Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ah, Public Education, The Great Unifier of the “Union”

This post is number twenty-six in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues with the background against which Mississippi’s rejected progressive “reconstruction” would ultimately be decided in Congress. My last post, 27 September 2015.  related specifically to this matter. For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 23 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9  March, 31 March, 8 May, 10 June, 30 June,  3 August30 August , 13 September, and 27 September 2015.
One of the most onerous (and by way of enactment, offensive) programs the “progressive” usurpers implemented in the South was that of public education. It was a proven program in New England, the rest of the North was taking it up, and in order for the backward South to be “proper” Americans, their betters in the North expected Southerners to accept it as a price for re-entering the Union. Indeed, Southerners, given their ignorance, should consider themselves honored to be blessed with the beneficent guidance of the North’s expertise on matters of public education. Yes, that is sarcasm you’re reading in my words.

There were a number of problems with enacting the program the North expected (at least those up there pushing the program). One, it was very expensive and the “overhead” for it was purchased in the North at the expense of the already tapped-out Southern taxpayer. Much has been said about the South’s resistance to public education during this time—the primary assumption being Southerners didn’t want the Negro educated. Well, I won’t argue that one point, but I sure the devil will put it in proper context. The South had major priorities for its money in the aftermath of a devastating war, and spending money on “bones” cast to a polity being manipulated against her taxpayer wasn’t how Southerners wanted it spent, particularly when the spending was done in a prodigal manner by self-aggrandizing people who were not representative of said taxpayer.

Two, public education was used by “enlightened” spirits to prove what wonderful things integration could accomplish for both races in the South—this from the mouths of many of the “movers and shakers” in the North. This is downright belittling, folks—to be used for social experimentation by assuming people who had little knowledge of the Negro or for that matter, the white Southerner. Shoot, they might as well have used us both for medical research considering the value put on our intelligence. As of 1868, blacks and whites in the South had, on many levels, been intimately integrated for two and a half centuries, and both races were capable of deciding how and where to mix if they so desired.  

Three was the curriculum. Don’t be misled. We are not talking simply reading, writing, and arithmetic—we’re talking indoctrination to a centralized state—“Union”. Odes to the glory and the bright, arrogant future of a forcibly unified, consolidated state under the benevolent guidance of a wise central power dominated by the intelligently superior North was not to Southern taste—certainly not then, and it still repulses this Southron today. But that was the vision of those strong proponents of public education in the North. To the more fanatical of those people up there, in the wake of victory and the destruction of the state right’s doctrine, public education was the “sure-fire” way to create one, gigantic homogeneous nation, where faith and allegiance were offered first and foremost to the general government. To oppose a national system of public education in the minds of those people was treason. [There was resistance to such heterodoxy in the North, too, but opponents there were in a better position to fight back.] The vanguard of indoctrination believed it could force public education (as it conceived it to be) on the politically impotent South. Besides, the South was where the proven traitors resided, and Southerners needed that patriotic understanding imposed on them so much more than those resisting north of the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Supposedly, there had been no congressional guidance regarding this public education system, but there was plenty of influence and lobbying to the “right” men, who had been “placed” in Congress. It is telling that the first head of the school system in “reconstructed” Tennessee was John Eaton, Jr., who started his career in education as a school principal and later became the Superintendent of Public Education in Toledo, Ohio. He resigned the latter position to attend Andover Theological Seminary. Ordained a minister in 1861, he enlisted as a chaplain with the 27th Ohio Regiment of Volunteers. In 1862, when both men were in Tennessee, then Major General Ulysses S. Grant placed Eaton in charge of incorporating contraband slaves into the Union war effort. In November of 1863, Grant appointed him Superintendent of Negro affairs for the Department of the Tennessee. In 1863 he was also promoted to colonel of the 9th Regiment of Louisiana Volunteers (Negro), which became the 63rd Regiment of Colored Infantry—this was all occurring in the area of Vicksburg. In 1865 Eaton was promoted to brevet brigadier general. In his management of Negro “contraband” and the establishment of the loyal farms during the occupation of the Mississippi River areas in Mississippi and Louisiana from 1863 on, Eaton set the precedent for what became the Freedmen’s Bureau. He served as the assistant commissioner of that bureau between March and December 1865 at which time he resigned his commission and settled in Memphis, Tennessee where from 1866-1869 he served as editor of the Memphis Daily Post (or the Memphis Morning Post) a Republican paper. In 1867, he was elected as Tennessee’s superintendent of public instruction on the Republican ticket (Brownlow’s administration). In 1869, after the “redeemers” dismantled the fiefdom he’d built in Tennessee, Eaton moved to Washington, D. C. where in 1870 his old friend, now president, Ulysses Grant appointed him the second United States Commissioner of Education.  

