ePub 版

of the school at Crawfordsville “ that was to grow into a college,” one object was paramount "to train teachers for the common schools." He began the work of realizing his plans by organizing the first classes in Wabash College, December 3, 1833.

CONDITION OF COMMON SCHOOLS, 1833–46. We now pass to December, 1846. The intervening period has been occupied with labor as a teacher, preacher, and agent. When traveling for the Sunday-school society he had noted the condition of the common schools in Indiana, as bad enough. A closer acquaintance with them had not raised them in his esteem. And what the schools were previous to 1846 may be inferred from the statements of witnesses. The country schools, for the most part, were taught in rude, badlylighted, and badly-furnished houses. The most of the town schools and all of the country schools were taught by men the most of whom, if we may believe such witnesses as Governor H. S. Lane, were not fit for their place. There were marked exceptions to this rule.

From such narratives as those of Sandford G. Coxe, Barnabas Hobbs and others, it would be easy to reproduce the schools of the early times. The “sixteenth section” of each township was not always managed to the best advantage, and in any case was not sufficient to support the schools. The county seminaries relieved this shameful condition of the schools somewhat. In 1834 a careful witness declared “the state of common education in Indiana to be truly alarming. Only about one child in eight between five and fifteen years is able to read! The common schools and competent teachers are few.” In 1840 there were 273,784 in the State of school age, of whom only 48,180 attended the common schools. One-seventh of the adult population could not read, and a large proportion of those who can read do so imperfectly. In spite of the constitutional provision of the State and the famous “sixteenth section,” the common schools of Indiana were in a bad condition. As late as 1846 the State rated lowest among the free States as to its popular intelligence and means of popular education. Even the capital of the State did not have a free school until 1853, and then one was kept open only two months. And this was in spite of some noble educators in different parts of the State, working for a change. At Salem, Hanover, Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, and other places, were men who were seeking to awaken public sentiment in favor of public schools, but with little apparent effect.

MESSAGE BY “ONE OF THE PEOPLE.” In the Indiana State Journal of December 7, 1846, appeared a remarkable paper-a message to the Legislature of Indiana, signed “One of the People.” At the time James Whitcomb, one of the most scholarly of the governors of Indiana, was chief magistrate of the State. “One of the People” said, in his first message to members of the legislature, " that whilst the Governor will in his annual message shed the light of executive wisdom upon the path of your legislative duties” as to "many of the more prominent and important interests of the State," he has neglected one important interest. “Feeling that there is one topic which has not received from him, nor any of his illustrious predecessors for the last ten years, that degree of executive recommendation which its intrinsic importance demands, and the good of the Commonwealth requires, I have taken the liberty to address you for the purpose of bringing the subject before your minds for consideration at an early period of your labors. Some apology may perhaps be deemed necessary for the novel method I have adopted to accomplish my object. Novel as it may appear, it has nevertheless been taken with the utmost deference to your wisdom, and the sole desire to promote in some humble manner the great object that should be uppermost in the mind of a legislator, the good of the entire mass of his fellow citizens. . . . I have examined the proceedings of the legislature for the last twelve years, in earnest expectation of seeing the subject of education discussed and disposed of in some good degree as it deserves at the hands of the appointed guardians of the Commonwealth. And I am not alone in my disappointment, for I often hear my fellow citizens expressing their deep regret at the inefficient character of our common schools and the wretched condition of our county seminaries, to say nothing of a liberal and enlightened policy in respect to our higher institutions of learning" He then presents the humiliating facts as to illiteracy in Indiana Not only every seventh adult cannot read a word, but “there are gentlemen on this floor representing rich and populous counties who, perhaps, never dreamed that one-sixth, or one-fourth, or one-third of their constituents cannot read the record of their legislative wisdom, nor peruse the eloquent speeches delivered in these halls! Putnam county, containing a University, has the sixth of its adults unable to read; Montgomery worse yet, having a college, and yet every fisth adult cannot read ? Gentlemen from Jackson, Martin, Clay and Dubois counties must feel themselves very much relieved from the burden of sending newspapers and legislative documents to those whom they represent, when informed that only a frachon over one-half of their constituents can read or write.” “Only one in three of the children of school age attends any school.” And then, in a great variety of ways, “ One of the People" urges the legislature to organize free public schools for all the children of the State.

It is a noble message, packed with startling facts, spiced with humor, and everywhere grand with common sense. And that message was the starting rill that has since swelled into the river. So well had “ One of the People" in his message plead the cause of public schools that, eight days afterward, Governor Whitcomb for the first time opened his lips on the subject in some very pertinent words in his annual message. “One of the People” had moved the Governor to speak for the public schools officially. The author of the message by “One of the People" was Professor Mills, of Wabash College. His secret was known only to enough friends to secure its publication and circulation, and was not divulged until some years afterward.* In this message, and, in the five that followed it, Professor Mills presented a remarkable array of facts, suggested plans, answered objections, and presented arguments, all bearing on the one objective point, the free common school for all the children of Indiana.

SECOND MESSAGE. On the 6th of December, 1847, the second message of “One of the People” was laid on the desks of the members of the legislature. It also is a masterly document, in its figures and statistics exceeding the first, and developing quite fully the germinal idea of its predecessor. It uncovered the abyss of Indiana's illiteracy and the incompetent schools and teachers, and also stated the remedy.

As a result of this and other influences, the legislature passed an act at the session of 1847–48 to take the will of the voters of Indiana on the question of free public schools. At the fall election in October, 1848, after a voter had deposited his ballot, he was asked by " the judge of the election,” viva voce, “ Are you in favor of free schools ?” When the vote was counted, it was found that 78,523 had voted for free schools, and 61,887 against them, so that the voters of Indiana had endorsed free schools by a majority of 16,636, and it was surely one of the most important results ever reached at the polls in this State.

