Page images

On the 10th of December, 1849, SAMUEL S. RANDALL was re-appointed Deputy Superintendent of Common Schools, in the place of Mr. JOHNSON, appointed Deputy Secretary. .

Notwithstanding the almost unanimous vote of the electors of the state in favor of the act of 1849,it was met at the outset of its practical administration by a violent anå wide spead hostility. In nearly half the counties of the state, the Board of Supervisors had adjourned their sessions, before the official annunciation of its adoption, and consequently without making provision for the additional county tax required by the second section. The heavy deficiency of funds thus occasioned was left to be supplied by a district tax; and the great inequality in the taxable property of the several districts was severely felt, and contributed to a very great extent, to render the practical operation of the new law, burdensome and oppressive. Many of the heaviest tax payers had no direct interest in the schools; and in general wherever they constituted a majority of the legal voters of the district, they refused all appropriations for the support of the school beyond the four months required by law. Petitions for a repeal or modification of the law, were forwarded in great numbers from every section of the state: and a very general disaffection existed towards the new system.

By an act passed on the 30th of March, the sum of $250 was appropriated, annually for three years to the Trustees of such Academies as the Regents of the University, should designate for that purpose, on condition that at least twenty individuals in such Academies should be instructed in the science of common school teaching for at least four months during each of said years. · On the first day of January, 1850, the Superintendent forwarded to the legislature his annual report, by which it appeared that the number of school districts in the state, was 11,191, the number of children between five and sixteen 739,655 and the whole number of children taught during the year 1848, 778,309. The recommendation to restore the office of county Superintendent, or to create that of assembly district Superintendent, was reviewedly urged upon the legislature, together with several other important modification, of the existing law.

Several bills were brought forward in each branch of the legislature, in accordance with these recommendations, and with the object of removing the obnoxious features of the new law. Able reports were made by Mr. BEEKMAN of New York, Chairman of the Literature Committee of the senate, and by Mr. KINGSLEY of Cortland from a select Committee of the assembly, to'whom the various petitions for a repeal or modification of the law, were referred. Mr. BURROUGHS of Orleans, the Chairman of the Committee on colleges, academies and common schools, brought forward a bill, providing for the levying of a general state tax of $800,000 annually, for the support of the schools, in conjunction with the annual revenue of the school fund.

This bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 70 in the affirmative to 30 in the negative; but no action was had on it in the Senate. In that body a bill was introduced by Mr. Mann, of Oneida, referring the question of repeal of the act of 1849, to the decision of the people at the ensuing election, which passed the Senate, and received the assent of the House, after midnight of the last day of the session.

The friends of Free Schools, after the most strenuous and persevering though ineffectual efforts to obtain such amendments or modification of the law as might render its provisions generally acceptable, determined, under these circumstances, to oppose its unconditional repeal. They united, with great unanimity, in the call for a State Convention at Syracuse, which was beld on the 10th day of July, the Superintendent of Common Schools, Mr. MORGAN, presiding; at which, resolutions were adopted in favor of the principle of Free Schools, and recommending the friends of education generally throughout the State, to oppose the repeal of the existing law with the view of amending and perfecting its details. An animated and vigorous canvass ensued—the opponents of the law insisting npon its unconditional repeal, without regard to the principle involved, and the friends of Free Schools, while conceding to the fullest extent the objections urged against the existing law. insisting upon its retention on the Statute book, for the sake of that princi: ple, and pledging themselves to unite with its opponents in such amendments and modifications of the law itself, as public opinion should demand, and the best interests of education require. So obnoxious, however, were the main features of the law to the inhabitants of the several districts generally, that an aggregate majority of 46,874 was obtained, at the annual election in the fall of 1850, in forty-two of the fifty-nine counties of the State, in favor of its repeal. In the remaining seventeen counties, including the City and County of New York, the aggregate majority against repeal amounted to 71,912. The whole number of votes cast on this question (exclusive of inperfect and scattering ballots) was 393,654; of which 184,308 were viven for, and 209,346 against the repeal of the law; leaving a majority of 25,038 against such repeal.

The following Statement of the vote in the several Counties of the State. for and against the Repeal of the Free School Law, is derived from the official returns to the Secretary of State's Office: Undi.......

mi [For Repeals Against Repeal Majority | Majority COUNTIES. of the new of the new I for against

School Law School Law. Repeal. Repeal. Albany,...........


5272 Allegany, .........

3787 1 2161 I 1626 ... Broome,


1846 Cattaraugus,


21969 79 Cayuga,...

T 3409

230 Chautauque, ..........


1630 Chemung, ............


on 21350 180 Chenango, ... ****

4828 2358 vo lu 2470.

[ocr errors]

Majority against repeal, 25,038.

In his annual message at the opening of the Legislature of 1851, Governor Hunt thus adverted to the subject :

“ The operations of the act of 1849, establishing free schools, have not

produced all the beneficial effects, nor imparted the general satisfaction anticipated by the friends of the measure. It has been the policy of our State from an early period, to promote the cause of popular education by liberal and enlightened legislation. A munificent fund created by a series of measures, all aiming at the same great result, has been dedicated by the Constitution to the support of common schools, and the annual dividend from this source will gradually increase. The duty of the State to provide such means and facilities as will extend to all its children the blessings of education, and especially to confer upon the poor and unfortunate a participation in the benefits of our common schools, is a principle which has been fully recognized and long acted upon by the Legislature and the people.

