Origins of the American Land Grant College Movement


Daniel W. Lang

Ontario Institute For Studies in Education

University of Toronto





The passage of the Agricultural College Act is a defining event in the history of higher education in the United States. The phrase land grant college is broadly recognized to denote public institutions committed to broad accessibility, to agricultural and mechanical education, to research, and to public service. But in 1862, when the Agricultural College Act was passed, the concept of a land grant college was neither well defined nor broadly understood. The bills principal sponsor, Justin Morrill of Vermont, was not an educator, and had never explained, even generally, what sort of institution the act was meant to support. He later claimed that the very name of the legislation was a mistake. This leaves a number of questions about the origins of the Agricultural College Act as an educational as opposed to financial concept. Since the act was passed there have been several serious historical debates about its origin, its purpose, and the political and educational impetus behind it. Morrill and Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois have been acclaimed as father of the act. But the case for either of them is weak and in many ways problematic. There was, however, another person who played a major role in the land grant college movement and in the passage of the act. He was Amos Brown, president of The Peoples College. This study describes Browns origin, his educational philosophy, and especially his highly influential role in the passage of the Agricultural College Act. The study also describes the practical issues and problems that confronted 19th century college leaders in establishing and building their institution.




he passage of the Agricultural College Act in 1862 is widely regarded as the watershed from which the modern American public university emerged. The direct, albeit not immediate, effect of the Agricultural College Act was the creation of American land grant colleges. The land grant colleges were a practical means of broadening access to higher education, in terms of both geography and participation. In the years that followed the passage of the Agricultural College Act, from the late 1860s to the beginning of the 20th century, new universities were founded, existing colleges were revamped and reorganized, and the liberal arts or classical college transformed all largely on the model of the land grant college. In the half-century prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, various attempts had been made to reform the American college itself, which was for the most part an adaptation of the English model of collegiate education. Successful reforms were few in number and insignificant in terms of practical effect.

Had the spirit and substance of reform been incremental and progressive, the land grant college might then and now have been regarded conventionally as an evolutionary idea whose time had come. The history of the land grant university, however, is neither that simple nor predetermined.

Virtually from the inception of the Agricultural College Act, its origin, purpose, and the political and educational impetus behind it were the subjects of debate. Justin Smith Morrill, the sponsor of the act in the Congress, and Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois were each later acclaimed as father of the act and the land grant college movement. There were other contenders as well (Williams, 1991). But the acclamation of their parenthood even if one could agree on which of them really deserved the credit did not give clear definition to the movement itself, which for several years was confused and uncertain. In 1862, when the Agricultural College Act was finally passed after a defeat by presidential veto in 1859, the concept of a land grant college was neither well defined nor broadly understood. Even after the act was passed, well into the 1870s, founders of new colleges and reformers of existing ones were unclear about what the legislation actually intended.

The concept of what came to be known as the American land grant college was not, however, without precedent and another, more articulate, spokesperson. The precedent predated either Morrills or Turners plans. Chartered in 1853 in New York, The Peoples College was the model of the land grant college which was presented to the public and, more significantly, to the members of Congress when the Agricultural College Act was brought forward, unsuccessfully in 1859 and successfully in 1862. In New York, The Peoples College was so closely identified with the Agricultural College Act that it, and not Cornell University, was the states originally designated land grant institution.




n earlier study of The Peoples College and its relation to the origins of the Land Grant Act (Lang, 1978) demonstrated that the concept of agricultural education was developed comparatively well by the 1850s, but that the particular means of devising a curriculum for agricultural education and organizing it institutionally were still the subjects of considerable disagreement which the Agricultural College Act neither addressed nor resolved. The concept of higher education for the mechanical arts was at most vague and at least non-existent. While various prominent individuals and interest groups supported either higher education for farmers or higher education for mechanics, very few supported both or imagined how they could be combined in a single institution.

Morrills and Turners plans, neither of which was definitive, were developed sometime between 1855 and 1857. By then interest in higher education for farmers was not new, as it was for mechanics. Agricultural societies and journals in the United States had been promoting agricultural education since the early 19th century. The idea of a college for farmers can be found as early as 1819. But the pattern by which the movement for mechanical education evolved was unlike that for agricultural education and, indeed, unlike that for virtually any other area of American higher education.
Although both movements comprised similar elements, such as societies, journals, and fairs, the movement to found colleges for farmers was considerably more coalescent and homogeneous. While there was no firm curricular definition for agricultural education, there was at least a general understanding about what it might entail. That was not so for mechanical education, which at times was understood to mean anything from educating architects and civil engineers to training machine operators and skilled tradesmen. Sometimes the mechanic arts were combined with agriculture and taken to mean the manufacture and operation of farm machinery. This was the practice at the Gardiner Lyceum, which is often identified as the first agricultural school in the United States.

Even Morrill and Turner used the terms mechanic and industrial arts loosely at best, and their plans for higher education were seen and promoted as being designed to serve the farmer almost exclusively. Morrills bill was named, significantly, the Agricultural College Act. After the bill was passed, the states were uncertain about what it intended for higher education in the mechanic arts. Morrill himself confessed to being uncertain.

What the history of The Peoples College made clear were the educational, as opposed to financial, origins of the Agricultural College Act. The colleges history revealed the fragility of the coalitions on which early prototypes of what was to become the land grant college model were founded. It explained as well the role of organized labor and its expectations for what the act was to describe as the mechanic arts. Studying The Peoples College also exposed some of the financial and speculative tactics that surrounded the actual awarding and liquidation of the land grants, and which motivated the supporters of some of the colleges.

Despite what is now known about The Peoples College, some important questions remain about its leadership and its influence on the land grant college legislation. The President of The Peoples College was Amos Brown, who, at the colleges founding, explained its name and purpose thus:

We call the institution The Peoples College, intending... the name shall indicate something of its purpose, and the word Peoples has undoubtedly a particular significance as used in this connection... it is meant to suggest... that some modification of the prevailing systems of college education in this country is demanded to enable them better to subserve the wants of the people.


The modifications of which Brown spoke were significant. At the time some were unusual, even unique. The Peoples Colleges first objective was to provide an education that would prepare a student to enter a mechanical trade or take up scientific farming immediately after graduation. In addition to offering courses in agricultural and mechanical subjects, the College would operate model machine shops and a farm, in which students would work as a regular part of their courses of instruction. The College would be fully coeducational. Women would not only be admitted to the College, but they would enroll in agricultural and mechanical courses with men and would be awarded the same degree. The College would be open not only to the sons and daughters of farmers and mechanics, but also to farmers and mechanics themselves. Adults would be invited to attend lectures and could defray the costs of their attendance by working on the farm or in the shops with students to whom they would impart their own first-hand knowledge of farming or a trade. By their labour in the shops or on the farm, students would be enabled by the time of graduation to accumulate enough capital to establish themselves in farming or a trade. To graduate, a student would have to demonstrate practical and theoretical competence in agriculture or a specific trade. The Colleges diploma would expressly specify the trade that the student had mastered.

