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EDUCATION IN THE NORTHWEST DURING THE FIRST
HALF CENTURY OF THE REPUBLIC, 1790-1810.
By Rev. A. D. MAYO, A. M., LL. D.
We are now prepared to begin a more detailed examination of different portions of the Union in their dealing with education during the first half century of the Republic. And by far the most interesting portion of the new nationality in this respect is the new North west. For here, at the earliest period, we find illustrated the facts we have already noted: (1) That only by the intense and persistent purpose of a whole people and its willingness to make a yearly sacrifice for the children can the American common school ever be placed on its feet, much less nursed up to its full stature. (2) We shall see how, even during their earliest years, the four Northwestern ('ommonwealths that had been admitted to the Union before 1810 were developing certain advanced ideas and broad methods of dealing with the entire subject of universal education which have become more powerful with the passing years, and, at present, are felt as one of the most decided modifying influences in the school systems of all the original States.
But we shall do great injustice to the people of these settlements in the boundless wilderness of the North west of 1790 if we estimate their progress in the establishment of an effective system of popular education by reference to the condition of the same communities within the period of the memorable era since 1860. The close of the civil war in 1865 left the group of Northwestern States by far the inost conspicuous figure in the reconstructed Union. They had furnished nearly 1,000,000 soldiers, one-third the entire body of the Grand Army of the Republic. Their foremost military commanders had steadily gained the confidence of the people during these critical years, and the three who, in succession, held the supreme position in the national Army were natives of Ohio. With the exception of two Vice-Presidents called to the Chief Magistracy of the Republic by the providence of God and one President afterwards elected, the Presidency of the United States from 1860 to 1892 has remained in the narrow circle of the three Northwestern States first admitted to the Union. It was well-nigh iinpossible for the elderly Eastern visitor to the city of Chicago in the late memorial year to place himself back in the period of his owu boyhood when the New England family was stowed away in the old-time emigrant wagon and the interminable journey "out West” began with a religious service in the old church, and home and neighborhood prayers and tears mingled with the “great expectations” and aspirations of its occupants. But if we can briefly run over some of the more evident obstacles to the establishment of a satisfactory arrangement of the general educational training of the children during the first thirty years after the settlement of Ohio, in the four States that then constituted the Northwest, we may better appreciate what was really accomplished against obstacles almost insurmountable.
1. First must be considered the original movement of the rival ecclesiastical forces of the old East to capture this new "land of promise" and preempt, especially, the ED 95—448*
secondary and collegiate departments of the educational field as the most efficient agency of denominational religious propagandism. It is not just to impute to the leaders of this movement any save the highest motives, from their own point of view, in their attempt to cover the new country with their churches and schools, which would become the most important annex to the religious establishment.
We have already seen that the unanimity of theological belief and ecclesiastical polity, until the period of the Revolution, was one of the most favorablo elements in the establishment of the common school system of the original Eastern States; since the “religious question,” which is largely the question to what extent each religious body shall be able to use education as a factor in its own upbuilding, was thereby entirely eliminated. We have also seen how the diversity of religious sects in the Central and Southern Provinces made tho establishment of anything like a satisfactory public educational system impossible, until many years after the formation of the United States Government. But the war for independence, liko all similar upheavals of society, had, for the first time, introduced into New England tho seeds of theological dissent and sharp ecclesiastical competition. At once, from all the older States east of the Alleghanies, the different religious bodies and the active apostles of what was then called “infidelity,” made haste to take possession of the promised land. The result was that before the school lands could be made to yield an income sufficient for even a meager common school, the country had been occupied by private denominational and so-called “collegiate” seminaries, chiefly available for the families of the more prosperous sort.
