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Twelfth Annual Report of the Massachusetts State School Board - Bruce Frohnen, The American Nation: Primary Sources 
The American Nation: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Twelfth Annual Report of the Massachusetts State School Board
Moral education is a primal necessity of social existence. The unrestrained passions of men are not only homicidal, but suicidal; and a community without a conscience would soon extinguish itself. Even with a natural conscience, how often has Evil triumphed over Good! From the beginning of time, Wrong has followed Right, as the shadow the substance. As the relations of men became more complex, and the business of the world more extended, new opportunities and new temptations for wrong-doing have been created. With the endearing relations of parent and child, came also the possibility of infanticide and parricide; and the first domestic altar that brothers ever reared was stained with fratricidal blood. Following close upon the obligations to truth, came falsehood and perjury, and closer still upon the duty of obedience to the Divine law, came disobedience. With the existence of private relations between men, came fraud; and with the existence of public relations between nations, came aggression, war, and slavery. And so, just in proportion as the relations of life became more numerous, and the interests of society more various and manifold, the range of possible and of actual offences has been continually enlarging. As for every new substance there may be a new shadow, so for every new law there may be a new transgression. No form of the precious metals has ever been used which dishonest men have not counterfeited; and no kind of artificial currency has ever been legalized which rogues have not forged. The government sees the evils that come from the use of intoxicating drinks, and prohibits their sale; but unprincipled men pander to depraved appetites, and gather a harvest of dishonest profits. Instead of licensing lotteries, and deriving a revenue from the sale of tickets, the State forbids the mischievous traffic; but while law-abiding men disdain to practise an illicit trade, knavish brokers, by means of the prohibition itself, secure a monopoly of the sales, and pocket the infamous gain. The government imposes duties on imported goods; smugglers evade the law, and bring goods into the country clandestinely; or perjurers swear to false invoices, and escape the payment of duty, and thus secure to themselves the double advantage of increased sales, and enhanced profits upon what is sold. Science prepares a new medicine to heal or alleviate the diseases of men; crime adulterates it, or prepares, as a substitute, some cheap poison that resembles it, and can be sold instead of it. A benefactor of the race discovers an agent which has the marvellous power to suspend consciousness, and take away the susceptibility of pain; a villain uses it to rob men or pollute women. Houses are built; the incendiary burns them, that he may purloin the smallest portion of their goods. The press is invented to spread intelligence; but libellers use it to give wings to slander. And, so, throughout all the infinitely complex and ramified relations of society, wherever there is a right there may be a wrong; and wherever a law is made to repress the wrong, it may be evaded by artifice or overborne by violence. In fine, all means and laws designed to repress injustice and crime, give occasion to new injustice and crime. For every lock that is made, a false key is made to pick it; and for every Paradise that is created, there is a Satan who would scale its walls.
Nor does this view of the subject exhibit the scope and multitude of the transgressions that may be committed. To represent the range and compass of possible violations, every law that exists must be multiplied by a high power. When the whole family of mankind consisted of but two persons, there could be only two offenders. But, now, when the race has increased to millions and hundreds of millions, the laws may be broken by millions and hundreds of millions,—an increased number of transgressors of an increased number of laws. The multitude, then, of possible violations of law, is terrific to the imagination; even the actual violations are sufficient to make our best civilization look but little better than barbarism.
But the above outline, whose vast circumference may be filled up by the commission of crimes against positive law, embraces not a tithe of possible transgressions. Every law in the statute-book might be obeyed, so as to leave no penalty to be awarded by the courts, or inflicted by executive officers, and yet myriads of private vices, too subtle and intangible for legislative enactments, and too undefinable to be dealt with by the tribunals of justice, might still embitter all domestic and social relations, and leave nothing in life worth living for. Were the greater plagues of public crime and open violence to be stayed, still the lesser ones might remain;—like the plagues of Egypt, they might invade every house, penetrate to every chamber, corrupt the water in the fountains, and the bread in the kneading-troughs, and turn the dust into loathsome life, so that the plague of hail, and the plague of darkness, might seem to be blessings in the comparison. In offences, against what are usually called the “minor morals,”—against propriety, against decency, against the domestic relations, and against good neighborhood, as they are illustrated and enjoined by the example of Christ, the precepts of the Gospel, and the perfect law of love;—here is a vast region where offences may grow, and where they do grow, thick-standing and rankly luxuriant.
Against these social vices, in all ages of the world, the admonitions of good men have been directed. The moralist has exposed their deformity in his didactic page; the satirist has chastised them in his pungent verse; the dramatist has held them up to ridicule on the mimic stage; and, to some extent, the Christian minister has exhibited their gross repugnancy to the character of a disciple of Jesus. Still they continue to exist; and,—to say nothing of heathen nations,—the moral condition of all Christendom is, in this respect, like the physical condition of one of the nations that compose it;—that extraordinary people, I mean, whose dwellings, whose flocks, whose agriculture, whose merchandise, and who, themselves, are below the level of the ocean; and against them, at all times, this ocean rages, and lifts itself up; and whenever or wherever it can find a breach, or make one, it rushes in, and overwhelms men and their possessions in one common inundation. Even so, like a weltering flood, do immoralities and crimes break over all moral barriers, destroying and profaning the securities and the sanctities of life. Now, how best shall this deluge be repelled? What mighty power, or combination of powers, can prevent its inrushing, or narrow the sweep of its ravages?
The race has existed long enough to try many experiments for the solution of this greatest problem ever submitted to its hands; and the race has experimented, without stint of time or circumscription of space, to mar or modify legitimate results. Mankind have tried despotisms, monarchies, and republican forms of government. They have tried the extremes of anarchy and of autocracy. They have tried Draconian codes of law; and, for the lightest offences, have extinguished the life of the offender. They have established theological standards, claiming for them the sanction of Divine authority, and the attributes of a perfect and infallible law; and then they have imprisoned, burnt, massacred, not individuals only, but whole communities at a time, for not bowing down to idols which ecclesiastical authority had set up. These and other great systems of measures have been adopted as barriers against error and guilt; they have been extended over empires, prolonged through centuries, and administered with terrible energy; and yet the great ocean of vice and crime overleaps every embankment, pours down upon our heads, saps the foundations under our feet, and sweeps away the securities of social order, of property, liberty, and life.
At length, these experiments have been so numerous, and all of them have terminated so disastrously, that a body of men has risen up, in later times, powerful in influence, and not inconsiderable in numbers, who, if I may use a mercantile phrase, would abandon the world as a total loss;—who mock at the idea of its having a benevolent or even an intelligent Author or Governor; and who, therefore, would give over the race to the dominion of chance, or to that of their own licentious passions, whose rule would be more fatal than chance.
But to all doubters, disbelievers, or despairers, in human progress, it may still be said, there is one experiment which has never yet been tried. It is an experiment which, even before its inception, offers the highest authority for its ultimate success. Its formula is intelligible to all; and it is as legible as though written in starry letters on an azure sky. It is expressed in these few and simple words:—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This declaration is positive. If the conditions are complied with, it makes no provision for a failure. Though pertaining to morals, yet, if the terms of the direction are observed, there is no more reason to doubt the result, than there would be in an optical or a chemical experiment.
