In the first years of the Civil War, Congress took advantage of the absence of southern senators (many of whom had opposed it) to pass the Morrill Act and President Lincoln signed it on this day in 1862.
The Morrill Act gave to each state, based on population, federal land that could be used as such or sold for the purposes of building an agricultural college. These land-grant colleges are still with us. They are our state universities and they have graduated millions of students. The University of California system began with the land-grant college at Berkeley. The Universities of Texas, Connecticut, Iowa and Nebraska, Rutgers, Texas A&M, Tuskegee Institute, Purdue, Auburn and Michigan State are all land-grant schools. Two, Cornell and MIT, started as part of a state system but became private.
In total, the government allocated more than 17 million acres of land to the states for educational purposes. It created an endowment of about $7.5 million to kick-start the education of American citizens and “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
Really quite a nice gift to the states.
Congress, lest we forget, often does good deeds and it did something pretty spectacular on this date in 1890 – it passed the Sherman Anti-trust Act. The action was prompted primarily by farmers outraged at being extorted by the railroad trust in bringing their products to market.
What is amazing about the Sherman Antitrust Act is that at a time when the robber barons wielded incredible power and politicians were usually compliant, it passed the Senate by a vote of 51-1 and in the House it passed unanimously, 245-0.
From the look on Sen. John Sherman’s face in this photo from the Library of Congress, he just wasn’t taking no for an answer. Something in the DNA maybe – his older brother was William Tecumseh Sherman.
And on this date in 1776, the Congress began its debate on the Declaration, altering and deleting bits of it, energetic despite the heat in Philadelphia.