Shrine to Justin Smith Morrill

Shrine to Justin Smith Morrill

This page is devoted to Justin Smith Morrill, the congressman from Vermont who was responsible for passage of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862. That piece of far-sighted legislation was the origin of the land-grant university system, America's foremost contribution to the organization and practice of higher education. The genius of the Morrill Act was two-fold, in accord with its two governing principles: the equality of opportunity, and the utility of knowledge.

Historians Adjudge the Morrill Act

"The land-grant college is a peculiarly American institution. . . . Whatever the name, the real test of all the land-grant institutions was their ability and disposition to fulfill their peculiar mission in the new era, and it was in ministering to the technical, social, and political needs of the nation come of age that they attained measurably to the vision of the true prophets of the industrial movement in becoming real people's colleges - with all their limitations a distinct native product and the fullest expression of democracy in higher education."--Earle D. Ross, in Democracy's College

"It was an immortal moment in the history of higher education in America and the world when, on July 2, 1862, Abraham Lincoln lifted his pen and signed the College Land Grant Act, of which Justin S. Morrill of Vermont was the principal author. . . . The most important idea in the genesis of the land-grant colleges and state universities was that of democracy, because it had behind it the most passionate feeling. . . . A fundamental emotion gave force to the principle that every child should have free opportunity for as complete an education as his tastes and abilities warranted. . . . No restrictions of class, or fortune, or sex, or geographical position - no restrictions whatsoever - should operate."--Allan Nevins, in The Origins of the Land-Grant Colleges and Universities

Tributes to Justin Smith Morrill by Congressional Colleagues
Sen. Allison of IowaMr. Morrill also introduced and pressed to final action in both Houses another important public measure, having for its purpose the development of the agricultural interests of our country. He represented a purely agricultural State, and believed that the public lands were properly the inheritance of all the States and that they should be utilized especially for the benefit of the older states which originally had not within their borders public lands. He believed that a portion of those lands or the revenue derived from their sale should be distributed among all the states of the Union and dedicated to the instruction of the youth in scientific agriculture for the promotion of that great interest which is the foundation of our national prosperity. During that Congress he secured passage of a measure dedicating a portion of the public domain to agricultural education by means of the establishment of agricultural colleges in all the States, and granting lands to the States for this purpose, such distribution being based upon the representation, respectively, in the House of Representatives. This bill was vetoed by President Buchanan, but was reintroduced by Mr. Morrill in 1861, and those of us who knew him well here know with what pertinacity he pursued every subject that was near his heart. This bill thus reintroduced in 1861 passed both Bouses and received the signature of Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and has since been known as the "agricultural college act." . . . This measure, with subsequent amendments also earnestly pressed by Mr. Morrill, placed the agricultural colleges of our country on a permanent and enduring basis, achieving year by year the great purposes contemplated by the original act. This great contribution by him to the interests of agriculture will be of lasting benefit not only to our own country, but to all countries where agriculture is an honored occupation.
Sen. Proctor of VermontAt a time when the nation was engaged in a death struggle which many thought it could not survive . . . he calmly and peacefully looked forward and prepared to lay the foundation for the practical betterment of the people in peaceful pursuits--to give to the great industrial classes to which he belonged an opportunity for a higher education, of which he had been deprived. The colleges which were thus instituted and which are still flourishing are to-day powerful factors in the education of the youth of this country. They now have buildings and other property valued at $25,500,775.63 and are educating upward of 14,000 students.
Rep. Powers of VermontThe land-grant-college act will perpetuate his name and fame among the plain people of the country for centuries to come. Born and bred among this class of people, identified with them, and one of them, conscious of his own lack of educational advantages in the formative period of life, he conceived the plan of appropriating a part of the proceeds of the sale of public lands to the educational uses of that large portion of American citizenship that belongs to the industrial classes. The act contemplated the establishment of colleges in every state, with a curriculum of study primarily designed to meet the wants of every industrial class, but involving, as well, the arts and sciences and military tactics. He himself was a living example of what culture will do for the industrial class. The farmer, the artisan, the wage-earner of whatsoever name is entitled to the same opportunities in the race of life as his more fortunate fellow-citizens.
Source: Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Justin S. Morrill, publication of 55th Congress, 3d Session, 1898-99

Justin Morrill on the Morrill Act

"This bill proposes to establish at least one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught, where neither the higher graces of classical studies nor that military drill our country now so greatly appreciates will be entirely ignored, and where agriculture, the foundation of all present and future prosperity, may look for troops of earnest friends, studying its familiar and recondite economies, and at last elevating it to that higher level where it may fearlessly invoke comparison with the most advanced standards of the world."--1862, as quoted by William Belmont Parker, The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill

"The land-grant colleges were founded on the ideal that a higher and broader education should be placed in every State within the reach of those whose destiny assigned them to, or may have the courage to choose industrial vocations where the wealth of nations is produced; where advanced civilization unfolds its comforts and where a much larger number of its people need wider educational advantages and impatiently await their possession. The design was to open the door to a liberal education for this large class at a cheaper cost from being close at hand and to tempt them by offering not only sound literary instruction but something more applicable to the productive employments of life. It would be a mistake to suppose it was intended that every student should become either a farmer or a mechanic, when the design comprehended not only instruction for those who hold the plow or follow a trade, but such instruction as any person might need--with 'the world before them where to choose'--and without the exclusion of those who might prefer to adhere to the classics."--1887, as quoted by Alfred Charles True, in A History of Agricultural Education in the United States

Historical Bibliography / Morrill Namesakes / Weblinks

Justin Morrill Postage Stamp in the
Great American Leaders Series, 1999