Ohio History Journal







In the discussion of the subject at hand I find I am con

fronted with three very positive limitations. First, because the

story of land grants for education is one that even the most

investigating historian can find but little new general material

upon which to write. Second, the program committee has wisely

limited the time in which the subject may be presented. How-

ever laudable this restriction may be in the interests of the

audience, there is a constant feeling on the part of the writer

that he has to confine himself to certain lines and consequently

many pertinent facts and observations must be omitted. Third,

this being an organization for the Ohio Valley it has been thought

best to speak only of those educational land grants made in the

six Ohio Valley states-Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania,

West Virginia, and Kentucky.

The lands granted for educational support by the govern-

ment are in themselves an admission that education is one of

the functions of the state. When these donations were made in

the Ohio Valley it was not a new idea. It was as old as history

itself. Aristotle recognized it and Plato dreamed it into his

Republic and Laws. To the careful student of history there is

nothing so evident as the fact of education's being a function of

the state. It has from the earliest periods of written history

been so regarded. Nor is it seen alone in the theories of philos-

ophers and men who had visionary ideas on the subject. The

actions of emperors and kings who might be thought the least

likely to encourage schools and the means of education, are

concrete evidences of this inherent duty of a state toward its

citizens. Whether the government has been democratic like

Athens, imperial like Rome, royal like France or constitutional

like England, the necessity for the fostering care of the state

has ever been recognized.


60 Ohio Arch

60        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


We see this theory manifested in the princes who grant

pensions to the man of letters. Look at the educational centers

of Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Bologna, Paris, Pisa, Salamanca,

Oxford, Wittenberg, Leyden and Berlin, and ask why the govern-

ment aided them. Ask the libraries of Assyria, Egypt, the Vat-

ican, London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg the reason they

received government support. We find it in the rude ideals of

the Spartans and the spiritualistic beliefs of the Hebrews. Rome

stood for it, both as republic and empire. Charlemagne, the

most unique character in medieval history, founded a system

of free schools. The Arabian Caliph Alhakim established schools

in every village. The first "state university" began its exist-

ence in 1224 in Naples under the patronage of Frederick II.

Oxford was chartered by King John. The Protestant Revolu-

tion emphasized the idea.  Out of the Reformation came a

growth toward a religious democracy, giving impetus to the

development of free institutions, and along with this came the

call for the education of the masses by the state.

From Luther in Germany, Calvin in Geneva, John Knox in

Scotland and Milton in England, the common-school system

derived its life and became the common heritage of the Anglo-

Saxon people. Gustavus Adolphus was its patron. As early as

1583, Zealand began its system of state education. Holland for

years led the van for public instruction at the hands of the state.

Motley, in his celebrated history of that country, tells how John

of Nassau urged upon the States General the establishment of

free common schools. In France we find the same ideas advanced

from time to time. The year 1560 witnessed in this country a

petition to the king for the cause of popular education. French

educationists, including  Helvetius. La  Chalotais, Voltaire,

Turgot, Diderot, Compayre, and the pedagogists of the eighteenth

century voice the same doctrine.

"Instances of old ideas clustering about this common sov-

ereignty and universal education might be cited indefinitely."

We are the heirs of all the ages. The founders of the col-

onies were men of high ideals. They planted upon American

soil the principles for which the dreamer, the idealist, the re-

former, the great minds of all times had stood. European tra-

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States. 61

ditions and the forces of medieval institutions prevented the

fruition beyond the seas. American soil was lying fallow and

in the language of Horace Mann, "The transference of the for-

tunes of our race from the old to the new world was a gain to

humanity of a thousand years."

With such an array of evidence confronting the colonists

of America it is easily seen how the founders of the states

followed in the line of what had been the theory and practice

of the progressive peoples of Europe. Of the first six hundred

who landed in Massachusetts, one in thirty is said to have been

a graduate from an European university. In New England the

town meeting was ever dominant in matters pertaining to the

common weal. It would naturally be thought that here educa-

tion would be altogether in the hands of the local authorities.

But not so, for already in 1642 the legislative body of Massa-

chusetts began legislation for the education of all, under colonial

and state control. There is abundance of evidence to be pre-

sented to justify this position of the colonial fathers. We see

it in Massachusetts; we find it in Virginia; it is voiced in Penn-

sylvania; New York recognizes it; Hamilton and Jefferson each

had schemes of general education, which have left their impress

upon New York and the Central West.