The aims of The Peoples College set it distinctly apart from other colleges, and from the various plans for agricultural colleges. Its origins also set the college apart. The tap root of The Peoples College went to organized labour, a sector that many historians of American higher education have viewed as being uninterested in educational reform prior to the passage of the Agricultural College Act (Field, 1976). The College openly disavowed religious affiliations and for a time abjured support from government. The plan for the College called for support from farmers and mechanics alone. At the outset large benefactions were actively discouraged.

The Peoples College was a prototype for the land grant colleges (Curtis & Carstersen, 1949, p. 28) and was presented as such to the Congress during debates on the Agricultural College Act. Amos Brown, as the colleges president, was the primary lobbyist for the Act. Despite their importance to the Agricultural College Act and to the concept of the land grant college, neither Amos Brown nor, until relatively recently, The Peoples College is known well to history. Their backgrounds and origins were, particularly in the case of the College, outside the mainstream from which the land grant college is conventionally thought to have emerged.

An historical examination of the life of Amos Brown can reveal several significant aspects of the formation of the land grant college idea and its practical application. Brown actually built a physically new kind of college, recruited and appointed a faculty, dealt with the novel coalition of interest groups that supported The Peoples College, and with the new and remarkable concoction of educational ideas agricultural education, mechanical education, coeducation, local boosterism and accessibility for the industrial classes that the college represented. He did all of this ten to twenty years before other college presidents took up similar challenges. For example, almost every one of these issues and ideas was on the agenda of the Convention of the Friends of Agricultural Education which met in 1871 to review the progress of the land grant colleges (Hatch, 1967a). The convention was an annual event that evolved into the Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges in 1887.

Tracing Amos Browns own educational philosophy as opposed to that of The Peoples College is also important. Unlike many of the supporters of The Peoples College, Brown was not a radical. His early education and ambitions were relatively conventional. His ideas were the product of evolution instead of revolution, although in the end he would fervently promote and largely embrace all that The Peoples College represented. Because Brown met face to face with most of the members of the U.S. Congress and the New York State Assembly in securing the passage of the Agricultural College Act and the subsequent award of the New York land grant to The Peoples College, his own educational views must have been broadly exposed. More significantly, the extent to which Brown molded the original idea of The Peoples College to suit legislative politics reveals to an even greater extent what the proponents of the Agricultural College Act thought the institutions be founded under its auspices would be like.



Early Life



mos Brown was a New Englander. His boyhood was spent on his fathers farm in

Kensington, New Hampshire, where he was born in 1804. After attending the local district school, Brown entered nearby Hampton Academy at the age of 18 with the intention of preparing himself for medical school. At Hampton he came under the influence of the local Congregational minister, who persuaded him to commit his life to the ministry. After leaving Hampton Academy, Brown taught in several district schools throughout New Hampshire while preparing himself for Dartmouth College, which he entered in 1829. At Dartmouth he studied theology and was especially interested in moral philosophy and metaphysics. He did not like the sciences and did not study them. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1832 with a good scholastic reputation.

After graduating from Dartmouth, Amos Brown enrolled at the Andover Theological Seminary. He had been there only a few months when he was offered the principalship of an academy in Fryeburg, Maine. He taught at Fryeburg for one year and then returned to and over, where he remained until 1835.

In the fall of 1835 he was named principal of Gorham Academy, also in the State of Maine. He headed Gorham Academy for a dozen years and earned a reputation as an educational innovator and organizer. Browns innovations at the time his plan was known as the new departure were that Gorham Academy would offer a special program to train teachers, would be fully co-educational, and would be staffed entirely by professional educators, all of which were novel practices at the time. The Academy flourished under Browns leadership and enjoyed a reputation that attracted students from several states. In addition to being a dynamic principal, Brown was himself an excellent teacher. Horace Mann, who visited the Gorham Academy, called Brown one of the best teachers in New England. Browns teaching style was rather to draw out, than pour in and thereby to stimulate his students to think independently. Brown also exerted an influence on the State of Maines educational system. In 1846, he was one of four persons who were appointed to review schools throughout the state. One result of the review was the formation of the State Board of Education, on which Brown served in 1849. That there was a State Board of Education at all was of some significance. School reform, through the foundation of boards of education with the power to tax and regulate, was not popular with manufacturers, farmers, and many working class parents, all of whom depended to a considerable degree on child labour and saw no need for popular schooling. The fight for school reform through boards of education was led by professional educators like Horace Mann, Henry Barnard, and to a smaller extent Amos Brown. Manns association with Brown continued through the 1860s.

While Amos Brown was innovative and energetic, he was also zealous, temperamental, and self-righteous. He quarreled often with the trustees of Gorham Academy and finally resigned in 1848 to accept a call to the pastorate of the Congregational Church in Machias, Maine. He devoted himself to the ministry and enjoyed it, but after three years in Machias his irascible personality resulted in his dismissal by the congregation.

In the summer of 1852 he toured New York in search of an academy where he could return to teaching. He stopped for church services in Ovid, a small village on the northeastern shore of Seneca Lake, where he discovered a small unsuccessful academy in need of leadership. The Ovid Academy, opened in 1827, had known good years and bad. By 1852 the bad years outnumbered the good and the school had only about six students. Brown promised the trustees of Ovid Academy that he would revive the school and make it a success. A particular item in Browns plan for Ovid Academy was the introduction of a course in agricultural science, which he thought would appeal to the academys trustees, most of whom were farmers. He was right. The trustees were impressed by his plans and were particularly attracted to the agricultural science proposal. A specific term in the formal agreement between Brown and the trustees of the Academy was that the trustees would annually raise $600 by subscription to pay one teacher to provide instruction and deliver public lectures in agricultural chemistry and botany.

Brown himself was not competent, either by interest or training, to teach courses in agriculture. He therefore hired William H. Brewer, a young man who had recently graduated from the agricultural chemistry course at Yale. All of the other teachers whom Brown hired were persons who had been his associates or students at Gorham Academy. Ovid Academy opened the 1852-53 school year with five teachers two of whom were women and 23 students. Within three years the Board of Regents could describe the Academy as the best organized school in the state. Ovid Academy was so successful that by 1855 it had outgrown its building and was planning to change its name to the Seneca Collegiate Institute. At the dedication of the Academys new building, which was completed in 1855, one of the speakers delivered an address that called for the revitalization of the State Agricultural College, which although chartered, had been moribund since the fall of 1853.

New York State Agricultural College



hile the idea for an agricultural college in New York can be traced to as early as 1819, impetus for a college for farmers became strongest after 1841 when the New York State Agricultural Society was reorganized and strengthened by an act of the state legislature. This act gave the Society a mandate to promote agricultural education through a publishing program. Between 1842 and 1852, six bills calling for the establishment of a college were introduced on the Societys behalf, but none was passed.
In 1853 two events occurred which caused the legislature to favour a charter for a state agricultural college. The first was the election of a new president of the State Agricultural Society. John Delafield was a strong leader and influential spokesman for farm interests. Under his leadership a new bill was prepared and introduced.
The second and more important event was the introduction of a bill to charter The Peoples College.

