Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

and remunerative, and was successful; but he came more and more to deal en gros with legal questions, the technical details of the profession had little attraction for him, and he willingly resigned their care to others. The question will naturally arise, whether this partial divorce from his own chosen calling, and this increasing devotion to alien pursuits, were wise in motive or justified in issue. It is out of question that he thereby deliberately renounced the highest eminence in his profession. Themis no more than any other goddess will tolerate a divided worship; her especial favors she reserves for her exclusive adorers. But the preliminary question is, was Rollins formed by nature to excel greatly at the bar ? The answer would seem to be that he had been endowed with a capacious and flexible intellect actuated by uncommon zeal and energy; that he had attained a broad and generous culture, a large and sufficiently accurate comprehension of the principles of jurisprudence; that he was fertile of resource and unusually ready and persuasive of speech. It is hardly possible, then, that such a combination of qualities set and kept in motion by ambitious and steadily directed industry should not have carried him forward to eminence in any walk of public life. In particular, as an advocate in criminal courts he could not have failed of great distinction. Nevertheless, all these endowments were of a very general nature, adaptable rather than adapted to the specific work of the lawyer, while the distinctive features of the born barrister were not prominent in his character. The patient assiduity in research, the loving delight in endless details, the wide and ready mastery of precedent, the microscopic keenness of intellectual vision, the dogged persistence in attack, the unyielding obstinacy in defense — all these qualities, the seal and stamp of nature's attorney, were not preëminently his. In the arena of the law his triumphs were feats of strength rather than of agility. On the other hand, in the world of action, of politics and economics, of commerce and enterprise, of legislation and of education, he brought to the matters in hand not only all the qualities usually and naturally called into requisition, but a largeness of intelligence, a height and breadth of conception, a liberality and idealism of spirit, and a sense of the future, that made him not only a conspicuous actor in one generation, but a memorable benefactor of many.

THE LEGISLATOR.

At the outset of his political career Mr. Rollins was called on to make choice between the two great political parties, Whig and Democratic, that for so many years divided the suffrages and alternately directed the destinies of the American people. This is not the place either to criticize or to characterize the tenets of those organizations, now become historic. At that time the “ American idea” (so called by Henry Clay) of protection to manufactures, especially “infant” ones, dominated the Whig councils; though remarkably enough the ablest lawyer, the most eloquent orator, the adroitest diplomat, the most skillful financier of the party and of the Union, the illustrious Webster, was a pronounced Free Trader. In 1824 he had riddled Protectionism with resistless logic and merciless sarcasm ; that policy having been adopted, however, against his vehement protest, he thenceforward lent it, as a fait accompli, a half-hearted support at the demand of his constituents. The Democratic party was regarded as the bulwark of the slave power. At a later period its extreme southern wing developed a social faction of slaveholders, bent on disunion and their own destruction; even as the extreme northern wing of the Whig developed a faction equally bent on disunion and the ruin of somebody else, far wiser, however, in its own generation. But then and ever since, albeit blindly led and grossly compromised by their chieftains, the masses of both parties, North and South, have been devoted, and perhaps equally devoted, to the Union. Born in Kentucky, his father an ardent Whig and admirer of Clay, it was natural that Rollins should range himself under the banner of the "great commoner," and honorable that he should follow it to the end. By so doing, however, he made a large, though perhaps not conscious, sacrifice of political ambition. He cast his fortune with a minority that became gradually more and more hopeless, and condemned himself finally to political insulation. The misfortune of his choice, judged by the standard of official preferment, did not display itself in his earlier and merely local canvasses, where personal quality is wont to be a more significant factor. In the first of these, at the

[ocr errors]

age of twenty-six, he was easily elected to represent Boone County in the State Legislature. The session of 1838–39 was an important one, and offered him ample opportunity, which he was not slow in seizing, to “make by force his merit known.” Here it was, in fact, that he met and learned to know his ideal love, the Higher Education, and pledged himself her champion zealously and for life. The-germ, shall we call it ?- nay, rather the gemmule, of a seminary of higher learning, the mere suggestion of a university as a desideratum of the future, had long lain dead or dormant in the organic law of the State. In the famous ordinance of 1787, by which Virginia ceded the great Northwest Territory to the General Government, Thomas Jefferson had expressly stipulated on behalf of one of the high contracting parties that “Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In organizing the Territory of Missouri, part of another splendid gift of Jeffersonian diplomacy to the Federal Union, in 1812, Congress had adopted literally this provision, and defined it more precisely by the clause added —"and provided for from the