But this experiment has never yet been tried. Education has never yet been brought to bear with one hundredth part of its potential force, upon the natures of children, and, through them, upon the character of men, and of the race. In all the attempts to reform mankind which have hitherto been made, whether by changing the frame of government, by aggravating or softening the severity of the penal code, or by substituting a government-created, for a God-created religion;—in all these attempts, the infantile and youthful mind, its amenability to influences, and the enduring and self-operating character of the influences it receives, have been almost wholly unrecognized. Here, then, is a new agency, whose powers are but just beginning to be understood, and whose mighty energies, hitherto, have been but feebly invoked; and yet, from our experience, limited and imperfect as it is, we do know that, far beyond any other earthly instrumentality, it is comprehensive and decisive.
Reformatory efforts, hitherto made, have been mainly expended upon the oaken-fibred hardihood and incorrigibleness of adult offenders; and not upon the flexibleness and ductility of youthful tendencies. Rulers have forgotten that, though a giant’s arm cannot bend a tree of a century’s growth, yet the finger of an infant could have given direction to its germ. When a man has invested fifty thousand dollars in the business of importing ardent spirits into the country, it often does little more than to enrage him, to point out the different results between such an investment, and the investment of the same sum in whale ships; where, besides its own permanent value, it will soon add fifty thousand dollars more to the actual wealth of the community. Show the distiller how he changes the life-sustaining fruits of the earth into a physical and moral poison, and what a deluge of destruction he is sending forth over society, and his blood will boil hardly less fiercely than his accursed caldrons; but who will be rash enough to say of any child in the land;—who will be rash enough to say of any man now engaged in the business of promoting and spreading intemperance, and visiting another generation with all its calamities;—who will dare say, of any of them, that the nature and consequences of this direful occupation might not have been so vividly depicted to the imagination, and so clearly explained to the conscience, during the years of childhood, that any child would sooner think of getting a living by counterfeiting money than by engaging in the traffic? Would any child, on whose heart the horrors and atrocities of the slave-trade had made their natural impression, before his arrival at the age of fourteen years, ever connect himself with slavery afterwards? Were a child taught the dignity, the healthfulness, and the advantages of voluntary labor, and the meanness of living upon the unrequited services of the weak and defenceless, could he ever bear to live a life of pampered indolence, secured to him by a hundred lives,—each as precious and as sacred, in the sight of Heaven, as his own,—of unpaid toil and irredeemable debasement? Did genius pour out its heart as fervently to depict the calamities of war, as it has done to blazon forth what is called military glory, would not children be led to abhor all unnecessary wars as much more than they abhor murder, as the destruction of an army is greater than that of a single murderer? If the schools were earnestly to teach children that office and honor are not synonymous terms, and that the only value of any office consists in its opening a wider sphere for useful exertion, should we find so many men renouncing usefulness and forfeiting honor for the acquisition of office? If wealth were not forever talked of before children as among the chief prizes of life, should we see such throngs making haste to be rich, with all the attendant consequences of fraud and dishonor? Indeed, so decisive is the effect of early training upon adult habits and character, that numbers of the most able and experienced teachers,—those who have had the best opportunities to become acquainted with the errors and the excellences of children, their waywardness and their docility,—have unanimously declared it to be their belief, that, if all the children in the community, from the age of four years to that of sixteen, could be brought within the reformatory and elevating influences of good schools, the dark host of private vices and public crimes, which now embitter domestic peace and stain the civilization of the age, might, in ninety-nine cases in every hundred, be banished from the world.* When Christ taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven,” did he teach them to pray for what shall never come to pass[?] And if this consummation is ever to be realized, is it to be by some mighty, sudden, instantaneous revolution, effected by a miracle; or is it to be produced gradually by that Providence which uses human agents as its instruments?
Were we to hear that some far-off land had been discovered, over which the tempest of war had never swept; where institutions of learning and religion were reverenced, and their ministers held in the foremost rank of honor; where falsehood, detraction, and perjury were never uttered; where neither intemperance, nor the guilty knowledge how to prepare its means, nor the guilty agents to diffuse them, were ever known; where all the obligations, growing out of the domestic relations, were sacredly kept; where office always sought the wisest and best men for incumbents, and never failed to find them; where witnesses were true, and jurors just, (for we can hardly conceive of a state of society upon earth so perfect as to exclude all differences of opinion about rights;) in fine, where all men were honest in their dealings, and exemplary in their lives,—with the exception of here and there an individual, who, from the rareness of his appearance, would be regarded almost as a monster;—were we to hear of such a realm, who, that loves peace and the happiness that comes from security and order, would not wish to escape from the turmoil and the violence, the rancor and the mean ambitions, of our present sphere, and go there to dwell and to die? And yet, it is the opinion of our most intelligent, dispassionate, and experienced teachers, that we can, in the course of two or three generations, and through the instrumentality of good teachers and good schools, superinduce, substantially, such a state of society upon the present one; and this, too, without any miracle, without any extraordinary sacrifices, or costly effort; but only by working our existing Common School system with such a degree of vigor as can easily be put forth, and at such an expense as even the poorest community can easily bear. If the leaders of society,—those whose law-giving eloquence determines what statutes shall be enacted by the Legislature, or those who speak for the common heart in self-constituted assemblies, or those who shape popular opinion through the public press, or in the private intercourse of life,—if these are not yet prepared to have faith in the reformatory power of an early and wise training for the young, the fact only shows and measures the extent of the work which teachers and educationists have yet to perform. If men decline to coöperate with us, because uninspired by our living faith, then the arguments, the labors, and the results, which will create this faith, are a preliminary step in our noble work.
Is any high-minded, exemplary, and conscientious man disposed to believe that this substantial extirpation of social vices and crimes, (according to the testimony of the witnesses above referred to,) is a utopian idea,—is more than we have any reason to expect while human nature remains as it is, let me use the ad hominem argument to refute him. Let me refer him to himself, and ask him why the same influences which have saved him from gaming, intemperance, dissoluteness, falsehood, dishonesty, violence, and their kindred offences, and have made him a man of sobriety, frugality, and probity;—why the same influences which have saved him from ruin, might not, if brought to bear upon others, save them also? So far as human instrumentalities are concerned, we have abundant means for surrounding every child in the State with preservative and moral influences, as extensive and as efficient as those under which the present industrious, worthy, and virtuous members of the community were reared. And, as to all those things, in regard to which we are directly dependent upon the Divine favor, have we not the promise, explicit and unconditional, that the men shall not depart from the way in which they should go, if the children are trained up in it? It has been overlooked, that this promise is not restricted to parents; but seems to be addressed indiscriminately to all,—whether parents, communities, states, or mankind.
