Amid the evils of the Civil War, which for a time threatened to permanently divide the land in which we live, Justin Smith Morrill crafted a bill that forever altered the landscape of America.
1862 was a challenging time for government in the United States, primarily because it wasn’t united at all. Bill passage was difficult enough when one considers the partisan nature of Congress. It was made even more so when seceding states’ representatives battled with those focused on condemning them for their rebellion.
Nonetheless, Morrill was able to convince them of the act, known today as the bill that gave birth to land-grant institutions of higher education.
Morrill was not himself college educated. He learned business by managing a general store in a time when general stores were the hub of local commerce. From the sale of dry goods, groceries and farm supplies to delivery of the U.S. mail, he was able to parlay local knowledge and politics into a trip to Washington.
The bill paved the way for multitudes of people to have access to higher education in areas that had not previously been
seen as college worthy. A myriad of academic areas would ultimately be introduced into college curriculums at universities across the country, including home economics, engineering, industrial education and, of course, agriculture.
Morrill had an appreciation for the land and what it meant to a fledgling nation, less than 100 years removed from English rule. So much so, he was instrumental in an effort to beautify a warravaged capital in and around Washington DC
Justin Morrill was interested in the integration of practical education and skills associated with them. He also had a dedication to the people who practiced those skills on a daily basis. Of those people, Morrill quipped,
“Our country depends on them as its right arm to do the handiwork of the nation.”
In fact, the country had depended on them throughout the industrial revolution and would even more as the nation would be faced with a population explosion and an increasing need to feed it. This knowledge and skill set would increase through the 19th and 20th centuries.
Sometimes, these skill sets are accompanied by a segment of the public that is unappreciative. Some are unwilling to recognize the level of education needed to maximize the pedagogical values in agriculture. The truth is, without the advances made in soil sciences, crop rotation, crop nutrition, cultivation and the like, we would all be introduced to hunger in a way which might rapidly solve our nation’s obesity problems.
Justin Smith Morrill, a United States Senator from Vermont who introduced the Morrill Act of 1862, which created land-grant institutions.