This culmination of the world's ideas concerning education

in America is happily expressed by Dr. E. E. White: "With

matchless wisdom they (the fathers) joined liberty and learn-

ing in a perpetual and holy alliance, binding the latter to bless

every child with instruction which the former invests with the

rights and duties of citizenship.  They made education and

sovereignty coextensive, by making both universal."

The founders of our commonwealth had an abundance of

precedents to guide them. It was not a new theory emanating

from visionary brains. These men were careful students of the

theory of government. They well recognized and appreciated

the relations existing between a state and the means of education.

As there were many precedents for the founders to exercise

and provide for the future paternalism of the state toward the

schools, so it was not a new theory either that they should

manifest their paternalism in land bounties.

62 Ohio Arch

62        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications


It is true that they were not giving much, for land was

cheap; but it had the element of permanency in it. Throughout

the colonial history of this nation we find numerous cases of

land endowment for educational uses. Beginning with 1619 we

find it in Virginia; in 1653, in Boston; in 1636, in Charlestown,

Mass.; 1639, Dorchester, Mass.; 1640, Rhode Island; 1641,

Massachusetts; 165I, Ipswich, Mass.; 1663, Providence; 1665,

Hadley, Mass.; 1671, Connecticut; 1683, Delaware; 1686, Penn-

sylvania; 1690, Virginia; 1700, Connecticut; 1723, Maryland;

1753, Wyoming Valley, Pa.; 1754, New York; 1763, New Hamp-

shire; 1777, Georgia; 1780, Virginia; 1783, Georgia; 1783, Penn-

sylvania; 1784, New York; 1785, Vermont; 1787, Pennsylvania.

In the latter state William Penn had said: "That which

makes a good constitution must keep it, namely, men of wisdom

and virtue. These great qualities must be carefully propagated

by a virtuous education of youth, for which spare no cost, for

by such parsimony all that is saved is lost."

This teaching has certainly borne fruit.  Wherever the

Quakers have formed settlements they have always taxed them-

selves liberally for the support of public education.

The twelfth article of the frame of government to the

colony of Pennsylvania grants: "That the governor and pro-

vincial council shall erect and order all public schools."

The Pennsylvania Constitution adopted in 1776 is the ear-

liest constitutional provision among the states for the mainte-

nance of a university.

Article 44 of the Pennsylvania Constitution declares: A

school or schools shall be established by the legislature in each

county for the convenient instruction of youth, etc.

The Wyoming Valley, in Pennsylvania, is well known to

every schoolboy and schoolgirl as the scene of some of the most

harassing events in the Revolutionary War. Here occurred one

of the worst Indian massacres in our history. This land was

settled by the Connecticut people and it was claimed by both that

state and Pennsylvania owing to the overlapping of territorial


Under the direction of the Susquehanna Land Company 600

citizens from Wyndham County, Connecticut, established them-

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley, States

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley, States. 68


selves in this fertile valley. Here, true to the Connecticut habit,

they appropriated 900 acres to each township for the support of

schools, and organized education with a near approach to the

present school system. This local arrangement continued until

the establishment of the present organization was effected in


Perhaps it is well to note in passing that the University of

Pennsylvania in its earliest days received from the Proprietary

Government of Thomas Penn 7500 acres of land in Berks


In 1779 the legislature granted certain escheated lands to

the college valued at 25,000.

Franklin College, Pennsylvania, received with its charter a

grant of 10,000 acres of land in the western part of the state.

That the founders of the republic projected nothing new or

untried in their plan of government has long ago been con-

ceded by the most casual student of history. The idea that they

were a set of men inspired does not now obtain. There is very

little that is novel or unproved in the Constitution of the United

States.  Nearly every provision there had some precedent in

some of the colonies.  These men were careful students of

history. The colonies for a hundred years had evolved by ex-

perience certain plans and ideals. While the mother country

was trying to straighten out her kings; while absorbed in the

days of the Stuarts, Cromwell and the English Revolution; while

engaged in the series of wars between herself and her rival,

France, culminating in the battle of Quebec,-the colonies had

time to grow because there had been but litle interference from

beyond the sea. This century and more of experience, reaching

down to the period of constructive statesmanship, the men who

were to organize our government had to draw    from. They

were not visionary theorists but practical men of affairs and

their chief duty was to construct from these experiences.

