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But it is not only in the United States that a new regard for popular education has been recently manifested. In England, in France, and in many other parts of Europe, and most of all in those parts where least of all we should have expected it and last of all looked for it, the education of the people has become a matter of the most prominent public and private concern. In Prussia, in Austria, and even in Russia, a Free Popular School System has been silently springing up, which for completeness and efficiency seems to have had no precedent in time past, and certainly has no parallel at the present day; - a system, says Professor Stowe of Ohio, “more complete and better adapted to develop every faculty of the soul, and to bring into action every capability of every kind that may exist even in the poorest cottage of the most obscure corner of those kingdoms than has ever before been imagined."
Professor Stowe, you may remember, was employed by the Legislature of Ohio to procure information upon this subject during his recent travels in Europe, and his report, containing an interesting account of the Prussian School System, both as it exists at home and as already extended to the other countries which I have named, was reprinted, by the Legislature of our own Commonwealth at their last session, for the information of the school teachers and the instruction of the schools of Massachusetts.
Among the many striking occurrences of these wonder-teeming times, hardly any one seems calculated to make a stronger impression upon a reflecting New England mind than this. If there has been any thing upon which New Englanders have been accustomed to think that they might pardonably pride themselves, it has been their Free School System. While others have been boasting of the fertility of their soils and the salubrity of their climates, we have been content to be jested about our rocks and ice, our east winds and consumptions, while we could point to institutions of popular education which were admitted to be models for the world. And year after year, as our sons and daughters have swarmed out from the old New England hive and sought better soils and brighter skies in the distant West, we have commended these cherished institutions
to them with our parting tears, and counted it among our most precious consolations under the bereavement, that by them and in them New England principles would be planted and perpetuated thousands of miles over the mountains. How harshly, then, does it strike upon our eyes and ears and hearts, to see other institutions now sought out as examples, to have other schools made the subject of praises so long awarded to ours, and to feel that New England will soon be called on to acknowledge and admire, in the intellectual fields and gardens of our country, 'strange leaves and fruits not her own,' — novas frondes et non sua poma. Above all, how stern and stoical a philosophy does it require, not only to acquiesce in the justice of all this, not merely to give the assent of silence to the sentence which supersedes us in our most cherished field of competition, but even to unite, as we have done, in transferring the very diadem of our beauty and our pride to other heads!
But this view of the circumstance to which I have alluded, comprises but a small portion of its impressive character. Had the Free School System of New England been obliged to relinquish its claims upon the admiration and imitation of the world in favor of similar institutions upon our own American soil, had some thrifty scion of our own raising outshot the parent stock, and were it now standing by its side to cast upon it no greater disparagement than that of being “ the lovely mother of a lovelier daughter," - our vanity might have been healed by the very blow which wounded it, and we should have been compensated for the immediate honors we had lost, by the derivative and reflected glory we had acquired. But far different has been our fate. Robbed of our own richest and proudest distinction, we are compelled to see it claimed and enjoyed by those, whom we have been accustomed to regard with feelings only oscillating between pity and contempt, and with whose intellectual, moral, or political condition we should have scorned to claim, or even to admit, any connection or sympathy. The ignorance and degradation of Prussian hirelings, and Austrian bondsmen, and Russian serfs, have so long been the theme of our wholesale declamations, and have constituted so completely the sum and substance of all our
associations with those regions of the earth respectively, that as little should we have expected any good thing out of either of them, as an ancient Jew did out of Nazareth. Yet, from these very mountains of darkness and valleys of the shadow of death, a light has sprung up, of whose rays we are now glad to borrow.
What would our Pilgrim Fathers have thought of it; what would the Puritan schoolmasters have said to it; what would the founders and patrons of our schools and colleges, whether of the Pilgrim or the Patriot age — the Harvards, the Mathers, the Cheevers, and the Lovells — have said, had it been foretold to them, that no sooner had the trans- Alleghany region of this continent begun to be cleared and settled, and before even the first generation of its emigrant population had passed away, it should be found turning its eyes to find models for institutions of education, - not to the old, time-honored Free Schools of New England, which were the scene of their labors and the subject of their prayers; not even to the older and hardly less honored academies and colleges of old England, the common mother of us all ; — but to institutions for public instruction established by the most arbitrary and despotic Governments, and among the most benighted and enslaved peoples of Europe, and should be seen actually sending an embassy across the ocean to obtain the most accurate and detailed information as to their system and discipline? Would they not almost as soon have believed, that the destined dwellers on the banks of the Beautiful River, (as the native American well designated the Ohio,) would have one day imported in the egg a cargo of Hessian Aies to feed and fatten on their ripening wheatfields; or that they would have panted themselves to exchange their tempered and genial climate for “ the thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice,” which constitute so large a part of the empire of the Czar!
