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the great family of nations; the biography of the great and good; the progress of knowledge; the opening prospects of society; the discoveries of genius ; the improvements in the useful and the ornamental arts; the wide range of science and philosophy, material, intellectual and moral; in short, the moving worlds of mind and matter, furnish inexhaustible materials for useful publications, adapted to improve and elevate the mind, and to promote the best social and moral interests of society.
In an undertaking of this nature, it were affectation, at this period, not to recognise the influence of the Christian religion, as the great source and the only preservative of all our blessings, individual and national. Its great truths and sanctions are the only foundation of sound morality, the only defence of public and private virtue, the only safeguard of the social and moral welfare of individuals and communities. Its principles can alone inspire that purity, charity, and order, which are essential to freedom, and without which our free institutions must come to an end.
It is, however, no part of the plan or design, to propagate particular religious doctrines or theories ; but to disseminate such useful practical knowledge, as may not only instruct, but exert among all classes a pure and elevated moral influence in respect to individual duty, in the various relations of life.
It will always encourage the circulation of good books by whomsoever published. It will regard the author or publisher of a useful volume as a co-worker, and a public benefactor. And any individual who will employ the pen or the press in extending the influence of knowledge and virtue, will find in this institution a friend and ally.
It will be a primary object to interest the youth of our country; and to invite and facilitate their acquaintance with works of the most improving character, by issuing them in the best style and by the free use of valuable illustrative engravings. It is hoped through the instrumentality of the Society, to bring within the reach of the entire youthful population of the land, a rich variety of works, eminently calculated to expand and invigorate the mind, improve the heart, and lay the foundation of real worth of character.
If we trace the progress of publications in the United States, since the commencement of the present century, in character, as well as amount, and observe the vast improvement in books of elementary instruction, and the happy adaptation in general of the style of American authors to popular use, it may be doubted, whether in any age of the world, or in any country, such rapid and giant strides were ever before made, in developing the mental energies of a nation. Probably no other nation ever existed, in which the habit of reading was so nearly universal.
The unparalleled circulation of newspapers and periodicals of every description, has awakened a taste and desire for more solid and extensive reading, which every successive supply will only serve to increase. The authors, editors, and teachers of this age and country, have done more, perhaps, to wake up the mind of an entire population, than any other set of men that ever lived; and American publishers and printers have never been surpassed in the energy and enterprise with which they have wielded the press.
Our hundred Colleges, our Academies, High Schools, and Lyceums, scattered over the whole land; our Public School System, the extension and improvement of the means of education in Primary and even Infant Departments; our tens of thousands of Sabbath Schools with their libraries, placing hundreds of thousands of volumes in the hands of our juvenile population, have exerted, and are still exerting, a most powerful influence through the whole community, in favour of intellectual and moral cultivation.
If we look forward but a few years, we must see that the great mass of mind, throughout our land, cannot rest satisfied with any ordinary supply of the means of knowledge. The desire for knowledge will constantly increase, and the more regular and systematic the supply, the more steady and ever increasing will be the demand.
In about twenty years, at the present rate of increase, our population will be doubled. Of course, if the means of intellectual improvement only keep pace with the increase of our numbers, we must, in that brief period, double the amount of all the publications now extant in the land, to say nothing of replacing the millions of volumes, which it is hoped will be worn out by careful use. And who can foretell the yet undiscovered progression, which the mind of such a community will make, in its demands for the means of knowledge ?
In these circumstances, the question arises, what is to be the character and tendency of the incalculable amount of reading with which this nation must be provided during twenty years to come? and surely it is a question of momentous import. The destiny of our country, and the best interests of man, are dependent on the answer.
If the mind of this nation shall be well-informed, well-balanced, welldisciplined, and regulated by principles of virtue and piety, our glorious institutions will continue. But ignorance, immorality, and freedom, cannot co-exist.
With such views as these, can we estimate too highly the importance of a National Institution, to aid in providing mental aliment for the people ; in systematizing the various departments of knowledge of practical utility, and in issuing publications suited to the varied taste and capacity of different classes and ages, and which may be received with confidence by all, as well adapted to prepare the readers to discharge the duties of intelligent and virtuous citizens ?
The Committee are also impressed with a sense of the importance of such an institution, from the great and increasing influx of foreign population, for whose intellectual culture no suitable provision is made. During eight months, in the year of 1836, from April 1 to December 1, more than 55,000 emigrants arrived at the port of New York.* It is estimated, that the average arrival on our shores is more than 10,000 per month, throughout the year. Every additional facility for crossing the Atlantic will be likely to increase the number; and no one can tell how great and numerous the arrivals from the old world will be, when steam-ships shall connect it with the new.t
It is said that there are 30,000 Germans in the city of New-York. In Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania, the proportion is much greater. The Irish, Swiss, and French, especially in the valley of the West, swell the aggregate of our foreign population to a vast amount. They are cut off, in a great measure, from the use of books and other vehicles of information, circulated in their native tongue at home, and no adequate provision, if any at all, is here made for their improvement.