Back in Tennessee, the new constitution (1870), written to replace the “reconstruction” constitution framed under Brownlow, outlawed mixed schools. Tennessee, which before 1869 had stood as the shining example of what Republican Reconstruction could accomplish in the South, by 1870 was an example of what Republican tyranny had wrought once a proud people were able to throw off the shackles.

Uh-oh, time for Congress to revise the requirements in the Reconstruction Acts, and the still “unreconstructed” states would feel the impact. But Republican Reconstruction in the South could not be forged by unconstitutional legislation—it could only be prolonged and harmful for all concerned. 

In the North, the traitorous bogyman to the “indoctrinated state” was the parochial school system—and the controversy of religion in public schools. The Catholic Church wasn’t ready to lower religious education of its children to the standard of a public school system, and Catholics were fed up paying taxes to a school system it didn’t use. Parochial schools were demanding their share of the “school fund” and they’d teach their kids as they saw fit. Ah, but the fomenters of “Union” didn’t want two systems—it wanted one to teach all our children to worship at the altar of the Federal government and a united nation. For further reading on the public school issue in the North, I refer the reader to Religion, Race, and Reconstruction by Ward M. McAfee, which was my source. I imagine there are others.  

The collapse of the great Republican example in Tennessee impacted directly the outcome of the Radical/conservative struggles in Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi. Virginia was a fait accompli with Grant’s (and Lee’s) discreet backing of the conservative candidate, Gilbert C. Walker—a Northerner favored by the state’s old-line Whigs and toward whom the Democrats leaned as the lesser of two evils (see Bob Pollock’s Yesterday...and Today post of 3 February 2015 regarding my remarks on Grant and Lee). During his campaign, Walker had made an issue of disapproving the unpopular public education plan outlined in the new constitution—placed there, as was the case in Mississippi, by the Radicals composing the state constitutional convention. Oh my, oh my. Everyone was paying attention to these events—guess somebody should have informed President Grant that Walker presented a threat to the Radicals before word got out that Grant found him preferable to the “Radical” candidate. 

Enter the senior senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner. He’ll tell him, by George! [A little play on George Boutwell, Sumner’s House colleague from Massassachusetts and by then, Grant’s Treasury Secretary.]

They’ll both tell him—set that soldier straight as to what a Republican president is supposed to be doing—next time and thanks for reading, 




  1. Very interesting post, Charlsie. It may have been something of a perfect storm of politics and ideas. I certainly agree that the Reconstruction administrations understood how school education could implant lifelong ways of thinking in young minds (as the Jesuits say: "give me the child when he is seven and I will show you the man"). This combined with ideas about education that were developing around the English-speaking world at the same time. I think it was at about this time that the British government in London was developing the idea of national standards and teaching styles for public schools. Certainly it was only a decade later that the colony of South Australia started to impose centralised controls over the schools in its territory.

  2. In this case the plan was to alter what Americans believed the Federal Republic was supposed to be. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

  3. Great article, Charlsie, thanks. Sharing it.

  4. P.S. I received Camillia Creek yesterday but have not started it yet.Have to work today.


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