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“ The idea of universal education is the grand central idea of the age. Upon this broad and comprehensive basis, all the experience of the past, all the crowding phenomena of the present, and all our hopes and aspirations for the future, must rest. Our forefathers have transmitted to us a noble inheritance of national, intellectual, moral and religious freedom. They have confided our destiny as a people to our own hands. Upon our individual and combined intelligence, virtue and patriotism, rests the solution of the great problem of self-government. We should be untrue to ourselves, untrue to the cause of liberty, of civilization and humanity, if we neglected the assiduous cultivation of those means, by which alone we can secure the realization of the hopes we have excited. Those means are the universal education of our future citizens, without discrimination or distinction. Wherever in our midst a human being exists, with capacities and faculties to be developed, improved, cultivated and directed, the avenues of knowledge should be freely opened, and every facility afforded to their unrestricted entrance. Ignorance should no more be countenanced than vice and crime. The one leads almost inevitably to the other. Banish ignorance, and in its stead introduce intelligence, science, knowledge and increasing wisdom and enlightenment, and you remove, in most cases, all those incentives to idleness, vice and crime, which now produce such a frightful harvest of retribution, misery and wretchedness. Educate every child, to the top of his faculties, and you not only secure the community against the depredations of the ignorant and the criminal, but you bestow upon it, instead, productive artisans, good citizens, upright jurors and magistrates, enlightened statesmen, scientific discoverers and inventors, and the dispensers of a pervading influence in favor of honesty, virtue and true goodness. Educate every child physically, morally and intellectually, from the age of four to twenty-one, and many of your prisons, penitentiaries and alms-houses will be converted into schools of industry and temples of science, and the immense amount now contributed for their maintenance and support will be diverted into far more profitable channels. Educate every child not superficially--not partially—but thoroughly--develope equally and healthfully every faculty of his nature--every capability of his being--and you infuse a new and invigorating element into the very life blood of civilization—an element which will diffuse itself throughout every vein and arte
of the social and political system, purifying, strengthening and regenerating all its impulses, elevating its aspirations, and clothing it with a power equal to every demand upon its vast energies and resources.
" These are some of the results which must follow in the train of a wisely matured and judiciously organized system of universal education. They are not imaginary, but sober inductions from well authenticated facts-deliberate conclusions from established principles, sanctioned by the concurrent testimony of experienced' educators and eminent statesmen and philanthropists. If names are needed to enforce the lesson they teach, those of Washington, and Franklin, and Hamilton, and Jefferson and Clinton, with a long array of patriots and statesmen, may be cited. If facts are required to illustrate the connection between ignorance and crime, let the official return of convictions in the several courts of the State for the last ten years be examined, and their instructive lessons be heeded. · Out of nearly 28,000 persons convicted of crime, but 128 had enjoyed the benefits of a good common school education ; 414 only had what the returning officers characterize as, a' tolerable’ share of learning; and of the residue, about one-half only could either read or write. Let similar statistics be gathered from the wretched inmates of our poor house establishments, and similar results would undoubtedly be developed. Is it not, therefore, incomparably better, as a mere prudential question of political economy, to provide ample means for the education of the whole community, and to bring those means within the reach of every child, than to impose a much larger tax for the protection of that community against the depredations of the ignorant, the idle and the vicious, and for the support of the imbecile, the thoughtless and intemperate ?
