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Schools - The Movement Toward Public Control

( Originally Published 1907 )



WE have seen how French influence was at work, along with forces native to America, in the making of early state systems of education. The idea of an education for the people under the fostering care and general oversight of the civil authorities, was now abroad in the land, and was finding widespread application in our governmental systems. But the several schools through which our state governments carried on their educational work were not generally under the immediate management of public corporations.

The characteristic type of academy administration, as has been shown, is that carried on through a board of trustees who are not themselves teachers in the institution which they control, who have no pecuniary interest in that institution, and who fill vacancies in their own number by a process of co-optation. This form of organization is equally characteristic of the American college, from the time that a distinctly American type of college comes into view.

With all of its obvious advantages, this system provides no means by which the public, in case of prevalent dissatisfaction with the management of an institution, can readily effect changes in accordance with its desires. This may or may not be regarded as a disadvantage of the system, according to the point of view of the one passing judgment upon it. The historical fact which concerns us here is that a great wave of objection to this system swept over our country, . which resulted in the formation of educational institutions under direct public control. The earlier product of this movement was the state university. A later product was the public high school. We shall get a better understanding of the movement as a whole if we consider first that aspect of it out of which came our state universities.

The fact has already been noted that, about the time of the Revolution, there was growing up a widespread distrust of the colleges as then conducted. This took many forms, and was shared by men of the most diverse political and religious convictions. But it all came back virtually to this : That no one of the colleges fully answered the public need as regards higher education. Every one of them was the college of a faction, of a section, or of a sect, within the commonwealth, and failed therefore to be a college of the commonwealth in its entirety. The democratic spirit, which had been rising, very slowly, since the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the interest in civic affairs, which increased rapidly as the Revolution drew on, both tended to accentuate this feeling of distrust. It was much more pronounced in the case of some colleges than in that of others, but none of them seems to have escaped it altogether.

As this feeling rose to self-consciousness, there appeared two ways in which it might find adequate expression ; two ways in which colleges might be made to answer the common need in this matter of higher education : First, the commonwealth might, through the agencies of government, assume and exercise the right of visitation in the existing institutions, or even, if need be, compel those colleges to submit to changes in their charters which should render them more serviceable to society in its organic wholeness and unity ; or secondly, it might ignore the existing colleges, regarding their case as hopeless, and proceed to erect new institutions so organized and administered as to meet the highest demands of public responsibility. The legal status of educational corporations was not then so well defined as now ; and the constitution of the United States, with its provision safeguarding the obligation of contracts, was not yet in existence. So it is not strange that the first of these two courses seemed much more practicable than the other. We shall see that it was first tried, in a very thorough manner ; and not till it had signally failed, did the movement for the establishment of state universities acquire any sort of headway.

The question of public control is to be kept separate from that of public support. Yet the two are intimately connected. Institutions of learning have more than once been led to accept the larger responsibility, through the difficulty of maintenance as representatives of a party or faction.

Even before the Revolution, the two possible courses of procedure had both been distinctly considered, and attempts had been made to carry both into execution, but with no sort of success in either case. These colonial projects are worthy of consideration, for they help us to understand the true state of the case when the newly liberated states began to deal with this problem.

Efforts were made at different times to secure for the colonial governments of Massachusetts and New Jersey, or for the English crown, a larger participation in the management of Harvard and Princeton Colleges. But the most notable attempt in colonial times to subject an educational close corporation to direct governmental control, was made in Connecticut. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Yale College was under the headship of President Clap, a man of marked ability, but personally unpopular. The conflict between the "New Lights " and the " Old Lights

was then raging in Connecticut. Yale College was a strong-hold of the earlier orthodoxy, though it gradually drew nearer to the New Light party. It seems, under President Clap's leadership, to have gained to a large extent the ill-will of both sides in the controversy. Partly in consequence of this hostility, the annual donations to the college from the colonial treasury were discontinued after 1754. It is said that from 1758 to 1763, " four distinct appeals were made to the legislature, through the fellows, the graduates and the students of the College," to inquire into and rectify abuses in the management of the institution. One act of the college authorities was represented as being, "an infringement on the order and rights of the regular churches, ... and a daring affront to legislative power." Finally the trouble culminated in a formidable memorial, presented to the legislature in 1763.