But, it will be said that this grand result, in Practical Morals, is a consummation of blessedness that can never be attained without Religion; and that no community will ever be religious, without a Religious Education. Both these propositions, I regard as eternal and immutable truths. Devoid of religious principles and religious affections, the race can never fall so low but that it may sink still lower; animated and sanctified by them, it can never rise so high but that it may ascend still higher. And is it not at least as presumptuous to expect that mankind will attain to the knowledge of truth, without being instructed in truth, and without that general expansion and development of faculty which will enable them to recognize and comprehend truth, in any other department of human interest, as in the department of religion? No creature of God, of whom we have any knowledge, has such a range of moral oscillation as a human being. He may despise privileges, and turn a deaf ear to warnings and instructions, such as evil spirits may never have known, and therefore be more guilty than they; or, ascending through temptation and conflict, along the radiant pathway of duty, he may reach the sublimest heights of happiness, and may there experience the joys of a contrast, such as ever-perfect beings can never feel. And can it be that our nature, in this respect, is taken out of the law that governs it in every other respect;—the law, namely, that the teachings which supply it with new views, and the training that leads it to act in conformity with those views, are ineffective and nugatory?
Indeed, the whole frame and constitution of the human soul show, that if man be not a religious being, he is among the most deformed and monstrous of all possible existences. His propensities and passions need the fear of God, as a restraint from evil; and his sentiments and affections need the love of God, as a condition and preliminary to every thing worthy of the name of happiness. Without a capability or susceptibility, therefore, of knowing and reverencing his Maker and Preserver, his whole nature is a contradiction and a solecism;—it is a moral absurdity,—as strictly so, as a triangle with but two sides, or a circle without a circumference, is a mathematical absurdity. The man, indeed, of whatever denomination, or kindred, or tongue, he may be, who believes that the human race, or any nation, or any individual in it, can attain to happiness, or avoid misery, without religious principle and religious affections, must be ignorant of the capacities of the human soul, and of the highest attributes in the nature of man. We know, from the very structure and functions of our physical organization, that all the delights of the appetites and of the grosser instincts are evanescent and perishing. All bodily pleasures over-indulged, become pains. Abstemiousness is the stern condition of prologned enjoyment,—a condition that balks desire at the very moment when it is most craving. Did the fields teem, and the forests bend, and the streams flow, with the most exquisite delicacies, how small the proportion of our time in which we could luxuriate in their sweets, without satiety and disgust! Unchastened by temperance, the richest earthly banquets stimulate, only to end in loathing. Perpetual self-restraint, on the one side, or intolerable pains, on the other, is the law of all our animal desires; and it may well be questioned, which are the sharper sufferings,—the fiercest pangs of hunger and of thirst, or the agonizing diseases that form the fearful retinue of epicurism and Bacchanalian indulgence. Were the pleasures of sense the only pleasures we could enjoy, immortality might well be scoffed at as worthless, and annihilation welcomed; for, if another Eden were created around us, filled with all that could gratify the appetite, or regale the sense, and were the whole range and command of its embowering shades and clustering fruits bestwoed upon us, still, with our present natures, we should feel intellectual longings, which not all the objects of sight and of sense could appease; and luxuries would sate the palate, and beauties pall upon the eye, in the absence of objects to quicken and stimulate the sterner energies of the mind.
The delights of the intellect are of a far nobler order than those of the senses; but even these have no power to fill up the capacities of an immortal mind. The strongest intellect tires. It cannot sustain an ever-upward wing. Even in minds of Olympian vastness and vigor, there must be seasons for relaxation and repose;—intervals, when the wearied faculties, mounted upon the topmost of all their achievements, must stop in their ascending career, to review the distance they have traversed, and to replenish their energies for an onward flight. And, although, in the far-off cycles of eternity, the stature of the intellect should become lofty as an archangel’s; although its powers of comprehension should become so vast, and its intuitions so penetrating, that it could learn the history of a planet in a day, and master, at a single lesson, all the sciences that belong to a system of stars; still, I repeat, that, with our present nature, we should be conscious of faculties unoccupied, and restless, yea, tormented with a sense of privation and loss,—like lungs in a vacuum gasping vainly for breath, or like the eye in darkness straining to catch some glimmering of light. Without sympathy, without spiritual companionship with other beings, without some Being, all-glorious in his perfections, whom the spirit could commune with and adore, it would be a mourner and a wanderer amid all the splendors of the universe. Through the lone realms of immensity would it fly, calling for love, as a mother calls for her departed first-born, but its voice would return to it in echoes of mockery. Nay, though the intellect of man should become as effulgent as the stars amid which he might walk, yet sympathetic and devout affections alone can fertilize the desolations of the heart. Love is as necessary to the human heart as knowledge is to the mind; and infinite knowledge can never supply the place of infinite good. The universe, grand, glorious, and beautiful as it is, can be truly enjoyed only through the worship as well as the knowledge of the great Being that created it. Among people, where there is no true knowledge of God, the errors, superstitions, and sufferings of a false religion, always rush in to fill the vacuum.
There is not a faculty nor a susceptibility in the nature of man, from the lightning-like intuitions that make him akin to the cherubim, or the fire and fervor of affection that assimilate him to seraphic beings, down to the lowest appetites and desires by which he holds brotherhood with beast and reptile and worm;—there is not one of them all, that will ever be governed by its proper law, or enjoy a full measure of the gratification it was adapted to feel, without a knowledge of the true God, without a sense of acting in harmony with His will, and without spontaneous effusions of gratitude for His goodness. Convictions and sentiments, such as these, can alone supply the vacuity in the soul of man, and fill with significance and loveliness what would otherwise be a blank and hollow universe.
How limited and meagre, too, would be the knowledge which should know all things else, but still be ignorant of the self-existent Author of all! What is the exquisite beauty of flowers, of foliage, or of plumage, if we know nothing of the Great Limner who has painted them, and blended their colors with such marvellous skill? So the profundity of all science is shallowness, if we know nothing of the Eternal Mind that projected all sciences, and made their laws so exact and harmonious, that all the objects in an immensity can move onward throughout an eternity, without deviation or error. Even the visible architecture of the heavens, majestic and refulgent as it is, dwindles and glooms into littleness and darkness, in the presence of the Great Builder, who “of old laid the foundation of the earth,” and “meted out heaven with a span.” Among all the objects of knowledge, the Author of knowledge is infinitely the greatest; and the microscopic animalcule, which, by a life of perseverance, has circumnavigated a drop of water, or the tiny insect which has toiled and climbed, until it has at last reached the highest peak of a grain of sand, knows proportionately more of the height and depth and compass of planetary spaces, than the philosopher who has circuited all other knowledge, but is still ignorant of God. In the acquisition of whatever art, or in the pursuit of whatever science, there is a painful sense of incompleteness and imperfection, while we remain untaught in any great department known to belong to it. And so, in the development and culture of the human soul, we are conscious not merely of the want of symmetry, but of gross disfigurement and mutilation, when the noblest and most enduring part of an appropriate development and culture is wanting. In merely an artistical point of view, to be presented with the torso of Hercules, or with the truncated body of Minerva, when we were expecting to behold the fulness of their majestic proportions, would be less painful and shocking, than a system of human culture from which religious culture should be omitted.
So, too, if the subject be viewed in relation to all the purer and loftier affections and susceptibilities of the human soul, the results are the same. If, in surveying the highest states of perfection which the character of man has ever yet reached upon earth, we select, from among the whole circle of our personal or historical acquaintances, those who are adorned with the purest quality and the greatest number of excellences, as the objects of our most joyful admiration and love; why should not the soul be lifted into sublimer exstasies, and into raptures proportionately more exalted and enduring, if it could be raised to the contemplation of Him, whose “name alone is excellent”? If we delight in exhibitions of power, why should we pass heedlessly by the All-powerful? If human hearts are touched with deeds of mercy, there is One whose tender mercies are over all His works. If we reverence wisdom, there is such perfect wisdom on high, that that of angels becomes “folly” in its presence. If we love the sentiment of love, has not the Apostle told us that God is Love? There are many endearing objects upon earth from which the heart of man may be sundered; but he only is bereaved of all things who is bereaved of his Father in heaven.
