Among the many small aggravations which divided the North and South before the Civil War was a proposal called the Morrill Act.
At a time when many Americans earned their livelihood off the land, a movement took root for the establishment of “agricultural colleges.” The first agricultural school was established in 1855 with the founding of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, known today as Michigan State University.
Two years earlier, the congressional delegation from Illinois drafted a proposal for the establishment of agricultural institutions in each state. It was believed that the measure stood a better chance of passage if put forth by an eastern congressman. Representative Justin Morrill of Vermont agreed to carry the banner.
Morrill made one significant change to the Illinois proposal: the land-grants, as Morrill envisioned, would be allocated based on the number of senators and representatives of any given state, which rankled his fellow congressmen from the south. Northern and eastern states were, at the time, more populous than those in the south, so the measure, which seemingly favored the north, was met with southern opposition.
Other issues, both before and afterward, widened the schism between northern and southern states. The Morrill Act ultimately did pass, but only after the establishment of the Confederate States of America. Union President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law in 1862.
David Chapman, retired Texas A&M archivist and the former director and curator of the Cushing Library, picks up the story from there.
David Chapman earned a Bachelor's degree in history from Texas A&M University in 1967. He began working at the school in 1972, starting as a graduate assistant in the Libraries department. He became archivist for the school in 1994 and was named director of the Cushing Memorial Library in 2008. He retired from the school on January 30, 2012, after 38 years of university service. He remains an integral part of the local historical scene.