An insight into the Morrill Act, which is one of those Civil War events whose legacy overshadows its purpose.
The Morrill Act was created to make higher education more accessible and to promote “liberal and practical education.”
This was the same year other notable pieces of legislation were enacted such as the Homestead Act and the bill authorizing the transcontinental railroad. The act granted at least 30,000 acres of federal land per member of Congress each state had as of the 1860 Census. This is the land Purdue resides on, which is why it is known as a “land-grant” institution.
According to Purdue history professor John Contreni, who formerly held the position of the “Justin S. Morrill Dean of the College of Liberal Arts” at Purdue, the act was popular but failed to pass in 1861.
The Civil War changed that.
“These initiatives had been discussed for some time,” Contreni wrote in an email. “but were held up by congressmen from the Southern states. In 1862, the country was in the middle of the Civil War, so the Southern states were out of the picture and the legislation was enacted.”
Contreni added the Southern states were included later after the Civil War, but in another way.
“A corollary to the Morrill Act is what is sometimes called the second Morrill Act of 1890,” Contreni wrote. “This extended the provisions of the act to the states in the south that were formerly in rebellion, except that the act of 1890 gave the states cash instead of land. Many of the country’s historically black colleges and universities were established as a result.”