I here place the argument, in favor of a religious education for the young, upon the most broad and general grounds; purposely leaving it to every individual to add, for himself, those auxiliary arguments which may result from his own peculiar views of religious truth. But such is the force of the conviction to which my own mind is brought by these general considerations, that I could not avoid regarding the man, who should oppose the religious education of the young, as an insane man; and were it proposed to debate the question between us, I should desire to restore him to his reason, before entering upon the discussion. If, suddenly summoned to eternity, I were able to give but one parting word of advice to my own children, or to the children of others;—if I were sinking beneath the wave, and had time to utter but one articulate breath, or were wasting away upon the death-bed, and had strength to make but one exhortation more,—that dying legacy should be, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.”
I can, then, confess myself second to no one in the depth and sincerity of my convictions and desires, respecting the necessity and universality, both on abstract and on practical grounds, of a religious education for the young; and if I had stronger words at command, in which to embody these views, I would not fail to use them. But the question still remains, How shall so momentous an object be pursued? In the measures we adopt to give a religious education to others, shall we ourselves abide by the dictates of religion; or shall we do, as has almost universally been done, ever since the unhallowed union between church and state, under Constantine,—shall we seek to educate the community religiously, through the use of the most irreligious means?
On this subject, I propose to speak with freedom and plainness, and more at length than I should feel required to do, but for the peculiar circumstances in which I have been placed. It is matter of notoriety, that the views of the Board of Education,—and my own, perhaps still more than those of the Board,—on the subject of religious instruction in our Public Schools, have been subjected to animadversion. Grave charges have been made against us, that our purpose was to exclude religion; and to exclude that, too, which is the common exponent of religion,—the Bible,—from the Common Schools of the State; or, at least, to derogate from its authority, and destroy its influence in them. Whatever prevalence a suspicion of the truth of these imputations may have heretofore had, I have reason to believe that further inquiry and examination have done much to disabuse the too credulous recipients of so groundless a charge. Still, amongst a people so commendably sensitive on the subject of religion, as are the people of Massachusetts, any suspicion of irreligious tendencies, will greatly prejudice any cause, and, so far as any cause may otherwise have the power of doing good, will greatly impair that power.
It is known, too, that our noble system of Free Schools for the whole people, is strenuously opposed;—by a few persons in our own State, and by no inconsiderable numbers in some of the other states of this Union;—and that a rival system of “Parochial” or “Sectarian Schools,” is now urged upon the public by a numerous, a powerful, and a well-organized body of men. It has pleased the advocates of this rival system, in various public addresses, in reports, and through periodicals devoted to their cause, to denounce our system as irreligious and anti-Christian. They do not trouble themselves to describe what our system is, but adopt a more summary way to forestall public opinion against it, by using general epithets of reproach, and signals of alarm.
In this age of the world, it seems to me that no student of history, or observer of mankind, can be hostile to the precepts and the doctrines of the Christian religion, or opposed to any institutions which expound and exemplify them; and no man who thinks, as I cannot but think, respecting the enduring elements of character, whether public or private, can be willing to have his name mentioned while he is living, or remembered when he is dead, as opposed to religious instruction, and Bible instruction for the young. In making this final Report, therefore, I desire to vindicate my conduct from the charges that have been made against it; and, so far as the Board has been implicated in these charges, to leave my testimony on record for their exculpation. Indeed, on this point, the Board and myself must be justified or condemned together; for I do not believe they would have enabled me, by their annual reëlections, to carry forward any plan for excluding either the Bible or religious instruction from the schools; and had the Board required me to execute such a purpose, I certainly should have given them the earliest opportunity to appoint my successor. I desire, also, to vindicate the system with which I have been so long and so intimately connected, not only from the aspersion, but from the suspicion, of being an irreligious, or anti-Christian, or an un-Christian system. I know, full well, that it is unlike the systems which prevail in Great Britain, and in many of the continental nations of Europe, where the Established Church controls the education of the young, in order to keep itself established. But this is presumptive evidence in its favor, rather than against it.
All the schemes ever devised by governments, to secure the prevalence and permanence of religion among the people, however variant in form they may have been, are substantially resolvable into two systems. One of these systems holds the regulation and control of the religious belief of the people to be one of the functions of government, like the command of the army or the navy, or the establishment of courts, or the collection of revenues. According to the other system, religious belief is a matter of individual and parental concern; and, while the government furnishes all practicable facilities for the independent formation of that belief, it exercises no authority to prescribe, or coercion to enforce it. The former is the system, which, with very few exceptions, has prevailed throughout Christendom, for fifteen hundred years. Our own government is almost a solitary example among the nations of the earth, where freedom of opinion, and the inviolability of conscience, have been even theoretically recognized by the law.
The argument in behalf of a government-established religion, at the time when it was first used, was not without its plausibility; but the principle, once admitted, drew after it a train of the most appalling consequences. If religion is absolutely essential to the stability of the State, as well as to the present and future happiness of the subject; why, it was naturally asked, should not the government enforce it? And, if government is to enforce religion, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that it must define it?—for how can it enforce a duty which, being undefined, is uncertain? And, again, if government begins to define religion, it must define what it is not, as well as what it is; and while it upholds whatever is included in the definition, it must suppress and abolish whatever is excluded from it. The definition, too, must keep pace with speculation, and must take cognizance of all outward forms and observances; for, if speculation is allowed to run riot, and ceremonies and observances to spring up unrestrained, religion will soon elude control, emerge into new forms, and exercise, if it does not arrogate, a substantial independence. Both in regard to matters of form and of substance, all recusancy must be subdued, either by the deprivation of civil rights, or by positive inflictions; for the laws of man, not possessing, like the laws of God, a self-executing power, must be accompanied by some effective sanction, or they will not be obeyed. If a light penalty proves inadequate, a heavier one must follow,—the loss of civil privileges by disfranchisement, or of religious hopes by excommunication. If the non-conformist feels himself, by the aid of a higher power, to be secure against threats of future perdition, the civil magistrate has terrible resources at command, in this life,—imprisonment, scourging, the rack, the fagot, death. Should it ever be said that these are excessive punishments for exercising freedom of thought, and for allowing the heart to pour forth those sentiments of adoration to God, with which it believes God himself has inspired it?—the answer is always ready, that nothing is so terrible as the heresy that draws after it the endless wrath of the Omnipotent; and, therefore, that Smithfield fires, and Inquisitorial tortures, and auto-de-fes, and St. Bartholomews, are cheap offerings at the shrine of Truth;—nay, compared with the awful and endless consequences of a false faith, they are of less moment than the slightest puncture of a nerve. And, assuming the truth of the theory, and the right of the government to secure faith by force, it surely would be better, infinitely better, that every hill-top should be lighted with the fires of Smithfield, and every day in the calendar should be a St. Bartholomew’s, than that errors so fatal should go un-abolished.
