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the active support of Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, William Samuel Johnson, James Rutledge, and yet others of its distinguished members, in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, who desired to have provision for a national university expressly made in the Constitution itself-efforts only at length discontinued in deference to the general opinion that the power to establish such an institution was sufficiently implied.
Following is a correct summary of the proceedings on this subject in the convention, as recorded by James Madison:
May 29, 1787.-Mr. Charles Pickering laid before the House the draft of a Federal Government, which he had prepared, to be agreed upon between the free and independent States of America:
The legislature shall have power
To establish and provide for a national university at the seat of government of the United States.
August 18, 1787.-In convention Mr. Madison submitted, in order to be referred to the Committee of Detail, the following powers proposed to be added to those of the general legislature:
To establish a university.2
September 14, 1787.—Mr. Madison and Mr. Pickering moved to insert in the list of powers voted in August a power to establish a university in which no preference or distinction should be allowed on account of religion.3
Mr. Wilson and others supported the motion, but Gouverneur Morris strongly insisted that such addition to the Constitution would be a superfluity, since “the exclusive power at the seat of government would reach the object.” This view was shared by enough members to defeat the proposition; Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mr. Johnson, of Connecticut, voting for it as a means of making the university more sure, and Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, and Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, voting in the negative. Not one word appears to have been said against the desirability of the proposed university,
V. The argument and appeal of Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leading scientist of his time:
(1) In his address to the people of the United States, in 1787, among other things, strongly arguing for a Federal university, as a means of securing to the people an education suited to the needs of the country, a true university with post-graduate scholarships, and fellowships in connection with the consular service, and an educated civil service generally.
(2) A year later, in another appeal through the Pennsylvania Gazette, in which are found the following passages:
Your government can not be executed; it is too extensive for a republic. It is contrary to the habits of the people, say the enemies of the Constitution of the United States. However opposite to the opinions and wishes of a majority of the citizens
Madison Papers, II, 740.
2 Madison Papers, III, 1354.
8 Madison Papers, III, 1577.
of the United States these declarations and predictions may be, they will certainly come to pass, unless the people are prepared for our new form of government by an education adapted to the new and peculiar situation of our country. To effect this great and necessary work let one of the first acts of the new Congress be to establish within the district to be allotted for them, a Federal university, into which the youth of the United States shall be received after they have finished their studies and taken degrees in the colleges of their respective States.
Should this plan of a Federal university, or one like it, be adopted, then will begin the golden age of the United States. While the business of education in Europe consists in lectures upon the ruins of Palmyra and the antiquities of Herculaneum, or in dispute about Hebrew points, Greek particles, or the accent and quantity of the Roman language, the youth of America will be employed in acquiring those branches of knowledge which increase the convenience of life, lessen human misery, improve our country, promote population, exalt the human understanding, and establish domestic, social, and political happiness.
Let it not be said, This is not the time for such a literary and political establishment. Let us first restore public credit.
Let us regulate our militia, let us build our navy, and let us protect and extend our commerce.
This is false reasoning. We shall never restore public credit, regulate our militia, build a navy, or revive our commerce until we remove the ignorance and prejudices and change the habits of our citizens, and this can never be done until we inspire them with Federal principles, which can only be effected by our young men meeting and spending two or three years together in a national university, and afterwards disseminating their knowledge and principles through every county, town, and village of the United States.—[Republished by Dr. Goode, 1790.]
VI. The efforts of the newspaper press during the closing years of the last century, as reported by Samuel Blodget in his work entitled “Economica”—efforts so many that in speaking of them he remarks:
It would be an endless task, and require volumes to hold all that has been written in favor of a Federal heart and university in our perodical papers since 1775.
As examples, extracts are taken from some of the newspaper articles quoted by Blodget1 as published September, 1787.
If a Federal university should be established I shall advance my humble opinion on the plan; here it is enough to observe that the institution must be simple, complete, and grand. The great science of politics requires a particular professorship, and a person qualified for this place must be one of the first characters in the United States. A mere financier or civilian is not a politician; this philosophic character must understand morals, war, finance, commerce, manufactures, agriculture, police, philosophy; he must have a perfect view of all the great affairs of a nation in their whole extent and intimate connection.
The belles lettres or elegant literature claim also particular attention. These are both in the ancient and modern stile called humaniora, because they humanize and refine the human heart. They are not merely ornamental, but extremely useful by ennobling those affections which are the bands of civil society; and by qualifying men in several respects for all the important offices of government.
Natural philosophy and mathematics are the same everywhere, but moral and sentimental literature has a great influence on manners and government. A critical inquiry into the species and forms of learning most proper for America would be a noble object to a man of genius and political knowledge.
America must have her own sterling, even in learning; let her establish an academy of belles lettres; of this every fine genius in the Union should be a member; it must be central, and under the patronage of the Federal power.
1 Economica, Appendix, pp. IV-VII.
From the Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia, 1788. No. 548: A gentleman under the signature of Nestor, some months since, gave the public a hint for erecting a Federal university. How much this will promote learning in general is evident from the situation of this young country, whose pecuniary and literary resources can not yet be great enough for more than one illustrious assembly of the muses. It would be an excellent institution for promoting Federal sentiments. In the happy spring of youth all our affections bloom—the high sense of honor, the warmth of friendship, the glow of patriotic virtue there animate the enraptured soul; sublime and elegant literature there has its highest relish, retines and exalts these noble passions. What glorious effects may not then a nation expect from a concourse of her best sons at the temple of wisdom! Society in the sweet enjoyment of wisdom, literature, and the many social pleasures of an academic life will create a mutual endearment and form those charming friendships that will continue to the grave. When after a finished education they depart to their different stations and places of residence they will be so many capital links of the Federal Union; so many stately columns under the grand fabric; so many bright luminaries to shed a radiance through the whole Federal system, and so many powerful centripetal forces to give eternal stability.