The movement to found The Peoples College originated in a labour organization called the Mechanics Mutual Protection, an organization with which Amos Brown was not associated at that time. At its inception in the late 1820s organized labour was not interested in education. In the 1830s some labour groups took strong political positions in favour of educational reform in the common schools, but there still was no interest in higher education or in mechanical education as such. In the unpropitious times that followed the Panic of 1837 and, coincidentally, as manufacturing processes became more specialized and industrial technology advanced, the educational attitudes of labour organizations that represented mechanics and skilled tradesmen began to change. Some of these organizations and the mechanics newspapers that they sponsored took strong positions in favour of education designed specifically and exclusively for the mechanic.

In 1848 the Mechanics Mutual Protection had about 10,000 members in 250 chapters. It became interested in higher education. One year later it introduced a proposal to establish a college for mechanics and artisans. The Protections scheme received much popular support and attention. The Peoples College Association was formed to raise money for the College. In 1852, the Association had a bill drawn up to charter the College by the legislature. The legislature approved the bill on April 12, 1853. Two days later a charter was approved for the State Agricultural College. Although the legislature had previously defeated six similar bills to found an agricultural college, the passage of The Peoples College bill made it politically untenable to oppose the State Agricultural College.

While the name of the State Agricultural College bill suggests that it was a publicly supported institution, it was not. The State Agricultural Society had sought an appropriation from the state treasury for the College, but it had been denied. The Peoples College, faithful to its principles, had not sought an appropriation. The Societys plan was to locate the college on Delafields farm in Fayette, thus reducing a major capital cost of the project. But Delafield died only a few months after the College was chartered, and the project foundered while the movement to found The Peoples College moved enthusiastically forward.

By the end of 1855, following a speech calling for revitalization of the State Agricultural College, Amos Brown was developing plans to petition the legislature to permit the colleges charter to be transferred to a new board of trustees and have the College located in Ovid. The keystone of Browns scheme was an unused fund in the States treasury from which he hoped to obtain a long term loan with no interest. On March 1, 1856, the legislature passed a bill which Brown had personally lobbied through the preliminary committees that would allow the college to be transferred to Ovid and would provide a loan of $40,000 on the condition that the new trustees raise an identical amount.

In less than one year Brown and the trustees raised about $47,000 through the sale of subscriptions. Most subscriptions were small and came from local farmers. But only a few of the subscriptions were paid in cash, and the state comptroller refused to advance the loan until the trustees actually had $40,000 cash in hand. Brown was not dismayed. He persisted in his efforts to raise the needed funds.

Ironically, even though Browns success was not complete, it encouraged the colleges original board of trustees to reorganize. They met in Albany in the spring of 1857 and in Ovid in June. As vacancies occurred on the new board, they were filled by members of the old board. At the June meeting, the old members were able to place Arad Joy and John E. Seeley on the new board. Joy and Seeley were also trustees of the Ovid Academy and both had had strong disagreements with Brown about his management of the academy.

Although the state comptroller had not released the loan earmarked for the State Agricultural College, the trustees, both old and new, expected that the conditions necessary for the loan to be made would soon be met. In anticipation of the unpaid subscriptions being honoured and the loan made, the trustees met in July 1857 to select a president for the college. Brown hoped and expected that he would be selected. But he had made enemies on the board, as he had done twice earlier in his career. His principal opponent, Arad Joy, not only had quarreled with him but also wanted the presidency for his son, Charles A. Joy. Even some of Browns admirers were not confident that he was the best person to head the College. They knew first-hand that he was a difficult person with whom to get along. His closest associates at Ovid Academy, W. H. Brewer and J. W. Chickering, agreed that Browns personality ranged mercurially from genius to instability.

When the vote was taken to elect a president for the State Agricultural College, Amos Brown was not chosen. Ironically, Charles Joy, who was well qualified for the position, was not chosen either. The College was managed to its disadvantage by a committee until 1858, when Samuel Cheever was appointed president. Cheever, a political hack, was so lacking in competence that W. H. Brewer concluded that had the Trustees been actively searching . . . for a man unfit for the place they could not have been more eminently successful. Cheevers inept leadership and the financial depression of 1857 combined to stall further development of the State Agricultural College.


The Peoples College



mos Brown was disappointed and bitter about his rejection by the State Agricultural College, but within weeks he was offered the presidency of The Peoples College, which was moving towards completion in Havana, not far from Ovid. The trustees of The Peoples College knew Brown and his work at Ovid, but it was the colleges principal benefactor, Charles Cook, who championed Browns nomination. Cook and Brown had met and become closely acquainted when both were in Albany lobbying for their respective interests Cook, for the designation of Havana as a county seat and Brown for the loan for the State Agricultural College.

It was Charles Cooks interest in boosting Havana that had drawn him to The Peoples College. Cook had made a fortune on canal and railway projects. One of the projects brought him to Havana, which he developed extensively and where he eventually owned more than a dozen businesses and several farms. Cook was a harsh person. Even his admirers confessed that his personality was abrasive and domineering. On several occasions his business and civic ethics were publicly criticized. Cook was neither an educated nor intellectual person. He was active politically, but was not associated with any of the many reform movements that characterized New York politics in the 1840s and 1850s. Cook never had been employed as either a mechanic or farmer. Throughout his entire association with The Peoples College, Cooks only explanation of his motives was that he wanted to make Havana a little Oxford. But The Peoples College, even by the broadest definition, was the antithesis of Oxford.

It was Charles Cooks desire to promote Havana and his business interests there which motivated his interest in The Peoples College. In 1853 and 1854 Cook had led a fight to create a new county from the area surrounding Havana. He won, but soon discovered that other towns in the new county had aspirations to be named the county seat. Another political battle ensued in which competing towns sought to prove themselves worthy of being the county seat. Cook saw The Peoples College as an asset that could not be matched by other towns. Through his fortuitous meeting with Brown in Albany, he learned that state funds could be obtained to finance a college. To attract The Peoples College to Havana, Cook offered its trustees $25,000, a building site, and a farm. Cooks offer was formally accepted early in 1857.

Amos Brown was enthusiastic about The Peoples College and eagerly accepted the offer to become its president. Although his organizational ability, gift for teaching, and zealous talent for fund-raising were attractive qualities, Brown was in several ways a peculiar choice for the presidency of The Peoples College. His entire academic training was in theology and philosophy. He not only had no background in the sciences, he did not like them. W. H. Brewer, who knew him well, said that Brown had less mechanical instinct than any other intelligent man he had ever known.

Brown introduced an agricultural course at Ovid Academy, but did not study or teach agricultural science himself. One of his students at the academy, who later became president of a land grant university, especially remarked that Brown lacked knowledge about agriculture. Even if Brown had been knowledgeable about agriculture, his ideas for agricultural education were unlike those that had been proposed for The Peoples College. Although they had had some initial doubts the Mechanics Mutual Protection, and later the Peoples College Association had decided that the college should not offer the classical collegiate course. The college, they insisted, would offer courses in mechanical and agricultural education exclusively. One of Amos Browns principal plans for Ovid Academy and the State Agricultural College was to develop an agricultural program around a core of the classical collegiate course.

Given his efforts to obtain a loan for the State Agricultural College, Brown obviously believed that the state should be called on to support higher education. The proponents of The Peoples College had decided that, as a matter of principle, the College should abjure support from the public treasury.