In the council-hall of the Inquisition at Avignon, there still is, or lately was, to be seen, a picture of the good Samaritan painted upon the wall. The deed of mercy commemorated by this picture, was supposed to be the appropriate emblem of the Inquisitor’s work. The humanity of pouring oil and wine into the wounds of the bleeding wayfarer who had fallen among thieves; the kindness of dismounting from his own beast, and setting the half-dead victim of violence upon it; and the generosity of purchasing comfort and restoration for him at an inn, were held to be copied and imitated, upon an ampler and a nobler scale, by the arrest of the heretic, by the violence that tore him from home and friends, and by the excruciating tortures that at last wrenched soul and body asunder. The priests who sentenced, and the familiars that turned the wheel, or lighted the fagot; or, with red-hot pincers, tore the living flesh from the quivering limbs, were but imitators of the good Samaritan, binding up moral wounds, and seeking to take a lost traveller to a place of recovery and eternal repose. So when the news of the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s,—on which occasion, thirty thousand men, women, and children, were butchered at the stroke of a signal-bell,—reached Rome, the Pope and his cardinals ordained a Thanksgiving, that all true believers might rejoice together at so glorious an event, and that God might be honored for the pious hearts that designed and the benevolent hands that executed so Christian a deed. And, admitting their premises, surely they were right. Could communities, or even individuals, be rescued from endless perdition, at the price of a massacre or an auto-de-fe, the men who would wield the sword, or kindle the flame, would be only nobler Samaritans; and the picture upon the Inquisition walls at Avignon would be but an inadequate emblem of their soul-saving beneficence.
But in all the persecutions and oppressions ever committed in the name of religion, one point has been unwarrantably assumed;—namely, that the faith of their authors was certainly and infallibly the true faith. With the fewest exceptions, the advocates of all the myriad conflicting creeds that have ever been promulgated have held substantially the same language: “Our faith we know to be true. For its truth, we have the evidence of our reason and our conscience; we have the Word of God in our hands, and we have the Spirit of God in our hearts, testifying to its truth.”* The answer to this claim is almost too obvious to be mentioned. The advocates of hundreds and thousands of hostile creeds have placed themselves upon the same ground. Each has claimed the same proof from reason and conscience, the same external revelation from God, and the same inward light of His spirit. But if truth be one, and hence necessarily harmonious; if God be its author; and if the voice of God be not more dissonant than the tongues of Babel; then, at least all but one of the different forms of faith ever promulgated by human authority, so far as these forms conflict with each other, cannot have emanated from the Fountain of all truth. These faiths must have been more or less erroneous. The believers in them must have been more or less mistaken. Who, on an impartial survey of the whole, and a recollection of the confidence with which each one has been claimed to be infallibly true, shall dare to affirm that any one of them all is a perfect transcript of the perfect law, as it exists in the Divine Mind, and that that one is his?
But here arises a practical distinction, which the world has lost sight of. It is this: After seeking all possible light from within, from without, and from above, each man’s belief is his own standard of truth; but it is not the standard for any other man. The believer is bound to live by his belief under all circumstances, in the face of all perils, and at the cost of any sacrifice. But his standard of truth is the standard for himself alone; never for his neighbor. That neighbor must have his own standard, which to him must be supreme. And the fact that each man is bound to follow his own best light and guidance is an express negation of any other man’s right, and of any government’s right, of forcible interference. Here is the dividing line. On one side, lie personal freedom and the recognition of freedom in others; on the other side, are intolerance, oppression, and all the wrongs and woes of persecution for conscience’ sake. The hierarchs of the world have generally reversed this rule of duty. They have been more rigid in demanding that others should live according to their faith, than in living in accordance with it themselves.
Did the history of mankind show that there has been the most of virtue and piety in those nations where religion has been most rigorously enforced by law, the advocates of ecclesiastical domination would have a powerful argument in favor of their measures of coercion. But the united and universal voice of history, observation, and experience, gives the argument to the other side. Nor is this surprising. Weak and fallible as human reason is, it was too much to expect that any mere man, even though aided by the light of a written revelation, would ever fathom the whole counsels of the Omnipotent and the Eternal. But the limitations and shortsightedness of men’s reason did not constitute the only obstacle to their discovery of truth. All the passions and perversities of human nature conspired to prevent so glorious an achievement. The easily-acquired but awful power possessed by those who were acknowledged to be the chosen expounders of the Divine will, tempted men to set up a false claim to be the depositaries of God’s purposes towards men, and the selected medium of his communication with them; and to this temptation erring mortals were fain to yield. Those who were supposed able to determine the destiny of the soul in the next world, came easily to control opinion, conduct, and fortune, in this. Hence they established themselves as a third power,—a power between the creature and the Creator,—not to facilitate the direct communion between man and his Maker, but to supersede it. They claimed to carry on the intercourse between heaven and earth, as merchants carry on commerce between distant nations, where the parties to the interchange never meet each other. The consequence soon was, that this celestial commerce degenerated into the basest and most mercenary traffic. The favors of heaven were bought and sold, like goods in the marketplace. Robbery purchased pardon and impunity by bribing the judge with a portion of the wealth it had plundered. The assassin bought permission to murder, and the incendiary to burn. A Price-Current of crime was established, in which sins were so graduated, as to meet the pecuniary ability of both rich and poor offenders. Licenses to violate the laws of God and man became luxuries, for which customers paid according to their several ability. Gold was the representative of all virtues as well as of all values. Under such a system, men lost their conscience, and women their virtue; for the right to commit all enormities was purchasable by money, and pardonable by grace;—save only the guilt of heresy; and the worst of all heresies consisted in men’s worshipping the God of their fathers according to the dictates of their consciences.
Those religious exercises which consist in a communion of the soul with its Father in heaven, have been beautifully compared to telegraphic communications between distant friends; where, silent as thought, and swift as the lightning, each makes known to the other his joys and his desires, his affection and his fidelity, while the busy world around may know nought of their sacred communings. But as soon as hierarchies obtained control over men, they changed the channel of these communications between heaven and earth. An ecclesiastical bureau was established; and it was decreed that all the telegraphic wires should centre in that;—so that all the communications between man and his Maker should be subject to the inspection of its chiefs, and carried on through their agency alone. Thus, whether the soul had gratitude or repentance to offer to its God, or light or forgiveness to receive from on high, the whole intercourse, in both directions, must go through the government office, and there be subject to take such form; to be added to or subtracted from, as the ministers or managers, in possession of power, might deem to be expedient. Considering the nature of man, one may well suppose that many of the most precious of the messages were never forwarded; that others were perverted, or forged ones put in their place; and that, in some instances at least, the reception of fees was the main inducement to keep the machinery in operation.
