Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

political opponent at home if he were not the author of the free school system which taxed the rich for the benefit of the poor. Duncan acknowledged that he had introduced the bill, and had supported it with uncommon zeal, in the belief that it would be found beneficial to the state, but he did not say that he had formulated its principles.

Governor Coles was an enthusiastic advocate, if not the author, of the bill. Coles was having a bitter personal and political fight over slavery. Southern sympathizers sued him for liberating the slaves that he had brought to Illinois from Virginia. The basis for the damage claim was that other slave owners would be influenced to do likewise. Coles was burned in effigy in many towns of southern Illinois on account of his powerful anti-slavery influence. Hence, it seems likely that General Duncan, a long-time resident of the state as well as a successful Indian fighter, was put forward to introduce the bill with the least likelihood of opposition.

Moreover, Governor Coles was the type of man from whom such a bill was most likely to eminate. He was a Virginian of the aristocracy, the secretary to James Madison, a special ambassador to Russia, and personally acquainted with the leading statesmen of his day. Several letters were exchanged between Coles and Jefferson, who were personal acquaintances, on the subjects of slavery and education. To free his slaves, Coles went to Illinois. But he also had in mind Jefferson's ideals of raising the lot of the common white man.

In Governor Coles' paper, just after the free school law was passed, appeared a great deal of material on the subject of free education. The purpose of those writings was evidently in support of the establishment of an educational system for the poor man. The first article worthy of notice was an excerpt from the fourth annual report of the acting superintendent of the common schools in the state of New York. It showed the legislature of that state how much money was paid out of the state treasury, how much was raised from the local school fund, and how much was raised by tax, all for the common schools. How many children were being taught, and how much money was being appropriated, showed the impor

• Spectator, May 27, 1826.

tance of the common school system and the wisdom and magnanimity of the legislature.”

That article was valuable data in showing the same principles of support for public education in operation in New York, the same principles having been established by the law of 1825.

The next article, on the ignorance of the peasantry of France, should be interpreted as showing the necessity for free common education, before republican liberty and the elective franchise could mean anything to the people of Illinois.

“The Peasantry of France are extremely ignorant. Whole villages may be found, where not more than three or four can read. Even in the immediate vicinity of Paris, and within the echoes of the legislative debates, there are towns in which not three newspapers are taken, and those not by persons who actually belong to the people. The eloquent pleas for liberty are of no effect, for they are not heard by the mass of the nation. Hence no general political spirit exists, except when the popularity of individuals is concerned, or as taxes of the state affect private interest, and national attention can hardly be directed to refined questions on the management of the elections and the free expression of opinion. So great is the popular ignorance, that the most liberal policies have even advocated the very wide extension of the elective franchise, believing it to be first necessary to educate the nation.

Finally, a long third article was the statement of Thomas Jefferson's plan for a system of education. Since it eminated from “the greatest sage and most philanthropic statesman of the age," so the introduction said, the plan was worthy of consideration by the people of Illinois.

Judging from Coles' messages to the legislature, and his publication of Jefferson's plan for the establishment of a complete system of education through the university, it was probable that Coles planned for a similar system in Illinois. The first step was the creation of the free school system, which, of course, was the common school. The supervisory power of the primary schools should rest with the college, a secondary institution with jurisdiction over a territory of

[ocr errors]

,

6 Intelligencer, March 4, 1825. & Intelligencer, March 4, 1825.

about eighty miles square. All of the colleges of the state should be controlled by a single university, as the administrative authority, and providing the highest scientific and literary opportunities. Jefferson's ideas of a university were similar to the French organization of higher education. However, Jefferson argued for a free system of common schools, the support of which was to come from those who were able to pay a tax:

And will the wealthy individual have no retribution? And what will this be? i. The peopling his neighborhood with honest, useful and enlightened citizens, understanding their own rights and firm in their perpetuation; 2. When his own descendants became poor, which they generally do within three generations, (no law of primogeniture now perpetuating wealth in the same families) their children will be educated by the then rich, and the little advance he now makes, while rich himself will be repaid by the then rich, to his descendants when they become poor, and thus give them a chance of rising again. This is a solid consideration and should go down to the bosom of every parent. This will be a seed sowed in fertile ground. It is a provision for his family, looking to distant times, and far beyond what he now has in hand for them. Let every man count backward before he comes to the ancestor who made the fortune he now holds; most will be stopped at the first generation, many at the second, a few will reach the third, and not one in the state go beyond the fifth Where is the man whose heart is so cold as not to grow warm at the recital of youths like these?"'?