– public lands of the United States in said Territory, in such manner as Congress may deem expedient." The ample provision “deemed expedient” by the wisdom of Congress, for the establishment and maintenance of a “university, or seminary of learning,” consisted of two townships of land, 46,030 acres, from which was realized on a hasty and inconsiderate sale the munificent sum of $78,000!! Thus far the Congressional Act of February 17, 1818, and the Enabling Act of March 6, 1820; herein the State, of course, acquiesced, both by the ordinance of July 19, 1820, and in the Constitution of like date. This instrument declares that there shall be a "university for the promotion of literature and the arts and sciences.” The Constitution of 1865 declares that “The General Assembly shall establish and maintain a State University, with departments for instruction in teaching, in agriculture, and in natural science, as soon as the public school fund will permit." It would appear that the author, the Hon. C. D. Drake, cared for no other “departments for instruction” than the three mentioned, or that he apprehended that these might be left out in the organization of the University; but what college even, not to say university, ever omitted natural science" from its curriculum ? The new Constitution of 1875 is more and less explicit :

“The annual income of the public school fund, together with so much of the ordinary revenue of the State as may be by law set apart for that purpose, shall be faithfully appropriated for establishing and maintaining the free public schools and the State University, and for no other uses or purposes whatsoever.

“The General Assembly shall, whenever the public school fund will permit and the actual necessity of the same may require, aid and maintain the State University now established with its present departments.”

In such a gingerly, inadequate, perfunctory, and sometimes unintelligible manner (witness the obscure reference of “the same') do our constitutions acknowledge and provide for the supreme intellectual interests of the State !

Far be it from us to depreciate the wisdom that indeed recognized the rights of mind and the necessity of higher education in the early legislation already quoted. But to speak of such vague provisions as in any proper sense founding the University now in our midst is to misread the facts of history or to use words with slight regard to exactness of meaning. These provisions contain at best and at most but a prophecy of a university. All that any one could safely infer from any or all of the enactments in question would be that sometime in the indefinite future, if the State Legislature should fulfil its obligations, there would be in some wise founded and somehow maintained a State University. But how often has such a body been known to fulfil its obligations? Assuredly a scrupulous regard for them is not one of its noteworthy frailties. As a matter of fact the General Assembly has never discharged the whole duty thus imposed on it, nor until comparatively recent years any very considerable measure thereof. Not until 1827 were the townships set apart for the "seminary of learning,” and even under far wiser administration the amount realizable from them would have been ridiculously inadequate to the establishment and maintenance of a college, much more of a university. Granted, then, that far-sighted early legislation contained the promise and potency of a higher educational life, there was yet needed the long and patient brooding of wise statesmanship to quicken it; granted that

[ocr errors]

the framers of our Constitution had cherished the imagination of a seminary of learning, it remained for some later lawgiver to embody their fancy in a positive statute, to give it form and substance, “a local habitation and a name.”

It was no mere accident, but a part of the eternal fitness of things, that this high privilege and sacred duty fell to the lot of James Sidney Rollins. No more than his father devoted to purely intellectual pursuits, he had inherited all that father's deep reverence for learning, and thereto he added an extraordinary and unflagging zeal for its advancement. A slaveholder himself by an accident of latitude, he had been educated on the soil, and was familiar with the traditions, of freedom. His father had been born and reared in the atmosphere of a respectable college, and almost in sight of his maternal grandfather's home there had welled forth at the touch of Jefferson that copious fountain of knowledge which beyond all others has ennobled and invigorated our southern civilization. He was only more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers, then, when he laid before the House of Representatives at Jefferson City a bill — which was passed the 8th of February, 1839, the first he ever drafted and the first that advanced the pledge of the Constitution one step towards fulfilment— for fixing the site of the State University. By the introduction, by the eloquent, effective, and successful advocacy, of this measure young Rollins declared and constituted himself the especial protagonist of the higher education.

It was no popular cause that he thus openly espoused. No system of common schools, even, was then nor for many years afterwards known in the State. Massachusetts, even though in the third century of her existence, rich with Old World culture, a land of scholars and authors, men of letters and men of science, was just then, under the guidance and urgence of Horace Mann, beginning to bring her schools into order. Missouri was still given over to illiteracy. After making all proper discount, then, for the enthusiasm of youth flown with professional degrees and academic honors, we must still yield admiration and gratitude without reserve to the high-hearted, wide-minded, far-sighted statesmanship that boldly allied itself under such conditions indissolubly with an abstraction, with an intellectual interest that even now, at the remove of half a century, one-third of our populace regard with distrust or disfavor, and whose

a

« PreviousContinue »