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THE ORIGIN OF THE SYSTEM OF LAND GRANTS

FOR EDUCATION.'

INTRODUCTION.

When the Continental Congress, shortly before the adoption of the Constitution, set in operation its plan of colonizing the public domain, it followed the policy of making grants of wild lands for the support of schools. An ordinance passed in 1785 provided for the survey and sale of seven ranges of townships in the Ohio country, and in each township section number sixteen was to be reserved for the support of schools.

Two years later the same congress, as one of its last and certainly one of its most notable acts, established the Ordinance of 1787, for the government of the Ohio territory. It contained the famous declaration, 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." The federal land grants for higher and common education made to the Ohio Company are contemporary interpretations of this declaration.

The policy thus announced and defined by the old congress was adopted and continued by its federal successor; and under it state after state has been erected in the expanding national domain, each endowed with a vast public property dedicated to the support of common schools. The influence of such endowments on the development of the state systems of education cannot well be over estimated. They have formed centers of state interest and activity along educational lines. The land grant guaranteed a school fund, which brought education necessarily under state control. This centralization in turn, led to a prompt and vigorous development of school systems, even in states where the carly environment was unfavorable to educational progress. These grants lave not always been wisely applied ;it would be strange if they had been. But the general result, it may safely be asserted, has been to impart a vastly greater efficiency to the educational effort of the past century.”

1 This paper was submitted for the degree of M. L. in the University of Wisconsin, 1899.

This is a complete justification of the high praise always bestowed on the framers of the Ordinance of 1785 for their wisdom in incorporating in it the school reservation principle, and on the framers of the Ordinance of 1787 for their declaration. It justifies also the careful investigations that have been made in order to determine the exact means by which the educational clause was engrafted upon the ordinances of 1785 and 1787.4

But in regard to a policy which has been so fruitful in results it is desirable to know more than this. We wish to know, for example, from what source the statesmen of this period derived the idea of land grants for education; whether it came to them in the form of a “happy suggestion," as seems so often to be taken for granted, or whether it was the result of colonial experience. If the latter, just what and how far reaching were the customs which involved the principle of land grants? Lastly, assuming that the idea was involved in well defined local customs, how was it brought to the attention of the national legislators in a way to induce them to embody it in the ordinances ?

These are the problems of the present paper. The investigation quickly revealed the fact that the idea was not a new one in

? On "The History and Management of Land Grants for Education in the Northwest Territory," see knight, G. W., Papers of the American Historical Association, volume 1 (1885).

3 When we reflect that without the stimulus of the land grants state control of education would probably, in some cses, have been long deferred, and that then the local units would have been left to follow their own inclinations in the matter, we begin to realize the importance of these grants incorporated in the acts establishing new states, Observation and history prove that in a large number of communities the state law has often been the sole means of keeping the public schools alive.

* This task has been successfully performed by Dr. Knight in the monograph cited above.

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