None of these attributes recommended Amos Brown for the presidency of The Peoples College. But there were others that did. One of the colleges most difficult public relations problems was its plan to be fully coeducational. Coeducation was not popular. Brown had successfully fought a battle for coeducation at Gorham Academy and was personally committed to the concept, mainly because so many teachers were women. Throughout his career Amos Brown was inconsistent about many things, but a lodestone was his abiding interest in teaching teachers, including women. Most organized opposition to coeducation came from religious groups. As a clergyman, Brown could effectively present the Colleges case to its opponents.

Brown also was flexible and saw the merits of compromise coupled with promotion. His reform and revival of the academy at Ovid, and his plans for the State Agricultural College demonstrated these qualities, which were the very qualities that Charles Cook quickly noticed. Browns greatest attributes for presidency of the college were his experience and the strength of his personality. After Charles Cooks patronage had been accepted, the colleges board of trustees became divided between trustees, who had been appointed by the Mechanics Mutual Protection and the Peoples College Association who wanted a college that would serve mechanics and farmers and trustees who were appointed through the influence of Charles Cook and who wanted a college, any college, that would boost Havana.

The old trustees had many disagreements with Charles Cook, who personally dominated the boards affairs. The new trustees were more trustful of Cook, but were concerned that he was away from Havana too often to give the college the leadership that it needed. The selection of a strong president with educational experience, therefore, became an imperative for old and new trustees alike, which was in significant contrast to the political bickering among the trustees of the State Agricultural College.

Predictably, when strong personalities meet there is conflict. The colleges president and its principal benefactor were not always in agreement. Brown soon became concerned that Cook was neither competent to handle the affairs of a college nor committed to education. Brown even doubted that Cook had any clear-cut objectives for the college. Mr. Cook, he said, has been operating too much without a plan and has injured the concern, but probably not seriously. His no policy operation will have the effect to kill my efficiency. Given Browns later relationship with Justin Morrill, he might have said the same thing about him. What Brown was trying to do with so called efficiency was to recruit a faculty, develop a plan of studies, and respond to hundreds of students who were applying to the College even though it was not open.

Browns plans for the college departed significantly from the plans set earlier by the Mechanics Mutual Protection and the Peoples College Association. He called for three separate courses of study and 23 professorships. The courses of study were designated the Classical, the Scientific, and the Provisional or Select. The first two would award the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science respectively; the Provisional course would offer no degree and had no specified terms of enrolment. Requirements for admission to the courses were dissimilar, and suggest that the Classical course was intended to be more rigorous than the Scientific, with both more rigorous than the Provisional. The specific requirements for admission to the Classical course were no less strict than those to any liberal arts college, nor were they any different. As far as admissions requirements were concerned, the Scientific course was a diminished version of the Classical course. This was a pattern not uncommon in other colleges that had begun to offer courses in the sciences, but had not accorded to them full academic respectability. In its two primary courses, then, Browns plan was neither remarkable nor unusually progressive.

If requirements for admission were indicative of academic respectability and importance, the Provisional or Select course was held in no esteem by Brown. The course was not a coherent program but simply an opportunity to take courses randomly, provided that the student did not get in the way of students in the other two courses. It was in the Provisional course that students might learn applied skills in mechanical and agricultural education.

Browns plans placed him at odds with the old trustees, who were committed to the colleges offering a rigorous course in mechanical and agricultural education. While they were not adamantly opposed to the Classical course, they thought that it would be of little value to farmers and mechanics. The idea of extensive and stringent admission requirements also clashed with the original plans for the college, which had called for easy and broad access to the school.

Browns plan included a manual labour provision, but it was tangential to the course of study rather than part of it. The plan for The Peoples College, as first conceived, went significantly beyond the manual labour idea by making work on the Colleges farm and in its machine shops an integral part of the courses of instruction. The Colleges building was designed around a steam engine and machine shops.

Deeds often speak louder than words, and with greater historical clarity. Despite the differences between Amos Browns plans for The Peoples College and those of the Mechanics Mutual Protection, Brown could claim two important accomplishments: the colleges construction was completed, a model farm purchased and stocked, and a faculty recruited and appointed. The physical expression of the college was entirely consistent with the plans put forward by the Mechanics Mutual Protection and publicized in the colleges prospectus that Brown would later use in lobbying the Congress.

The faculty who had been recruited principally by Brown, despite the occasional interference of Charles Cook, also was the sort of faculty called for in the Protections plans. So, while Amos Brown had an educational philosophy different from that of the colleges principal sponsors, what he actually did was in full accordance with their plans, which significantly were the public plans for The Peoples College. The faculty recruited by Brown was remarkable. By 1864 eleven academic appointments had been made, including Brown himself, who was professor of intellectual and moral philosophy. The majority of these appointments were in agriculture and the mechanic arts. An examination of the catalogues of the land grant colleges and universities from the decade that followed passage of the Agricultural College Act indicates that none of them, even the larger institutions, had an equivalent faculty in these areas. At Cornell University, for example, a professor of practical mechanics was appointed, but in fact taught mathematics and physics because he did not have the models or equipment needed to teach mechanical subjects (Bishop, 1962, p.169). Courses in mechanics were not actually offered. At the outset the universitys farm was at best an embarrassment and at worst a disgrace. According to Bishop the agricultural

faculty, who were eventually recruited with great difficulty, were not fully competent.

The Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University (which was the State of Connecticuts original land grant institution) reported the same problem in launching a program in the mechanic arts. Late as 1871, deliberate plans were made at the University of Minnesota to delay the establishment of an educational farm.

A final note about the faculty who were recruited by Amos Brown: two of them became leaders in the land grant college movement. Williams Watts Folwell became the president of the University of Minnesota. W. H. Brewer became a professor of agricultural chemistry at the Sheffield Scientific School. It appears that Brown sought and was able to find quality in making appointments to The Peoples Colleges faculty.

The Agricultural College Act



he differences between Brown and the trustees over his plan of studies were not immediately resolved, for late in 1857 Justin Smith Morrill introduced a bill that would become the Agricultural College Act. Two months before Morrills bill was introduced, Amos Brown had asked the Colleges trustees to endorse a resolution that called for him to visit Washington and procure the passage of a bill making appropriation of a portion of the public domain for the promotion of education in the several States similar in kind to that provided for in the plan [the original plan] of The Peoples College.

Although Browns scheme had progressed to a point where arrangements were being made for its presentation to the Congress, he was still drafting the proposal when he learned about Morrills bill. According to W. H. Brewer and J. W. Chickering, who were with him at the time, Brown was having breakfast when he first read about Morrills bill in a newspaper and decided on the spot that he should immediately go to Washington to work for the bills passage. The colleges trustees concurred and authorized payment of Browns travel expenses, which over the next four years were considerable for a college that was neither fully built nor fully in operation.

Amos Brown arrived in Washington on January 4, 1858. Other than a letter that Brown had sent ahead to announce his mission, Morrill knew little about The Peoples College or its president, but he was soon working closely with Brown. According to Morrill, when Brown arrived in Washington he entered very zealously into canvassing for votes for the bill . . . He was not only a willing worker, but discreet about exciting hostilities where he was unable to secure favour.