From what has been already adduced it ought to be quite

evident now that among these experiences that became a part

of the assets of the fathers was the idea that education is the busi-

ness of the state. With this came its corollary that if educa-

1Com. of Ed. 1896-97, p. 668.

64 Ohio Arch

64        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

tion is the business of the state, the state should support it. The

nature of this support was never hard to determine. It would

be the resultant of two forces--that which was easy for the

state to give and that which would have a degree of permanency.

Here in the United States land fulfilled both conditions. So

these two ideas, education by the state and land grants for edu-

cation, were among the bequests that colonial history gave to

the fathers.

That these ideas were prevalent in the decade following

the Declaration of Independence, has already been shown. The

attitude of the statesmen of the time assumed without question

the power of the state in providing the means of education.

The roll of men who took advanced ground is a list of notables.

for it contains such names as Washington, Madison, Franklin,

Dane, King and others. The constitutions formed as the colonies

emerged into states recognized this vested right and duty of


It is not our purpose to review the governmental conditions

obtaining in this period. Everything was in almost a state of

chaos. It was a conflict between sovereign states on one hand

and a weak, anaemic government, trying to be sovereign, on the

other. Finally the western land-holding states ceded their claims.

for that is about all they possessed, to the general government

for the common good. This cession, with the campaigns of

Continental soldiers, the victory of American diplomacy at Paris

in 1783, and various, treaties with the Indians, whereby their

titles to these lands were extinguished, gave the central govern-

ment the only domain over which its rule was absolute.

Out of this condition came the interest and activity con-

cerning the western country. There was an abundance of land

yet in the colonies. The Ohio Valley was not open to settle-

ment because of the demand for homes. The very weakness

of the government drove it into the western real-estate business.

It owed a war debt. Continental soldiers of the line were still

unpaid and the government could not pay them, for it had no

power to collect taxes from sovereign states. But it had land in

plenty that could be sold or given in lieu of money. On Sep-

tember 5, 1782, a proposition came before Congress that the

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States. 65

money accruing from such lands as might be sold should be

used to pay the states' debts, whereupon Mr. Witherspoon in-

jected the mustard seed of nationality into the virgin soil of

our institutions by securing as a substitution for "states' debts"

the words "national debts."

Colonel Timothy Pickering was quartermaster general of

the American army. In view of the promises of lands made

several times by the Continental Congress to the soldiers of the

Revolution, Colonel Pickering early in 1783 outlined a plan for

the formation of a new state west of the Ohio river. After

stipulating the amount of lands various soldiers should receive,

according to rank and service, and providing for the organ-

ization of a government and other matters pertaining to it, he

directed that "all the surplus lands shall be the common property

of the state and disposed of for the common good." Among

the things considered as being for the "common good" was

"establishing schools and academies."

This paper was given to General Rufus Putnam, who secured

288 officers of the Continental line as petitioners. General Put-

nam forwarded it to General Washington and asked him for

his influence in securing its passage by Congress. General Wash-

ington transmitted it as requested and strongly recommended

it. This was on June 17, 1783. Congress paid no heed to the


The next attempt looking toward the settlement of the

Northwest was the ordinance of 1784, reported by a committee

of which Jefferson was chairman. Nothing was said here about

lands for schools and it seems strange, too. The report was not

in keeping with Jefferson's record in matters concerning edu-


The land ordinance of 1785 marks the initial step in land

endowments by the United States. The committee selected repre-

sented twelve of the thirteen states. Rufus King of Massachus-

etts seems to have been the master spirit in shaping and pushing

to a successful issue the ordinance. But it is to Timothy Picker-

ing, whose correspondence with Rufus King reveals his attitude,

that we are indebted for the plan of reserving a certain part of

the land as a perpetual endowment for public education.

Vol. XXV- 5.

66 Ohio Arch

66        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

The different steps taken in Committee and on the floor of

Congress by which the educational clause became a part of the

Land Ordinance of May 20, 1785, interesting though it be, can-

not be considered here. But the words "There shall be reserved

the lot No. 16 of every township for the maintenance of public

schools within said township," was the leaven committing the

government to a liberal patronage of education. This was our

first Congress land and here the United States Government

originated the American Land system, whose leading principles

are still followed. In the language of Mr. Hinsdale, "The dedi-

cation to the support of public schools of lot No. 16 in every

township was a far-reaching act of statesmanship that is of

perpetual interest. It was the first and greatest of the long

series of similar dedications made by Congress to education;

and the funds derived from the sale of these original 'school

lands' are the bulk of the common-school endowments of the

five great states of the Old Northwest."