But there is still another view of the facts to which I have referred, which suggests reflections of a far higher and more important character than either of those which have yet been presented, and which relates not so much to our pride as New Englanders, as to our prosperity and welfare as freemen. We have been accustomed to regard a free school system as the chief corner-stone of our Republic, and popular education as the only safe and stable basis for popular liberty. So thought our fathers before us, and the principle may be found interwoven in a thousand forms into the very thread and texture of our political institutions. Education, — religious and civil, the education of the sanctuary and of the school-house, - was, we all know, from the first establishment of these Colonies, a matter in regard to which all property was held in common, and every man bound to contribute to the necessities of every other man; as much so as personal protection, public justice, or any other of the more obvious duties of government, or rights of the governed. “ To this celestial and this earthly light,” to use the language of Daniel Webster, every man was entitled by the fundamental laws, and as a part of that provision for the security of free men and the maintenance of free institutions, which it was the purpose of those laws to establish. A conscientious scruple of later years, which I am willing to respect in others, even if I do not quite feel the force of it myself, has stricken off religious education from the pay-roll of the State, and left every man not only to consult his own will, but to depend on his own means, in seeking for the light celestial. But the terrestrial light, the education of the week-day and of the earthly man, from which all care of his spiritual nature, it is hoped, is not entirely excluded, is still provided at the public cost, and the Free Common School system is still cherished as sacredly as ever, as the only sure foundation for the Republican fabric.
How is it, then, that we now find the most arbitrary and despotic Governments of the Old World adopting this same system as a security for their own stern dominations, and carrying it into operation at immense expense and upon an unparalleled scale, with as much apparent confidence that it will an. swer their own tyrannical ends, as if they were only manning a new fleet, or mustering a new standing army? Have we on this side of the waters been all, and all along, mistaken in our estimate of the political consequences of popular education ? Were our Puritan Fathers led away by erroneous prepossessions, which the winds and waves of three thousand miles of wintry ocean had not uprooted, or were they only chasing some ignis
fatuus of wilderness origin and growth, when they devoted their earliest attention to the establishment of common schools and colleges ? Was it a false philosophy, a misguided foresight, a deluded sagacity, which led the patriot framers of our State Constitution to declare, in the language of John Adams, one of the noblest of their number, that “wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, were necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties,” and to make it the constitutional duty “ of Legislatures and Magistrates, in all future periods of the Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them?” Have we, from first to last, been harboring and cherishing in our bosoms an insidious and treacherous foe to our freedom? Has an emissary of despotism, in the borrowed robes of an Angel of Liberty, been admitted unawares to our society and entertainment? Or is Popular Education merely neutral and non-committal in its political tendencies, and are Free Schools utterly indifferent in their influence upon political institutions? Will they serve as well, and may they be relied on as safely, for the bulwarks of an arbitrary and imperious dominion, as for the basis of a free Republican government? Do our enormous annual contributions of time and money to the cause of public instruction afford us no new or additional guaranty for the progress of free principles, and leave our democratic institutions in no less danger of downfall or overthrow? And will the hirelings and mercenaries of Austria and Prussia muster as promptly, and march as steadily, to execute the mandates of individual or of allied monarchs, after they have learned to read and write, as they did before? And the Autocrat of all the Russias — will he sit as easy on his throne of state, and sway his sceptre as unceremoniously over an enlightened, intelligent, and educated people, as he did while they were benighted, degraded, and ignorant ?
I know that but one answer would be given to these questions by all whom I address, and I am quite sure that it would be the right answer. But I cannot help thinking that, in view of the events on the other side of the waters to which I have referred, not a few of us may be glad to have the faith that is