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ty is excluded from their immediate advantages. The establishment of common schools throughout the state, is happily calculated to remedy this inconvenience, and will therefore engage your early and decided consideration."
On the 11th of January, the Assembly appointed a committee consisting of JONATHAN NICOLL HAVENS, of Suffolk, as chairman ; DAVID BROOKS, of Dutchess, DAVID PYE, of Orange, EBENEZER PURDY, of Westchester, DANIEL GRAY, of Rensselaer, ADAM COMSTOCK, of Saratoga, and RICHARD FURMAN, of New York, to take into consideration that portion of the Governor's Message relating to the establishment of Common Schools throughout the state. Mr. HAVENS, from this committee, reported on the 19th of February '“ An Act for the encouragement of schools,” which passed the House on the 4th, and the Senate on the 22d of March, and became a law on the 9th of April 1795. By this act the sum of £20,000 or $50,000 was annually appropriated for five years, “ for the purpose of encouraging and maintaining schools in the several cities and towns in this state, in which the children of the inhabitants residing in the state, shall be instructed in the English language, or be taught English grammar, arithmetic, mathematics, and such other branches of knowledge as are most useful and necessary to complete a good English education.” This sum was at first apportioned to the several counties according to their representation in the legislature, and afterwards according to the number of electors for members of assembly; and to the several towns according to the number of taxable inhabitants of each. The boards of supervisors were required to raise by tax upon each town, a sum equal to one-half of that appropriated by the state, to be applied in like manner. While this bill was under discussion in the assembly, a motion to add a proviso, “ that no town after receiving for one year its proportion of the moneys appropriated by the act, shall be entitled in any year thereafter to receive its proportion of the same, unless the freeholders and inhabitants of such town, should, at their next preceding town-meeting, have voted a sum for the use of schools in such town, equal to at least one-half of the proportion of the moneys to which such town shall have been entitled by this act in the preceding year; and in case such sum shall not have been voted to be raised as aforesaid by any town, the supervisors of the county should apportion the moneys to which such town would otherwise have been entitled, among the other towns in such coun. ty, which should have voted for such sum ” was rejected, by a vote of 30 to 27., The adoption of this proviso, would have left it discretionary with the inhabitants of any town to comply with the requisitions of the act, and thereby entitle itself to receive its proportion of the public money; a measure subsequently resorted to, as will hereafter be seen, but speedily abandoned on experience of its effects.
The prominent features of the act of 1795, were the following: Not less than three, nor more than seven commissioners, were annually to be chosen by the electors of the respective towns, to whom were to be committed the supervision and direction of the schools, and the apportionment of public money among the several districts. The inhabitants residing in different sections of each town, were authorized “to associate together for the purpose of procuring good and sufficient schoolmasters, and for erecting and maintaining schools in such and so many parts of the town where they may reside, as shall be most convenient,” and to appoint two or more trustees, who were directed to "confer with the commissioners concerning the qualification of the master or masters that they may have employed, or may intend to employ in their schools ; and concerning every other matter which may relate to the welfare of their school, or to the propriety of erecting or maintaining the same, to the intent that they may obtain the determination of the said commissioners whether the said school will be entitled to a part of the moneys allotted to or raised in that town by virtue of this act, and whether the abilities and moral character of the master or masters employed, or intended to be employed therein, are such as will meet with their approbation." The share of public money to be paid to each district, was to be apportioned by the commissioners,“ according to the number of days for which instruction shall appear, by the annual report of the trustees, to bave been given in each of the said schools, in such manner that the school in which
the end in view. In order to promote so laudable an object, the Legislature of 1803, by an act passed on the 6th of April, directed the Comptroller to invest in good real estate, all such sums of money as had been, or should thereafter be received from the proceeds of each lottery, for the term of two years.
In 1802, the Governor (GEO. CLINTON,) again called the attention of the Legislature to the subject of Common Schools. He observes, “The system of Common Schools having been discontinued, and the advantage to morals, religion, liberty and good government, arising from the general diffusion of knowledge being universally admitted, permit me to recommend this subject to your deliberate attention. The failure of one experiment for the attainment of an important object, ought not to discourage other attempts." No legislative action however, in reference to the subject, was had during the session of that year.
