As a student at a large land grant university, I'm curious about the history of the academic climate I live in.

Section 4 of the Morrill Act of 1862 states the following:

...each State which may take and claim the benefit of this act, 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.

In my mind, this translates to "This act is established for establishing a traditonal university (one which focuses on science and classical studies), with a particular focus teaching practical industrial classes in Ag and mechanics, which incorporates military teaching."

However, can someone tell me what the context and motivation for these aims were at this time in 1862?

  • 1
    I think you mean 1862 in both places. Can you edit your question?
    – AllInOne
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 14:39
  • yes, many apologies on that.
    – User2341
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 14:41
  • There are in fact two Morrill acts, but both are in the 1800's
    – User2341
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 14:41

1 Answer 1


This is discussed in the wikipedia entry for the Morrill Land-Grant Acts

For 20 years prior to the first introduction of the bill in 1857, there was a political movement calling for the creation of agriculture colleges.

Michigan had already created one which would be the model:

For example, the Michigan Constitution of 1850 called for the creation of an "agricultural school",1 though it was not until February 12, 1855, that Michigan Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed a bill establishing the United States' first agriculture college, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, known today as Michigan State University, which served as a model for the Morrill Act.2

These schools would give mid-western states, where agriculture was dominant, a boost in furthering education availability. Concerning the dominance of agriculture, here are some numbers:

  • 1840

Total population: 17,069,453; farm population; 9,012,000 (est.); farmers 69% of labor force

  • 1850

Total population: 23,191,786; farm population; 11,680,000 (est.); farmers 64% of labor force; Number of farms: 1,449,000; average acres: 203

  • 1860

Total population: 31,443,321; farm population: 15,141,000 (est.); farmers 58% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,044,000; average acres: 199

The context, the time of 1862, is what caused the inclusion of the military training clause to gain support and overcome earlier rejections:

Morrill resubmitted the act with the amendment that the proposed institutions would teach military tactics[5] as well as engineering and agriculture. Aided by the secession of many states that did not support the plans, this reconfigured Morrill Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862.

  • 1
    Yes but why agricultural colleges instead of just trade schools? And, so the military training was just added to help the act pass? but why was that someting even desired?
    – User2341
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 16:09
  • 1
    Agriculture was the single largest section of economy in US for many years. I'll add in some figures.
    – justCal
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 16:10
  • 1
    That is true, but is why exactly an Ag college rather that just a trade school? or is it just that trade schools were not a common idea at the time?
    – User2341
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 16:51
  • 1
    @User2341 those topics are what other colleges studied. even though the new colleges had other specialties, they wouldn't just ignore traditional course topics. Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 17:13
  • 3
    @User2341 - The military bit reads an awful lot like some meaningless language chucked onto the bill to shut up one guy. "...without excluding other scientific and classical studies.." (shout from the back) "And military!" (deep sigh) "Yes Bob, and Military tactics."
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 19:47

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