In this it was declared that the general assembly was the founder of the college, inasmuch as it. had granted the original charter, in 1701 ; and in that charter had bestowed a grant of about sixty pounds sterling, besides making subsequent donations in money and lands. The general assembly sitting in the year 1763, it was asserted, possessed the right of visitation under the common law, as successor to the founder ; and there was need that this right be exercised in the then present emergency, to preserve the good order of the college in several respects, and particularly as regards orthodoxy in religion.

President Clap himself undertook the reply to this memorial. He declared that the legislature had the same authority over the college as over other persons and estates in the colony ; but that it did not possess the right of visitation, because the act of incorporation and the gift of public funds which accompanied it did not found the institution. It had existed in fact before it possessed a charter, and donations of books, money, and land had already been made to it. The founders were those ministers who had made a large and formal donation of books for its establishment. This fact was acknowledged in the act of 1701, which recognized the institution as already founded, and merely gave the trustees legal authorization to proceed with the erection of the school. Besides, the preamble of the charter of 1745 expressly declared that the first trustees had founded the school. It was shown that it would be detrimental to the orderly management of the college if some body of visitors, other than the trustees, were set up, to whom any aggrieved person might appeal from a decision of the ordinary college authorities. And as regards orthodoxy, it was urged that the president and fellows had taken better precautions than might be expected continuously. from any other body of visitors which the legislature might constitute.

This reply was backed up with ample citations from the most eminent legal authorities. It is evident that it commanded the respect of thoughtful men in the colony, as it has of competent jurists of later times. It put an end to the efforts to secure legislative interference in the affairs of the college. And it may be added that substantially the same ground as that taken by President Clap was taken by the Supreme Court of the United States in the Dartmouth College case, half a century later.

The other possible way to public control, that of founding new institutions directly responsible to the government, was clearly set forth before the colonies became independent, and a strong effort was made to have this plan put on its trial. It happened in connection with the founding of King's College, in New York. The funds first secured for the establishment of this institution were raised under the authority of the colonial legislature. When the time came to begin the actual organization of the college, it was pro-posed that it be established by royal charter. The corporation of Trinity Church offered to bestow on the institution a tract of land, attaching certain ecclesiastical conditions to the gift. It was proposed that this gift be accepted and the conditions be embodied in the charter. The plan aroused violent opposition, which was led by William Livingston.

This gentleman was a prominent member of the well-known New York family of that name, the proprietors of the Livingston Manor. He had been educated at Yale College. It is said that, a few years previous to the time we are considering, there were in the whole province of New York only ten persons, not in holy orders, who had received a collegiate education ; and four of these were the brothers Livingston. William Livingston was an able lawyer, a moderate Presbyterian, an uncompromising patriot. Like many American Presbyterians of his time, he was strenuously opposed to any union of church and state. He be-came one of the most vigorous opponents of the movement for the establishment of an American episcopate. His aristocratic antecedents did not prevent him from developing at an early period a strongly democratic spirit. He removed to New Jersey, and when that colony became a state, he was elected its first governor under the new order of things. By repeated election he was continued in this office up to the time of his death, in 1790.

I have spoken thus particularly of Governor Livingston for the reason that the earliest distinct American utterance in favor of state control of the higher education which I have been able to find, appears in some of his writings. At the time when the first steps were taken toward securing a royal charter for King's College, Mr. Livingston was editing The Independent Reflector in the city of New York. This was a four-page folio, devoted to the discussion of various questions of public interest. It served as a sort of periodical pamphlet, such as the eighteenth century abounded in. The greater part of the weekly issue of this sheet seems to have been written by Livingston himself, though some articles were undoubtedly contributed by various members of his coterie. The paper continued for only fifty-two nurnbers, in 1752-53. It treated of many topics, but is especially noteworthy because of what it had to say on the subject of the new college.