In 1803, Gov. Clinton renewed his recommendation in the following energetic terms: "The establishment of common schools has, at different times, engaged the attention of the Legislature; but although its importance is generally acknowledged, a diversity of sentiment respecting the best means, has hitherto prevented the accomplishment of the object. The diffusion of knowledge is so essential to the promotion of virtue and the preservation of liberty, as to render arguments unnecessary to excite you to a perseverance in this laudable pursuit. Permit me only to observe, that education, by correcting the morals and improving the manners, tends to prevent those evils in society which are beyond the sphere of legislation."
On the 21st of February of that year, Mr. Peck, of Otsego, from the joint committee of both houses on this portion of the governor's speech, reported a bill authorizing the several towns to organize their schools, and to raise money to support the same. No definite action, however, took place upon it during the session of that year.
In 1804, the governor again called the attention of the legislature to the subject. On the 3d of March, in that year, Mr. Peck, from the committee on that portion of the speech, again made a favorable report, accompanied by a bill, which, however, shared the fate of its predecessor.
At the extra session of the legislature, in November, 1804, Gov. LEWIS brought the subject before that body, in the following language:
"I cannot conclude, gentlemen, without calling your attention to a subject which my worthy and highly respected predecessor in office had much at heart, and frequently, I believe, presented to your view the encouragement of literature. In a government, resting on public opinion, and deriving its chief support from the affections of the people, religion and morality cannot be too sedulous ly inculcated. To them, science is an handmaid; ignorance, the worst of enemies. Literary information should then be placed within the reach of every description of citizens, and poverty should not be permitted to obstruct the path to the fane of knowledge. *Common schools, under the guidance of respectable teachers, should be established in every village, and the indigent be educated at the public expense. The higher seminaries also, should receive every patronage and support within the means of enlightened legislators. Learning would thus flourish, and vice be more effectually restrained than by volumes of penal statutes."
On the 4th ef February, 1805, Gov. Lewis transmitted a special message to the legislature in reference to this subject, in which he recommended the application of all the state lands for the benefit of colleges and schools; the whole fund and entire management of the system to be confided to the Regents of the University, under such regulations as the legislature might prescribe; the Regents to have the power of appointing three trustees for each district; who should be authorized to locate the sites for school houses, and to erect such houses wherever necessary, employ teachers, apply the funds of the district, and levy taxes on the inhabitants, for such further sums as might be required for the support of the school and the education of indigent children. None of these suggestions, however, with the exception of the first, seem to have met with any favor at the hands of the legislature.
On the 2d of April, the legislature passed an act providing that the nett proceeds of 500,000 acres of the vacant and unappropriated lands of the people of this state, which should be first thereafter sold by the surveyor-general, should be appropriated as a permanent fund for the support of common schools; the avails to be safely invested until the interest should amount to $50,000; when an annual distribution of that amount should be made to the several school dis. tricts. This act laid the foundation of the present fund for the support of common schools.
By the act to incorporate the Merchants' Bank in the city of New-York, pas sed the same year, the state reserved the right to subscribe for three thousand shares of the capital stock of that institution, which, together with the accruing interest and dividends, were appropriated as a fund for the support of common schools, to be applied in such manner as the legislature should from time to time direct.
By acts passed March 13, 1807, and April 8, 1808, the comptroller was au thorized to invest such moneys, together with the funds arising from the proceeds of the lotteries authorized by the act of 1803 in the purchase of additional stock of the Merchants’ Bank, and to loan the residue of the fund.
No determinate action on the part of the legislature, in reference to the establishment of a system of common schools, was had during the years, 1806-7-8-9 or 10. At the opening of the session in the latter year, Gov. TOMPKINS thus alludes to the subject.
"I cannot omit this occasion of inviting your attention to the means of instruction for the rising generation. To enable them to perceive and duly to estimate their rights, to inculcate correct principles and habits of morality and religion, and to render them useful citizens, a competent provision for their education is all-essential. The fund appropriated for common schools already produces an income of about $26,000 annually, and is daily becoming more productive. It rests with the legislature to determine whether the resources of the state will justify a further augmentation of that appropriation, as well as to adopt such plan for its application and distribution, as shall appear best calculated to promote the important object for which it was originally designed.”.
On the 28th of February, of that year, the comptroller, in obedience to a reso lution of the legislature, calling upon him for information as to the condition of the school fund, reported that the amount of receipts into the treasury up to that period, of moneys belonging to the fund, was $151,115.69, of which $29,100 had been invested in the capital stock of the Merchants' Bank, $114,600 loaned in pursuance of law, and the residue remained in the treasury.
