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were annually to be chosen by the electors of the respective towns, to whom were to be committed the supervision and direction of the schools, and the apportionment of public money among the several districts. The inhabitants residing in different sections of each town, were authorized “ to associate together for the purpose of procuring good and sufficient schoolmasters, and for erecting and maintaining schools in such and so many parts of the town where they may reside, as shall be most convenient,” and to appoint two or more trustees, who were directed to “ confer with the commissioners concerning the qualifications of the master or masters that they may have employed, or may intend to employ in their schools; and con.. cerning every other matter which may relate to the welfare of their school, or to the propriety of erecting or maintaining the same, to the intent that they may obtain the determination of the said commissioners whether the said school will be entitled to a part of the moneys allotted to or raised in that town by virtue of this act, and whether the abilities and moral character of the master or masters employed, or intended to be employed therein, are such as will meet with their approbation.” The share of public money to be paid to each district, was to be apportioned by the commissioners, “ according to the number of days for which instruction shall appear, by the annual report of the trustees, to have been given in each of the said schools, in such manner that the school in which the greater number of days of instruction shall appear to have been given, shall have a proportionably larger sum. And if it shall at any time appear to the said commissioners, that the abilities or moral character of the master or masters of any schools, are not such that they ought to be entrusted with the education of the youth, or that any of the branches of learning taught in any school, are not such as are intended to receive encouragement from the moneys appropriated by this act, the said commissioners shall notify in writing the said trustees of such school thereof; and to the time of such notification, and no longer, shall any allowance be made to such school, unless the same thereafter be conducted to the approbation of the said commissioners.” The commissioners were required to give to the trustees of each district, an order on the county treasurer for the sum to which the district was entitled. Provisions were also made for annual returns from the several districts, towns and counties. An abstract of these returns, from sixteen out of the twenty-three counties of the state, for the year 1798, shows a total of 1,352 schools, organized according to the act, in which 59,660 children were taught.
At the opening of the session of the Legislature in 1800, Gov. JAY called the attention of both houses to the subject of common schools, in the following language:
“ Among other objects which will present themselves to you, there is one which I earnestly recommend to your notice and patronage. I mean our institutions for the education of youth. The importance of common schools is best estimated by the good effects of them, where they most abound and are the best regulated.”
On the 25th of March of the same year, the assembly, by a vote of fifty-seven to thirty-six, adopted the following resolution, offered by Mr. Comstock of Saratoga:
“ Resolved, That the Act for the encouragement of schools, passed the 9th day of April, 1795, ought to be revised and amended; and that out of the annual revenue arising to this state from its stock and other funds, the sum of $50,000 be annually appropriated for the encouragement of schools, for the term of five years.".
On the 3d of April, subsequently, a clause to this effect was inserted in the annual supply bill, on Mr. Comstock's motion, by a vote of fifty-one to thirty-five. The senate, however, by a vote of nineteen to sixteen, struck out the clause. The house, on the return of the bill, at first refused to concur with the senate in this amendment, by a vote of forty-two to forty-one; but sub sequently reconsidered its vote, and assented to the amendment, on the last day but one of the session.
By an act passed on the 3d of April, 1801, the sum of $100,000 was directed to be raised by lottery, of which one-half was or. dered to be paid into the treasury for the use of common schools; leaving to future legislatures the discretion of making such application of it as they might judge most conducive to the end in view. In order to promote so laudable an object, the legislature of 1803, by an act passed on the 6th of April, directed the comptroller to invest in good real estate, all such sums of money as had been or should thereafter be received from the proceeds of each lottery, for the term of two years.
In 1802, the governor (Geo. CLINTON,) again called the attention of the legislature to the subject of common schools. He observes, “ The system of common schools having been discontinued, and the advantage to morals, religion, liberty and good government, arising from the general diffusion of knowledge being universally admitted, permit me to recommend this subject to your deliberate attention. The failure of one experiment for the attainment of an important object, ought not to discourage other attempts." No legislative action, however, in reference to the subject, was had during the session of that year.
In 1803, Gov. Clinton renewed his recommendation in the fol lowing energetic terms: “ The establishment of common schools has, at different times, engaged the attention of the legislature; but although its importance is generally acknowledged, a diver
sity of sentiment respecting the best means, has hitherto prevented the accomplishment of the object. The diffusion of knowledge is so essential to the promotion of virtue and the preservation of liberty, as to render arguments unnecessary to excite you to a perseverance in this laudable pursuit. Permit me only to observe, that education, by correcting the morals and improving the manners, tends to prevent those evils in society which are beyond the sphere of legislation.”
On the 21st of February of that year, Mr. Peck, of Otsego, from the joint committee of both houses on this portion of the governor's speech, reported a bill authorizing the several towns to organize their schools, and to raise money to support the same. No definite action, however, took place upon it during the session of that year.
In 1804, the governor again called the attention of the legislature to the subject. On the 3d of March, in that year, Mr. Peck, from the committee on that portion of the speech, again made a favorable report, accompanied by a bill, which, however, shared the fate of its predecessor.