Through his lobbying, Brown promoted The Peoples College as well as Morrills bill. In Washington, he linked the college with the bill by distributing circulars describing the college to every person with whom he talked about the bill, thus leaving the impression which Morrill knew about and made no effort to refute that The Peoples College was a model of the colleges that would be founded under the auspices of the land grant. Significantly, the circulars described the plans that the Mechanics Mutual Protection and the Peoples College Association had set for the College, not Browns new plan. In New York, newspapers began to refer to Morrills bill as the Peoples College bill.

The course of Morrills bill was slowed by the delaying tactics of its opponents. The final vote did not take place until February 7, 1859, nearly 14 months after the bill was introduced. During these months, Amos Brown spent most of his time in Washington, returning to Havana only for short visits and when the Congress was not in session. When the bill was passed, The Peoples Colleges trustees were jubilant since, by dint of Browns lobbying, they expected the college to be a principal beneficiary of the bill. Plans were made for planting Peoples Colleges in all the states. But the joy was cut short. Two weeks after its passage, the bill was vetoed by President Buchanan, primarily on the grounds that it violated constitutionally guaranteed states rights.

When the bill was vetoed, prospects for the college became discouraging. The college building was underway, teachers wanted to join the faculty, and students wanted to enroll, but there was not enough money to open the college. Most of the money that Brown and the trustees were able to raise was being applied directly to completing the colleges building. In January, 1860, a bill was introduced in the New York legislature which called for an appropriation of $100,000 to establish a permanent endowment for two years beginning in 1862.

The grant was never paid because the college was unable to meet all of the conditions of the legislation. The most significant of these was that the college should own the building for which its charter called. The states comptroller refused to make the payment on the grounds that Charles Cook held liens against the building and title to the land on which it was located. The only realistic hope remaining for the college was that Morrills bill, or one like it, could be passed under a new administration.

When the Congress reconvened in December 1861, Amos Brown was again on hand to lobby for Morrills bill. Morrill initially was not enthusiastic about reintroducing the bill; instead, he thought that he should give all of his attention to coping with the tragedy of civil war. But he did decide finally to reintroduce the bill. Brown remained in Washington and by the end of January had met with nearly every member of the House of Representatives to promote the bill and, coincidentally, The Peoples College. While the constitutional problems that had impeded the bill in 1859 were no longer present, the bill was opposed mainly on sectional issues. Brown was eager to launch another lobbying campaign, but Morrill attempted to dissuade him in the belief that any further efforts would be in vain. On Browns suggestion, Morrill decided to ask Benjamin Wade, Senator from Ohio, to introduce the bill in the Senate and thereby circumvent the opposition in the House. The tactic worked. After several debates and with a few minor amendments, the Agricultural College Act was passed on June 11, 1862, and signed by President Lincoln on July 2.

There was no doubt that New York would decide to take advantage of the Agricultural College Act. The main question was what institution would be designated to receive the benefit of the land grant. Although some consideration was given briefly to establishing five new colleges throughout the state, only The Peoples College and the State Agricultural College had plausible claims to the grant. The State Agricultural College was still moribund, but its charter remained in force. The trustees, led by Cook and Brown, began immediately to take the steps necessary to secure the land grant for The Peoples College. Their first step was to identify the College even further with the Agricultural College Act. Amos Browns efforts in Washington had linked the act and the College in the eyes of the Congress, but the question about which college would receive the proceeds of the land grant would be decided in Albany, not Washington. Therefore, Brown prepared a detailed account of his work in behalf of the act, and the board of trustees procured letters from several members of the Congress who described Browns contribution to the legislation. The account and the letters were distributed

to the legislature. Senators Wade and Fessenden called Amos Brown father of the

Agricultural College Act. But the most influential letter came from Justin Morrill, who said that the bills passage was due to him [Brown] and the institution of which he is head and that the legislature should acknowledge the contribution in awarding the proceeds of the land grant. Coming from Morrill, who was known for his unwillingness to share credit with anyone this was powerful testimony in the colleges favour.

On May 14, 1863 the legislature awarded the proceeds of the land grant to The Peoples College, on the conditions that within three years the College should have ten competent professors, a fully stocked farm of 200 acres, a fully equipped machine shop, a library, scientific apparatus, and a completed building that could accommodate 250 students. A final and most important condition, evidently aimed directly at Charles Cook, was that all of the colleges property had to be held by the Trustees absolutely. Cook still held liens against the building and title to the land.

Until the conditions of the bill were met, the college could collect not one cent of the proceeds of the land grant. The colleges victory was, therefore, far from complete. Compliance depended on Charles Cook, but his attitude towards the college had become strangely erratic. When he spoke before the committee of the legislature, to which the bill to make the college the states land grant institution had been referred, Cook assured the members that all of the lands, buildings, and equipment needed to meet the terms of the Agricultural College Act would be provided, presumably by him. When the committee had drawn up the bill in final form, the members called Cooks attention to the conditions with which he would have to comply. Cook replied with strong emphasis that he would do no such thing (New York State Constitutional Convention, 1868, p. 2822). Cook was ill when the bill was being discussed in the Senate, but he sent a spokesman to assure the members that he would indeed comply with the terms of the bill. The bill was thereupon approved. Shortly thereafter he told a member that those were conditions that never would be complied with, and that he would see the Legislature in Heaven before he would do it (p. 2822). In 1865, in reference to the same incident, Daniel Dickinson, who was a trustee of The Peoples College said that the Peoples College, so far as Mr. Cook is concerned, is a standing and impenetrable mystery to me. If its history were written in Sanscrit I could read it as well (Becker, 1944, p. 231).

When confronted about his ambivalence towards the college, Cook replied that he

would not transfer title to the property to the trustees until the college had actually received the land grant. But the state would not convey the proceeds of the land grant to the college until the trustees held clear title to the property. Cooks stance placed The Peoples College in a dilemma. And the dilemma was sadly ironic, for Cook must have assumed that land or land scrip would be given to the land grant colleges. The agricultural College Act specifically provided that the land or land scrip had to be sold by the states and the proceeds of the sale used to create an endowment for the land grant colleges. Neither the states nor the colleges could themselves hold the land or land scrip. They had to sell it. Cooks motive evidently was to speculate in the sale of land scrip by purchasing it at prices below which the actual land that the scrip represented was worth or in time would be worth. This was hardly a remote possibility given that most of the persons who purchased land scrip were speculators (Gates, 1965) and given Cooks commercial interest in the college. The land grant had made the college even more attractive to the boosters of Havana.

It was Charles Cooks behaviour that led to Amos Browns downfall as president of The Peoples College. When the trustees met in June, 1863, to consider how they might comply with the terms imposed on the college by the legislature, Brown proposed that they again press Cook on the question about ownership of the colleges land and building. At first Cook reacted angrily. He said that he would convey clear title to the trustees, but would also resign from the board and demand immediate payment of all debts due him from the college. Cooks ultimatum was curious because the trustees debt to him for most of the building material used to construct the college was less than his debt to them in the form of an unpaid subscription pledge. The trustees found Cooks offer unacceptable and the question of ownership remained unsettled. Cook did not resign from the board, but did remain angry with Amos Brown, whom he held responsible for the trustees demand for him to relinquish title to the colleges land and building. Cook wanted Brown removed from the presidency. At first he pressured Brown indirectly by demanding a full accounting of the presidents expenses in Washington and, later, by demanding that Brown pay rent on a house that Cook owned and allowed the college to use as a home for its president. Cook interfered with Browns attempts to recruit a faculty. In one case Cook not only made an appointment on his own, but also failed to inform Brown about it. Cook sent the colleges comptroller, instead of its president, on an important mission to Albany. On his part, Brown resented Cooks intrusion into areas in which he thought that Cook was incompetent. He clearly was distressed by Cooks refusal to aid the college in meeting the terms of the legislation by which it could receive the proceeds of the land grant.

