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FEDERAL SCHEMES TO AID COMMON SCHOOLS IN
THE SOUTHERN STATES.
O thoughtful citizen can view without alarm the steady ten
dency towards centralization going on in the country and the breaking down of the constitutional limits with which our fathers wisely encircled the powers granted to the General Government created in 1787. The great civil war was a most dangerous period, when every doubtful exertion of power was excused by the plea that the very existence of the Constitution was at stake. Since its close the array of precedents then established makes every new attempt more sanguine of success, and induces fanatics to stigmatize any opposition to their wildest theories as disloyalty.
There is, however, a limit, and the sound sense of the people will ultimately prevail. Once a genuine alarm is created, all the unconstitutional usurpations will be annulled and the Supreme Court, true to the spirit of the Constitution formed by the Convention over which Washington presided with such providential wisdom, will sweep them away as the tornado brushes from its path the petty works of meaner men.
The plans are often so masked with the disguise of public good, of zeal for the general welfare, that the inherent and unconstitutional elements are not seen in all their naked deformity, and well meaning persons are led away.
The creation of a Department of Education was in itself a dangerous symptom, as the Federal Government has under the Constitution no power to interfere in the educational affairs of the States. Over the Territories, with a sparse population, Congress has indeed a constitutional power, over the District of Columbia, over West Point, forts, and navy yards. At any time in the last century Congress, in its deep and earnest anxiety for the education of the young in these inchoate States and spots withdrawn from the exercise of State systems, might have provided a general system of schools, and even paved the way for higher educational institutions. But you search in vain the statute book or the annals of Congress for any such beneficent action. The old Continental Congress indeed, in its ordinance for the government of the territory northwest of the Ohio, which, by the treaty of 1783, devolved on the Congress as a cession of part of Canada by England, did provide for education from the public lands, after Virginia and
other States had surrendered their vague and shadowy claims to it. But under the Constitution of 1787 the powers of Congress and of the Federal Government are strictly limited.
Even after Congress in our time created a Bureau of Education, the department made only more glaring its neglect of a real duty. We can find evidence that Congress annulled the charters of colleges and broke up schools in territorial limits; but the light of research shows that, like ordinary sinners, Congress has neglected to do what it ought to have done, and has done what conscience should have forbidden it to do.
But in time it became evident that the Bureau of Education was part of a scheme to bring the whole school system of the separate States under the control of Congress. The working of the scheme can be traced in the debates of Congress, though it is hardly safe to follow the printed issues of the Congressional Record; for if we are to take that publication as a type of truth and honesty displayed by the General Government in its new part of great moral educator and elevator, we shall be somewhat startled on a very cursory examination. It is probably the most false, mendacious, and intentionally dishonest and misleading publication ever issued; for while it purports to be a record of what is said and done in Congress, it reports not what members actually have said, but what on sober second thoughts they wished they had said, omitting much they really uttered and introducing matter never pronounced in the Senate or House. It is a stigma on our civilization that such a work will live to deceive men and falsify history.
The Rev. Mr. Mayo, of Massachusetts, one of those general benefactors of humanity from his own standpoint, and a great dabbler in educational matters, interested himself in the education of the Southern negroes. To his mind the white population of the South, impoverished by the war and still more by the terrible governments to which they were subjected during the years that followed it, were not doing enough to educate the negroes whom the North had liberated. To his mind it became the duty of the General Government, which had made them citizens and invested them with the elective franchise, to educate them. He prepared tables showing the fearful illiteracy that prevailed, but, like most onesided men, did not set in very bold relief what the robbed and impoverished white population of the South had done and were doing even while smarting under a sense of wrong and oppression.
The scheme thus generated in the brain of a New England Protestant clergyman required some one to take it up and push it in Congress. Such a person was found in Senator Blair, of New Hampshire.
In December, 1881, this Senator introduced “A Bill to aid in
the establishment and temporary support of Common Schools." Under this $105,000,000 were appropriated to be paid out in ten annual sums, beginning with fifteen millions the first year, and ending with six millions in the last. It professed that these amounts were to be expended to secure the benefits of common school education to all the children living in the United States. The basis of distribution was certainly remarkable. The money was, of course, raised by taxes, which are supposed and intended to be imposed on all parts of the country and all the inhabitants equitably. In the treasury it is the property of the people of the United States at large. But how was it proposed to return this money to the people ? By States according to population ? No. According to wealth, on the principle that the State contributing most should receive most? No. But the census of illiterate persons ten years old and upward in the whole country was to be taken as the basis, and each State was to receive according to its proportion of this class. A State having none of this class would get nothing, a State that contained half the illiterate population of the country would receive fifty millions of the public money. The word “ children" was a lure,—the persons “ten years of age and over” included the great mass of adult negro voters up to the age of ninety, who certainly could not be expected to enter the schools or profit by the new educational facilities. The money was to be expended jointly by the Secretary of the Interior and the State Superintendent of Schools or other supreme school officer or body in each State; but if the State officer failed to agree with the ideas of the Federal Secretary, that State's share was to go back into the Treasury to be added to the distributive fund of the next year. In other words, the State officer had no power except to concur with the Federal officer. The money in each State was to be disbursed through a Commissioner of Common Schools in that State, appointed by the President, and rewarded with a salary of from three to five thousand dollars. Existing public schools, not sectarian in character, might be aided, and new ones might be established. If any State declined to accept the act, or neglected to take steps to obtain its share, its portion became a part of the general fund for distribution among the other States and Territories. The Secretary of the Interior was to administer the law through the Bureau of Education, and the Commissioner of Education was to act as Commissioner of Common Schools for the District of Columbia.
