Page images

Ex-President White in the Forum (February, 1889) presents strong arguments in favor of a national university at the seat of government for the encouragement of advanced learning. It is not urged that this should necessarily be supported or controlled by the Government. Whether endowed and supported by private benevolence, or supported and controlled by the State, it could not fail, with the advantages and şurroundings of Washington to render a great service to the nation at large and to the United States Government in particular. At least, the Government might make the way plain for a better education of its civil servants. "What is needed, however," says Professor H. B. Adams, "in all our States and in the Nation's capital is the promotion of the higher political education in practical ways. There is in these times as great need of special knowledge in civil science as in military or naval science. A civil academy for the training of representative American youth would be as great a boon to the American people as the Military and Naval Academies have already proved.”1

Returning from this subject, upon which scores of far-sighted men have uttered powerful and convincing arguments, let us take a final survey of the subject of State education, as presented in this paper. Let us first notice that the facts before us show a vast amount of weak and misdirected legislation in the management of the funds granted by the Federal Government and the several States for carrying on institutions of learning. There are exceptions to this generalization, but they are not abundant. There is no need to look further for a plea for better civil education in affairs of administration. There is one redeeming feature; the great majority of legislators of the States. seeing the profligate waste of school funds hitherto, are now rallying to the support of State institutions, and are seemingly determined to redeem the errors of the past by careful legislation in the present and future.

By the first grant of the General Government of lands for seminaries of learning (1787), the new Territories and States of the South and West were suddenly impelled to plant universities in the wilderness. There was accompanying this idea a sentiment held by the early and later colonists that a university is necessary for the proper support of primary and secondary schools; or, as Charles Francis Adams says, "Educational science teaches that educational improvements work from the top downward, not from the bottom upward." However true this may be, it is impossible to have a higher institution of learning without first having suitable preparatory schools. The common schools in the United States have always produced the best results when the means of higher education have been most efficient, and the schools of lower grade have been inefficient and feeble where academies, colleges and universities have been wanting. But these feeble beginnings must first be made in new countries.

For the two reasons mentioned above, the lawgivers of new States

1 1 College of William and Mary, 75, 76.

hastened to plant universities, which had to pass through long periods of inactivity and meager support (from twenty to fifty years), during which the handling of the funds, in many instances, was a wild experiment. It will be noticed, further, that the last twenty years have wrought great changes in the treatment of the subject of State education. Wholesome improvements are now being made. This impetus to education is partly due to the light of experience, and partly to the influence of the Congressional grant in 1862. There is also to be taken into account the fact that all of the schools, both private and public, of the South and West are crowded beyond their capacity; that is, beyond their capacity to furnish a liberal education, or even to give students what they demand. With all of their endowments and support, but few institutions are able, for want of resources, to come up to the full measure of education as laid down in their catalogues and registers.

The influence of German education is to be noticed in many of the Western universities. It entered first into Michigan University, and has been copied by other institutions. The Michigan system consists of a central university, supported by a series of high schools throughout the Commonwealth, all under the supervision of the State. This system can never be perfectly developed in the United States, owing to the facts that the State does not control all education, and that there is a tendency to throw upon local administration the responsibility of supporting secondary education. Yet much is being accomplished, and that university which attends best to the development of academies and colleges throughout the State will soonest realize the ideal of a true university. The influence of the German education is also to be ob served in the "practical" tendency of American universities in widening the curriculum so as to embrace branches more directly bearing upon modern industries. Upon the whole, this policy seems to be established in the majority of the States. Huxley's well known dictum may be here recalled: "No system of public education is worth the name of national unless it creates a great educational ladder, with one end in the gutter and the other in the university.". Let the State see to it that the zealous climber of that ladder finds a real university when he arrives at the top.


The ideas of Washington respecting a national university at the capital lingered long in the minds of statesmen after his plan was finally rejected. Doubtless it was through his influence that in 1796 a proposition was before Congress in the form of a memorial praying for the foundation of a university. No action was taken in favor of the proposed institution.1

Again in 1811 a committee was appointed by Congress to report on

Ex. Doc., 4th Congress, 2d session.

the question of the establishment of a seminary of learning by the national legislature. The committee reported unfavorably, deeming it unconstitutional for the Government to found, endow, and control the proposed seminary.'

In 1816 another committee was appointed to consider the same subject, and again the scheme failed." From this time on the subject seemed practically settled, and we hear little more of it in legislative circles until the discussion of the disposal of the Smithsonian bequest. At this time there were many warm advocates of the proposal to devote the Smithsonian fund toward the founding of a national university. The subject at this time received free discussion, and the result ended in the defeat of the university plan. While the plan for a national university has not yet succeeded, Congress has established and supported the National Museum, the Congressional Library, the National Observatory, and the Bureau of Education, for the promotion of education and science.


An attempt to found a national university was made in 1873, soon after the circulation of the reports of the Paris Exposition.