Among the infinite errors and enormities, resulting from systems of religion devised by man, and enforced by the terrors of human government, have been those dreadful reactions, which have abjured all religion, spurned its obligations, and voted the Deity into non-existence. This extreme is, if possible, more fatal than that by which it was produced. Between these extremes, philanthropic and godly men have sought to find a medium which should avoid both the evils of ecclesiastical tyranny, and the greater evils of atheism. And this medium has at length been supposed to be found. It is promulgated in the great principle, that government should do all that it can to facilitate the acquisition of religious truth; but shall leave the decision of the question, what religious truth is, to the arbitrament, without human appeal, of each man’s reason and conscience;—in other words, that government shall never, by the infliction of pains and penalties, or by the privation of rights or immunities, call such decision either into pre-judgment or into review. The formula in which the Constitution of Massachusetts expresses it, is in these words: “All religious sects and denominations, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good citizens, shall be equally under the protection of law; and no subordination of one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.”
The great truth recognized and expressed in these few words of our Constitution, is one which it has cost centuries of struggle and of suffering, and the shedding of rivers of blood, to attain; and he who would relinquish or forfeit it, virtually impetrates upon his fellow-men other centuries of suffering and the shedding of other rivers of blood. Nor are we as yet entirely removed from all danger of relapse. The universal interference of government in matters of religion, for so many centuries, has hardened the public mind to its usurpations. Men have become tolerant of intolerance; and among many nations of Christendom the common idea of Religious Freedom is satisfied by an exemption from fine and imprisonment for religious belief. They have not yet reached the conception of equal privileges and franchises for all. Doubtless the time will come when any interference, either by positive infliction or by legal disability, with another man’s conscience in religious concernments, so long as he molests no one by the exercise of his faith, will be regarded as the crowning and supereminent act of guilt, which one human being can perpetrate against another. But this time is far from having yet arrived, and nations, otherwise equally enlightened, are at very different distances from this moral goal. The oppressed, on succeeding to power, are prone to become oppressors, in their turn; and to forget, as victors, the lessons, which, as victims, they had learned.
The Colonial, Provincial, and State history of Massachusetts shows by what slow degrees the rigor of our own laws was relaxed, as the day-star of religious freedom slowly arose after the long, black midnight of the Past. It was not, indeed, until a very recent period, that all vestige of legal penalty or coercion was obliterated from our statute book, and all sects and denominations were placed upon a footing of absolute equality in the eye of the law. Until the ninth day of April, 1821, no person, in Massachusetts, was eligible to the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Counsellor, or to that of senator or representative in the General Court, unless he would make oath to a belief in the particular form of religion adopted and sanctioned by the State. And until the eleventh day of November, 1833, every citizen was taxable, by the constitution and laws of the State, for the support of the Protestant religion, whether he were a Protestant, a Catholic, or a believer in any other faith. Nor was it until the tenth day of March, 1827 (St. 1826, ch. 143, § 7,) that it was made unlawful to use the Common Schools of the State as the means of proselyting children to a belief in the doctrines of particular sects, whether their parents believed in those doctrines or not.
All know the energetic tendency of men’s minds to continue in a course to which long habit has accustomed them. The same law is as true in regard to institutions administered by bodies of men, as in regard to individual minds. The doctrine of momentum, or head-way, belongs to metaphysics, as much as to mechanics. A statute may be enacted, and may even be executed by the courts, long before it is ratified and enforced by public opinion. Within the last few years, how many examples of this truth has the cause of temperance furnished! And such was the case, in regard to the law of 1827, prohibiting sectarian instruction in our Public Schools. It was not easy for committees, at once, to withdraw or to exclude the books, nor for teachers to renounce the habits, by which this kind of instruction had been given. Hence, more than ten years subsequent to the passage of that law, at the time when I made my first educational and official circuits over the State, I found books in the schools, as strictly and exclusively doctrinal as any on the shelves of a theological library. I heard teachers giving oral instruction, as strictly and purely doctrinal, as any ever heard from the pulpit, or from the professor’s chair. And more than this: I have now in my possession, printed directions, given by committee men to teachers, enjoining upon them the use of a catechism, in school, which is wholly devoted to an exposition of the doctrines of one of the denominations amongst us. These directions bear date a dozen years subsequent to the prohibitory law, above referred to. I purposely forbear to intimate what doctrine or what denomination was “favored,” in the language of the law, by these means; because I desire to have this statement as impersonal as it can be.
After years of endurance, after suffering under misconstructions of conduct, and the imputation of motives, whose edge is sharper than a knife, it was, at my suggestion, and by making use of materials which I had laboriously collected, that the Board made its Eighth Annual Report;—a document said to be the ablest argument in favor of the use of the Bible in Schools, any where to be found. This Report had my full concurrence. Since its appearance, I have always referred to it, as explanatory of the views of the Board, and as setting forth the law of a wise Commonwealth and the policy of a Christian people. Officially and unofficially, publicly and privately, in theory and in practice, my course has always been in conformity with its doctrines. And I avail myself of this, the last opportunity which I may ever have, to say, in regard to all affirmations or intimations, that I have ever attempted to exclude religious instruction from school, or to exclude the Bible from school, or to impair the force of that volume, arising out of itself, are now, and always have been, without substance or semblance of truth.
But it may still be said, and it is said, that, however sincere, or however religiously disposed, the advocates of our school system may be, still the character of the system is not to be determined by the number, nor by the sincerity of its defenders, but by its own inherent attributes; and that, if judged by these attributes, it is, in fact and in truth, an irreligious, an un-Christian, and an anti-Christian system. Having devoted the best part of my life to the promotion of this system, and believing it to be the only system which ought to prevail, or can permanently prevail, in any free country; I am not content to see it suffer, unrelieved, beneath the weight of imputations so grievous; nor is it right that any hostile system should be built up by so gross a misrepresentation of ours. That our Public Schools are not Theological Seminaries, is admitted. That they are debarred by law from inculcating the peculiar and distinctive doctrines of any one religious denomination amongst us, is claimed; and that they are also prohibited from ever teaching that what they do teach, is the whole of religion, or all that is essential to religion or to salvation, is equally certain. But our system earnestly inculcates all Christian morals; it founds its morals on the basis of religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible; and, in receiving the Bible, it allows it to do what it is allowed to do in no other system,— to speak for itself. But here it stops, not because it claims to have compassed all truth; but because it disclaims to act as an umpire between hostile religious opinions.