As Cook and Brown quarreled, other members of the board of trustees became more and more active in the day-to-day business of the college. Despite the problems of divided leadership, The Peoples College opened in the spring of 1864. Although opened, the College still was not able to comply with the terms of the states land grant legislation.

In the summer of 1864, the dispute between Charles Cook and Amos Brown came to a head and a resolution calling for Browns dismissal was introduced to the trustees. The trustees supported the resolution. Some trustees did so because they were associates of Cook. Others did so because they disagreed with Browns new plans for the college. Brown, then, was opposed by old and new trustees alike. In August, 1864 Amos Brown and The Peoples College severed their relationship. The parting was not amicable.


Cornell University and the New York Land Grant



mos Brown remained in Havana and watched the progress of The Peoples College. Other persons were watching the college, too. On February 4, 1865, a newly elected member of the states Senate introduced a motion to require the Board of Regents to advise the Senate whether or not [The Peoples College] is, or within the time specified . . . is likely to be, in a condition to avail itself of the [land grant] fund (Cornell University, 1883, p. 10). The Senator who introduced the resolution was Andrew D. White. He and another newly elected Senator, Ezra Cornell, had been keeping a close eye on The Peoples College and particularly on Charles Cook, on whom they believed, correctly, the colleges success depended.

White had a grand plan for an American university equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge. Cornell had a long-standing interest in agricultural education. He had been a

trustee of the defunct State Agricultural College and had carefully studied the plans for The Peoples College. Initially White and Cornell had disagreed about how the land grant fund should be used. Cornell had wanted to divide the land grant fund between the State

Agricultural College and The Peoples College. White had adamantly insisted that the land grant should not be dissipated by division, but should be used intact to support a new university, for which his vision went well beyond either the State Agricultural College or The Peoples College.

Cornell was persuaded to Whites point of view and offered to add $500,000 in addition to the proceeds of the land grant to found a new university. Before initiating any action in the legislature, White and Cornell attempted to persuade the trustees of The Peoples College to relinquish their claim to the land grant and pledge their support to the new university. Most of the trustees refused even to discuss the idea with White and Cornell. Finally, after a proposal was made to select some of the new universitys trustees from the board of The Peoples College, four of the colleges most influential trustees agreed to support White and Cornell. The four trustees Horace Greeley, Erastus Brooks, Daniel Dickinson, and Edwin B. Morgan had been appointed to the colleges board by the Peoples College Association and were supporters of the original plans for the college. Charles Cook and his associates on the board remained opposed to White and Cornells plans for a new university.

There was a hidden hand at work in devising the proposal that gained the support of the Colleges trustees. Amos Brown had gone to work for Ezra Cornell. It was Browns idea to appoint trustees from the college to the board of the new university in order to deflate opposition to White and Cornells plans. After legislation to revoke the land grant from The Peoples College and create Cornell University was introduced in February, 1865, Brown continued to work personally for Ezra Cornell. Like Andrew White, Brown was firm in insisting that the land grant fund should not be divided, but should be used in its entirety to support a single great university. Browns plans for The Peoples College were more like Whites plans for Cornell University than the Mechanics Mutual Protection and the Peoples College Associations plans. W. H. Brewer once talked with Brown about his plans:

His [Browns] views were so broad; he was so enthusiastic and hopeful that I thought him not merely optimistic, but visionary. He was aiming for so great and broad an institution that I thought it positively visionary to even hope for its realization. I argued with him that he could not expect to build up a Heidleberg in Chemistry, a Berlin in Philosophy, a Harvard in Natural History, a Yale in Agricultural Chemistry, a something equally brilliant in Technology, He thought otherwise. Why not? Why not? Why not? he repeated over and over again.

Andrew White might have said what Brown did; their views were much alike. It is not surprising, then, that Brown could easily turn his support to White and Cornell. Not everyone was sympathetic to Browns turn of allegiance. He was publicly accused of being selfish and vindictive in betraying The Peoples College. The introduction of the bill to create Cornell University and strip The Peoples College of the land grant was, as Andrew White observed, a signal for war (White, 1905, p. 300). And war it was. Every college in the state, except Columbia, came forward to claim the benefit of the land grant fund. The battle was waged in the newspapers and in the legislature, both on the floor and behind closed doors. Some factions argued positively in favour of their own interests while others simply attacked the Cornell proposal.

Amos Brown worked earnestly for the Cornell bill. An especially strong obstacle to the bills being passed was the claim of Genesee College to the land grant. The college was a Methodist school located in Lima. The colleges claim was no better or different than that of any other college, but it was supported by a large and powerful block, and, like The Peoples College and unlike the State Agricultural College had actually been built and was open. Methodists throughout the state supported the college on the one hand because it was a Methodist school and on the other hand because Cornell University would be non-sectarian or, as they put it, Godless. Although there is some contradictory evidence about the precise nature of the pact, (Beadie, 1994) Ezra Cornell promised to pay $25,000 to the trustees of Genesee College if they would abandon their claim to the land grant and withdraw their opposition to the Cornell bill. Amos Brown was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement between the college and Cornell. Although he was a Congregational clergyman, Brown was well known and had many influential friends among Methodist leaders.

With the removal of the opposition of Genesee College, White and Cornell were able to bring their bill forward to a favourable vote in the legislature. Under the terms of the bill, The Peoples College had 90 days in which either to fulfill all of the terms of the bill that had assigned the proceeds of the land grant to it or to deposit a sum of money ($185,000) sufficient to enable it to fulfill the terms after 90 days had elapsed. The college could do neither without Charles Cooks support. He refused. On April 26, 1865, Amos Brown, who had maintained close contact with the college, reported to Ezra Cornell:

Mr. Cook has disclosed that he has given his last cent to The Peoples College.

The term of study is, as I understand, to close today, & the Professors are to be

dispersed to seek their forage elsewhere. You will, as I predicted, have an open sea.

Amos Brown felt that he was due some reward from Cornell University because of the service that he had rendered in connection with passage of the Agricultural College Act and the bill to found the University. There is some evidence from which to suppose that he thought that he should be named to the presidency of Cornell. W. H. Brewer reported that Ezra Cornell privately asked him whether or not Amos Brown should be connected with the new University in a prominent position. Brewer told Cornell that, while he appreciated Browns ability and contributions to education, he thought that Brown had personal peculiarities that would work serious friction in the starting of a new university (White, 1905). Although Ezra Cornell in the end nominated Andrew White for the presidency of the university, he had previously told him that he had one other candidate in mind. Amos Brown was the logical alternative. Whether or not he desired the presidency or had any reason to expect that he should receive it, Amos Brown definitely thought that he should get something. In March 1866 Brown wrote to the board of trustees of Cornell and asked for remuneration. The trustees acknowledged that Browns service to the university had indeed been valuable, but refused to concede that he had a just claim or, even if he did, that the board was empowered to honour it. Horace Greeley and Erastus Brooks, formerly trustees of The Peoples College, then introduced a motion that called on Cornell University to employ Brown in some department where his abilities can be made use of (Board of Trustees of Cornell University, 1940, p. 6). The motion was not carried.