2. This enterprise wrought along the lines of the social currents that were formed in these States at the very beginning of their existence. Although the mutual companionship of hardship and peril in a new country favored a certain democracy in public affairs, yet nowhero are the social lines more strictly drawn than in the original occupation of such a region as our new Northwest. New England was by no means a social democracy at the close of the war of the Revolution; and there were families and families among the emigrants from Massachusetts and Connecticut in the little society that was represented at the first “ball” in Marietta, Ohio, where fifteen ladies, “as conspicuous for politeness as elsewhere," appeared as the original “upper ten" of the Buckeye State.
But after the first spirt of emigration, largely from the soldier class of the East, the majority of the emigrants for an entire generation were from the Southern and Central States, whero social discrimination was even more strongly marked. The bulk of the population of the Northwest, for the first twenty-five years, was strung along the 450 miles of the northern shoro of the Ohio River. Of the 47 members of the convention that framed the constitution of Ohio, 16 were from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky, 9 from New York and New Jersey, and only 8 from New England. There was less enthusiasm for the new Western life in the New England than in the Southern and Central States. Both Massachusetts and New York had large tracts of land on sale, and were in no haste to build up rival Commonwealths beyond the mountains. Until a generation later, when the growing tide of New England emigration was propelled through the new Erie Canal and the Lakes to the Northern section, the new West was largely a new South, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Tho people who came from this portion of the Union were unaccustomed to the common school and naturally fell into the homo ways of educating the children according to the methods in vogue from the beginning in their own colonies.
3. The extremo poverty of the people, for all purposes save the actual supply of tho necessaries of life, was a powerful obstacle to the early establishment of public schools. The New England contingent, respectable and progressive in ideas as it might be, was largely composed of families, left at the close of the war in absolute necessity of somo "paying” occupation, with no resources save the indefinite land bounties and “certificates of indebtedness" issued by a Government representing an impecunious new Republic; a 20-shilling certificate not being equal to 5 shillings of available currency for actual use. Their one hope was to realizo from this almost hopeless source of support a new home in the far West. And, while the fruitful lands and genial climate of their new abode were an assurance against starvation, the history of the settlement of any American State, previous to the last fifty years, is a record of hardship, poverty, sacrifice, trial, fearful sickness and death, only paralleled by the waste of war. Amid these trials it is not strange that, outside a few village settlements, it was next to impossible to support the common school for all.
4. Even the possession of a generous endowment of school lands at first was little more than a prophecy of hope for an indefinite future. These public school lands were at first leased at low rates, especially in Ohio, were slowly taken up, and from lack of experience in such operations, often sacrificed. In time the generous provision of two townships for the support of a university was lost, except the saving of the meager income of a few thousand dollars a year; and the greatest of the Western Commonwealths was compelled to wait another half century before its final State university could be established. Col. Rufus Putnam, of Marietta, Ohio, informs Dr. Manasseh Cutler, of Massachusetts, at ap carly period of the settlement, that the entire resources of the common-school lands were but $3,000, and Dr. Cutler, as agent for the Ohio company, sends on a few hundred dollars to pay the first minister and teacher of the new colony. Ohio has never reaped any advantage from her educational fund of school lands comparable with the remaining four States of the original group of the North west.
5. Until the close of the second war with Great Britain, in 1815, these States were terribly worried by the peril from hostile Indians. This was only overcome by the decisive victory at the battle of the Thames, and the destruction of British influence through the entire region. Previous to the purchase of Louisiana there was the constant danger, emphasized by Washington and felt by all well-informed public men, of a revolt of the entire Western section, and the establishment of a rival government to the United States. One of the urgent reasons for the sale of the great track of land to the Ohio company, repeatedly enforced on public attention, was the advantage of sending to the banks of the Ohio a colony of ex-Revolutionary soldiers, under their honored commanders, of undoubted patriotism, knowing no other country than that for which they had given their past eight years of service to preservo and defend as a heritage. There can be little doubt that Virginia and the South were reconciled to the prohibition of slavery in these five new States, by the hope of protection for their settlements on their exposed north western border, as well as by the expectation of trade through the proposed channels of interior commerce suggested by Washington. This chronic state of border conflict was followed by the breaking out of the war of 1812, in which the entire territory of Michigan and the whole northern frontier, were for a time in the possession of the common enemy. Notably, the first twenty-five years of the Northwest was a period of "wars and rumors of wars,” in all ages unfavorable to the organization of any save the few superior schools which are always established where a body of educated and well-todo people is found.
