July 2, 1862: Lincoln signs the Morrill Act

Justin S. Morrill
Justin S. Morrill

On July 2, 1862, President Lincoln signed into law the Morrill land grant act. It had been introduced by Vermont congressman James Morrill, and was supported by Congressional delegations from the Northeast and Midwest. It passed originally in 1859, but President Buchanan vetoed it (because he viewed it as an intrusion of federal power into education, the province of the states). With the southern states’ delegations absent, it passed easily in 1862, and found a much more favorable executive in Lincoln. The law gave 30,000 acres of federal land per Congressman to each state, to be sold to establish a fund to support colleges that would teach agriculture, mechanics, and military science. The first institution funded under the law was Iowa State University (then known as Ames College). The Democratic and Republican parties have traded governing philosophies since, of course.

Excerpts from the Morrill Act provisions:

7 USC §301: There is granted to the several States, for the purposes hereinafter mentioned in this subchapter, an amount of public land, to be apportioned to each State a quantity equal to thirty thousand acres for each Senator and Representative in Congress to which the States are respectively entitled by the apportionment under the census of 1860: Provided, That no mineral lands shall be selected or purchased under the provisions of said sections.

7 USC § 304: All moneys derived from the sale of lands as provided in section 302 of this title by the States to which lands are apportioned and from the sales of land scrip provided for in said section shall be invested … and that the principal thereof shall forever remain unimpaired: Provided, That the moneys so invested or loaned shall constitute a perpetual fund … the interest of which shall be inviolably appropriated, by each State which may take and claim the benefit of this subchapter, to the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

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