Background information about the Morrill Act

Once the South left the Union, the remaining northern states began passing a number of measures which the South had blocked prior to 1860. Many of these laws, such as the authorization of the transcontinental railroads, helped to spur on economic growth and expansion in the western territories.

In 1862 Congress passed two such measures. The Homestead Act permitted any citizen, or any person who intended to become a citizen, to receive 160 acres of public land, and then to purchase it at a nominal fee after living on the land for five years. The Homestead Act provided the most generous terms of any land act in American history to enable people to settle and own their own farms.

Just as important was the Morrill Act of that year, which made it possible for the new western states to establish colleges for their citizens. Ever since colonial times, basic education had been a central tenet of American democratic thought. By the 1860s, higher education was becoming more accessible, and many politicians and educators wanted to make it possible for all young Americans to receive some sort of advanced education.

Sponsored by Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont, who had been pressing for it since 1857, the act gave to every state that had remained in the Union a grant of 30,000 acres of public land for every member of its congressional delegation. Since under the Constitution every state had at least two senators and one representative, even the smallest state received 90,000 acres. The states were to sell this land and use the proceeds to establish colleges in engineering, agriculture and military science. More than 70 "land grant" colleges, as they came to be known, were established under the original Morrill Act. A second act in 1890 extended the land-grant provisions to the 16 southern states.

The importance of the land grant colleges cannot be exaggerated. Although originally started as agricultural and technical schools, many of them grew, with additional state aid, into large public universities which over the years have educated millions of American citizens who otherwise might not have been able to afford college.

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THE MORRILL ACT
(1862)

An Act donating Public Lands to the several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there be granted to the several States, for the purposes hereinafter mentioned, an amount of public land, to be apportioned to each State a quantity equal to thirty thousand acres for each senator and representative in Congress to which the States are respectively entitled by the apportionment under the census of eighteen hundred and sixty: Provided, That no mineral lands shall be selected or purchased under the provisions of this act.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the land aforesaid, after being surveyed, shall be apportioned to the several States in sections or subdivisions of sections, not less than one quarter of a section; and whenever there are public lands in a State subject to sale at private entry at one dollar and twenty five cents per acre, the quantity to which said State shall be entitled shall be selected from such lands within the limits of such State, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby directed to issue to each of the States in which there is not the quantity of public lands subject to sale at private entry at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, to which said State may be entitled under the provisions of this act, land scrip to the amount in acres for the deficiency of its distributive share: said scrip to be sold by said States and the proceeds thereof applied to the uses and purposes prescribed in this act, and for no other use or purpose whatsoever ...

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That all moneys derived from the sale of the lands aforesaid by the States to which the lands are apportioned, and from the sale of land scrip hereinbefore provided for, shall be invested in stocks of the United States, or of the States, or some other safe stocks, yielding not less than five per centum upon the par value of the said stocks; and that the moneys so invested shall constitute a perpetual fund, the capital of which shall remain forever undiminished, (except so far as may be provided in section fifth of this act,) and the interest of which shall be inviolably appropriated, by each State which may take and claim the benefits of this act, to the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the State may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life ...

Sixth.
No State while in a condition of rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States shall be entitled to the benefit of this Act ...

Source: U.S. Statutes at Large 12 (1862): 503.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010