Every consideration connected with the present and future welfare of the community-ėvery dictate of an enlightened humanity-every impulse of an enlarged and comprehensive spirit of philanthropy, combine in favor of this great principle. Public sentiment has declared in its favor. The new States which, within the past few years, have been added to the Confederacy, have adopted it as the basis of their system of public instruction; and the older States, as one by one they are reconstructing their fundamental laws and constitutions, are engrafting the same principle upon their institutions. Shall New York, in this noble enterprise of education, retrace her steps? Shall she disappoint the high hopes and expectations she has excited, by receding from the advanced position she now occupies in the van of educational improvement ? Her past career, in all those elements which go to make up the essential wealth and greatness of a people, has been one of progress and uninterrupted expansion. Her far-seeing legislators and statesmen, uninfluenced by the skepticism of the timid, the ignorant and the faithless, and unawed by the denunciations of the hostile, prosecuted that great work of internal improvement which will forever illustrate the pride and glory of her political history. The rich results of the experiment thus boldly ventured upon have vindicated their wisdom. Is the development of the intellectual and moral resources of her millions of future citizens an object of less interest, demanding a less devoted consecration of the energies of her people, and worthy of a less firm and uncompromising per
Disregarding the feelings of the present hour, and looking only to the future, will the consciousness of having laid the foundation for the universal education of our people be a less pleasing subject of contemplation than that of having aided in replenishing the coffers of their wealth
“In conclusion, the Superintendent cannot feel that he has fully met the responsibility devolved upon him by his official relations to the schools of the State, were he to fail in again urging upon the Legislature the definite adoption of this beneficent measure. Let its details be so adjusted as to bear equally upon all, oppressively upon none. Let every discordant element of strife and passion be removed from the councils of the districts, let the necessary assessment for the great object in view be diffused over the vast aggregate of the wealth and property of the State. Then let teachers, worthy of the name, teachers intellectually and morally qualified for the discharge of their high and responsible duties, dispense the benefits and riches of education, equally and impartially, to the eight hundred thousand children who annually congregate within the district school room.
“ The children of the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the native and the foreigner, will then participate alike in the inexhaustible treasures of intellect, they will commence their career upon a footing of equality, under the fostering guardianship of the State, and will gradually ripen into enlightened and useful cátizens, prepared for all the varied duties of life, and for the full enjoyment of all the blessings incident to humanity.”
Numerous petitions were forwarded to the legislature from different sections of the state, for the repeal or amendment of the act of 1849. On the 6th day of February, Mr. T. H. BENEDICT, of Westchester, from the majority of the Assembly committee on colleges, academies and common schools, presented an elaborate and able report, accompanied by a bill “to establish Free Schools throughout the State." This bill declared common schools free to every child between the ages of five and twenty-one years; directed the levying of an annual state tax of $800,000 for their support, in addition to the funds already provided by the constitution; and provided for any balance that might be necessary for the payment of teachers' wages by a poll tax to be levied by the trustees on the inhabitants of the respective districts. Mr. BURROUGHS, of Orleans from the minority of the committee, reported a bill entitled “An act in relation to Common Schools," directing the sum of $800,000 to be annually levied by a state tax, one-fourth of the avails of "which together with one-fourth of all other monies applicable to the support of common schools was directed to be equally divided among the several school districts, and the residue to be apportioned according to the number of children residing in each between the ages of five and twenty: one ; and any balance requisite to be raised by rate bill.
After a protracted discussion of several weeks the bill entitled “ AN ACT TO ESTABLISH FREE SCHOOLS THROUGHOUT THE STATE," was passed by a vote. of 72 to 21. By this act the several common schools of the state was declared free to all persons. residing in the several districts over five and under twenty-one years of age, as thereinafter provided ; an annual state tax of $800,000 was directed to be levied for their support, one-third of which and of all other monies applicable to the support of common schools, was directed to be equally divided among the several districts, and the residue to be apportioned according to the number of children between the ages of five and twenty-one; and any balance required for the payment of teachers’ wages, to be provided for by a rate-bill
, exempting all indigent persons, All property exempt by law from levy and sale on execution was declared to be exempt from the operation of the collectors warrant, on such rate bills. On the 10th of April, this bill passed the Senate without amendment, by a vote of 22 to 4, and on the 12th of April, was signed by the Governor and became a law.