This topic was first taken up in the seventeenth number of the paper. " The true Use of Education," says the writer, " is to qualify Men for the different Employments of Life, to which it may please God to call them. 'T is to improve their Hearts and Understandings, to infuse a public Spirit and Love of their Country; to inspire them with the Principles of Honor and Probity; with a fervent Zeal for Liberty, and a diffusive Benevolence for Mankind ; and in a Word, to make them more extensively serviceable to the Common-Wealth."

He insists that the kind of education that is given will inevitably affect the common weal: that no sort of higher education can possibly be a merely private concern. This is one of the most striking features of his argument. Again and again, in later issues, he comes back to this central thought, and hammers it in with all his might.

In the eighteenth number, he proceeds "to offer a few Arguments, . . . to evince the Necessity and Importance of constituting our College upon a Basis the most catholic, generous and free." "The extensive Influence of such a Seminary," he says, "I have already shewn in my last Paper. And have we not reason to fear the worst Effects of it, where none but the Principles of one Persuasion are taught, and all others depressed and discountenanced ? " Such an institution he calls a "Party-College." A college erected in the interest of any party is a menace to public interests, and most of all a college erected in the interest of any ecclesiastical body.

In the nineteenth number, he continues the discussion of the dangers attendant upon the incorporation of the college by royal charter. In the twentieth he proposes his alternative for this procedure. "I would first establish it as a Truth," says Mr. Livingston, "that Societies have an indisputable Right to direct the Education of their youthful Members." This sounds strangely like an utterance of La Clialotais in the Essai d'education rationale, ten years later than this. But the idea. was already abroad in France ; and it is possible that Mr. Livingston, who read French, may have been familiar with the advanced French thought of the time upon this subject. He continues, "If . . . it belongs to any to inspect the Education of Youth, it is the proper Business of the Public, with whose Happiness their future Conduct in Life is inseparably connected, and by whose Laws their relative Actions will be governed. . . . Let it [the college] not be made the Portion of a Party, or private Set of Men, but let it merit the Protection of the Public." Those who ask to be given direction of the higher education of the commonwealth, he adds, " ask no less considerable a Boon, than absolute universal Dominion."

"Instead of a Charter," he goes on to say, "I would propose, that the College be founded and incorporated by Act of Assembly, and that not only because it ought to be under the Inspection of the civil Authority; but also, because such a Constitution will be more permanent, better endowed, less liable to Abuse, and more capable of answering its true End." The twenty-first number of the Independent Reflector is perhaps the most important of all, for in this a complete plan for the organization of a college under public control is offered in outline. In the interest of brevity, only portions of two or three of the eleven sections under which this plan is presented, will be considered here.

It is proposed :

"FIRST: That all the Trustees be nominated, appointed, and incorporated by the Act [of Assembly], and that whenever an Avoidance among them shall happen, the same be reported by the Corporation to the next Sessions of Assembly, and such Vacancy be supplied by Legislative Act. That they hold their Offices only at the good Pleasure of the Governor, Council and General Assembly. And that no Person of any Protestant Denomination be, on Account of his religious Persuasion, disqualified for sustaining any Office in the College."

" THE FIFTH Article I propose is, that no religious Profession in particular be established in the College ; .. .

" To this most important Head, I should think proper to subjoin,

" SIXTHLY : That the whole College be every Morning and Evening convened to attend public Prayers, to be performed by the President, or in his Absence, by either of the Fellows ; and that such Forms be prescribed and adhered to as all Protestants can freely join in."

We see that this radical innovator did not go so far in the way of a separation between education and religion, as current practice had gone long before the close of the nineteenth century. But his early advocacy of non-sectarian religious instruction for an educational institution is worthy of remembrance. By way of illustration, he even devoted one number of his paper to a form of prayer which he had devised for this purpose, composed almost wholly of passages from the Bible.

This remarkable series of papers culminated, in the twenty-second number, in an impassioned and declamatory appeal to the colonists to prevent the advocates of the charter college from accomplishing their purpose. By this time a great war of disputation had. been stirred up. The taverns, the coffee-houses, and the newspapers, were alive with the subject. The objectors were unsuccessful in the attempt to prevent the issuance of the charter. But after the college had been incorporated, they brought in a bill in the legislature, providing for the establishment of a rival institution, on the lines proposed in the Independent Reflector. But little is known of the fortunes of this bill ; but the upshot of the whole affair was a compromise, under which only half of the money which had been raised by lotteries for a college went to the chartered institution, the remainder being used to build a pest house and a jail. Mr. Livingston raised his voice in jubilation over this result.

