Agriculture and an Education Legacy

In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Continental Congress said that, “Knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Since the founding of the nation, education has been seen as an essential and necessary obligation of America and its citizens.  Today we shine a spotlight on the Morrill Act of 1862, which was a document that further encouraged learning in the American West, and helped shape our current system of state colleges and universities.

Morrill Act
Act of July 2, 1862 (Morrill Act), Public Law 37-108, 12 STAT 503, which established land grant colleges, 7/2/1862. From the General Records of the United States Government.
National Archives Identifier: 299817

On July 2, 1862, this act made education in the new western states available to their citizens by providing public land grants for colleges in the agricultural and mechanical arts.  These institutions were especially significant for farmers and other working individuals who would have normally been excluded from the opportunity of higher education.

Under the Morrill Act, the Federal Government granted each state 30,000 acres of public land per the state’s Representatives and Senators in Congress.  As the allocations of Morrill granted land grew, the act became the basis for a national system of state colleges and universities.  Cornell and Washington State are two major institutions that were originally chartered as land-grant schools.

Because of state colleges and universities—whose foundations ultimately rest in the Morrill Act of 1862—millions of students have been able to seek higher education, and continue the legacy of learning encouraged by the nation’s founders.

You can learn more about this document and find — or create — teaching activities based on it, on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

Today’s post came from Holly Chisholm, former social media intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

2 thoughts on “Agriculture and an Education Legacy

  1. Also important to note is that the Morrill Act of 1862 laid the foundation for the second Morrill Act in 1890, which supported the estabishment of several Historically Black Colleges (HBCU). These schools were given the same legal standing as those schools created by the 1862 Act. The first Morrill Act, therefore, laid a framework that opened up many opportunities for African Americans to receive higher education under segregation.

  2. Interested to know more about the details of how land from the Public Domain was set aside for the states by the Morrill Act, and how states selected their holdings. I will be visiting the DC area for research in July, 2016. Can anyone advice on where I might find such information about the process?

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