Page images
[ocr errors]


governments, in regard to provisions for early education. New England may well offer her most hearty congratulations, that the system of free schools, originating with her, has been introduced into most of the States of the Union; and in some has been carried to a good degree of perfection. I am, certainly, not disposed to detract any thing from so good an establishment. It is, indeed, the richest inheritance, we enjoy from our ancestors; and the value, we attach to it, is enhanced no small degree, by a knowledge of the sacrifices, it cost its pious founders. The first and imperious wants of a people in a strange land," were but indifferently supplied, when provision was made by authority, for the universal instruction of the young. We must not analyze, too closely, all the motives, which induced such provision. We might, perhaps, find, that a zeal for the faith, which they believed to have been once delivered to the saints, made no small share; for it must be confessed, that little was taught in the schools of the puritans, but catechisms containing their faith. At least, this was the grand object, and every thing else was subsidiary. The youth, who had been taught subjection to his superiors, by arguments summarily addressed to his back, and was well versed in the creed of the then orthodox church, was sent into the world, with perfect confidence in his competency to surmount all difficulties, which might occur in the various relations of life. But this was not long the state of things. The

religious zeal of the puritans, which, to say the least, approached to bigotry and intolerance, was much qualified in its influence upon the early institutions of the country, by their love of civil liberty. Their political creed was hardly less heretical than their religious; and they were as impatient of control in the capacity of a body politick, as their consciences were wayward and obstinate in matters of religion. Their attachment to free institutions was devoted and enthusiastick; and they had the wisdom to discover, that "knowledge is essential to freedom." These two causes, zeal for their faith, and love of free institutions, conspiring, led to the adoption of a policy for the general diffusion of knowledge, which showed practically and efficiently, how much they loved their institutions, and how well they understood, what constitutes the basis of free govern


New England was first granted by letters patent from King James, in 1621, to "diverse of his loving subjects," to wit; the Council established at Plymouth, and embraced that moderate portion of the American continent, "lying and being in breadth from Fourty degrees of Northerly Latitude from the Equinoctiall line, to Fourty eight Degrees of the said Northerly Latitude, and in Length by all the Breadth aforesaid, throughout the main Land from sea to sea."* One would think, by the liberality of this grant, that his Majesty did not very well understand *Haz. Hist. Coll. vol. i. p. 105.

the geography of this continent, or that he did not set a very high value on his extensive acquisitions here. The Council of Plymouth, soon after, made large grants of territory to different companies for the purpose of settlement in New England. Το Sir Henry Roswell and others, they gave the part called Massachusetts Bay ;* and this grant was confirmed in 1628, by the Colony charter from King Charles. The Colonies of Plymouth,† Connecticut,

*The original grant of Massachusetts Bay embraced, "all that Parte of Newe England in America, which lyes and extends betweene a greate River there, commonlie called Monomack, alias Merriemack, and a certain other River there, called Charles River, being in the bottome of a certayne Bay there commonlie called Massachusetts, alias Mattachusetts, alias Massatusetts Bay, and also all and singular those Lands and Hereditaments whatsoever, lying within the space of three English myles on the South parte of the said Charles River, or of any or everie Parte thereof; and also, all and singular the Landes and Hereditaments whatsoever lying and being within the space of three English myles to the southwarde of the southermost Parte of the said Bay, called Massachusetts, alias Mattachusetts, alias Massatusetts Bay; and also all those Landes and Hereditaments whatsoever, which lye, and be within the space of three English myles to the Northwarde of the said River called Monomack, alias Merriemack, or to the Northwarde of any and every Parte thereof, and all Landes and Hereditaments whatsoever, lying within the lymitts aforesaide, North and South in Latitude and breadth, and in Length and Longitude, of and within all the Breadth aforesaide throughout the Mayne Landes there, from the Atlantick and Western Sea and Ocean on the Easte Parte, to the South Sea on the West Parte," &c.—[Haz. Hist. Coll. vol. i. p. 241.]

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

and New Haven were likewise organized by charters, and these four, for some time, constituted the New England confederation. Under the Colony charter of Massachusetts Bay, among the first legislative acts, are recorded the following characteristic preamble and law :

"For as much as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any commonwealth, and whereas many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent in that kind;

"It is ordered, that the selectmen of every town in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbours, to see;

“First, that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavour to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices, so much learning, as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the capital laws:

"Also, that all masters of families do once a week (at the least) catechise their children and servants in the grounds of religion; and if any be unable to do so much, that then, at the least, they procure such children and apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions, that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism, by their parents or masters, or any of the selectmen,

when they shall call them to a trial of what they have learned in that kind.”*

Although laws like these would not, in themselves, lead us to form any very sanguine expectations of great progress in literature, or very astonishing discoveries in science; yet, from the deep solicitude they manifest upon the subject, we are led to anticipate something better, as soon as the resources of the Colony are adequate to a more liberal provision. This anticipation is realized by the foundation of Harvard College in 1636. After the confederation of the Colonies, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven, in 1643, this "school of the prophets," as it was then called, became an object of deep interest, and received their united and undiverted patronage.

How general was the interest taken in this institution, and how great exertions they were willing to make, for its encouragement, will appear from the following petition of the "President and Fellows," and the reply they received from the Commissioners.

"Seeing from the first evil contrivall of the collidge building, there now ensues yearely decayes of

rooff, walls, and foundations, which the study rents will not carry forth to repaire; therefore, we present to your wisdome to propounde some way to carry an end to this worke." A reply was returned; "The Commissioners will propounde to, and improve their several interests in the Collonies, that by pecks, half bushells, and bushells of wheat, accord* Colony Laws, Chap. 22, Sec. 1.

« PreviousContinue »