So the two obvious methods of making the higher education a truly public education, had both been seriously proposed before the Revolution, but neither one of the two had as yet been fairly tried. Independence brought with it momentous changes, which were to have great influence in the shaping of our educational systems. When the war was over, the new states found themselves in possession of a great national domain in the new northwest. Historians have shown what a mighty influence this territory exercised in awakening the sense of nationality, and how important were its later bearings upon our political development. Its effects upon our educational development were hardly less marked. Here was a clear field for educational experiment.

Here were lands that could be set apart for educational purposes an arrangement which tended to encourage the best sort of immigration. It is hardly surprising that under these circumstances the northwest became a favorite field for the building up of early state universities.

We are now concerned, however, with those uncertain and painful efforts, in the states along the Atlantic, to make over the existing colleges into some sort of institution which should answer to the rising educational consciousness of our people. It' is, perhaps, not generally known how many attempts were made in the legislatures of the new-born states to render the old colleges more directly responsible and ministrant to the whole commonwealth. Nine colleges had been incorporated and had entered upon a course of college instruction within the colonial period. Of these, at least six were more or less directly affected by this movement.

The charter of the College of Philadelphia was revoked in 1779, and in its place was set up the University of Pennsylvania, under public control. Ten years later, the older corporation was revived, and the two institutions existed in some fashion for two years, side by side. Then a compromise was reached, the two were merged into one under the title of the University of Pennsylvania, and this was placed under the control of a close corporation.

Yale College, after a long contest, yielded to public opinion, reinforced by its extreme need of financial aid. In 1792, eight of the chief officers of state were admitted, ex officio, to membership in its board of trustees ; and a considerable grant was then received from the state legislature.

King's College, in New York, was greatly in disfavor while the Revolution was in progress, and its Tory president, Dr. Cooper, was obliged to flee for his life. It has been shown that, after the war was over, a general state system of education was legislated into existence, with the college, now called Columbia, at its head. But serious difficulties were met with in the attempt to make the managing board of the college identical with the managing board of a state system of schools. Here again a compromise was reached, in 1787, under which public control was retained in the supervisory body, but the management of the college was committed to a self-perpetuating board of trustees.

Harvard College was disturbed in 1812 by legislation affecting its Board of Overseers, which was forced upon the institution without regard to the protest of the Corporation. Two years later, however, the obnoxious act was repealed.

But the most notable case of this sort, the case in which the movement reached its culmination and also its judicial determination, arose in connection with Dartmouth College, in the second decade of the century. In consequence of a long-drawn college controversy, in which the political parties within the state were ranged on opposite sides, the legislature of New Hampshire passed an act, June 27, 1816, declaring that " the college of the state may, in the opinion of the legislature, be rendered more extensively useful," and enacting accordingly " that the corporation, heretofore called and known by the name of the Trustees of Dartmouth College, shall ever hereafter be called and known by the name of the Trustees of Dartmouth University." This university was to be managed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees, over which there was placed a board of overseers consisting of certain civil officers ex officio, and other members appointed by the governor, and possessing full visitatorial rights, and power of veto on the acts of the trustees.

The board of trustees of the college maintained that the legislature had no power of interference in their affairs, and carried the matter into the courts. The supreme court of the state of New Hampshire decided against the college. The case was then carried into the supreme court of the United States. Daniel Webster was of the counsel for the college, and his argument in this case added greatly to his fame as a constitutional lawyer. The opinion of the court was pronounced in February, 1819, by Chief Justice Mar-shall. The finding of the New Hampshire court was reversed. The decision was summarized in the following terms :

"The charter granted by the British crown to the trustees of Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, in the year 1769, is a contract within the meaning of that clause of the constitution of the United States (Art. 1, s. 10) which declares that no state shall make any law impairing the obligation of contracts. The charter was not dissolved by the Revolution.