Among those who by their exertions and influence, contributed materially to the final establishment and recognition of the Free School principle, and its incorporation as a fundamental portion of our Common School System, we may be permitted without disparagement to others less prominently connected with this important movement, to enumerate Governors. SEWARD and Hunt, Superintendents YOUNG, BENTON and MORGAN, JAMES W. BEEKMAN, HORACE GREELEY and HENRY J. RAYMOND of New York; THOMAS LEGGETT, Jr. of Queens; Hon. FRANKLIN TUTHILL of Suffolk, A. W. LEGGETT, CALEB ROSCOE and THEODORE H. BENEDICT of Westchester : ALEXANDER G. JOHNSON, HENRY B. HASWELL, JOHN 0. COLE, FRANKLIN TOWNSEND), JOHN V. L. PRUYN, BRADFORD R. Wood, Rey. HENRY MANDEVILLE, FRIEND HUMPHREY, J. N. T. TUCKER, J. W. BULKLEY and WILLIAM F. PHELPS of Albany, Gen. JOHN E. Wool, Prof. BAERMAN and GEORGE M. TIBBITTS of Rensselaer; JOHN BOWDISH of Mont; gomery; HALSEY R. WING, of Warren ; WILLIAM L. CRANDALL, editor of the Free School Clarion; HARVEY BALDWIN, CHARLES B. SEDGWICK, Rev. SAMUEL J. May, E. W. CURTIS, BENJAMIN COWLES, and the members of the Teachers Association of Onondaga ; 0. B. PIERCE, of Oneida; Dr. JOHN MILLER, SAMUEL B. WOOLWORTH and LEWIS KINGSLEY of Cortland; ALANSON HOLLEY of Wyoming ; Gen. W. S. HUBBELL and David McMASTER of Steuben ; CALEB LYON of Lewis ; Dr. H. D. DIDAMA of Seneca; SALEM, Town of Cayuga ; JABEZ D. HAMMOND of Otsego; President Nort of Union College; O. G. STEELE and Messrs STARR & RICE of Erie ; Silas M. BUROUGHS of Orleans; 0. ARCHER of Wayne and CHARLES R. COBURN of Tioga. There were numerous other active and influential friends of education, in different sections of the state, whose services and exertions in behalf of this great measure, are none the less appreciated, although the limited space at our disposal does not permit us to give their names in this connection.
GENERAL OUTLINES OF THE SYSTEM. The entire territory of the state, comprising, exclusively of the waters of the great lakes, an area of 45,658 square miles has been subdivided into about eleven thousand and four hundred school districts, averaging somewhat more than four square miles each-seldom, in the rural districts, vary. ing materially from this average-and bringing the remotest inhabitants of the respective districts within a little more than one mile of the school house.
Common schools in the several districts of the state are free to all residents of the districts between the ages of four and twenty-one years, and nonresidents of the district may be admitted into the school of any district with the written consent of the trustees.
Every male person of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, residing in any school district, (including aliens entitled by law to hold real estate) who owns or hires real property in such district subject to taxation for school puposes, or who is a legal voter at town meetings, and is the owner of personal property liable to taxation in the district for school purposes, exceeding fifty dollars in value, beyond such as is exempt from execution, is entitled to vote at any school district meeting held in such district.
An annual meeting of the inhabitants of each district entitled to vote therein, is to be held, after the first organization of the district, at the time and place designated at the first and at each subsequent meeting; and special meetings are to be held whenever called by the trustees.
When legally assembled in any district meeting, the inhabitants of each district, so entitled to vote, are authorized by a majority of the votes of those present, either by ballot or otherwise as they may determine, to choose Three trustees, a district clerk, collector, and librarian. The trustees chosen at the first legal meeting of the district, are to be divided by lot into three classes, and the term of office of the first is to be one year ; of the second, two, and of the third, three years; and one trustee, only is thereafter annually to be elected, who holds his office for three years. The clerk, collector and librararian are annually elected. In the event of a vacancy happening in the office of trustee, by death, refusal to serve, removal out of the district, or incapacity to act, such vacancy may be supplied by the district, and if more than a month is permitted to elapse, without filling it, the town Superintendent is authorized to appoint; and the person so chosen or appointed holds only for the unexpired term of the office whose place he fills. A similar vacancy in the offices of clerk, collector, or librarian, is to be supplied by appointment of the trustees or a majority of them. The town Superintendent, on good cause shown, is authorized to accept the resignation of any district officer.
