Ever wonder how colleges and universities were started? In this lesson, we'll look at the Morrill Land-Grant Acts and how they contributed to the establishment of many American colleges, including state universities and historically black colleges.
Imagine your favorite meal. Picture it laid out before you. What do you see? Bread? Meat? Pasta? Cheese? Fruit and veggies? Now imagine that none of those things were available to eat. Imagine that there was such a shortage of food that the majority of people could not eat.
In the mid-19th century in America, the growing population in cities in the United States made people nervous about the future of agriculture, or the use of land to produce food through farming or ranching. In the late 1800s, people in America began to get nervous. Lots of people lived and worked in cities, in office buildings and factories, and there were more and more people who needed food and fewer and fewer farmers and ranchers to provide it. The people providing food needed new and innovative ways of working the land.
Politicians wondered, 'how could we ensure that the farmers, ranchers, and plantation owners in America were at the cutting edge of agricultural science?' The Morrill Land-Grant Acts provided land and money for states to build colleges focused on agriculture, engineering, and military tactics. Let's look closer at the acts and their impact on American education.
Morrill Act of 1862
Let's hop in our time machine and travel back to the early 1800s. Not very many people went to college, and those that did were in specific fields, like lawyers, doctors, and religious leaders. Farmers and soldiers didn't really go to college; they just learned on the job. But as we saw, some changes in the American landscape started to make people think that it would be a good idea to provide college degrees for farmers, who could learn the best ways to grow food, and for soldiers, who were busy fighting the Civil War.
The Morrill Act of 1862 gave each state a large plot of land to establish a public college to provide degrees in the study of agriculture, engineering, and military tactics. The colleges could offer other subjects, too, but at the least, they had to offer those three things. Colleges established as part of the Morrill Act were called land-grant colleges.
Each state received 30,000 acres for each member of Congress that represented them. Because the number of congressmen in the House of Representatives was determined by the population of the state, more populated (and mainly Eastern) states got the most land to use. The land could be used as a homestead to build the college on it, or it could be sold to fund the establishment of the college, or a combination of both.
When the Morrill Act was passed in 1862, the Civil War was raging. As a result, the act stated that states that were in a state of rebellion or insurrection against the government would not be allowed to receive land. This meant that Southern, Confederate states were excluded from the act. However, after the war, the act was amended to include the former Confederate states. You might be wondering what the big deal was with the Morrill Act of 1862. So the government provided lands for colleges to be built - so what?
The act opened the door to public college education. Before, colleges were private affairs that were mostly for rich kids. But with the land-grant schools, college education was provided to students who were not able to attend college before. Schools like Michigan State University, Penn State University, Cornell University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were all founded as land-grant schools as a result of the Morrill Act of 1862.
Morrill Act of 1890
As we mentioned, the Morrill Act of 1862 was amended after the Civil War to provide land-grant schools to former Confederate states. But there was still a problem: racism. Former slaves who wanted to attend college still faced large barriers, especially in the South. As a result, the Morrill Act of 1890 was signed into law. It required states to prove that race was not a criterion in admissions decisions or to establish a separate land-grant college for racial minorities. Essentially, the Morrill Act of 1890 made sure that the states provided education for all people, regardless of race.
This second Morrill Act gave states cash to establish colleges, instead of land, but the colleges founded as part of the Morrill Act of 1890 are still considered to be land-grant colleges. Like the earlier Morrill Act of 1862, the Morrill Act of 1890 changed college education in America. This act led to the establishment of many historically black colleges and universities, including Alabama A&M, Lincoln University, and Delaware State University. And thanks to the colleges founded as a result of this later Morrill Act, many African Americans and other racial minorities were given the chance to go to college.
The Morrill Land-Grant Acts provided land and money to states to found colleges that focused on agriculture, engineering, and military tactics. The Morrill Act of 1862 offered states land to form colleges that included agriculture, engineering, and military tactics in their course offerings. It led to the establishment of many universities and opened the door for public college education in America. The Morrill Act of 1890 gave money to states to provide education for racial minorities. As a result, many historically black colleges and universities were formed, offering all Americans the chance to attend college.
Discover whether you can after viewing and studying the video's information:
- Present details about the events that led up to the passing of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts
- Name some colleges created under each of these acts
- Perceive the impact of both the Morrill Act of 1862 and the Morrill Act of 1890