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counties, a typical resolution from which is this: “Resolved, That Common Schools should be free to all, both black and white, and being thus free and accessible to the poor as well as the rich, neither rich nor poor should be allowed to deprive their children of the means of a Good Common School Education."18
Of course, the common, though true and sincere, arguments advanced, were that free institutions could only succeed by free schools. “That the whole people, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, shall have unrestrained access to the fountains of public instruction, in order that our free institutions may be transmitted to posterity in undecayed magnificence.” 10
Infrequently a moral persuasion for the necessity of educating the children said, “it is the duty of the State to educate every child in it. There could not be a more rational, patriotic or benevolent expenditure of wealth than in the holy cause of education, and thus the moral improvement of our population."
Governor French, who had been ex-officio state superintendent, asked the legislature to repeal all school laws and start anew with a simple system of education supported by tax on property, and made free to all children alike. “I desire to see a system by which every child, whatever its condition or parentage, may have an opportunity to obtain an education equal with the most affluent of our state—such as will fit them for any grade or condition of life." 12
Governor Matteson, following Governor French in office, made somewhat similar statement: “Intelligence gives to the country happiness at home and respect abroad *
Why not open its portals wide and make its benefits universal? * * * I now repeat that the laws in relation to schools be repealed, and that in the place of them a simple law be passed—by which a general system of schools shall be established, and maintained entirely by levies (so far as the school fund shall be insufficient) upon property open and free to every child within the borders of the state. This recommendation con
• Prairie Farmer, vol. 8, p. 335. 11 Sangamo Jr., July 20, 1847. 13 Sen. and House Rep., 1853, p. 8.
10 Ibid., p. 221.
templates a system of instruction of a character sufficiently elevated to fit every child for every rank and station in
The legislature though unready to inaugurate those ideas into laws immediately, did create a separate department of public instruction. With a capable man as state superintendent, it was thought that the cause of the common schools would be advanced most rapidly. A brighter day for education was at hand. Governor Matteson, in 1854, appointed Ninian W. Edwards, son of the first territorial governor of Illinois, and a man who had held the office of attorney general and been a member of the state legislature for sixteen years, the first state superintendent.18a Mr. Edwards was charged with the duty of reporting "a bill to the next regular session of the General Assembly, for a system of free school education throughout the State, and the manner for the support of which system to be provided for by a uniform ad valorem tax upon property, to be assessed and collected as other state and county revenue is assessed and collected." 14
Mr. Edwards, complying with the request of the legislature, reported a thoroughly comprehensive bill with the reasons for its passage. The bill provided for the election and duties of the state superintendent; the election and duties of school commissioners; the election, duties and powers of township boards of education; judgments and executions against school boards; the examination, qualification and duties of teachers; school libraries; township and county school funds; common school funds, and additional taxes for the support of schools.
The legislature accepted the bill but made some modifications by keeping the district system, which had been excluded, and by imposing a state tax for education. The tax amounted to two mills on the dollar, and was added in the distribution to other funds which, made up the common school fund “The common school fund of this state shall consist of such sums as will be produced by an annual levy and assessment of two mills upon each dollar's valuation of all taxable pro
13 Prairie Farmer, 1854, p. 102.
18. The legislature enacted a law creating a separate office of Superintendent of common schools in 1854. It made it the immediate duty of the governor to fill the office until the November election of 1855