6. The difficulty of this position in a country like the Northwest can only be partially understood, even by comparison with such a country as New England remained until a quarter of a century ago. Instead of the tolerable roads of a country founded and developed under the advantages of a compact township government, these new settlers on the "bottom lands” of the Ohio and its tributaries found themselves, during six months of the year, dwelling in a weltering continent of mud, and were always staggering through a wilderness, with none of the modern appliances for personal movement or the transportation of crops. Dr. Manasseh Cutler, in 1788, spent thirty days in his “new sulky” and on horseback in his first journey from Ipswich, Mass., to the new settlement of Marietta, on the Ohio. It was thirty-five years from this settlement before the construction of the Erio Canal in New York, and forty years before the Great Lakes and the Ohio River were connected by a new water highway. First, the track of the buffalo; then the
Indian trail; next the river “batteux” and the wilderness pack horse; and, “after many days,” in 1818, the steamboat of the old tiine on the river represented the first great effort of the “wild West” to “get out of the woods” and in hand shake with the civilization “ a way down East,” beyond the formidable barrier of the Alleghany Mountains. The traveler who sees the difficulties at the present time in the Southern States, which still live so largely under the conditions of a border land, in getting children to and from the scattered country schools, can partially realize this special hindrance to the early establishment of efficient instruction in the new Northwest.
7. Another formidable obstacle to the adoption of the New England common school system in these States bordering the Ohio was the constant peril that these Commonwealths would eventually become slave States, like their neighbors Kentucky and Tennessee. The broad views of the Congress of the Confederation that framed the great ordinance of 1787 soon gave place to the ambition of the extreme leaders of the slave-holding class to capture this new domain as an annex to the original South in its industrial, social, and political estate. At once, spite of the prohibition in the ordinance and its implied authority for all time, a persistent effort was made to force across the river the “peculiar institution.” For more than 500 miles south of the Ohio, a slave State faced the wilderness that was to be changed to the new North west. A majority of the people emigrating to this country for the first thirty years were from the slave States or communities in sympathy with them. The original law, which is identified with the name of Jefferson, robbed of its half-way prohibition against the institution, was the only general statute of the Northwest Territory until the ordinance of 1787, by the insistence of the Ohio Company represented by Dr. Cutler, prohibited slavery through the entire extent of the Territory. But the original Virginia idea of State sovereignty was. supposed to override this territorial statute and the new constitution of Ohio, in 1802, was made anti-slavery by the casting vote of one member of the convention. Governor William Henry Harrison was president of a convention called to urge the introduction of slavery into Indiana, and Jefferson, then President of the United States, was quoted in its favor. Indeed, for several years Indiana and Illinois were slave Territories, and only after a conflict that until recent years has never been understood by the student of American history, were both these great States secured at last for freedom; Illinois largely by the intrepid and far-seeing statesmanship of its Virginia-born governor, Cowles. This original conflict between the old and new civilization of the Republic on the banks of the Ohio was long and intense and greatly hindered the people from giving earlier attention to education, It was not till 1824 that this internecine war for the possession of the new Northwest was finally closed by the decision of the people that Illinois should be a free State. This contention left behind a trail of injustice in the form of a system of odious and oppressive “black laws” that remained on the statute books of Ohio until 1837. And even the “remainder of wrath” was revealed during the entire progress of the civil war,
8. Even at this period, 1820-1830, forty years from the original settlement, there were but 800,000 people in the entire Northwest, of which more than half were in Southern Ohio. Indiana had but 200,000; Illinois, 55,000; Michigan, 10,000, and Wisconsin was still a wilderness. In 1802, there were but 45,000 people in the entire territory of Ohio. In 1815, Cleveland, Ohio, was a small village; Cincinnati a town of 3,000 people. Columbus, the new capital, was being cut out of the woods in 1816.