Having failed to receive satisfaction from the trustees, Brown took his appeal to Andrew White, to whom he complained that the action of trustees had been calculated to humble me. He also made it clear to White that his claim was based on his work for the Cornell bill and for the Agricultural College Act, without which, Brown baldly contended, Cornell University would not have been founded. To support the latter claim, Brown produced all of the letters that the trustees of The Peoples College had procured when seeking the land grant for the College and added another from Senator Ira Harris of New York. White discouraged a meeting between Brown and himself and finally demurred altogether.

Brown next turned to Ezra Cornell personally. He told Cornell that White had agreed that the Cornell bill would not have been approved without his help. Cornell was not sympathetic to Browns request for a financial reward. He argued that he had already paid Brown for his services in accordance with an agreement that they had made when Brown first began to work for him. With Cornells refusal, Brown abandoned his claim.

At the same time that Brown was negotiating with Andrew White and Ezra Cornell, he learned that the Illinois Agricultural College was seeking a president. Brown made several inquiries about the position and arranged to have recommendations written in his behalf, but in the end was not offered the job.




mos Brown remained in Havana, where he preached in local churches and took an interest in The Peoples College, which was reopened briefly under the auspices of the Masonic Order. He died there on August 17, 1874. In his lifetime he had worked to build two academies, the New York State Agricultural College, The Peoples College, and Cornell University. In each case he made significant contributions. While it probably is an exaggeration to say, as some of his contemporaries did, that Amos Brown was the father of the Agricultural College Act, it is quite reasonable to say that he deserves large credit for the Acts being passed and for promoting a tangible image of the type of college that the Act would cause to be founded.

A particular impact of Browns lobbying and of the plans for The Peoples College was on the concept of higher education for what Justin Morrill called the mechanic arts. Morrill himself advanced only three arguments in favour of the Agricultural College Act: public lands were being wastefully and aimlessly given away, persons who received public lands should be educated in their use, and the United States needed to keep pace with European advances in agricultural and mechanical science.

Congressional debate, however, was not joined along the lines offered by Morrill. In fact, considering the historical significance of the Agricultural Education Act, Congress debates about it were ironically devoid of educational consideration. What few references there were Morrills own comments not excluded dealt almost exclusively with agricultural education and public land policy. The exception was The Peoples Colleges origin in the Mechanics Mutual Protection, which effectively defined who mechanics, as an interest group, were, and the specific plan for the college which described how a college for mechanics would be organized and run.

What else can we learn from Amos Browns career? His experience at The Peoples College reveals a tension in the movement to found an alternative for farmers and mechanics to the traditional liberal arts college. On the one hand, Brown, as president of The Peoples College, was under pressure from persons who were interested primarily in founding a college devoted exclusively to agricultural and mechanical education, with practical instruction as an integral part of the course of study. On the other hand, Brown was personally disposed to the classical collegiate course to which he thought agricultural and mechanical courses should be added tangentially. There existed as well a tension between educational reformers whether they preferred a radical change like The Peoples College or an amendment of the existing form like Browns or Whites plans and local boosters, like Charles Cook, who wanted a college any college for the commercial benefits and civic pride that it would engender.

The competition among cities and towns to win the location of The Peoples College strengthens the thesis that there was much local support for colleges before 1860 (Grandillo, 1997; Potts, 1997). The competition also indicates a tension between educators and local boosters. Many of the Colleges local supporters, including its primary benefactor and Amos Browns initial patron, were not especially interested in agricultural and mechanical education. Instead, they were interested mainly in commercial advantage. Whatever The Peoples Colleges purpose or Amos Browns interest in promoting it, the case for the college as advanced by Brown was almost exclusively educational. To Brown and most, but not all, of the supporters of the College, educational reform was an end in itself.

Regardless of the rate at which the land grant college movement evolved, or at which institutions the land grant model was actually deployed, it is clear that the political and economic authors of the Agricultural College Act had at best a cloudy educational vision. When the members of Congress were called on to vote in support of the act, and when state legislators were subsequently asked to designate the institutions that were to receive the land grants, the educational definition on which they relied was The Peoples College, as promoted by Amos Brown. Historical credit for that should go to him.

As for Justin Morrill, his role and contribution seem to have been mainly financial and political. When asked directly about his role, Morrill usually and carefully insisted that he had drafted the Agricultural College Act on his own, but he rarely implied more than that, perhaps recalling that the act said very little about education. An examination of Morrills larger career demonstrates that he was unusually competent in matters of public finance. Even if the Agricultural College Act had never been introduced, Morrill would deserve a prominent place in American history as the financial architect of the Federal governments military effort in the Civil War.

The land grants themselves, as a financial device, need to be put in a larger context. Within the span of about one year, the U. S. federal government made 532 million acres of public land available for three purposes: settlement (the Homestead Act), railway development, and higher education. Of the 532 million acres, only 17 million, barely three per cent, were for higher education under the Agricultural College Act. Since these were not the first grants for education in the United States, and were comparatively small in relation to overall land policy, one might reasonably ask why they were notable aside from the specific and novel purposes of the Agricultural College Act.

In practical effect the arrangement was very clever. By the mid-1800s federally held public lands were very unevenly distributed. Some states neither held nor could claim any at all. Yet the educational concept of the Agricultural College Act was national. The proceeds of the sale of the land grant scrip were in effect spent by the states. Thus a federal asset was converted with visible equity to a state asset for a federal objective. While such matching arrangements became common in the next century, they were unusual in fact, ingenious at the time, especially in terms of maintaining a precarious balance between states rights and the Constitutional prerogatives of the federal government.

As for Jonathan Baldwin Turner, one of the reputed fathers of the Act, a final note from a series of discussions in 1871 might explain his role. One might aver, as some have, that what Turner called the industrial university really meant what later came to be understood as the mechanic arts in the Agricultural College Act. Neither of the sponsors of the bill ever acknowledged such a role on Turners part. In 1871 the Friends of Agricultural Education met in convention in Chicago under the auspices of the Illinois Industrial University. On the agenda, despite the name of the group, was a review of the progress of land grant colleges in introducing programs in the mechanic arts. A number of speakers took pains to distinguish the introduction of courses of study in the mechanic arts which at the time virtually no land grant institution had done from expanding accessibility to higher education for the industrial classes which was a quite different although apparently similar concept (Hatch, 1967b). This was not the first use of either the concept or the phrase. Turner himself had used it in 1851 when he called for a University for the Industrial Classes. More significantly in terms of the origin of the mechanic arts in the Agricultural College Act, Turner was still referring to the industrial classes nearly ten years after the bill was passed. Also in 1871, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Illinois Industrial University, Turner said that it really didnt make any difference that only a very small number of students in land grant institutions actually graduated in industrial pursuits. According to Hatch, Turner maintained that the main point, he said, was that the industrial classes should have the opportunity to

attend university. This, of course, was the same point that the representatives of the land

grant colleges were making at about the same time at the Convention of the Friends of

Agricultural Education. Thus Jonathan Baldwin Turners role was the promotion and perhaps crystallization of the social objective of expanded access to college and university study, which has since become part of the warp and woof of American higher education. But it would be hard to give Turner credit for the Agricultural College Act itself, or for its passage.