In 1811, Gov. Tompkins again called the attention of the legislature to this subject; and a law was passed, authorizing the appointment by the governor, of five commissioners, to report a system for the organization and establishment of common schools. The commissioners appointed under this act were Jedediab Peck, John Murray, Jr., Samuel Russell, Roger Skinner, and Samuel Macomb. On the 14th of February, 1812, they submitted a report, accompanied by the draft of a bill, comprising substantially the main features of our common school system, as it existed up to the year 1838. In the bill, as it originally passed, the electors of each town were authorized to determine at their annual town meeting, whether they would accept their shares of the money apportioned by the state, and direct the raising of an equal amount on their taxable property. So embarrassing, however, was the practical operation of this feature of the sys tem, that on the recommendation of the superintendent, Gideon Hawley, Esq., it was stricken out; and each county required to raise by tax an amount equal to that apportioned by the state. The following are extracts from the report of the commissioners :
Perhaps there never will be presented to the legislature a subject of more importance than the establishment of common schools. Education, as the means of improving the moral and intellectual faculties, is, under all circumstances, a subject of the most imposing consideration. To rescue man from that state of degradation to which he is doomed, unless redeemed by education; to unfold his physical, intellectual, and moral powers; and to fit him for those high des
tinies which his Creator has prepared for him, cannot fail to excite the most ardent sensibility of the philosopher and philanthropist. A comparison of the sav, age that roams through the forest, with the enlightened inhabitant of a civilized country, would be a brief but impressive representation of the momentous importance of education.
“ It were an easy task for the commissioners to show, that in proportion as every country has been enlightened by education, so has been its prosperity. Where the heads and hearts of men are generally cultivated and improved, virtue and wisdom must reign, and vice and ignorance must cease to prevail. Virtue and wisdom are the parents of private and public felicity: vice and ignorance, of private and public misery.
"If education be the cause of the advancement of other nations, it must beapparent to the most superficial observer of our peculiar political institutions, that it is essential, not to our prosperity only, but to the very existence of our government. Whatever may be the effect of education on a despotic or monarchical government, it is not absolutely indispensable to the existence of either. In a despotic government, the people have no agency whatever, either in the formation or in the execution of the laws. They are the mere slaves of arbitrary authority, holding their lives and property at the pleasure of uncontrolled caprice. As the will of the ruler is the supreme law; fear, slavish fear, on the part of the governed, is the principle of despotism. It will be perceived readily, that ignorance on the part of the people can present no barrier to the administration of such a government; and much less can it endanger its existence. In a monarchical government, the operation of fixed laws is intended to supersede the necessity of intelligence in the people. But in a government like ours, where the people is the sovereign power; where the will of the people is the law of the land; which will is openly and directly expressed ; and where every act of the government may justly be called the act of the people ; it is absolutely essential that that people be enlightened. They must possess both intelligence and virtue : intelligence to perceive what is right, and virtue to do what is right. Our republic, therefore. may justly be said to be founded on the intelligence and virtue of the people. For this reason, it is with much propriety that the enlightened Montesquieu has said, 'in a republic the whole force of education is required!
“The commissioners think it necessary to represent in a stronger point of view, the importance and absolute necessity of education, as connected either with the cause of religion and morality, or with the prosperity and existence of our political institutions. As the people must receive the advantages of education, the inquiry naturally arises, how this end is to be attained. The expedient devised by the legislature, is the establisment of common schools ; which being spread throughout the state and aided by its bounty, will bring improvement within the reach and power of the humblest citizen. This appears to be the best plan that can be devised to disseminate religion, morality, and learning throughout a whole country. All other methods, heretofore adopted, are partial in their operation and circumscribed in their effects. Academies and universities, understood in contradistinction to common schools, cannot be considered as operating impartially and indiscriminately, as regards the country at large. The advantages of the first are confined to the particular districts in which they are established ; and the second, from causes apparent to every one, are devoted almost exclusively to the rich. In a free government, where political equality is established, and where the road to preferment is open to all, there is a natural stimulus to education ; and accordingly we find it generally resorted to, unless some great local impediments interfere. In populous cities, and the parts of the contry thickly settled, schools are generally established by individual exertion. In these cases, the means of education are facilitated, as the expenses of schools are divided among a great many. It is in the remote and thinly populated parts of the state, where the inhabitants are scattered over a large extent, that education stands greatly in need of encouragement. The people here, living far from each other, makes it difficult so to establish schools, as to render them convenient or aceessible to all. Every family, therefore, must either educate its own children, or the children must forego the advantages of education.