That a people, not so numerous as the population of the three leading cities of these States in 1890, dispersed through a realm so vast and inaccessible, should linger in putting on the ground its final system of public education is not remarkable to the student of American history, who is well informed of the prodigious obstacles which the “march of Empire” surmounted in its progress toward this magnificent realm, to-day one of the most favored portions of God's heritage in any land.
With these preliminary considerations in mind, it may be well to introduce our review of the gradual development of the common school in the North west by a consideration of the relativo historical position of these 17 Western States to the Union. And no view of this wonderful section of the Republic can be seen in true historical perspective unless the observer stands on the original natural outlook of Ohio.
The historian, George Bancroft, has said: “Nature made Ohio the highway of ideas.” The present accomplished United States Commissioner of Education, Dr. William T. Harris, has elaborated this forcible statement in its educational application by the following suggestive and illuminating sentences: “It seems that whenever a body of educational reformers with similar ideals became moved with a strong impulse to put their principles into practice, they chose Ohio as the scene for their experiment. Here were found intelligent people from the East, without the conventional limitations of the older communities which they had loft, and at the same time with a warm appreciation of education. In this way Ohio has led the nation in several important educational movements, which, springing up on her fresli soil from her peculiar conditions, have spread to other places where similar conditions prevail. Especially in the West and Northwest is her influence traced. She was the first State formed out of the great Northwest Territory, and many of her problems had to be solved outright, without precedents from older States. Their solation was accepted by her younger sisters as they entered the family of States, and, in time, many of them have reacted upon the older East.”
According to her latest historian,“ prior to the ordinance of 1787 there is no trace of a magisterial or civil officer, French, English, or American, only squatter sovereignty;" and until 1796 no established road, in what is now the State of Ohio, the most eminent representative of the new American Northwest. In one century Ohio has become the fourth State in population in the Union, having risen from 42,000 in 1803 to 3,672,316 in 1890. In area Ohio is one of the lesser of the northwestern group, containing 41,060 square miles and 26,700,000 acres, with an extent of some 200 miles in each direction. With the exception of a ragged region in the southeast and a beautiful “rolling country” in the south west, its surface is a sharp contrast to the old picturesque East, no hill reaching an altitude of 1,500 feet. In equable fertility of soil and general mildness of climate it surpasses all its older sisters in similar latitudes, while its mineral resources, still revealed by new discoveries, would set up an old-time empire.
In property valuation Ohio is excelled by only three of the States—New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts—having piled up the enormous sum of $1,778,138,457 in less than a century. The governor declared, in 1890, that in percentage of school attendance Ohio led the Union. Of its eminence during the past thirty years in the military and civic history of the nation, it is hardly necessary to speak. Though now surpassed in population by Illinois, with more than one metropolitan city in the Northwest greater than Cincinnati, and in special ways outstripped by several of her later-come sisters in the majestic galaxy of the seventeen Commonwealths of the Northwest between the Alleghanies and the Rocky Mountains, Ohio is still the most conspicuous and characteristic representative of this portion of the country. For the new Northwest is now foremost in population and political power, and evidently destined to remain the great controlling section, holding all outlying realms in orderly and harmonious relations in the august union of States.
What happened before 1787, during the two hundred and fifty years from the original discovery of the Mississippi River by De Soto in 1541, is not in the line of this essay. The leading European powers two centuries ago fell into the habit of ceding away the American continent “from sea to sea," to little squads of their emigrating subjects. During the half century before the war of the Revolution, the wilderness of the Northwest was little save a "dark and bloody ground;" Indians, Frenchinen,