In the use of the word " sectarian," the Rev. Mr. Mayo and his mouth-piece, Senator Blair, forgot the words of honest old Elihu Burritt in a letter addressed to the New York Tribune, October 9, 1875:
Now as 99 common school teachers in 100 in all these Northern States are Protestants, as the literature of all our reading books and the very atmosphere of our schools and even their out-door sports are Protestant in their influence, would it not be judicious as well as liberal to remove all religious bars to the admission of Catholic children? We ask and require them to yield some of their scruples in sending their children to schools which are effectively Protestant and which they have considerable reason to expect will influence their young minds. Then we may well and justly make some concessions of the same kind to them. ... My only object has been to show that the term sectarian cannot properly be applied to it (the educational question) in the sense generally adopted."
How was the Secretary of the Interior to define" sectarian"? The use of the Protestant Bible makes every school where it is read a school under the Protestant sects, and therefore sectarian.
The word " sectarian," however, was intended to be, and really was, a slur on the Catholic body in this country, who, finding their children expelled from the State schools by their intensely antiCatholic character, and by the license given to teachers to insult and expel Catholic children at their fancy, have been compelled to establish schools of their own where their children can be educated morally and religiously.
In debates which subsequently arose on this bill and others like it, Senator Vest, of Missouri, said: “I wish to call the attention of the Senator, irrespective of the census, to a simple fact, which is known, I presume, to every Senator present, that the Roman Catholics in the United States do not send their children to the public schools, that as a matter of religious duty, at least, they think they should not attend these schools, and I am utterly amazed to hear the statement, even from the census or anywhere else, that there are only 500,000 children in the United States in private schools. I undertake to say that if the fact is ascertained it will be found that there are that many children of Roman Catholic parents who, on a question of religion, do not attend the public schools."
To this Mr. Blair made a very lame answer, and said: “It is not worth while to quarrel with the Senator over a million or two!" A million or two! What precious statistics must they have been which Senator Blair has paraded so zealously for the last seven years, if to his figure of half a million we can in any part add a million or two!
The term “sectarian" was aimed especially at Catholic schools, for it is the only church which has any extensive system. To exclude these schools it actually lays down this as a principle: If
you teach the children to read, write and cipher, you deserve aid; but if you are such enemies of God and man as to teach them at the same time religion and morality, you become outcasts, and deserve not the aid of the State, but its heaviest and severest punishment. We will make a "shibboleth." The form of the Lord's Prayer which Rev. Dr. Schaff and other revisers rejected from the Protestant Bible shall be our test. Any pupil who will not repeat the spurious form must be expelled from the schools; we do so in Massachusetts.
But if we examine this Blair bill of 1881, not only in its spirit, but its form, we find it utterly un-American and indefensible. It strikes at every principle of sound government. It created a horde of officers, proposed to swell to an enormous extent the employees of the Bureau of Education, and required an army of sycophants and time-servers. No grosser attempt to debauch the public morals was ever brought forward.
Under this bill the head of the school system in each State had to be the tool of the Secretary, ready to “bend the pregnant hinges of the knee" at his every dictate, or his State lost its share. Any State or Territory that failed to carry out in detail whatever whim the Secretary might entertain, lost its share, so that in fact it depended solely on him whether each State in the Union obtained a share, or whether it was paid to two or three favored and compliant States. What a system for sycophancy and toad eating !
Taking the whole body of illiterates as a basis of calculation was not only without precedent, but absurd, for more than two-thirds of the illiterates in the South in 1880 were adults too old to attend school, and, therefore, hopelessly illiterate, who should not have been taken into consideration in a matter of schools which they would not attend even if an opportunity was afforded.
The project of Senator Blair was essentially sectarian, and at once received strong sectarian support, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian associations advocating it in a memorial to Congress in March, 1882. At first, however, it made little progress, and was not carefully scrutinized or debated. But as a strong sectarian influence had been aroused, an agitation was kept up for a more vigorous effort at a future period. Catholics, course, had nothing to do in the matter. They are practically excluded from all share in the management of the public schools, and their children are liable at any moment to be expelled from them. Strong Catholic opposition to the Blair bill would have helped it greatly, it was earnestly desired by its friends, but it did not come.
Catholics took no step. Senator Blair brought the matter before the Forty-eighth Congress, and a bill was reported in which, however, the States were