The comparative results of the Exposition were the chief cause of the revival of the old university idea. The Exposition had revealed this fact to the commissioners, that the poorly-endowed, half-equipped American universities compared very unfavorably with the well-endowed, fully-equipped European universities. The American spirit was aroused, and there was a determination on the part of those interested in the affair to build a great American university that would equal those of Europe.

Others besides the commissioners felt the need of an institution of this nature. Dr. Thomas Hill, on retiring from Harvard in 1868, had said that “a true American university is a national want.” The rise of Cornell and other universities, and the free discussion of the subject, showed a dissatisfaction in the condition of affairs at that time.

Commissioner John W. Hoyt reported on the Paris Exposition to Congress, in part, as follows: "To tell the plain truth, the very best of our many universities are but sorry skeletons of the well-developed and shapely institutions they ought to be, and must become, before they will be fairly entitled to rank among the foremost universities of even this present day. And if we are not always to suffer the contempt of European scholars, who properly enough regard us as a clever but also a very uncultured people, it is time that all true lovers of learning, as well as all who desire the highest prosperity and glory of our country, should awake to the importance of at once providing the means of a profounder, broader, and higher culture in every department of human learning.

1 Ex. Doc., 11th Congress, 3d session.

2 Ex Doc., 14th Congress, 2d session.

3 The National Naval Observatory now stands on "University Square," the location fixed upon by Washington for the national university.

[ocr errors]

Let us have, without further delay, at least one real university on the American Continent."1

In 1873 Mr. Hoyt was a member of the Congressional committee appointed to report on a national university. The committee, after considering the conditions of education in America and the endowments of colleges, reported the following reasons why a national university should be founded, viz: (1) That none has, or is likely to have for a century to come, resources essential to the highest and most complete university work. (2) That none can be made so entirely free from objection on both denominational and local grounds as to insure the patronage of the people regardless of sectional or partisan relation. (3) That no institution not established on neutral ground, or other than national in the important sense of being established by the people of the whole nation and in part by a national end, could possibly meet all of the essential demands made upon it."

2 The bill reported at this time provided for a university at the capital, endowed by the Federal Government to the amount of twenty million dollars, yielding 5 per cent interest; the income to be used for buildings, furnishings, and for the general support of the university. It is hardly necessary to state that the bill did not pass.

It is not intended to discuss the question of a national university, but attention should be called to the great changes that have taken place in higher education in the last fifteen, years.

The old colleges have broadened their courses and increased their endowments. State universities have come into power during this period, and the agricultural colleges, many of them then begun, have developed into flourishing institutions of learning. There has arisen a new class of universities, created by heavy private endowments; such are Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Tulane, Clark, Boston, Stanford, and others. With these new additions and the progress of the old schools, many of the evils complained of in the above report have disappeared. Whether these new institutions, working with the old, will fill the national demands for education, and thus render a national university unnecessary remains to be seen. It is evident that it is not an easy task to create a national university.


Report on Education, U. S. Commission, Paris Exposition, VI. John W. Hoyt deserves great credit for his observations of higher education abroad.

House Report No. 89, 42d Congress, third session, I, 90.




The first western boundary of the United States was the Mississippi River, and to this boundary the original States extended their claims. There were many conflicting claims, in the settlement of which there seemed to be a prospect of great contention. However, a plan was entertained by the leaders of the nation to cede to Congress this vast territory, to be used as a means of payment of the war debt. The States were invited to make concessions, and were assured that any lands thus ceded would be used for the common national benefit, and be formed into States as soon as expedient, similar to the original thirteen. One after another the States gave up their claims on slightly varying conditions.2

While the proposition of Virginia to cede all of her lands north of the Ohio River, on certain conditions, to the United States was before Congress, a measure was on foot in New England to form a State in the territory between Lake Erie and the Ohio River, to be settled by "army veterans and their families." Col. Timothy Pickering drew up a plan of government of the prospective State,3 and Rufus Putnam prepared a petition signed by soldiers and forwarded the same to Congress through General Washington. This petition is important, because it contains the first mention of a national reserve of lands for the support of education.

The plan proposed that, after lands had been devoted to the payment of soldiers for services in the war, the remaining lands should belong to the State, to be used in "laying out roads, building bridges, erecting public buildings, establishing schools and academies, defraying expenses of the Government, and other public uses." In Mr. Putnam's letter to Washington he urged the reservation of portions of the land for schools. and the ministry. Nothing direct came of this project, although its indirect influence in shaping affairs was considerable.

1 For a full discussion, see Knight's Land Grants for education in the North-West Territory; Sato's History of the Land Question in the United States.

2 New York gave up her claims in 1781; Virginia, in 1784; Massachusetts, in 1785; Connecticut, in 1786.

3 Pickering, I, 457, 546.

4 Life of Pickering, I, 546.


« PreviousContinue »