Of the claimants to the authorship of the land grant college idea, Amos Browns case is strongest in terms of giving educational expression to the concept of what a land grant college should be. He did this as the principal lobbyist for the legislation in 1857 and again in 1862, and as the founding president of a college The Peoples College which actually embodied the concept.

To summarize and conclude with the metaphor of parenthood, it would not be correct to describe Amos Brown as the natural parent of the land grant college. It would, however, be very reasonable to describe Brown as the powerful, loyal, and experienced adoptive parent of The Peoples College ideal, the Agricultural College Act, and the land grant college concept that they together engendered.

Brown did not invent the idea of The Peoples College. It had its own, virtually unique, grass roots origin in organized labour. But Brown developed the idea, gave it tangible meaning, and saw it through to maturity as the educational embodiment of the Agricultural College Act. Without his organizational skill and experience, the college would not have been built and a faculty recruited for it. In the absence of his extremely effective and influential lobbying in Washington and Albany, the college would never have received the land grant designation and the educational stature albeit brief that went along with it.

To the extent that the Agricultural College Act was taken to have a firm educational purpose at the time of its passage, its educational meaning was defined by Brown and The Peoples College. Brown played a pivotal political role as well. After the first bill was vetoed and civil war had broken out, Justin Morrill did not want to reintroduce the legislation. It was Brown who devised the plan to redirect the bill to Benjamin Wade in the Senate, and who took full responsibility for the lobbying and maneuvering necessary for its ultimate approval. So in this sense too Amos Brown was the acts adoptive parent, taking over from Justin Morrill when Morrill turned his attention elsewhere. Wade, for his part, seemed to have appreciated the bills political importance but not its educational significance (Thompson, 1926).

The question of parenthood can be taken one step further by asking whether or not

either child The Peoples College or the Agricultural College Act could have survived were it not for its adoption by Amos Brown.

In the case of The Peoples College the answer is quite clear. The trustees of the college were correct when they appointed Brown. The college desperately needed a leader with organizational skill, academic experience, and a talent for lobbying and promotion. Charles Cook, the colleges principal benefactor, had none of these attributes, and in the end was more a liability than an asset. While the trustees were relatively benign, none of them could have played the roles that Brown did, nor did any of them aspire to. This should not be surprising given the typical membership of the Mechanics Mutual Protection.

The Peoples College didnt last long after the New York land grant was redirected to Cornell University. But that it lasted as long as it did, and achieved considerable prominence in its short life, are attributable almost entirely to Brown. In his absence the college probably would not have progressed beyond the stage of the Mechanics Mutual Protections prospectus, and would have languished as the New York State Agricultural College did.

In regard to the Agricultural College Act and the land grant college model the answer to the question about survival is less straightforward. By 1862 Justin Morrill had indeed given up on the bill and was satisfied to pass the torch of leadership to Amos Brown and Benjamin Wade. With Morrills and Wades blessings Brown took it up, and in doing so filled the vacuum of the bills educational meaning and secured the necessary political support for the bill.

But while the Agricultural College Acts path to approval would probably have been longer and rockier without Amos Browns leadership, it would have been approved sooner or later, particularly once its states rights opponents were no longer present to vote against it, once the then president had no strong compunction about vetoing it. Moreover, westward expansion would have continued to force the question of proper disposition and management of federal lands.



The political meaning of the Agricultural College Act and the motives of its supporters and opponents have been interpreted in different ways. The significant points of view are represented in these articles: A.G. Bogue, Senators, Sectionalism, and the Western Measures of the Republican Party, in David M. Ellis, ed., The Frontier in American Development, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1969), pp.20-46; Paul W. Gates, Western Opposition to the Agricultural College Act, Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 37, No. 2 (June 1941), pp.103-136; George Rainsford, Congress and Higher Education, (The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1972), chapter six; and Earle D. Ross, The Land-Grant College: A Democratic Adaptation, Agricultural History, Vol. 15, No. 1 (January 1941), pp.26-40.


Questions about the authorship of the Agricultural College Act were first raised in 1907 by Eugene Davenports History of Collegiate Education in Agricultural, Proceedings of the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science, 1909, pp.43-53. Further questions were raised by Liberty Hyde Bailey, ed., Cyclopedia of American Agriculture, (Macmillan, New York, 1909), Vol. IV, p.409; and Edmund J. James, The Origins of the Land Grant of 1862 (The so-called Morrill Act) and Some Accounts of its Author, Jonathan B. Turner, (University of Illinois, Urbana, 1910).


For a summary of the debate, see Earle D. Ross, The Father of the Land-Grant College, Agricultural History, Vol. 12, No. 2 (April 1938), pp.151-186. Quarterly,14,13-38.1997.


Beadie, N. (1994). From academy to university in New York State: The Genesee
institutions and the importance of capital to the success of an idea, 1848 1871, History of Education Quarterly, 18(3), 295-321.

Becker, C. (1944). The founders and the founding. Ithaca, New York: Cornell

University Press.

Bishop, M. (1962). Early Cornell. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Board of Trustees of Cornell University. (1940). Proceedings of the Board of Trustees of Cornell University, April 1865 July 1885. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Cornell University. (1883). Laws and documents relating to Cornell University,

1862-1883. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Curtis, M. & Carstersen,V. (1949). The University of Wisconsin, 1848-1928 Madison, p.28

Field, A. (1976). Educational expansion in mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts: Human capital formation or structural reinforcement? Harvard Educational Review, 46(4) 521-552.

Gates, P. (1965). The Wisconsin pine lands of Cornell University. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, pp.27-34.

Grandillo, M. (1997). The local college booster movement in nineteenth century Ohio. Paper presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education Annual Meeting. Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hatch, R. (1967a). An early view of the land-grant college. Urbana, University of Illinois Press.

Hatch, R. (1967b). Some founding papers of the University of Illinois. Urbana, University of Illinois

Lang, D. (1978) The Peoples College, The Mechanics Mutual Protection, and the Agricultural College Act. History of Education Quarterly. 18(3), 295-321.


New York State Constitutional Convention. (1868). Vol. IV, p.2822. Albany, New York: Weed & Press.


Potts, D. (1977). College enthusiasm! and public response, 1800 1860. Harvard Educational Review, 47(1), 28 42.

Thompson, W. (1926). History of Ohio State University, Volume III. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.

White, A. (1905). Autobiography, Vol. 1. New York: The Century Co.

Williams, R. (1991). The Origins of Federal Support for Higher Education. University Park, Pennsylvania State University, pp.1-9.

Additional Archival Resources:

Bramble Family Papers, Cornell University

William A. Brewer Papers, Yale University

Ezra Cornell Papers, Cornell University

Andrew White Papers, Cornell University


Higher Education Perspectives. ISSN: 1710-1530