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Home :: Morrill Act
Justin Smith Morrill Abraham Lincoln
Today, July 2, 2012, is the sesquincentennial anniversary of Abraham Lincoln signing the Morrill Land-grant Act of 1862, which provided grants of land to each state to establish a public college to teach agriculture, the mechanical arts, and humanities to the sons and daughters of the working classes.
Proposed by then Rep. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, the legislation was passed by Congress after initially failing in 1858. Below is a portion of the speech Morrill gave on the House floor in support of the bill in April 1858:
It is our province, as a nation and as individuals, to do well whatever we undertake. The genius and skill of our artists and artisans have been universally commended. Our naval architecture is a subject of national pride. Our agricultural implements are beyond the reach of competition. Yet, while we may be in advance of the civilized world in many of the useful arts, it is a humiliating fact that we are far in the rear of the best husbandry in Europe.
Many foreign States support a population vastly larger per square mile than we maintain, but, by the system of husbandry generally pursued here, the land is held until it is robbed of its virtue, skimmed of its cream.
Our population is rapidly increasing, and brings annually increased demands for bread and clothing. If we can barely meet this demand while we have fresh soils to appropriate, we shall early reach the point of our decline and fall. The nation which tills the soil so as to leave it worse than they found it, is doomed to decay and degradation.
We have schools to teach the art of man slaying and to make masters of "deep-throated engines" of war; and shall we not have schools to teach men the way to feed, clothe, and enlighten the great brotherhood of man? It is just on the part of statesmen and legislators, just on the part of other learned professions, that they should aid to elevate the class upon whom they lean for support, and upon whom they depend for their audience.
Concerted effort is necessary to educate and elevate whole nations. That effort is being made abroad with governmental aid in the lead. Here, in the "model Republic," where a free republican government is installed to guard the general welfare, no such effort is being made.
Farmers will not be cheated longer by unsustained speculations. The test of the field must follow and verify that of the laboratory. The half-bushel and the balance must prove the arithmetic. The result must support the theory. They want substance and not a shadow - bread and not a stone. They know well there is a vast force of agricultural labor hitherto misapplied, muscles that sow where they do not reap, and they demand light - demand to have their arms unpinioned! What has been an art merely to supply physical wants must become a science.
Let us have such colleges as may rightfully claim the authority of teachers to announce facts and fixed laws, and to scatter, broadcast that knowledge which will prove useful in building up a great nation - great in its resources of wealth and power, but greatest of all in the aggregate of its intelligence and virtue.
We need to test the natural capability of soils and the power of different fertilizers; the relative value of different grasses for flesh, fat, and milk-giving purposes; the comparative value of grain, roots, and hay, for wintering stock; the value of a bushel of corn, oats, peas, carrots, potatoes, or turnips, in pounds of beef, pork, or mutton; deep plowing as well as drainage; the vitality and deterioration of seeds; breeds of animals; remedies for the potato disease and for all tribes of insects destructive to cotton, wheat, and fruit crops. These, and many more, are questions of scientific interest even beyond their economical importance in the researches of the agriculturist.
More than four fifths of our population are engaged in agricultural and mechanical employments. This vast number out of thirty millions of people now, to be increased to fifty millions in less than twenty years, will forever furnish an inexhaustible supply of pupils who will not forsake their calling. Is it not of grave importance to give this vast force an intelligent direction?
While agriculture has been a neglected field of legislation, it does not now call for the exercise of novel constitutional power. Congress has long asserted the right to dispose of the public kinds to establish school funds and universities, and no one now questions the soundness of such a policy.
Pass this measure and we shall have done:
Something to enable the farmer to raise two blades of grass instead of one;
Something for every owner of land;
Something for all who desire to own land;
Something for cheap scientific education;
Something for every man who loves intelligence and not ignorance;
Something to induce the father's sons and daughters to settle and duster around the old homesteads;
Something to remove the last vestige of pauperism from our land;
Something to obtain higher prices for all sorts of agricultural productions; and
Something to increase the loveliness of the American landscape.
Many of our wisest statesmen have denounced our general land system as a prolific source of corruption; but what corruption can flow from endowing agricultural colleges? Here is neither profligacy nor waste, but a measure of justice and beneficence. I ask, in all candor, what man is there in the whole length and breadth of our country, who would not prefer, if he could have his choice, such an education as might be obtained at one of these colleges?
The persuasive arguments of precedents; the example of our worthiest rivals in Europe; the rejuvenation of worn-out lands; the petitions of farmers everywhere, yearning for "a more excellent way;" philanthropy, supported by our own highest interests - all these considerations impel us for once to do something for agriculture worthy of its national importance.
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