It is not the purpose here to detract any from the meed

or merit due the fathers for this act of statecraft. But it must

also be remembered that these fathers, while they were astute

students of the precedents in history, while they were "far-see-

ing," they were also intensely practical, utilitarian, sort of folks

who were quite as much interested in the present as in the

future. They had an eye to business as well as to culture. The

Government was in the real-estate trade. To facilitate sales,

the land was put up with a prize in each package. Every induce-

ment for ready purchase was freely given. The same principle

animating land companies and railroads today, in exploiting

the advantages of a section, to where they are running Home-

Seekers' Excursions, on the first and third Tuesdays of each

month, was the dominant passion even then. There was no

difference, essentially, between the granting of lands for educa-

tion and religion than there was of reserving the salt springs

for all the people.

It may be sacrilege here to say it, but it needs no stretch

of the imagination and no straining at the leashes of the truth, to

perceive Manasseh Cutler, "The Father of the Ohio University,"

when he played that magnificent game of bluff, by preparing to

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States. 67


leave when the Board of Treasury hesitated to give him the

two townships of land for "an university," was as much inter-

ested in securing that institution to use as an advertisement for

the sale of his lands as it was for the education of the youth.

The pamphlet issued by the odious Scioto Company, to

further its abortive intention of settling, but highly successful

method of selling, its lands, expresses in the same lines with the

extravagant accounts of candles and custards growing on the

bushes, the fact that there is going to be a university, "to shed

luster on the settlements." Far be it from me to depreciate this

motive, but lest we forget, it is well to stop and consider once

in a while that the fathers, along with their prophetic visions

and high motives, were also very human.

Mention has been made of the Land Ordinance of 1785,

which reserved Section 16 of each township. This applied only

to what is known as the Seven Ranges, the first land surveyed

by the National Government, and located along the river front

of eastern Ohio.

Two years later the celebrated and historic year of 1787.

three acts of tremendous importance were enacted in the inter-

est of national land grants for education. There was the gen-

eral provision in the Celebrated Ordinance of that year, the

oft-repeated "religion, morality and knowledge" clause; the

action of the Board of Treasury in selling to the Ohio Company

the tract of land in southeastern Ohio and giving Section 16 for

schools and the two townships for the University, and the incor-

poration in the United States Constitution of the clause confer-

ring upon Congress absolute control of the public lands.

When John Cleves Symmes purchased his land between the

Miamis he had a right to expect the same treatment as had been

accorded the Ohio Company. Accordingly, the one-thirty-sixth

reservation was made for the schools and one township set

aside for the University. It is only fair to say we today are

the guests of that University for which such provision was made.

The lands granted for education up to this time were made

by the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The new

government did not seem disposed to follow its predecessor in

this line. Its failure to do so was not because it did not have

68 Ohio Arch

68        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

the opportunity. Various tracts were set aside and opened for

settlement in the first decade of our present Constitution, but

no reservations for education were made. Petitions from various

parts of the country, praying for such benefactions, went un-

heeded. It is only explainable on the grounds that the govern-

ment perhaps was not in such pressing need of revenue or that it

had other sources of income besides that of lands. Inducements

in the shape of bonuses were unnecessary. Again, in some of

these new tracts, as the Military Bounty Districts, the land was

given away. While the people here would need schools, as in

other sections, yet the high motive for the dissemination of

knowledge did not seem to have occurred to these patriots.

It was not until April 30, 1802, when Ohio was knocking

at the door of the Union for admission and Thomas Jefferson

was on the other side of the door extremely anxious to admit

the newcomer, because he needed the electoral vote in the im-

pending election, that the national government returned to the

principle of educational land grants. It then and there estab-

lished a new precedent from which it has never veered.

The Chillicothe statesmen drove a hard but a just bargain.