At the extra session of the legislature, in November, 1804, Gov. Lewis brought the subject before that body, in the following language:
“I cannot conclude, gentlemen, without calling your attention to a subject which my worthy and highly respected predecessor in office had much at heart, and frequently, I believe, presented to your view—the encouragement of literature. In a government, resting on public opinion, and deriving its chief support from the affections of the people, religion and morality cannot be too sedulously inculcated. To them, science is an handmaid; ignorance, the worst of enemies. Literary information should then be placed within the reach of every descrip tion of citizens, and poverty should not be permitted to obstruct the path to the fane of knowledge. Common schools, under the guidance of respectable teachers, should be established in every village, and the indigent be educated at the public expense. The higher seminaries also, should receive every patronage and support within the means of enlightened legislators. Learning would thus flourish, and vice be more effectually restrained than by volumes of penal statutes.”
On the 4th of February, 1805, Gov. Lewis transmitted a special message to the legislature in reference to this subject, in which he recommended the application of all the state lands for the benefit of colleges and schools; the whole fund and entire management of the system to be confided to the Regents of the University, under such regulations as the legislature might prescribe; the Regents to have the power of appointing three trustees for each district; who should be authorized to locate the sites for school houses, and to erect such houses wherever ne. cessary, employ teachers, apply the funds of the district, and levy taxes on the inhabitants, for such further sums as might be required for the support of the school and the education of indigent children. None of these suggestions, however, with the exception of the first, seem to have met with any favor at the hands of the legislature.
On the 2d of April, the legislature passed an act providing that the nett. proceeds of 500,000 acres of the vacant and unappropriated lands of the people of this state, which should be first thereafter sold by the surveyor-general, should be appropriated as a permanent fund for the support of common schools; the avails to be safely invested until the interest should amount to $50,000; when an annual distribution of that amount should be made to the several school districts. This act laid the founda tion of the present fund for the support of common schools.
By the act to incorporate the Merchants’ Bank in the city of New-York, passed the same year, the state reserved the right to subscribe for three thousand shares of the capital stock of that institution, which, together with the accruing interest and dividends, were appropriated as a fund for the support of common schools, to be applied in such manner as the legislature should from time to time direct.
By acts passed March 13, 1807, and April 8, 1808, the comptroller was authorized to invest such moneys, together with the funds arising from the proceeds of the lotteries authorized by the act of 1803, in the purchase of additional stock of the Merchants' Bank, and to loan the residue of the fund. · No determinate action on the part of the legislature, in reference to the establishment of a system of common schools, was had during the years, 1806-7-8-9 or 10. At the opening of the session in the latter year, Gov. TOMPKINS thus alludes to the subject
“I cannot omit this occasion of inviting your attention to the means of instruction for the rising generation. To enable them to perceive and duly to estimate their rights, to inculcate correct principles and habits of morality and religion, and to render them useful citizens, a competent provision for their education is all-essential. The fund appropriated for common schools already produces an income of about $26,000 annually, and is daily becoming more productive. It rests with the legislature to determine whether the resources of the state will justify a further augmentation of that appropriation, as well as to adopt such plan for its application and distribution, as shall appear best calculated to promote the important object for which it was originally designed.”
On the 28th of February, of that year, the comptroller, in obedience to a resolution of the legislature, calling upon him for information as to the condition of the school fund, reported
that the amount of receipts into the treasury up to that period, of moneys belonging to the fund, was $151,115.69, of which $29,100 had been invested in the capital stock of the Merchants' Bank, $114,600 loaned in pursuance of law, and the residue remained in the treasury.
In 1811, Gov. Tompkins again called the attention of the legislature to this subject; and a law was passed, authorizing the appointment by the governor, of five commissioners, to report a system for the organization and establishment of common schools. The commissioners appointed under this act were Jedediah Peck, John Murray, Jr., Samuel Russell, Roger Skinner, and Samuel Macomb. On the 14th of February, 1812, they submitted a report, accompanied by the draft of a bill, comprising substantially the main features of our common school system, as it existed up to the year 1838. In the bill, as it originally passed, the electors of each town were authorized to determine at their annual town meeting, whether they would accopt their shares of the money apportioned by the state, and direct the raising of an equal amount on thir taxable property. So embarrassing, however, was the practical operation of this feature of the system, that on the recommendation of the superintendent, Gideon Hawley, Esq., it was stricken out; and each county required to raise by tax an amount equal to that apportioned by the state.
The fonowing are extracts from the report of the commissioners:
“ Perhaps there never will be presented to the legislature a subject of more importance than the establishment of common schools. Education, as the means of improving the moral and intellectual faculties, is, under all circumstances, a subject of the most imposing consideration. To rescue man from that state of degradation to which he is doomed, unless redeemed by education; to unfold his physical, intellectual, and moral powers; and to fit him for those high destinies which his Creator has prepared for him, cannot fail to excite the most ardent sensibility of the philosopher and philanthropist. A comparison of the savage that roams through the forest, with the enlightened inhabitant of a civilized country, would be a brief but impressive representation of the momentous importance of education.
“ It were an easy task for the commissioners to show, that in proportion as every country has been enlightened by education, so has been its prosperity. Where the heads and hearts of men are generally cultivated and improved, virtue and wisdom must reign, and vice and ignorance must cease to prevail. Virtue and wisdom are the parents of private and public felicity: vice and ignorance, ot' private and public misery.