“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”

Justin S. Morrill & Abraham Lincoln

Morrill introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate in 1857 that would allow a cash-poor but land-rich federal government to appropriate public land for aid to state colleges and “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.” That bill was vetoed by President James Buchanan. Undeterred, Morrill later presented a second bill that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862.

The day before, Lincoln had approved a transcontinental railroad bill that gave millions of acres of public land to the railroads. Two months earlier he had signed the Homestead Act, granting public land to individual homesteaders, and created the Department of Agriculture. If the Union survived the Civil War, it was going to grow and expand and be educated.

While visiting Cornell in 1883, Morrill summed up his greatest achievement by stating:

“If it shall ever appear that I have in the smallest degree enabled any of my countrymen to rise higher in their vocations and to obtain better rewards; if larger numbers, whether in the professions or in the field and workshop, shall through a more thorough education be able more intelligently to act well their part in all the spheres of life, to uphold free institutions, and become the bulwarks of republican liberty, law and order, my humble ambition will have been fully satisfied.”

“Agricultural Colleges.” Speech of Honorable Justin S. Morrill in the House of Representatives, June 6, 1862.

Senator Morrill gave this speech in the House of Representatives just before Congress voted on his bill, which passed in the Senate by a vote of 32 to 10 on June 10th and passed by a large majority, 90 to 25 in the House on June 17th. Fifteen days later, President Lincoln would sign it into law.

“State Aid to Land Grant Colleges.” An Address by Senator Justin Morrill. Burlington, VT: Free Press Association, 1888.

Speaking in support of his longtime goal to open access to education, Senator Morrill asked: “Why should not men of equal mental caliber when seeking a liberal education, in the broad and simple language of the founder of the Cornell University, find instruction in any study? ”

Justin Morrill’s Senate Desk Key. July 27, 1897.

Included in the archive of materials donated to Cornell in 1936 by his nephews, Elmer and Jesse Morrill, was the key to his Senate desk. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1854, he moved to the Senate in 1857. At the time of his death in 1898, he had been in Congress for nearly 44 years, then the record for the longest continuous congressional service.

Justin Morrill Commemorative Stamp. November 14, 1962.

In 1962, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 4 cent postage stamp to celebrate the centennial of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act. In 1999 they issued a 55 cent postage stamp in their Great Americans series to further honor Senator Morrill. Cornell President Frank Rhodes was presented with two honorary stamps relating to Cornell history, the Morrill centennial stamp and a 1953 stamp honoring Cornell professor Liberty Hyde Bailey.

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