If the citizens of the Seven Ranges, and the Ohio Company's

Purchase and the Symmes Purchase could have land endowments

for their schools, why not the remainder of the state? Congress

would not permit herself to give such a munificent donation

without some tangible return. It was therefore agreed that for

these school grants and several other considerations not per-

tinent to this article, Ohio would exempt from all taxes for

five years after the date of sale all lands sold by the United

States government. This was the bargain. Nothing is said in the

enabling act about "religion, morality and knowledge," but

instead reference is made "of acceding to a proposition, the

tendency of which is to cherish and confirm our present happy

political institutions and habits."

Time does not permit to detail the various grants given from

time to time, until one-thirty-sixth of the entire area of the

state was given in perpetuity to the cause of education. The

last one to be granted was that of eight hundred acres for the

French Grant in Scioto county. The precedent so established in

Ohio became the settled policy of the National government, and

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States 69

Land Grants for Education in the Ohio Valley States  69


at once went into effect. In Indiana Territory the school sections

were set aside and the townships for seminaries were located as

soon as the land was offered for sale. These reservations were

vested in the states of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan as each

was admitted to the Union.

In the management of these grants the states were to serve

as trustees. The land was under the control of legislative en-

actment. It could not be sold. Various systems of leaseholds

evolved themselves. The state of Ohio proved herself to be a very

poor trustee in administering her trust in both Section 16 and the

University lands. Other states have done better. The several

Ohio legislatures having to do with these lands have no reason

to be proud of the ruthless manner in which this splendid en-

dowment has been squandered by unwise legislation. In short,

it amounted to the embezzlement of its trust and its wards, the

children of the state, have been deprived of their inheritance.

The maladministration of the educational lands in Ohio is the

darkest blot in her history.

Beginning with 1827 Section 16 was permitted to be sold

and the purchase money made a part of the irreducible debt of

the state. This was one way of clarifying the situation, but it did

not stop the graft. But about ten thousand acres in Ohio re-

mained unsold. Illinois has approximately 7,000 acres.

The methods used by Ohio in manipulating the University

lands would make a chapter all by itself. The amounts received

by the institutions are a mere bagatelle to the splendid incomes

it might have afforded by judicious management.

Transylvania University in Kentucky affords us an unique

illustration of the founding of a college. During the Revolu-

tionary War the old Dominion declared forfeit to the Common-

wealth the property of all within her borders who bore arms

with the British. Now it chanced in the County of Kentucky

there were three wealthy Tories whose aggregate holdings

amounted to eight thousand acres. By act of the Virginia legis-

lature, these lands were escheated, and in 1780 were dedicated

to the cause of education. Three years later an additional grant

of 12,000 acres was made and the new University came into


The acme of land grants for education was reached in the

70 Ohio Arch

70        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


Morrill Act of July 2, 1862, when each state was given 30,000

acres for each representative in Congress for the purpose of

subsidizing colleges for the agricultural and mechanical arts.

Under this apportionment Ohio received 630,000 acres; Illinois,

480,000; Indiana, 390,000; Pennsylvania, 780,000; Kentucky,

330,000; and West Virginia, 150,000. Here in Ohio the Ohio

State University has been the recipient of an additional gift. In

1871 there remained in the Virginia Military District quite an

amount of unpatented surveys. These, Congress gave to the

State of Ohio, which in turn donated them to the State Univer-

sity. The sum realized from these lands amounted to something

over $550,000.

The so-called "swamp-lands" have furnished some of the

states with additional permanent revenues for education, where

it was used for that purpose. Congress, by act of 1850, gave

something like 621/2 million acres to the western states. Ohio

got 25,000 acres, for which she realized less than one dollar per


This in general is the way in which education has been fos-

tered through land grants in the Ohio Valley. I have dwelt more

upon Ohio conditions for several reasons. First, because it was

in Ohio that the system of the National Government, acting as

benefactor, originated, and because it was here that so many

various land grants were made. Second, because Ohio is an ex-

treme type of the mismanagement of the trust, and the third

and best reason is, I know more about it than that of any other


But there is one thing that impresses itself upon me as I

study the question. It is the vast field afforded for research. It

is a perennial source of discovery. There is so much history

wrapped up in it because it comes so close to the people. Some-

body some day will write a book. It will contain the story of men

searching for homes, of statesmen wrestling with the problems

of constructive legislation, of men and women turning their faces

to the light. It will be the story telling of ambitions, of aspira-

tions, of hopes, of discouragements, of failures. But it will be

an interesting story because it will be so real, so human. And

that is history.