VII. In this connection may also be cited the following from The American Museum, October, 1789:
Whether viewed by the contemplative eye of the philosopher or fanned by the more active mind of the politician and legislator, the happiness arising to society from the progress of science in the world presents the most pleasing consequences as our encouragement to establish institutions for the education of youth in every branch of literature. No country is more indebted to the cause of learning than America. To the well-informed mind of her citizens does she owe her present important rank in the scale of nations; to this is she indebted for her unparalleled advances to greatness and empire, and on this does the preservation of her future liberties and all the invaluable rights of human nature essentially depend.
America, from her local situation, possesses greater advantages for the promotion of literature and the arts than have marked any other nation in the early stages of its political existence, not being subject to the constant inroads of barbarians or the tyranny of superstition, nor interrupted by the frequent din of arms, ever hostile to the arts.
While the lesser schools and every literary institution, however small, must be thought worthy the attention of Government, I hope to see the establishment of a Federal university. It is an idea which has been heretofore suggested, and which presages much future advantage to the public. Such a university may be erected in a central situation of the Union, under the management of able instructors, to which the students graduating at the different State colleges may repair to finish their education, by remaining two or three years, and principally directing their studies to the political interests of the country, the great object of legislation and national jurisprudence. As we have taken our station among the other nations of the world, it is highly proper we should form on national principles, which can be best done by promoting such institutions as have a tendency to remove local views and habits and beget mutual confidence, esteem, and good fellowship between those who
must rise or fall together. The institution above alluded to, I think, will be happily calculated to answer those valuable purposes and have the most beneficial effects in a political view.
It remains for America, by an early attention to the encouragement of every art and science, and the cultivation of the human mind to the highest pitch of improvement, to fit the inhabitants of this western world for the enjoyment of that freedom and independence for which they have so nobly fought, and which will
never be wrested from them while they imbibe with their milk the first principles of civil liberty and are uniformly educated in an abhorrence of every attempt that may be formed to deprive them of this mighty boon of heaven.'
VIII. The words of President Washington in his address to Congress on January 8, 1790:
Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in the 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 happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions 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 interested 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 brethren, 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 and 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 best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients, will be worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.2
IX. The Senate's concurring response of January 11, 1790, to President Washington's message of January 8, preceding.
Literature and science are essential to the preservation of a fair constitution; the measures of government should therefore be calculated to strengthen the confidence that is due to that important truth.3
X. The address of the House of Representatives, on January 12, 1790, in answer to the President's message of January 8.
We concur with you in the the sentiment that agriculture, commerce, and manufactures are entitled to legislative protection, and that the promotion of science and literature will contribute to the security of a free government. In the progress of our deliberations we shall not lose sight of objects so worthy of our regard.4
XI. President Washington's letter of November 27, 1794, to John Adams, Vice-President of the United States, relative to the proposition of Thomas Jefferson to import the Genevan faculty of learned men as a nucleus for a national university:
I have not been able to give the papers herewith enclosed more than a hasty read ing, returning them without delay that you may offer the perusal of them to whomsoever you should think proper. The picture drawn in them of the Genevese is really interesting and affecting. The proposition of transplanting the members entire of the university of that place to America, with the acquisition of means to establish the same, and to be accompanied by a considerable emigration, is important, requiring more consideration than under the circumstances of the moment I am able to bestow upon it.
1 American Museum, Vol. 6, pp. 290, 291.
3 Id., p. 936.
That a national university in this country is a thing to be desired has always been my decided opinion, and the appropriation of ground and of lands for it in the Federal City has long been contemplated and talked of; but how matured or how far the transportation 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.
I shall at any leisure after the session is fairly opened take pleasure in a full and free consultation with you on the subject, being with much esteem and regard, etc.'
XII. President Washington's letter of December 15, 1794, to Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State, requesting his assistance, and that of Mr. James Madison, in maturing the measures proper to be adopted by him in disposing of the stocks designed to begin the endowment of the proposed national university:
For the reasons mentioned to you the other day, namely, the Virginia Assembly being in session, and a plan being on foot for establishing a seminary of learning upon an extensive scale in the Federal City, it would oblige me if you and Mr. Madison would endeavor to mature the measures which will be proper for me to pursue in order to bring my designs into view as soon as you can make it convenient to yourselves.
I do not know that the enclosed, or sentiments similar to them, are proper to be engrafted in the communications which are to be made to the legislature of Virginia, or to the gentlemen who are named as trustees of the seminary which is proposed to bo established in the Federal City; but as it is an extract of what is contained in my will on this subject, I send it merely for consideration.
The shares in the different navigations are to be located and applied in the manner which has been the subject of conversation. ?
XIII. Washington's formal letter of January 28, 1795, to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, plainly announcing his intention to contribute a considerable sum towards the founding of a university peculiarly American in teachings; in which letter he said:
A plan for the establishment of a university in the Federal city has frequently been the subject of conversation.
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 easily 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 Europeau 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 inaguitude) by assembling the youth from the different parts of this rising republic, contributing from their intercourse an 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
Writings of Washington, Sparks, XI, 1.
* Id., p. 2.