“The vote of 1849, in favor of the free school law, and the more recent vote by a reduced majority against its repeal, ought doubtless to be regarded as a re-affirmation of this important principle, but not of the provisions of the bill, leaving it incumbent upon the Legislature, in the exercise of a sound discretion, to make such enactments as will accomplish the general design, without injustice to any of our citizens. An essential change was made by the law under consideration, in imposing the entire burthen of the schools upon property, in the form of a tax, without reference to the direct benefits derived by the tax payer. The provisions of the act for carrying this plan into effect, have produced oppressive inequalities and loud complaints.

" In some districts the discontent and strife attendant upon these evils, have disturbed the harmony of society. An earnest effort should be made to reconcile differences of opinion, to remedy the grievances arising from the imperfect operation of the law, and to equalize the weight of taxation by such principles of justice and equity as will ensure popular sanction. The success of our schools must depend, in a great degree, upon the united counsels and friendly co-operation of the people in each small community composing a district, and nothing can be more injurious to the system of common school education than feuds and contentions among those who are responsible for its healthful action and preservation.

" It cannot be doubted that all property, estates, whether large or small, will derive important advantages from the universal education of the people. A well considered system, which shall ensure to the children of all, the blessings of moral and intellectual culture, will plant foundations broad and deep, for public and private virtue; and its effects will be seen in the dimi: nution of vice and crime, the more general practice of industry, sctriety and integrity, conservative and enlightened legislation, and universal obedia ence to the laws. In such a community the rights of property are stable, and the contributions imposed on it are essentially lightened. But I entertain a firm conviction that the present law requires a thorough revision, and that an entire change in the mode vi assessment is indispensable."

On the 7th of January, 1851, Mr. MORGAN transmitted to the Legislature his third annual report as Superint-nuent, from which it appears that the whole number of districts in the State was 11,397; the number of children between five and sixteen, on the 31st of December, 1849, 735,188; and the number of children taught during the preceding year in the several common schools of the State, 794,500—being an excess of 59,312 over the number between the ages of five and sixteen, and of 16,191 over the whole number previously taught. The entire expenditure for school purposes, during the year reported, was $1,766,668.24. The number of volumes in the several district libraries was about 1,500,000. The Superintendent again urged upon the Legislature the importance of a more thorough and efficient local supervision, through the agency of a County or Assembly District Superintendent; alluded to the increased usefulness and flourishing prospects of the Normal

chools in which, in addition to the usual course of instruction, a limited number of Indian youth had been received as pupils during the preceding year; and concluded by strongly urging upon the attention of the legislature the expediency and necessity of such an amendment of the existing law, establishing Free Schools throughout the State, as was demanded by an en. lightened public sentiment. “The bistory of the past year," he obseryes, "in reference to this great enterprise, has been one of mingled triumph and disaster, The principle incorporated in the · Act for the establishment of Free Schools throughout the State' has been again subjected to the test of public opinion. In their almost unanimous approval of that principle in the canvass of 1849, the electors very generally overlooked the specific details of the bill şubmitted to their sanction, confiding in the disposition of the Legislature to modify such of its features as might be practically objectionable. Serious obstacles to the successful operation of the law presented themselves almost upon the threshold of its administration. The boards of supervisors in more than one-half of the counties of the State had adjourned their annual sessions before the act took effect, without making the appropriations required by its provisions, leaving the 'seyeral school districts to sustain a most unequal and oppressive burden of taxation for the support of their schools.

“Inequalities in the valuations of taxable property, contributed, in many localities, greatly to aggravate this burden, and a spirit of opposition to the new law, inflamed by its determined opponents, manifested itself at the primary district meetings, and too often resulted in the entire rejection of the estimates prepared by the trustees, and the limitation of the term of school to the lowest possible period authorized by law. Appeals were assiduously made to the cupidity of the heavy tax-payers-their interests sought to be arrayed against that of their less favored brethren, and against the interests of their children; their passions stimulated by the real inequalities as well as fancied injustice of the burdens imposed by the new law, were readily enlisted against every attempt to carry it into operation. Numerous petitions were sent to the Legislature, praying for its repeal, or for such amendments as might render it more generally acceptable.

" It was obvious that the law was liable to just and serious objections, and it did not meet with that general approval which was necessary to ensure its success. Under these circumstances, the friends of the new system were among the first to concede the defects of the bill, and while urging the preservation of the fundamental principle which it involved, were anxiously solicitous so to modify the details of the measure, as to obviate all its obnoxious features. At their suggestion and with their co-operation, bills were introduced into both branches of the Legislature, providing for a general and equit. able system of State or county taxation, for the purpose of rendering the common schools free to all, dispensing with the necessity of a district assessment, out of which the principal embarrassment had originated. In the Assembly, the measures thus proposed were approved by a large majority; the Senate did not concur in the action of the House, but sent to the House a bill proposing a re-submission of the law to the people, At the close of the session, and when it became evident that no modification of the obnoxious law could be obtained, this bill received the assent of the House.

"By the adoption of this measure, the friends of free schools found themselves in a very embarassing position; they were compelled either to give their votes and influence in favor of the continuance of a law, some of the distinctive feature of which were at variance both with their wishes and judgment, or, by sanctioning its repeal, hazard the principle which had been deliberately adopted by the Legislature, and approved by the emphatic expression of the public will. The issue thus presented could not fail of being greatly misapprehended. While the electors secured the renewed triumph of the principle involved, there can be no doubt that thousands of votes were cast for the repeal of the law, by citizens who desired only its amendment, and who would have recorded their suffrages in favor of a system of free-schools properly guarded, had the form of the ballot permitted them to do so. * “ It remains then for the Legislature to give efficacy to this renewed expression of the popular will, by the enactment of a law which shall definitively engraft the free school principle upon our existing system of primary

« PreviousContinue »