THIRD AND FOURTI MESSAGES. On the 11th of December, 1848, “One of the People” addressed his third message to the legislature, in which he analyzes the vote on the free schools, and at once shows how it is to be carried into effect. The appeal is cogent, and had its effect. Like its predecessors, it was full of trenchant humor, of facts and of wise suggestions, and headed by the words, “Read, circulate, and discuss."

In December, 1849, “ One of the People” addressed his fourth message to the legislature on the subject of popular education. This, too, is a noble document, and pressed the great theme which had been annually argued by him with renewed power. “The constitution has committed to your charge the primary schools, the only institutions to which nine-tenths of the rising generation will ever have access." And he urges the responsibility resting on them to devise such wise measures in behalf of these schools “that on the legislature of 1849–50 may rest the benediction of the youth of Indiana, for having the wisdom to devise and the independence to enact such a system of free schools as may serve as a model to her younger sisters, while it secures the proper education of her own rising generation.” After showing the deficiencies of the present system, and the remedy to be adopted, “One of the People" thus concludes this remarkable message: “With the fond hope that the statistics and suggestions contained in this address may be received by you, gentlemen legislators, as the contribution of one who desires to see the entire youth of Indiana enjoy the blessings of free schools, and the community experience the incidental results of such an education, and that all may have occasion to retain a long and lively remembrance of your legislative fidelity, wisdom and patriotism, I am, etc., ·

* The Editor of this Journal received a copy of this and the other six messages, as issued from year to year, and they are, or should be now in a case appropriated to original docu. ments relating to Common Schools in Indiana, in the Library of the Bureau of Education in Washington.

ONE OF THE PEOPLE.?". The legislature to which this message was addressed, after careful discussion by Governor Whitcomb's recommendation, passed an act empowering the people to call a convention for drafting a new constitu



CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. The convention met at Indianapolis, October 7, 1850, and finished its work February 10, 1857. A very important part of that work pertained to the free schools. The leading newspapers of the State contained proof that some of the best men of the State were thoroughly alive to this great interest. Not a few able papers were printed, many of them anonymously, on the subject. In November, 1847, such a paper was published, asking that “the free common school system may throw its broad mantle over the thousands of the children of the poor—a helpless class of innocent sufferers—to shield them from infamy." This was signed by E. R. Ames, R. W. Thompson, S. Meredith, James Blake and others. A committee had prepared a sketch of a common school law to be presented to the legislature, but the report was that the convention for which it was prepared “was not large, and a great portion of those who were there at the opening of the meeting went away before its close.” Judge Blackford presided. It was evident that the people needed much more light to bring them up to the required standard of interest. It would be a matter of historical interest to know who wrote in advocacy of free schools the articles which appeared in the Indianapolis and other Indiana papers. From internal evidence I think that Professor Mills wrote some of them over other signatures than those affixed to his annual messages. But other able pens were also at work.

JOHN J. MORRISON AND THE SECTION ON EDUCATION. It was an omen peculiarly auspicious of good, that the people of Washington county had sent to the Constitutional Convention one of the ablest teachers the State has ever had, John J. Morrison, for many years principal of a school at Salem, and since that time honored with responsible offices. It is only necessary to consult the little book on "The Indiana Schools and the Men Who Have Worked in Them," and the eulogies pronounced on him by Barnabas Hobbs, Daniel Hough, and many of his pupils, to know how fortunate Indiana was in the ability and wisdom of such a teacher as Mr. Morrison at the time when the public school system was to receive its type and place in the new constitution. He was the Chairman of the Committee on Education in the Constitutional Convention, and as Mr. Hough says, “he reported substantially the article on education, and was the sole author of the section creating the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In the Indiana School Journal, October, 1878, is an article from the pen of this veteran educator on this very point, nor can we appreciate its statement as to the office of State Superintendent without recalling the fact that Professor Mills in his “annual message" and other eminent friends of the free public school system felt that without some efficient supervision no scheme could succeed. They differed in respect to methods, but were agreed as to the necessity. In the original draft of Mr. Morrison's report, “was the eighth section, which provides for the election of a State Superintendent. By a majority vote in committee, this section was stricken out of the final report." This action was

regarded as a fatal blow against the State's undertaking to educate the children of the State.” In this exigency the chairman " determined to submit the rejected article to the tender mercies of the Convention itself. To his great relief, after a somewhat stormy debate, the section rejected in committee was adopted, and ordered to be engrossed, by a vote of 78 to 50."

FIFTI MESSAGE BY "ONE OF THE PEOPLE." His fifth message on popular education was addressed to the Constitutional Convention in November, 1850, by “One of the People,” in a series of four sprightly and intensely earnest letters, first published in the Indiana Statesman and afterwards in other papers. The message was worthy the noble educator who had been pleading so long for the public schools of Indiana, and justifies the high eulogium passed upon its author by the venerable Morrison, who writes in a private letter, that “His messages from 'One of the People,' and his reports as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, if read in the light of subsequent legislation, will furnish ample evidence of the great service Professor Mills rendered to the public schools of the State."

SIXTH AND LAST MESSAGE. The Constitution was submitted to the people and adopted by a large majority. In January, 1852, it went into operation, and on the 20th of February, 1852, “One of the People" laid his sixth annual message on “Popular Education to the Legislature," on the tables of its members. And so well recognized had he by this time become as the advocate of a scheme of popular education that was both essential and honorable to Indiana that the Senate “ordered 5,000 copies to be printed.”

Inasmuch as this last of the six annual messages of “One of the People” is a business argument, it is not necessary to discuss its contents at any considerable length. It is enough to state its object. A

« 上一頁繼續 »