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I. EDUCATION:-A NATIONAL INTEREST.
IN the ordinance of the Congress of the Confederation in 1785, respecting "the disposing of lands in the Western territory," "section sixteen of every township" was reserved for the maintenance of public schools.
The ordinance of 1787, "for the government of the Territory northwest of the river Ohio," confirmed the ordinance of 1785, and declared "that religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged."
The Constitution of the United States, after setting forth in the Preamble in words of sublime import the national objects for which the people of the United States had ordained this fundamental law, expressly grants to Congress the power "to dispose" of the public lands and other property-"to exercise exclusive jurisdiction" over the district to be ceded as the seat of government-and "to lay and collect taxes, &c., to provide for the common defense and general welfare."
In the Convention of 1787, which framed the Constitution, Mr. Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, on the 29th of May and the 18th of August, and subsequently Mr. Madison, of Virginia, submitted propositions "to provide for the establishment of a National University at the seat of government," "for the advancement of useful knowledge," "and the promotion of agriculture, commerce, trades and manufactures." On the 14th of September, both of these delegates moved to insert in the list of powers vested in Congress, "to establish a university in which no preference or distinction should be allowed on account of religion." This motion was opposed by Gouverneur Morris, of New York, and was lost, as reported by Mr. Madison, expressly on the ground that the power to establish such a university was included in the grant of exclusive legislation over the district in which the government should be located. And as we learn from other sources, and from
the subsequent recommendations by President Washington, the power to encourage agriculture, trade, manufactures, and education, was understood by him, and other statesmen, to be included in the first clause of the enumerated powers of Congress "to lay taxes and to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States."
Fresh from the discussions of the Convention which framed the Constitution, of which he was the presiding officer, and called by the unanimous voice of his countrymen to inaugurate, as its chief executive, the national government, George Washington, in his first formal recommendation of special measures to both Houses of Congress, on the 8th of January, 1790, after commending further legislation for an efficient and uniform plan of military organization, as well as of a national judiciary, calls attention to the necessity of "uniformity in the currency, weights and measures;" "the advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures," "the effectual encouragement, as well as to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad, as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home;" "facilitating the intercourse between the distant parts of our country by a due attention to the post-office, and post-roads"-did not hesitate to add:
Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one, in which the measures of government receive their impres sion so immediately from the sense of the community, as in ours, it is proportionably essential. To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways; by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration, that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people; and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority, between burdens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect for the laws.
Whether this desirable object will be the best promoted by affording aid to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients, will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.
In his speech to both Houses of Congress, December 7th, 1796, after referring to the measures adopted for the encouragement of manufactures, and urging immediate attention to agriculture as a matter of individual and national welfare-and especially of constituting a board (or as has since been done, by a National Depart
ment) "charged with collecting and diffusing information, and enabled by premiums and small pecuniary aids to encourage, and assist a spirit of discovery and improvement. This species of establishment contributes doubly to the increase of improvement, by stimulating to enterprise and experiment, and by drawing to a common center the results everywhere of individual skill and observation, and spreading them thence over the whole nation"-he again returns to the expediency of establishing a national university, and also a military academy; and proceeds:
The assembly to which I address myself, is too enlightened not to be fully sensible how much a flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation. True it is, that our country contains many seminaries of learning highly respectable and useful; but the funds upon which they rest are too narrow to command the ablest professors, in the different departments of liberal knowledge for the institution contemplated, though they would be excellent auxiliaries.
Amongst the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions and manners of our countrymen, by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter, well deserves attention. The more homogeneous our citizens can be made in these particulars, the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and a primary object of such a national institution should be, the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important, and what duty more pressing in its legislation, than to patronize a plan of communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country.
In a letter addressed to Alexander Hamilton, from Philadelphia, September 1st, 1796, referring to the topics which he wished to introduce in his Farewell Address, a draft of which he had enclosed in a former letter, Washington regrets "that another subject (which in my estimation is of interesting concern to the well-being of this country) was not touched upon also;”—
I mean education generally, as one of the surest means of enlightening and giving just ways of thinking to our citizens, but particularly the establishment of a university; where the youth from all parts of the United States might receive the polish of erudition in the arts, sciences, and belles-lettres; and where those who were disposed to run a political course might not only be instructed in the theory and principles, but (this seminary being at the seat of the general government, where the legislature would be in session half the year, and the interests and politics of the nation of course would be discussed,) they would lay the surest foundation for the practical part also.
But that which would render it of the highest importance, in my opinion, is, that at the juvenile period of life, when friendships are formed, and habits established, that will stick by one, the youth, or young men from different parts of the United States would be assembled together, and would by degrees discover that there was not that cause for those jealousies and prejudices which one part of the Union had imbibed against another part:-of course sentiments of more liberality in the general policy of the country would result from it. What but mixing of people from different parts of the United States during the war rubbed off those impressions? A century, in the ordinary intercourse, would not have accomplished what the seven years' association in arms did; but that ceasing, prejudices are beginning to revive again, and never will be eradicated so effectually by any other means as the intimate intercourse of characters in early life,-who in all probability will be at the head of the counsels of this country in a more advanced stage of it.