The very terms, Public School, and Common School, bear upon their face, that they are schools which the children of the entire community may attend. Every man, not on the pauper list, is taxed for their support. But he is not taxed to support them as special religious institutions; if he were, it would satisfy, at once, the largest definition of a Religious Establishment. But he is taxed to support them, as a preventive means against dishonesty, against fraud, and against violence; on the same principle that he is taxed to support criminal courts as a punitive means against the same offences. He is taxed to support schools, on the same principle that he is taxed to support paupers; because a child without education is poorer and more wretched than a man without bread. He is taxed to support schools, on the same principle that he would be taxed to defend the nation against foreign invasion, or against rapine committed by a foreign foe; because the general prevalence of ignorance, superstition, and vice, will breed Goth and Vandal at home, more fatal to the public well-being, than any Goth or Vandal from abroad. And, finally, he is taxed to support schools, because they are the most effective means of developing and training those powers and faculties in a child, by which, when he becomes a man, he may understand what his highest interests and his highest duties are; and may be, in fact, and not in name only, a free agent. The elements of a political education are not bestowed upon any school child, for the purpose of making him vote with this or that political party, when he becomes of age; but for the purpose of enabling him to choose for himself, with which party he will vote. So the religious education which a child receives at school, is not imparted to him, for the purpose of making him join this or that denomination, when he arrives at years of discretion, but for the purpose of enabling him to judge for himself, according to the dictates of his own reason and conscience, what his religious obligations are, and whither they lead. But if a man is taxed to support a school, where religious doctrines are inculcated which he believes to be false, and which he believes that God condemns; then he is excluded from the school by the Divine law, at the same time that he is compelled to support it by the human law. This is a double wrong. It is politically wrong, because, if such a man educates his children at all, he must educate them elsewhere, and thus pay two taxes, while some of his neighbors pay less than their due proportion of one; and it is religiously wrong, because he is constrained, by human power, to promote what he believes the Divine Power forbids. The principle involved in such a course is pregnant with all tyrannical consequences. It is broad enough to sustain any claim of ecclesiastical domination, ever made in the darkest ages of the world. Every religious persecution, since the time of Constantine, may find its warrant in it, and can be legitimately defended upon it. If a man’s estate may be taken from him to pay for teaching a creed which he believes to be false, his children can be taken from him to be taught the same creed; and he, too, may be punished to any extent, for not voluntarily surrendering both his estate and his offspring. If his children can be compulsorily taken and taught to believe a creed which the parent disbelieves, then the parent can be compulsorily taken and made to subscribe the same creed. And, in regard to the extent of the penalties which may be invoked to compel conformity, there is no stopping-place between taking a penny and inflicting perdition. It is only necessary to call a man’s reason and conscience and religious faith, by the name of recusancy, or contumacy, or heresy, and so to inscribe them on the statute book; and then the non-conformist or dissenter may be subdued by steel, or cord, or fire; by anathema and excommunication in this life, and the terrors of endless perdition in the next. Surely, that system cannot be an irreligious, an anti-Christian, or an un-Christian one, whose first and cardinal principle it is, to recognize and protect the highest and dearest of all human interests, and of all human rights.
Again; it seems almost too clear for exposition, that our system, in one of its most essential features, is not only, not an irreligious one, but that it is more strictly religious than any other which has ever yet been adopted. Every intelligent man understands what is meant by the term “Jurisdiction.” It is the rightful authority which one person, or one body of men, exercises over another person, or persons. Every intelligent man understands, that there are some things which are within the jurisdiction of government, and other things which are not within it. As Americans, we understand that there is a line, dividing the jurisdiction of the State Governments from the jurisdiction of the Federal Government; and that it is a violation of the constitutions of both, for either to invade the legitimate sphere of action which belongs to the other. We all understand, that neither any State in this Union, nor the Union itself, has any right of interference between the British sovereign and a British subject, or between the French government and a citizen of France. Let this doctrine be applied to the relations which our fellow-citizens bear to the rulers who have authority over them. Primarily, religious rights embrace the relations between the creature and the Creator, just as political rights embrace the relations between subject and sovereign, or between a free citizen and the government of his choice; and just as parental rights embrace the relation between parent and child. Rights, therefore, which are strictly religious, lie out of, and beyond the jurisdiction of civil governments. They belong, exclusively, to the jurisdiction of the Divine government. If, then, the State of Massachusetts has no right of forcible interference between an Englishman, or a Frenchman, and the English or French government; still less, far less, has it any right of forcible interference, between the soul of man, and the King and Lord to whom that soul owes undivided and supreme allegiance. Civil society may exist, or it may cease to exist. Civil government may continue for centuries in the hands of the same dynasty, or it may change hands, by revolution, with every new moon. The man, outcast and outlawed to-day, and to whom, therefore, we owe no obedience, may be rightfully installed in office tomorrow, and may then require submission to his legitimate authority. The civil governor may resign, or be deposed; the frame-work of the government may be changed, or its laws altered; so that the duty of allegiance to a temporal sovereign may have a succession of new objects, or a succession of new definitions. But the relation of man to his Maker never changes. Its object and its obligations are immutable. The jurisdiction which God exercises over the religious obligations which his rational and accountable offspring owe to Him, excludes human jurisdiction. And, hence it is, that religious rights are inalienable rights. Hence, also, it is, that it is an infinitely greater offence to invade the special and exclusive jurisdiction which the Creator claims over the consciences and hearts of men, than it would be to invade the jurisdiction which any foreign nation rightfully possesses over its own subjects or citizens. The latter would be only an offence against international law; the former is treason against the majesty of Heaven. The one violates secular and temporal rights only; the other violates sacred and eternal ones. When the British Government passed its various statutes of praemunire, as they were called,—statutes to prevent the Roman Pontiff from interfering between the British sovereign and the British subject,—it was itself constantly enacting and enforcing laws which interfered between the Sovereign of the universe and His subjects upon earth, far more directly and aggressively, than any edict of the Roman See ever interfered with any allegiance due from a British subject to the self-styled Defender of the Faith.
It was in consequence of laws that invaded the direct and exclusive jurisdiction which our Father in heaven exercises over his children upon earth, that the Pilgrims fled from their native land, to that which is the land of our nativity. They sought a residence so remote and so inaccessible, in the hope that the prerogatives of the Divine Magistrate might no longer be set at nought by the usurpations of the civil power. Was it not an irreligious and an impious act, on the part of the British government, to pursue our ancestors with such cruel penalties and privations, as to drive them into banishment? Was it not a religious and a pious act in the Pilgrim Fathers to seek a place of refuge, where the arm of earthly power could neither restrain them from worshipping God in the manner which they believed to be most acceptable to Him, nor command their worship in a manner believed to be unacceptable? And if it was irreligious in the British government to violate freedom of conscience in the case of our forefathers, two centuries ago, then it is more flagrantly irreligious to repeat the oppression, in this more enlightened age of the world. If it was a religious act in our forefathers to escape from ecclesiastical tyranny, then it must be in the strictest conformity to religion for us to abstain from all religious oppression over others; and to oppose it wherever it is threatened. And this abstinence from religious oppression, this acknowledgement of the rights of others, this explicit recognition and avowal of the supreme and exclusive jurisdiction of Heaven, and this denial of the right of any earthly power to encroach upon that jurisdiction, is precisely what the Massachusetts school system purports to do in theory, and what it does actually in practice. Hence I infer that our system is not an irreligious one, but is in the strictest accordance with religion and its obligations.
It is still easier to prove that the Massachusetts school system is not anti-Christian nor un-Christian. The Bible is the acknowledged expositor of Christianity. In strictness, Christianity has no other authoritative expounder. This Bible is in our Common Schools, by common consent. Twelve years ago, it was not in all the schools. Contrary to the genius of our government, if not contrary to the express letter of the law, it had been used for sectarian purposes,—to prove one sect to be right, and others to be wrong. Hence, it had been excluded from the schools of some towns, by an express vote. But since the law and the reasons on which it is founded, have been more fully explained and better understood; and since sectarian instruction has, to a great extent, ceased to be given, the Bible has been restored. I am not aware of the existence of a single town in the State, in whose schools it is not now introduced, either by a direct vote of the school committee, or by such general desire and acquiescence, as supersede the necessity of a vote. In all my intercourse, for twelve years, whether personal or by letter, with all the school officers in the State, and with tens of thousands of individuals in it, I have never heard an objection made to the use of the Bible in school except in one or two instances; and, in those cases, the objection was put upon the ground, that daily familiarity with the book, in school, would tend to impair a reverence for it.
