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In the year of 1861 the American Civil War was in its commencements with an ambition to preserve the federal government, end slavery, and peruse industrialization. The expansion of scholarship and curriculum in universities was also a revolution although outside of the warfront and yet similarly significant. With fewer casualties, the subject of American education was intensely debated in politics. Due to wartime efforts and struggling college numbers, educational finances were headed into decline. Struggling to gain attention the Morrill’s Land- Grant Act offered a solution to raise student populations as well as educate larger portions of American society. By allowing, “an amount of public land, to be apportioned to each State a quantity equal to thirty thousand acres for each senator and representative in Congress” the Morrill Act provided support and land that agricultural and mechanical schools needed to function and be created (Pub. L 37-108, Stat. 503). Colleges teaching the trades of the working class were thus produced and the expansion of older curriculums followed this trend. In this way the Morrill Land-Grant Act was one of the major factors that established the opportunity of accessible higher education for working class citizens that still influences universities today.

As a very agricultural country advancing into the industrial revolution American society was beginning to make demands for related education. The average American was the farmer and with new machinery and progressive agricultural techniques the members of this class were searching for prospects of being taught correlated skills. Lacking the wealth or missing the proper college curriculum for their career, the working class was generally unassociated with higher education. However the Morrill Land-Grant Act attended to this need by providing land for schools to be build, experiments to be competed upon, and even financial support through reselling. This support allowed for the development of scientific pursuits in agriculture, mechanics, and technology as well as the creation of schools and curriculum based on the same subjects (NASULGC 2008). Through these qualities universities and colleges began to see an increase in students. At the end of the eighteenth century only eighteen colleges existed in the United States, with an average enrollment of fewer than seventy. But a century later, over 450 American colleges and universities would boast enrollments up more than one hundredfold (Geiger 2000).

The purpose of the Morrill Land-Grant Act was, “…the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively pre- scribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life” (Pub. L 37-108, Stat. 503). So by endowing land to several colleges of the American states and territories this act presented the chance for an affordable education for the working class, an introduction of industrial education into college curriculum, and an overall spread in educational diversity and opportunity. Justin Morrill who was known as the father of America’s agricultural schools sponsored the land-grant legislation that shares his name and is generally credited as having secured its passage (Cross 1999). Morrill did not believe that the domination of the classics in university education was proper instruction. Through the mixing of more practical subjects for career training along with the traditional curriculum he felt that education would influence larger numbers. And his backing had the act passed in 1862, ensuring after several prior years of negotiation that the Morrill Act’s purpose was brought into fruition (Cross 1999).

In 1890 the Second Morrill Act was passed and unalike its predecessor it did not provide land acreage. Instead it provided further endowment through money stipulated from the United States Treasury for the benefit and maintenance of agricultural and mechanic schools to be or already established. “The Second Morrill Act sought to extend access to higher education by providing additional endowments for all land-grants, but prohibiting distribution of money to states that made distinctions of race in admissions. However, states that provided a separate land-grant institution for blacks were eligible to receive the funds” (NASULGC 2008). And thus, a group of institutions known as the ‘1890 Land Grants’ were born in the south. Yet by developing these land-grant acts for African Americans, higher education was provided for them and the Morrill Act was again offering benefits to the less privileged, a new class of segregated people. This involvement eventually led to the creation of 17 historically black land-grant colleges (Eddy Jr. 1957). Women as well became part of the act after finding their way into college. And land-grant colleges courtesy of the Morrill Acts continued to provide for the lower class and the less advantaged through affordable and funded education.

Today, all though funding provisions of the Second Morrill Act are no longer in effect a permanent appropriation of $50,000 per state and territory along with the help of the Nelson Amendment is given to land-grant colleges and universities annually. And the endowed land from First Morrill Act is still in ownership of land- grant universities, however acreage is no longer handed out (NASULGC 2008). In their passage through time the Morrill Acts have supplied universities with benefits and new educational standards that still cultivate amazing education in modern times. As Eldon Johnson explained, “They are [land-grant colleges], in the main, full-fledged universities. They exist in every state and in most of the territories. They comprise a national system, derived from national policy. As a category, they supply eight of the ten largest undergraduate campuses in the United States and enroll more than one-seventh of all university students” (Johnson 1981). These land-grant colleges have evolved from simply career training and lower class education. Legitimate research and exceptional students are produced in such schools; opportunities for a diverse population of people and students are available at these universities. The Morrill Land-Grant Act began as an action to spread learning and provide agricultural schooling, from these changes and the advantages provided many universities now offer both quality and affordable education.




The Morrill Land-Grant Act and the Working Class


Page Author: Amanda L. Wiant

Saturday, 17 March, 2012 10:45



Cross, Coy F. Justin Smith Morrill: Father of the Land-Grant Colleges. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1999. Print.

Eddy Jr., Edward Danforth. Colleges for Our Land and Time: The Land-Grant Idea in American Education. New York: Harper, 1957. Print.

Geiger, Rodger. The American College in the Nineteenth Century. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000. Print.

Hillstrom, Kevin and Laurie Collier Hillstrom. The Industrial Revolution in America. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Inc, 2006. Print.

Johnson, Eldon J. “Misconceptions About the Early Land-Grant Colleges”. Journal of Higher Education 52.4 (1981): 333-357. Print.

Morrill Land-Grant Act. Pub. L 37-108. Stat. 503. 2 July 1862. Print. National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. The Land- Grant Tradition. Washington DC: VMW Printing Layout, 2008. Print.

Nevins, Allan. The Origins of the Land-Grant Colleges and State Universities: A Brief Account of the Morrill Act of 1862 and Its Results. Washington, DC: Civil War centennial Commission, 1962. Print.


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