To show that this is no new idea of mine, I may appeal to my early communications to Congress; and to prove how seriously I have reflected on it since, and how well disposed I have been, and still am, to contribute my aid toward carrying the measure into effect, I enclose you the extract of a letter from me to the Governor of Virginia, and a copy of the resolves of the legislature of that State in consequence thereof..
I have not the smallest doubt that this donation (when the navigation is in complete operation, which it certainly will be in less than two years,) will amount to £1200 or £1500 sterling a year, and become a rapidly increasing fund. The proprietors of the Federal City have talked of doing something handsome towards it likewise; and if Congress would appropriate some of the western lands to the same uses, funds sufficient, and of the most permanent and increasing sort, might be so established as to invite the ablest professors in Europe to conduct it.
In a letter to Hamilton, dated Sept. 6, 1796, Washington adds:
If you think the idea of a university had better be reserved for the speech at the opening of the session, I am content to defer the communication of it until that period; but even in that case, I would pray you, as soon as convenient, to make a draft for the occasion, predicated on the ideas with which you have been furnished; looking at the same time at what was said on this head in my second speech to the first Congress, merely with a view to see what was said on the subject at that time; and this, you will perceive, was not so much to the point as I want to express now, though it may, if proper, be glanced at, to show that the subject had caught my attention early.
I much question whether a recommendation of this measure to the legisla ture will have a better effect now than formerly. It may show, indeed, my sense of its importance, and that is a sufficient inducement with me to bring the matter before the public in some shape or another at the close of my political life. My object in proposing to insert it when I did, was to set the people ruminating on the importance of the measure, as the most likely means of bringing it to pass.
In his Farewell Address to the people of the United States, dated September 17, 1796, Washington gave utterance to that noble sentiment which has passed into an axiom of political philosophy :
Promote, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
Washington did not confine the expressions of his interest in education, and especially the establishment of a national university, to his official communications to Congress and to the people of the United States. In a letter addressed to Mr. Adams, the Vice President, dated Nov. 27, 1794, on a proposition communicated by Mr. Jefferson, for "transplanting the members entire of the University of Geneva to America," there is the following passage:
That a national university in this country is a thing to be desired, has always heen my decided opinion; and the appropriation of ground and funds for it in the Federal City has long been contemplated and talked of; but how far matured, or how far the transporting of an entire seminary of foreigners, who may not understand our language, can be assimilated therein, is more than I am prepared to give an opinion upon; or, indeed, how far funds in either case are attainable.
On 28th of January, 1795, Washington addressed from Philadelphia, the following letter to the Commissioners of the Federal District:
GENTLEMEN-A plan for the establishment of a university in the Federal City has frequently been the subject of conversation; but, in what manner it is proposed to commence this important institution, on how extensive a scale, the means by which it is to be effected, how it is to be supported, or what progress is made in it, are matters altogether unknown to me.
It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with me, that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education. Although there are doubtless many, under these circumstances, who escape the danger of contracting principles unfavorable to republican government, yet we ought to deprecate the hazard attending ardent and susceptible minds, from being too strongly and too early prepossessed in favor of other political systems, before they are capable of appreciating their own.
For this reason I have greatly wished to see a plan adopted, by which the arts, sciences, and belles-lettres could be taught in their fullest extent, thereby embracing all the advantages of European tuition, with the means of acquiring the liberal knowledge, which is necessary to qualify our citizens for the exigencies of public as well as private life; and (which with me is a consideration of great magnitude) by assembling the youth from the different parts of this rising republic, contributing from their intercourse and interchange of information to the removal of prejudices, which might perhaps sometimes arise from local circumstances.
The Federal City, from its centrality and the advantages which in other respects it must have over any other place in the United States, ought to be preferred, as a proper site for such a university. And if a plan can be adopted upon a scale as extensive as I have described, and the execution of it should commence under favorable auspices in a reasonable time, with a fair prospect of success, I will grant in perpetuity fifty shares in the navigation of the Potomac River towards the endowment of it.
What annuity will arise from these fifty shares, when the navigation is in full operation, can at this time be only conjectured; and those, who are acquainted with it, can form as good a judgment as myself.
As the design of this university has assumed no form with which I am acquainted, and as I am equally ignorant who the persons are, who have taken or are disposed to take the maturing of the plan upon themselves, I have been at a loss to whom I should make this communication of my intentions. If the Commissioners of the Federal City have any particular agency in bringing the matter forward, then the information, which I now give to them, is in its proper course. If, on the other hand, they have no more to do in it than others, who may be desirous of seeing so important a measure carried into effect, they will be so good as to excuse my using them as the medium for disclosing these my intentions; because it appears necessary, that the funds for the establishment and support of the institution should be known to the promoters of it; and I see no mode more eligible for announcing my purpose.
In February, 1795, Mr. Jefferson addressed from Monticello a letter to President Washington, in reference to a proposition of M. D'Ivernois, and the Professors of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, to remove in a body to the United States, and establish here a University, "comprehending a College of Languages, preparatory to the principal one of Sciences, and also a third one for the gratuitous teaching of reading and writing to the poor." Mr. Jefferson, in view of a previous communication from Washington, as to his intention to aid by testamentary devise, the establishment of a National University, thinks the acceptance of this proposition, with modifications, will give "the institution at the outset such éclat, and such solid advantages, as would insure a very general concourse