Only little evidence has come to light to show whether any free school districts were ever established. Certainly, there are no published records of the treasurer showing that any money was appropriated out of the state funds for the support of free schools in any district under the law of 1825. There might have been, however, quite a few districts established for a short time, and then abandoned. Governor Ford, in his history of Illinois, stated that the law worked well and then contradicted himself by saying that there was much opposition to it. The Sangamo Journal, February 9,

[ocr errors]

• The main difference is that Jefferson's ideas antedated the French ideas by 25 years.

* Intelligencer, March 11, 1825.

The prac

[ocr errors]

1832, said that it was not known that society ever received any benefits whatever from the plan adopted in 1825, which was not approved by the people. A little later, the same paper made a similar statement about this law: “On the 15th of January, 1825, an act was passed to provide for the establishment of free schools. This act was accompanied with a very complaisant and graceful introduction, but the free schools were to be sustained only by a tax levied upon the district and disbursed by six or eight officers. ticability of this plan, I think, has never been tested, and, I would suppose, for very good reasons.'

Pushing the search for evidence further, one was induced to investigate some of the very few surviving county commissioner court records of that time. For the law provided that, on petition of a majority of the legal voters of the county to the above named court, a free school district should be laid out, and a tax levied for the support of education in that district. If such districts had been established, the record of their creation would probably have been entered in the court journal.

On examination, the court journal of Madison county for · 1825, showed that five free school districts had been established in the county. Also, the same record provided for the taking of the census in the county as provided by the free school law in order to determine the amount of appropriation to be made by the state to Madison county.

The free districts established in Madison county were Alton, Edwardsville, Ebeneezer, Silver Creek, and Wood River. The record defined the boundaries of the districts following the petitions of people in those districts. The court orders of which the Alton district was an example, were put in these words: “A petition this day filed for the purpose of establishing free schools in pursuance of an act of the general assembly, approved Jan. 15, 1825, it is therefore ordered that a school district be established to be called and known by the name of the Alton District containing the following limits, viz.: To commence on the Mississippi River at the mouth of Wood River and to run up the latter river, to where the sectional line between fractional sections 18 and 19 in Town 5

•Sang. Jr., Dec. 14. 1833.

North, in Range 9 West of the third principle meridian intersects it; thence East on the said sectional line to the sectional line between sections 16 and 17 of Town aforesaid ; thence North on said line to the North boundary of said Town; thence West on said boundary line to the Mississippi River, and thence down said river to the place of beginning. Ordered by County Commissioner Court at Edwardsville." o

The creation of those school districts, however, does not prove that schools were actually in operation in these districts and the establishment of free schools in them, should be had for all the older counties, but only a very few records have been preserved. The attitude of the people of the counties on public laws and questions of the day was expressed and registered in the court proceedings. Petitions and opinions of opposition on nearly every subject imaginable were inserted in the county records. Evidently, at least in Madison county, there was little opposition to the law of 1825 because not one objection to it was raised in these records.

Moreover, the newspapers published at Edwardsville had practically no opposition to the creation of free school districts and the law of 1825. At about the same time, as the establishing of the free school district, a parent expressed the hope that schools would soon be in operation: “It has become fashionable of late to declaim on the advantages of education. Every one who wishes to be thought a patriot, a good citizen, or a man of sense, talks loudly of the importance of a system of general education, as a grand means of perpetuating our civil liberties, and improving our moral condition."

“Now, I have no disposition to check the ardor of these patriotic orators and writers; only, I wish it may not end in declamation. Our children will gain but little useful knowledge from most eloquent harangues in favor of schools if there be no schools established. It were a thousand pities that so many fine productions should be lost to posterity; that the authors should receive none of that posthumous reward, the applause and gratitude if succeeding generations could not read them.'10 The writer continued to say that the tax was not sufficient to provide all the advantages desired for a free education.

• Madison Co. Court Rec., 1825, June Term, p. 152. 30 Spectator, July 30, 1825.

« AnteriorContinuar »