statesmanship to adjust it? Mr. Mann has well said:
“That legislators and rulers are responsible.
“In our country and in our times no man is worthy the honored name of a statesman who does not include the highest practicable education of the people in all of his plans of administration.
“He may have eloquence, he may have a knowledge of all history, diplomacy, jurisprudence, and by these he may claim, in other countries, the elevated rank of a statesman, but unless he speaks, plans, labors at all times and in all places for the culture and edification of the whole people, he is not, he cannot be an American statesman."