N ations are counted great and remembered chiefly for two things– wisdom and power: the former the property of the few; the latter the property of the many, though wielded by the few. The ancients aimed to confine knowledge to a select class, and to make it, so far as possible, an inheritance transmissible to their descendants. The enlightened moderns seek to make it the common heritage of all. They search for all the specimens of mind, even to the shreds of it found in idiots, and cultivate all these. Why? Because every mind is an element of power. Private individuals ransack the streams and the mountains for particles of gold, and offer them to the world as an addition to its wealth; but a nation finds honor in discovering minds, and offering them to be used in all the duties of life. Des Cartes was accustomed to say, "In the universe there is nothing great but man, and in man there is nothing great but mind,”-an expression afterward condensed and improved by Sir William Hamilton thus: "In the universe nothing is great but mind."
Our systems of public schools give emphasis to this idea, and justify the search alluded to. A nation may honorably seek power; indeed, if it is to live, it must seek and retain power. Those who are to constitute the power of the nation are the children scattered in the palaces, garrets, and cellars of cities, and in the homes and cabins of the country, from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific shore. Whatever force there shall be, therefore, to do or direct, must be found in these children. Their tide, growing with every advancing year, must supply for the future of our nation all its wealth, all its science, all its power, all its honor.
It may be assumed that, as the present generation shall receive and educate its children, and welcome the annual swarms of immigrants crowding to our shores, so will the land increase in all that makes a people worthy of everlasting remembrance.
And the same conditions which secure this, will also establish our country in all that a free people can desire-power, honor, comfort, intelligence, and wealth. What some of these conditions are, it is not hard to declare; for knowledge, universally diffused, is so clearly the great force, that even a statement to this effect is unnecessary. That "knowledge is power" is a truism now denied by none.
What is of so much worth as children, even reckoning, on that very low plane, their simple cash value as prospective laborers? A fine climate gives effect to every interest and industry of a land; a fertile soil attracts population and enterprise to cultivate it; mines afford opportunity for the poor to gather wealth and scatter it abroad throughout the world. But none of these are of any more worth than a desert, without hands to improve them; and what are hands worth, without minds to direct them? A hand, with an educated brain behind it, is worth more than treble an ignorant one. Give the finest climate earth can show, the fattest soil the continents lift out of the sea, the richest mines the mountains contain, the safest harbors that border the sea or indent the land, and let a people be ignorant of their own capabilities, or of the resources of Nature and her mighty agencies, and what are all these worth? Africa today has ten-million square miles of soil as fertile as lies beneath the sun. She has a hundred millions of people. Yet the little island of England, with only about sixty thousand square miles and forty millions of people, produces annually, in a climate almost of the polar circle, more articles of food and clothing raised directly from the earth by agricultural labor alone, than all that continent; and if you "count in" the manufactures which her machinery yields, she does the work of ten times the whole population of Africa. How is she enabled to do this? Simply because the educated mind of England can multiply her hands by a thousand-fold. Nature lends her gravitation-even enslaves her sun, and harnesses her lightening, so that they afford hands and feet to labor and run for those people who have learned how to use such agencies. The same thing is seen in any enlightened country, or at least where education is widely diffused. And yet in England less than half the common people’s children are educated in any suitable degree. It is mind which has accomplished all these wonders; and minds are found in almost equal numbers in all ranks of society. The child of the peasant is often as full of genius as the child of the prince, with a stronger body and less tendency to habits of vice or recklessness; and if he can be found and educated, the nation certainly derives the greatest possible benefits; and, if a nation is to be raised to its highest degree of efficiency, every particle of its mind must be utilized.
The war between France and Germany affords pertinent illustration of the value of education in a peasantry to increase the worth of men, considered as mere machines of warfare. Every German soldier could read and write, and knew the geography of France. He could calculate almost as well as his officers, and he knew how to take care of his person and health. Those of France were nearly half illiterate, and as an army they seemed little more than a bank of snow before an April wind in comparison with the Germans.
The nine millions of children who daily march to the school-houses of the North, the West, and the South, are better, as a defence for the whole nation, than a standing army as large as all the armies of Europe. The quarter of a million of school-teachers, who daily drill these children in the school-houses, are a better provision for training the nation in patriotism than all the statesmen and military officers of the Old World. Let every child of the Nation be sent to a good school, and trained by a proper method in broad national ideas, and we never need fear either foreign aggression and domination, or domestic insurrection and sectional strifes and jealousies. Strength, peace, harmony, prosperity, nobility of character, patriotism, virtue and happiness, would flow as from a perennial spring in the mountains, to fill the land forever.
But the benefits of education are not confined to an increase of material prosperity, and to the means of promoting the public defence. The physical comfort and general healthfulness of the whole population are advanced thereby in even a greater ratio than the interests before named. Can it be reckoned no benefit to a community that every person possesses sufficient intelligence to understand the reasons for cleanliness and exercise, the necessity for pure air and good food, and the means of securing all these? Are more comfortable and beautiful homes no profit to families, and do not all arts which knowledge fosters contribute to the happiness and power of a people? In the mere matter of bodily health it would not be difficult to show that if the whole of a community could be brought to practice the precepts of hygiene, which could be readily learned by a child of fourteen without loss of time for ordinary family duties or for needed rest, at least two-thirds of all the diseases which now afflict the human race would be as effectually banished from the earth as reptiles are from Ireland.