If the Bible, then, is the exponent of Christianity; if the Bible contains the communications, precepts, and doctrines, which make up the religious system, called and known as Christianity; if the Bible makes known those truths, which, according to the faith of Christians, are able to make men wise unto salvation; and if this Bible is in the schools, how can it be said that Christianity is excluded from the schools; or how can it be said that the school system, which adopts and uses the Bible, is an anti-Christian, or an un-Christian system? If that which is the acknowledged exponent and basis of Christianity is in the schools, by what tergiversation in language, or paralogism in logic, can Christianity be said to be shut out from the schools? If the Old Testament were in the schools, could a Jew complain, that Judaism was excluded from them? If the Koran were read regularly and reverently in the schools, could a Mahomedan say that Mahomedanism was excluded? Or, if the Mormon Bible were in the schools, could it be said that Mormonism was excluded from them?
And further; our law explicitly and solemnly enjoins it upon all teachers, without any exception, “to exert their best endeavors, to impress on the minds of children and youth committed to their care and instruction, the principles of piety, justice, and a sacred regard to truth, love to their country, humanity and universal benevolence, sobriety, industry, and frugality, chastity, moderation, and temperance, and those other virtues which are the ornament of human society, and the basis upon which a republican constitution is founded.” Are not these virtues and graces part and parcel of Christianity? In other words, can there be Christianity without them? While these virtues and these duties towards God and man, are inculcated in our schools, any one who says that the schools are anti-Christian or un-Christian, expressly affirms that his own system of Christianity does not embrace any one of this radiant catalogue; that it rejects them all; that it embraces their opposites!
And further still; our system makes it the express duty of all the “resident ministers of the Gospel” to bring all the children within the moral and Christian inculcations above enumerated; so that he who avers that our system is an anti-Christian or an un-Christian one, avers that it is both anti-Christian and un-Christian for a “minister of the Gospel to promote, or labor to diffuse, the moral attributes and excellences, which the statute so earnestly enjoins. . . .
I know of but one argument, having the semblance of plausibility, that can be urged against this feature of our system. It may be said, that if questions of doctrinal religion are left to be decided by men, for themselves, or by parents for their children, numerous and grievous errors will be mingled with the instruction. Doubtless, the fact is so. If truth be one, and if many contradictory dogmas are taught as truth, then it is mathematically certain, that all the alleged truths, but one, is a falsity. But, though the statement is correct, the inference which is drawn from it, in favor of a government standard of faith, is not legitimate; for all the religious errors which are believed in by the free mind of man, or which are taught by free parents to their children, are tolerable and covetable, compared with those which the patronage and the seductions of government can suborn men to adopt, and which the terrors of government can compel them to perpetuate. The errors of free minds are so numerous and so various, that they prevent any monster-error from acquiring the ascendancy; and, therefore, Truth has a chance to struggle forward amid the strifes of the combatants; but if the monster-error can usurp the throne of the civil Power, fortify itself by prescription, defend its infallibility with all the forces of the State, sanctify its enormities under sacred names, and plead the express command of God for all its atrocities;—against such an antagonist, Truth must struggle for centuries, bleed at every pore, be wounded in every vital part, and can triumph at last, only after thousands and tens of thousands of her holiest disciples shall have fallen in the conflict.
If, then, a government would recognize and protect the rights of religious freedom, it must abstain from subjugating the capacities of its children to any legal standard of religious faith, with as great fidelity as it abstains from controlling the opinions of men. It must meet the unquestionable fact, that the old spirit of religious domination is adopting new measures to accomplish its work,—measures, which, if successful, will be as fatal to the liberties of mankind, as those which were practised in by-gone days of violence and terror. These new measures are aimed at children instead of men. They propose to supersede the necessity of subduing free thought, in the mind of the adult, by forestalling the development of any capacity of free thought, in the mind of the child. They expect to find it easier to subdue the free agency of children, by binding them in fetters of bigotry, than to subdue the free agency of men, by binding them in fetters of iron. For this purpose, some are attempting to deprive children of their right to labor, and, of course, of their daily bread, unless they will attend a government school, and receive its sectarian instruction. Some are attempting to withhold all means, even of secular education, from the poor, and thus punish them with ignorance, unless, with the secular knowledge which they desire, they will accept theological knowledge which they condemn. Others, still, are striving to break down all free Public School systems, where they exist, and to prevent their establishment, where they do not exist, in the hope, that on the downfall of these, their system will succeed. The sovereign antidote against these machinations, is, Free Schools for all, and the right of every parent to determine the religious education of his children.
Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School, improved and energized, as it can easily be, may become the most effective and benignant of all the forces of civilization. Two reasons sustain this position. In the first place, there is a universality in its operation, which can be affirmed of no other institution whatever. If administered in the spirit of justice and conciliation, all the rising generation may be brought within the circle of its reformatory and elevating influences. And, in the second place, the materials upon which it operates are so pliant and ductile as to be susceptible of assuming a greater variety of forms than any other earthly work of the Creator. The inflexibility and ruggedness of the oak, when compared with the lithe sapling or the tender germ, are but feeble emblems to typify the docility of childhood, when contrasted with the obduracy and intractableness of man. It is these inherent advantages of the Common School, which, in our own State, have produced results so striking, from a system so imperfect, and an administration so feeble. In teaching the blind, and the deaf and dumb, in kindling the latent spark of intelligence that lurks in an idiot’s mind, and in the more holy work of reforming abandoned and outcast children, education has proved what it can do, by glorious experiments. These wonders, it has done in its infancy, and with the lights of a limited experience; but, when its faculties shall be fully developed, when it shall be trained to wield its mighty energies for the protection of society against the giant vices which now invade and torment it;—against intemperance, avarice, war, slavery, bigotry, the woes of want and the wickedness of waste,—then, there will not be a height to which these enemies of the race can escape, which it will not scale, nor a Titan among them all, whom it will not slay.
I proceed, then, in endeavoring to show how the true business of the schoolroom connects itself, and becomes identical, with the great interests of society. The former is the infant, immature state of those interests; the latter, their developed, adult state. As “the child is father to the man,” so may the training of the schoolroom expand into the institutions and fortunes of the State.
Legal disabilities faced free African Americans during the time of slavery, up to and including provisions of state constitutions forbidding their settled presence. This hostility was rooted in the conviction that racial differences made peaceful coexistence impossible in the United States. One response to this perceived situation was the foundation of the American Colonization Society in 1817. This society worked to relocate freed slaves and their descendants to Africa (it took the lead in founding the African nation of Liberia as a homeland for freed slaves). Abraham Lincoln was a longtime supporter of such resettlement efforts, though he opposed forced resettlement, particularly in light of African American service in the Civil War.
[* ] As authority for this assertion, see Eleventh Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education, where the letters of distinguished and experienced teachers, residing in different parts of the country, and acquainted with all classes of children, are published.
[* ] Or, as I once heard the same sentiment expressed in the pulpit, from the lips of an eminent divine: “I am right, and I know I am right, and I know I know it.”