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The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862

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The money given to the Preston and Olin Institute in 1872 for the founding of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College came from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. This federal legislation, passed at the instigation of Justin Morrill, a Congressman from Vermont, provided for the sale of public lands in each state. The proceeds from that sale were to be used for several purposes, with the foundation of a college to teach the agricultural and mechanical arts the prime.

Each state was given 30,000 acres of land for each senator and representative in Congress the state was eligible for under the census of 1860. In Virginia's case, it was entitled to 2 senators and 8 representatives by that measure, and so received 300,000 acres of public land for the Act's purposes.

Virginia chose to accept the Act in 1864. The Assembly which voted this in, however, was a "rump" assembly in Alexandria, formed during the Civil War in an area under the control of Federal troops. After the war, the U.S. Congress raised objections to readmitting Confederate states immediately, and there was some question about the legality of the acts made by the rump assembly.

Eventually, in 1870, Virginia was formally readmitted to the Union, and debate (which had started in 1865) began again about the allocation of the funds to be generated by the Land Grant Act.

Many argued for the monies to go to one of Virginia's existing schools of higher education; VMI and the University of Virginia were among the leading candidates. There was also debate on whether to divide the monies between a "white" college and one of the "black" institutes. Competition among the schools and their advocates in Richmond was fierce, and the debate raged for six years (from 1865-66 to 1871-72).

Finally, a compromise was reached: Two-thirds of the money would go to the Preston and Olin Institue, for the education of white students, and one-third to the Hampton Institute, for the black students. The state's grant was sold to a gentleman from Ohio, for about $295,000. The Preston and Olin Institute's share came to about $195,000, with the remainder (approximately $100,000) going to the Hampton Institute.

Some relevant passages from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862:

7 U.S.C.A. Sect. 301 "Land grant aid of colleges"
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 this subchapter.
7 U.S.C.A. Sect. 304 "Investment of proceeds of sale of land or scrip"
...That the monies so invested or loaned shall constitute a perpetual fund, the capital of which shall remain forever undiminished (except so far as may be provided in section 305 of this title), and 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.

Virtual Vermont Internet Magazine on John Morrill

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Last updated Monday, 04-Feb-2002 15:59:13 EST, by AO-A