The effect, also, of the general diffusion of education among the masses of our population in respect to their moral condition can scarcely be calculated. That evil will ever go side by side with good in this world, experience leaves us no reason to doubt. That while, by a general school system we are educating those who will be an honor to themselves and a benefit to society and the nation, we are also to a certain extent educating the vicious, is true; but that, on the whole, education tends largely, very largely, to increase the better element in proportion to the vicious, is a fact that cannot be denied. To enter fully upon the discussion of this proposition would be out of place here, notwithstanding its great importance in this connection. But it is evident, to every intelligent person, that safety in this matter consists in continued progress. To halt in the race, will result in giving over society and the nation to the control of the vicious. To education, therefore, must we look for all the elements of national strength, and the more generally it is diffused and the higher its grade, in like proportion will our national power be increased. So that if Congress intends to do anything in this great work that will be adequate to the wants of the people, it must be done with a liberal hand, and in a manner that will show manifest justice to all sections. While ten or fifteen millions may, and will, do much good if granted to one section, those who are imposing heavy burdens upon themselves in other sections to educate their children will have just grounds to complain that injustice has been done them.
While Illinois spends 1 percent of the assessed value of her taxable property, and Iowa 1.4 percent, for school purposes, Georgia spends but one-tenth of 1 percent, and North Carolina but one-fourth of 1 percent for this purpose. This difference cannot, of course, be charged to inability, but, to put it in the mildest form, it must be charged to neglect, or the want of appreciation of the value of education. To help the latter, then, and withhold assistance from the former, would have too much the appearance of rewarding the negligent, who are unwilling even to do what they can to help themselves, and refusing aid to those who are burdening themselves to prepare their children to be useful members of society and valuable citizens of the Nation. I am as desirous as anyone in this Senate to assist those States that are in the background in this respect, for I am fully aware they are laboring under difficulties which do not apply to their sister States, and this is one great reason – in fact, I may say the chief reason – why I have brought forward this bill. But I wish the Government to be just in distributing its favors, and this cannot be done effectually in this matter with much less than the amount I have proposed. Although money from this tax has no more inherent value in it for this purpose than any other fund, yet there is something pleasing in the idea that the mighty stream of liquid sin, flowing on in spite of all the efforts made to check it, and bearing multitudes downward to its whirlpool of crime and death, will thus be made, by its very downward pressure, a power to lift as many more from the depths of ignorance; that the very streams the distillers and retailers are sending forth to foster vice and crime may be used as a force to destroy their origin, just as the maddened waters of Niagara may be made a force to level the precipice from which they fall. So far, then, as the use of this particular fund in this way inspires this feeling in those who encourage education and temperance, so far, we may truly say, it would be more effectual than any other.
Men called statesmen are apt to believe that they control the masses; but when the masses, whether right or wrong, become aroused on any question pertaining to government, the men known as statesmen are as powerless to control them as they are to direct the storm; and so the leading men, or statesmen, as they are called, join their respective sides and add fury to the desires of the people. Aristides did not control Athens, nor Xerxes, Persia, in that fullest sense which brought the destinies of nations into conflict. The common Greeks and the common Persians, who had in some way learned in their ignorance to hate and despise each other, made those furious wars possible, if not necessary. So it will always be. The instincts, as we sometimes call them, – and these are scarcely anything but the transmitted notions and sentiments of one generation accumulating power in another, – will sway the populace, and influence the policy of rulers. They will, by their desires, force the government into unwise measures. If they are selfish, they will compel a selfish, and perhaps an aggressive, policy. If they are vicious, the government cannot long maintain a consistent course of justice and honor. If they are divided by sectional jealousies and trained to hostile feelings, can there be union of sentiment and action?
In our own land, today, the grossly ignorant are numerous enough to control the affairs of the Nation. They hold the balance of power, if they could only unite. But while they do not unite as a class, their influence may do worse than form a union among themselves; for any apparent attempt to form a party of the ignorant, would undoubtedly be met by a combination of the intelligent. Their wishes and desires, their prejudices and jealousies, may suggest to demagogues opportunities to gain selfish ends, and plunge us into still greater sectional strifes. We need, as a Nation so extended, to foster homogeneous instruction in our hundred different climates and regions. The one grand thing to do in every one of these regions, each larger than most of the nations of the world, is to secure the uniformity of intelligence and virtue. We need no other.
If our people in the pine woods of Maine or Michigan; if those in the mines of the Carolinas and Virginia, in Colorado and Nevada, in California and Alaska; if the cultivators of the farms in Ohio and Dakota, of the plantations of Georgia and Louisiana; if the herders of the ranches of Texas and New Mexico, – can all be rendered intelligent enough to see the excellence of virtue, and be made noble enough to practice its self-restraining laws; if they can be taught wisdom enough to appreciate the ten thousand advantages of a national Union embracing a hundred climates and capable of sustaining a myriad of mutually helpful industries, freely interchanging their products and acting on one another, as mutual forces, to stimulate every one to its highest capacity of rival endeavor, – then we would be sure of a stable Union, an immortality of glory.
Is it not, now, easy to see that the education of the young, on one common plan, with one common purpose, – the people’s children taught by the people themselves, – in schools made by the people themselves, yet in some noble sense patronized by the Nation, and supervised by the Nation, in some proper manner, will aid in making on this continent a nation such as we hope to be, and what the foreshadowings of Providence seem to indicate we ought to be, the one great and mighty Nation of the world? We have the same glorious Constitution. Let us all, from highest to lowest, from richest to poorest, from blackest to whitest, learn to read its words as they are written, and then we shall be most likely to interpret its provisions alike, and administer its enactments alike, in justice and honor.
Speech by: John A. Logan