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HORACE MANN AND THE AMERICAN
THE close of the first half of the nineteenth century was distinguished by a remarkable revival in education throughout the United States. This awakening began and centered in Massachusetts, and was greatly strengthened by the leadership and efforts of Horace Mann. To appreciate the underlying causes, one must, therefore, learn something of the life and purposes of this great American educator.
The Early Career of Horace Mann
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Horace Mann (1796-1859) was born on a small farm The parenin Franklin, Massachusetts. His parents were plain training of people, but of superior mental capacity and consider-Mann tended able strength of character, and the little town in which to cultivate he grew up also furnished an environment of unusually try, initiahigh ideals in intelligence and morals. The hard conditions of New England farm life and the early loss of his father fixed in him lifelong habits of industry, initiative, and responsibility. While the school training of the day was meager and circumscribed, he learned in his boyhood to love nature and her handiwork, and ac
tive, and a reverence
quired a reverence for knowledge and books. He also secured much instruction and intellectual enrichment from the small library of his native town.1 While he reacted most strongly from the stern, uncompromising Calvinism of the religious life of the times, it inculcated in him a faith in God and a subordination of his moral nature to the higher law, and he obtained through its After gradua system a remarkable drill in logic. At the age of twenty, young Mann happened upon a brilliant preparatory teacher, and was speedily fitted to enter the sophomore class of Brown University in the fall of the same year. He was graduated in 1819 at the head of his class, and was shortly afterward engaged for two years as a tutor in Latin and Greek at his alma mater. After demonstrating extraordinary ability as a classical scholar and teacher, and concluding, far in advance of his times, that the natural sciences were much superior in content and discipline to the classics, he turned his attention to the study of law 2 as a profession and of metaphysics
1 This library was presented to the town by Benjamin Franklin, for whom the place was named. He requested his friend, Dr. Richard Price of London, to purchase to the amount of twenty-five pounds such books as would foster sound religion and government.
2 Mann studied at the famous law school of Judge Gould in Litchfield, Connecticut, which, during its existence of less than half a century, graduated sixteen United States senators, fifty members of Congress, five cabinet officers, several foreign ministers, and innumerable justices of the federal and higher state courts.
as an avocation. As a practitioner he impressed every one with his conscientiousness as much as with his knowledge of the law and his logic and eloquence. Before long he entered the political arena, and served the state in the Lower House for six years (1827-1833) and in the Senate for four more (1833-1837), the last two of which he was president of the body. A brilliant career as a statesman lay before him, but he retired at the age of forty-one to accept the secretaryship of the newly created State Board of Education. Through that office, however, he was destined to elevate education not only in Massachusetts, but through all the Union.
His Fitness for the Secretaryship of the State Board of Education
Horace Mann's equipment for this, his real work in life, will readily be perceived. By heredity and early training he was suffused with an interest in humanity and all phases of philanthropy. This manifested itself preeminently in his efforts in behalf of education, although he was always an ardent worker for the cause of charity, the kindly treatment of defectives and
1 The heterodoxy of Mann kept him from the ministry, the most natural agency for social reform in those times, but he seems to have gone into law with a similar spirit. "Never espouse the wrong side of a cause knowingly," he wrote later to a young lawyer, "and if unwittingly you find yourself on the wrong side, leap out as quickly as you would jump out of a vat of boiling brimstone." See Livingston's American Portrait Gallery, p. 196.
dependents,1 temperance, anti-slavery, and all other forms of social improvement. An ardent belief in what he continually termed 'the improvability of man' is shown in all his college orations 2 and early public speeches, and his optimistic views were strengthened by reading the Constitution of Man by George Combe 3 and his later companionship with that high-minded exponent of phrenology. Mann's early potentiality had been further rendered actual and shaped by the best education available, by constant reading and thinking, and by experience in writing and speaking and in practicing and making law. He may well be judged oversanguine in his faith in knowledge and education as the means of social advancement, and it may be that he underestimated the inertia of custom, habit, and institutions; but just such an enthusiasm and consecration as his were essential for the prodigious reforms that were to be undertaken. He certainly possessed a remarkable combination of intelligence, courage, and experience for leadership in this direction. The law proposed for the new Board of Education numerous duties in the way of collecting and spreading information concerning the common schools and of making suggestions for the
1 The greatest service in this direction was his aggressive advocacy of the establishment of the Insane Hospital at Worcester by the legislature.
2 His graduation address at Brown was on The Gradual Advancement of the Human Species in Dignity and Happiness. See footnote on p. 267.
improvement and extension of public education, but it provided no real powers. It was obvious that the permanence and influence of the Board would have to depend almost wholly upon the intelligence and force of character of its secretary, and the peculiar fitness of Mann can alone account for his selection. By reason of his efforts in behalf of educational reform, his persistent advocacy of the bill as a member of the legislature, and his undoubted merits as an educator, a schoolmaster named James G. Carter would seem to have been the logical man for the secretaryship. The teachers of the state were bitterly disappointed that one outside their number should have been preferred, but it would now appear that the choice of a broadminded and philanthropic statesman was most wise. Mann, moreover, did not seek the place, and the surrender of a fairly lucrative practice and an assured career for the mere pittance and the uncertainty of the secretaryship was no small sacrifice. Yet his only hesitation was as to his qualifications for 'filling this high and responsible office,' and his zeal to 'adequately perform its duties.' Having accepted the responsibility, he wrote the governor that "so long as I hold this office, I devote myself to the supremest welfare of mankind upon earth," and, closing his law office, he made the memorable declaration :
"The interests of a client are small compared with the interests of the next generation. Let the next generation, then, be my client."