"An act of the State of New Hampshire altering the charter without the consent of the corporation in a material respect is an act impairing the obligation of the charter, and is unconstitutional and void.

" Under its charter Dartmouth College was a private and not a public corporation. That a corporation is established for purposes of general charity, or for education generally, does not, per se, make it a public corporation, liable to the control of the legislature."

It would be hard to overestimate the significance of this decision. Chancellor Kent said of it that it " did more than any other single act proceeding from the authority of the United States to throw an impregnable barrier around all rights and franchises derived from the grant of government, and to give solidity and inviolability to the literary, charitable, religious, and commercial institutions of our country."

It was, perhaps, an unmixed advantage to commercial establishments to have it settled once for all that a self-perpetuating, chartered institution is a private and not a public corporation, and so beyond the reach of governmental . interference ; but when it came to educational establishments, this decision cut both ways. The conviction to which William Livingston had given utterance many years before that an institution of higher education could not possibly be a private concern as regards its operation and influence had come abroad and gained general currency. That an institution which embodied so momentous a public interest should be beyond the reach of public control seemed to many a dangerous state of affairs. The decision in the Dartmouth College case put an end to efforts directed toward governmental regulation of educational close corporations; but in so doing it turned the full force of this movement into that other possible course of governmental agency namely, the establishment and maintenance of colleges and universities under full state control.

An institution not under public control may be very susceptible to public influences ; and it would be hard to find such an institution so comfortably endowed, so irresponsible in spirit, and so firmly fixed in its own traditions, as to be wholly beyond the reach of public opinion. Our early colleges felt the movements going on about them, to which, in truth, they had largely contributed ; and little by little they introduced changes which brought them nearer to the people whom they served. In this way, the most of them warded off the danger which threatened them, of rival establishments founded and managed by the state. They widened their range of studies ; and they ceased to be in any special sense schools for the training of ministers, becoming instead general institutions of the higher learning.

But the demand for universities under state control was more profound and far-reaching than was commonly sup-posed. We have seen that the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia and Dartmouth Colleges, had each its brief term of service as a regular state institution. Other state universities soon began to take permanent shape. The movement was nearly simultaneous in the west and south. The influence of the south was dominant in the earlier days and that of the west at a later period.

North Carolina, following Pennsylvania, included in its state constitution of 1776 the provision that, "All useful learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted in one or more universities." In accordance with this provision, the state legislature erected a university in 1789, which began giving instruction in 1795. This institution, however, did not come under direct state control till 1821. South Carolina College, an institution under full state control, was established by legislative act in 1801, and opened in 1805. The long and varied efforts of Thomas Jefferson to secure the establishment of a university under public control in the Old Dominion, were crowned with success in 1819, the year in which the decision in the Dartmouth College case was handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. This was an event of capital importance. Repeated efforts had been made to transform William and Mary College into an institution which might fairly serve as the crowning member of a state system of education. But this was found at last to be impracticable, chiefly because of the fixed ecclesiastical character of the old foundation.

The fact that the University of Virginia held the chief place in a well-thought-out plan of education, which was vitally connected with a democratic scheme of society, and the further fact that it was the cherished project of Thomas Jefferson, compelled the serious attention of the builders of new commonwealths. And the intrinsic character of the new institution was such that its establishment marked an epoch in our educational development.

Important beginnings were making meanwhile in the new states of the Old Northwest, which culminated in the establishment of a strong state university in Michigan. Favorable circumstances affecting its external administration, combined with excellences of internal management and instruction, gave to this institution a position of leadership among our state universities during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The states that were coming into being all through the century, with few exceptions, established such universities. Their erection soon came to be a matter of course in the new western commonwealths, the beginnings sometimes being made before the territorial status was outgrown.

We may note by the way how differently the Dartmouth College case has affected the history of our commercial and industrial corporations. Since that decision was reached, the granting of governmental subsidies to privately man-aged educational institutions has fallen more and more into disfavor, as has been shown, and the movement toward public control of such institutions has gained a tremendous volume and headway. But, curiously enough, the relation of government to industry and commerce has not followed a parallel course. Our transportation, in particular, a public service of incalculable importance, has remained under the control of private corporations, and these have received municipal and legislative grants of enormous value. It may be, however, that the movement toward public control of such corporations has only lagged behind that affecting educational institutions. The current agitation in favor of " public ownership of public utilities " would seem to indicate something of this sort. But at the present time the relation of government to transportation in this country is broadly analogous to the relation of government to the institutions of education a century ago.