This institution hopes to render invaluable service to them and to our country, by providing books of elementary instruction and general information on all subjects, expressly for foreigners and their children ; and thus to diffuse among them right views of their relations and duties as men, and as American citizens; of the nature of our government and civil institutions, and the obligations they impose on all who enjoy their blessings.
Not only do the condition and prospects of our own country, but those of the world, call for such an institution. The cry of waiting millions throughout the earth is for knowledge. Almost every uncivilized people are looking to this country and to England for books, for a printer and a press. Tons of printing type have already been sent from the United States to different portions of the uncivilized world ; and the Committee, in common with the multitude of enlightened philanthropists who adorn the age, recognise the obligations resting upon us as a nation, to spread over the whole earth, every species of knowledge calculated to meliorate the condition of
In what age of the world, among what people, that ever existed, have so many circumstances combined to make such an enterprise, not only important and practicable, but almost indispensable? If we consider the necessities of our own country alone, and the yet uncertain issue of the great experiment of a self-governing people, so far, however successful, can an American think any effort too great or too costly, to save ourselves from
* Custom-House Returns.
† Professor Lehmanousky recently stated at Cincinnati, that 500,000 Germans, alone, are preparing to emigrate to this country, the coming year; and Professor Stow of Cincinnati, who has recently returned from Germany, corroborates the opinion.
the calamity, and the world from the disappointment of a final failure. Our government is one purely of public opinion; our institutions, our laws, our Republic itself must be sustained, if sustained at all, by the “voice of the people ;” and what that voice shall be, is to be determined by the general intelligence and virtuous principle, which may be diffused through the community.
Let us give heed to the almost prophetic admonition of the father of his country, in the following passage from his farewell address :
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
“ It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular governments. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ? “ PROMOTE, THEN, AS OBJECTS OF PRIMARY IMPORTANCE, INSTITUTIONS FOR THE GENERAL DIFFUSION OF KNOWLEDGE.”
3. EXTENT OF THE FIELD.
There can be no question that our country, considering all the circumstances of its present condition and prospects, promises to be one of the greatest reading countries in the world. Already the number of newspapers in circulation is four times as great, as it is in Great Britain, France, or Germany, in proportion to the population. And it is highly probable, judging from the data which are accessible, that a greater number of volumes, in proportion to the population, are annually circulated here, than in the mother country, and the ratio is rapidly increasing.
The Society has already collected a mass of statistics, relative to the progress of the art of printing, showing the extent to which the business of printing and publishing has already been prosecuted in some European
countries, as an indication of what may hereafter be expected from it here. They clearly show the magnitude of the field which this Society has open before it. Some of these statistics will be embodied in the present pamphlet, if its limits will allow, or they will be given to the public in another form, among the early publications of the Society.
The English press alone, estimating from the increase of its issues, during the last ten years, will give to the world, in ten years to come, more than twenty thousand new works in the English language, exclusive of pamphlets and re-prints. A large proportion of these will be local in their character, and another large proportion will be otherwise worthless. Of others, some will be salutary, and some highly injurious in their tendency; and the welfare of the community will depend in a very great degree, upon the proportion of these two classes, which succeed in obtaining a permanent circulation.
Besides, therefore, what this Society can do in producing works of its own, calculated to instruct and improve the community, how vast its influence may be, if it is well sustained, in selecting from this great mass, those works which are fitted to exert a salutary influence, and giving extent and permanency to their circulation ; and by thus supplying the mighty mass of mind around us with what is good, help to exclude from it, influences which tend to corrupt and destroy.
ORGANIZATION OF THE SOCIETY.
At a Meeting of Citizens held in the Clinton-Hall, New-York, on the evening of October 17th, 1836, for the purpose of bearing the Report of a Committee, appointed in May last, to mature a Constitution for an “ AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR THE DIFFUSION OF UsefuL KNOWLEDGE :"
Hon. Albert Gallatin was called to the Chair, and
Professor John Proudfit, in behalf of the Committee, stated the origin and objects of the meeting.
The Rev. Gorham D. Abbott, agent of the Committee, submitted briefly a view of the operations of the press in this country and in Europe ; and of the proceedings of the English societies similar in their design to the one proposed.
As the report of his agency, it was stated, that distinguished men in various parts of the country had expressed their deep conviction of the importance and practicability of the object; and that meetings in relation to it had