The inhabitants of the several districts, in district meeting assembled are also authorized to designate a site for a schoolhouse, or(with the consent of the town superintendent)for two or more school houses for the district,and to vote such an amount as they may deem sufficient to purchase or lease such a site or sites and to build hire or purchase a school house or houses, keep the same in suitable repair and furnish them with the necessary fuel and appendages; and may, in their discretion vote a tax not exceeding twenty dollars in any one year for the purchase of maps, globes, black-boards and other school apparatus. No tax, however, for building, hiring or purchasing a school house can exceed the sum of $400, unless the town Superintendent of the town in which such house is to be situated, shall certify that a larger sum, specifying the same, ought to be raised, and when the site for the school house has once been fixed, it cannot be change, while the district remains unaltered, but by the written consent of the town Superintendent, and by the vote ayes and noes of a majority of the inhabitants of the district, at a special meeting called for that purpose. In this case the inhabitants may direct the sale of the former site or lot, together with the buildings and appertenances on such terms as they may deem most advantageous to the district, and the trustees, or a majority of them are empowered to effect such sale and to execute the necessary conveyances. The proceeds are to be applied to the purchase of a new site, and to the removal, erection or purchase of new houses.
The general administration of the affairs of the several districts, devolves principally upon the trustees, who have the custody of all the district property; contract with, employ and pay the teachers; assess all district taxes, following the valuations of the town assessor, 80 far as they afford a guide, and make out the necessary tax lists and warrants for their collection ; call the annual and special meetings of the inhabitants ; purchase or lease sites for the school house, as previously designated by the district, and build, hire or purchase, keep in repair and furnish such school house with necessary fuel and appendages, out of the funds provided by the district for that purpose;
purchase suitable books for the district library, which is specially committed to their care, and procure all such school apparatus as the district may direct; and on the first of January in each year make their report of the condition of the district, in the form prescribed by law, to the Town Superintendent. The productive capital of the Common School Fund is at this time,...
$2,243,563 36 The capital of that portion of the U. S. Deposite Fund, the
interest of which is annually appropriated to the support
2,750,000 00 To which may be added a sum that will annually produce
an income of $25,000, reserved by the constitution to be
Making an aggregate of........
$5,400,230 03 The annual interest on this sum, at 6 per cent., is $324,000.00 ; of which $300,000 is annually appropriated to the support of Common Schools, including $55,000 for the purchase of District Libraries and school appar
The sum of eight hundred thousand dollars is annually required to be levied on the real and personal property of the State, and when collected to be paid over to the several County Treasurers, subject to the order of the State Superintendent of Common Schools, who is to ascertain the proportion of such sum to be assessed and collected in each county, according to the valuation of real and personal estate therein, and to certify the same to the several County Clerks, to be laid before the boards of Supervisors, whose duty it is to levy such amount upon the County. On or before the first day of January in each year, the State Superintendent is required to apportion two-thirds of the amount so raised, together with all other monies appropriated to the support of Common Schools among the several counties, cities and towns of the State, according to the population of such counties, cities and towns, and to divide the remaining third equally among the several districts.
Under these provisions, the aggregate amount of public money annually apportioned by the State Superintendent, and raised upon the taxable property of the several counties, is $1,100,000.00 ; of which, $1,045,000 is applicable exclusively to the payment of teachers' wages, and the support of the school, and the remaining $55,000 to the purchase of school libraries and apparatus.
In addition to this, the inhabitants of each town of the State are authorized to raise an additional amount, equal to their share of the state fund, to be appropriated exclusively to the support of schools ; and many of the towns are in possession of local funds applicable to this object, derived from the sale of lands originally set apart in each township, by the State, for this purpose.
Town superintendents are biennially elected by the inhabitants and legal voters of the several towns, at their annual meetings in March and April of each alternate year, and enter upon the execution of the duties devolved upon them, on the first Monday of November succeeding their election, holding for the term of two years thereafter. They are required to execute to the supervisor of their town a bond with sufficient sureties, with a penalty in double the amount of all the school money received by the town, conditioned for the faithful application and legal disbursement of all the school money which may come into their hand during their term of office, and for the faithful discharge of all their duties. They are authorized to form, regulate and alter the boundaries of school districts, when applied to for that purpose, or when in their judgment necessary and expedient, associating with them the supervisor and town clerk of their town, whenever requested by the trustees of any district interested in any proposed alteration;