Even as regards educational institutions, the movement has been very slow and unequal, and the earlier policy has been only partially reversed. In the case of our colleges, the demand for public control was doubtless accentuated by ecclesiastical considerations ; or more exactly by the rapid spread of the doctrine of religious freedom. Through-out the earlier part of this movement, the academies escaped the criticism which the colleges had to encounter. Their form of organization was, in fact, much the same as that of the colleges. But it was not so much a form of organization which was under criticism, at the first, as it was specific defects and abuses in the colleges. In these particulars, the academies were contrasted with the colleges, to the advantage of the lower institutions. The academies were in high favor at the very time that the colleges were under fire.

But some had held from the beginning that the great obstacle in the way of an immediate righting of the abuses complained of was the private and inaccessible character of the college corporations. The Dartmouth College case deepened this conviction, and adverse criticism soon extended to the similar corporations of the academies. The demand for public education under public control was a rising tide and in time it affected institutions of every rank and grade. It was on this rising tide that new systems of elementary education came into being, and with them, borne on the same sweep of public opinion, came a new type of secondary school the public high school.

Up to the nineteenth century, elementary education had been even more fragmentary and inadequate in this country than education of a higher grade. There was, however, nothing unique in this state of affairs. Effective systems of elementary instruction in Europe are largely the growth of the past hundred years. In England the nineteenth century movement was got under way through the agency of voluntary societies organized for the conduct and maintenance of schools ; for thirty years, in the second and third quarters of the century, these societies were doing the work of elementary education in England with the aid of government subsidies ; and this arrangement still continues, in full force, only supplemented during the past generation with schools under public control, which are designed merely to fill gaps in the facilities provided under the earlier system.

The English societies were an outcome of the monitorial movement, as promoted by Joseph Lancaster and Dr. Bell. The same influence was felt at an early day in this country, and similar societies were organized here for the building up of schools. The Free School Society, organized at New York in 1805, took up and extended an educational campaign which had been begun by other societies similarly constituted. It was incorporated and subsidized by the New York legislature. In 1826 the name was changed to the Public School Society ; and under this title the organization continued to direct and control the greater part of the elementary education of this large and growing city, till religious controversy led to the transfer of the schools to a public board of education, in 1842.

Other cities had somewhat similar societies, which sustained various relations to popular education. In Boston, the system of schools, as remodelled in 1789, included writing schools, English grammar schools, and the Latin school ; but there was no public provision for primary schools, in which little children might make their earliest scholastic beginnings. Schools of this lowest grade were in existence, but all under private management. This condition remained unchanged till the year 1818, when for the first time primary schools were made a part of the Boston public school system.

The gradual building up of public systems of elementary schools tended directly to the bringing in of high schools ; for there came to be a large number of children, not intended for college and for professional life, who nevertheless had gone through a course of elementary schooling in public schools and were ready to go further if the opportunity were offered. The gradual increase of wealth in our larger towns and cities tended to the increase of such a class as this. The common people of these towns and cities were becoming desirous of more extended education ; and the commercial activities of these centres called for a different kind of training from that offered by the schools designed to prepare for college.

The academies were ready to respond to this demand, but another objection to the academies appeared. The public schools had been gradually made free schools, the rate-bills for tuition having been little by little discontinued. The academies generally charged small tuition fees, and but few of them were largely enough endowed to get on well with-out such charges. We begin now to find a demand growing up for schools higher in grade than the elementary schools, which should be as accessible to the poor as to the rich. The public schools were now regarded as the schools of the people, in contrast with the academies which were represented as schools for the few who were able to pay.

So the movement toward the public control of institutions of learning was mixed in with the various other movements which were making in this country a prosperous and aggressive democracy; and new institutions not a few were coming out of it all. Not the least significant of these was the public high school.



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