14 State Supt. Rep., 1885-86, p. 190.
perty in the state, and there is hereby levied and assessed annually, in addition to the revenue for state purposes, the said two mills upon each dollar's valuation of all the taxable property in the state, to be collected and paid as other revenue is collected and paid”, etc.15
In the next place, the law of 1855 made it mandatory that - the trustees of both townships and local districts should levy
a tax to supplement the distributable fund of the State. At least one free school in every district should be established and kept in operation six months out of each year. In addition, "for the purpose of erecting schoolhouses, or purchasing schoolhouse sites, or for the repairing and improving the same, for procuring furniture, fuel and district libraries, the board of education of any district shall be authorized to have levied and collected a tax annually on all property in their district.” 18
It seemed that there was some misunderstanding, intentional or otherwise, over the purposes for which a tax could be levied. Hence the law of 1859 restated that provision more specifically. “For the purpose of establishing and supporting free schools for six months, and defraying all expenses of the same, of every description; for the purpose of repairing and improving schoolhouses; of procuring furniture, fuel, libraries and apparatus, and for all other necessary incidental expenses, the directors of each district shall be authorized to levy a tax, annually, upon all the taxable property of the district. They may also appropriate to the purchase of libraries and apparatus, any surplus funds, after all necessary school expenses are paid.": 17
Since there was a fund to be distributed to the common schools by the state, provision was made in the law to base two-thirds of the distribution on the number of white children in each county between five and twenty-one years of age, and one-third on the number of townships or parts of townships in each county. “On the first Monday in June, in each and every year, next after taking the census of the state, the auditor of public accounts shall, under the supervision of the commissioners of the school fund of the state, ascertain the number of white children in each county in the state, under twenty-one years of age, and shall thereupon make a dividend
15 Sess. Laws, 1855, Sec. 67, p. 77. 16 Sess. Laws, 1855, Sec. 71, p. 78. 17 Ill. Teach., v. 5, p. 3 of Circular of State Supt.
a to each county of two-thirds the sum from the tax levied and collected; and the interest due on the school, seminary and college fund, in proportion to the number of white children in each county under the age aforesaid, and of the remaining one-third, in proportion to the number of townships and parts of townships in each county.” 18
Finally, the money due the townships should be distributed “in proportion to the number of days certified on such schedules respectively to have been taught since the last regular return day fixed by the act or trustees for the return of schedules.” 19
The greatest objections to the free school law, which taxed property for the support of education, were obviated by the method of distributing the state school fund. The more thickly populated sections benefited by the distribution on the number of children under twenty-one years of age. The sparser districts were helped by the distribution on the number of townships or fractions thereof per county. Moreover, the richer sections, which might also have the greatest number of minors, paid the biggest share of the tax. Cook county paid out $65,150.31, and received $29, 185.02, while Williamson county paid out $1,737.04, and received $4,917.25.182 It is easily seen, therefore, that the state tax distribution method was a powerful argument that carried in poorer sections where other reasons failed. The principle of distributing state money, collected from the richer sections, to help poorer districts was first used after 1855.
The Attitude to the Free Schools.
one of defense for, or objection to the private academies and select schools. Occasionally, the semi-public academies were included in the condemnation. The struggle concerned itself, therefore, for the supremacy of one system of education over another. Should leaders in society, and they alone from the wealthy people, be educated by the academies, thus leaving the poor people to shift for themselves? Or, should the State adopt a system of free education especially favorable to the common man? It did adopt such a system in 1855, with the result that its friends began to sing its praises. The virtues usually found were superior in the common schools, inferior in the academies.
18 Sess. Laws, 1855, Sec. 69, p. 78. 19 Ibid., Sec. 36, p. 61.
18a Sangamon county paid out $23,440.75, and received $12,412.82. tor's Report for 1855-6, p. 35-6.
See Audi2 Ill. Teach., V. 4, p. 78. 21 Ibid., p. 87. * Ibid., p. 79.
First and pre-eminent, were the arguments from democracy. The children of the rich and the poor, the high and the low, were all on the same level in the common schools. Rewards and punishments, success and failure came as a result of individual merit rather than distinction from wealth and parentage. In the light of our republican institutions, private schools were a failure. "They were the nurseries of aristocracy; not the aristocracy which despises the poor man because he is poor—which calls men of moderate means, small fisted farmers, greasy mechanics, and filthy operators, unfit to associate with well-bred gentlemen, and says free society is a failure, which threatens the overthrow of republicanism, and is hard upon our free schools :" 20
Private schools, pushed to their logical conclusions, would divide the American people into classes entirely contrary to our traditions. Not only would the rich and poor be separated, but “there must be schools to represent particular nationalities and particular forms of belief. And this would perpetuate national peculiarities, and embitter religious prejudices and beget a clannish spirit, and divide society more and more into parties estranged and hostile to each other, when every effort should be bound together by friendly intercourse in universal sympathy and concord. And I know of no minor agency to affect this than a well devised and well sustained system of common public schools.” 21
In the common schools and the humbler walks of life, where talent is oftenest found, the gifted and good—educate and qualify themselves for the responsible positions in
Common schools, universally established, would enable parents, “to educate their children at home, where they can counsel with the teacher in the formation of the child's char