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CHAPTER SIX The Evidence 227 Education For a long time, historians of education have recognized that basic education was much more broadly diffused in the antebellum Northern states than the Southern states.1 Although the scholars have not yet agreed upon the precise factor that explains this difference, one leading historian of education narrowed down the field of candidates to one factor, slavery.2 As table 1 demonstrates, illiteracy and slavery were strongly correlated in 1860. The illiteracy rate of native-­ born, free adults (column D) rose wherever slavery was present (C). This supports the claim of Republican Charles Van Wyck, that “your own people feel more keenly than we, that ‘The badge of the slave is the scorn of the free.’”3 Only one slave state, Texas (8 percent), had a lower illiteracy rate of native-­ born free adults than one free state, Indiana (11 percent), but many poor Southern whites had migrated to Indiana, which probably accounts for Indiana’s high illiteracy rate among Northern states.4 The table is sorted by total adult illiteracy (E), which combines the fractions of the total population who were adult slaves, and who are presumed illiterate, and native and foreign-­ born illiterate adults. This column illustrates Van Wyck’s other claim, that the slave states upheld “a system whose corner-­ stone is the ignorance of the people.”5 At one time, two leading Northern and Southern statesmen agreed upon the importance of basic education to republicanism. John Adams wrote that “education is more indispensable, and must be more general, under a free government than any other.” Since time immemorial, he wrote, despotisms of all kinds had made war against liberty, but if the principles of natural right were laid before the people, the light of understanding would spread and “the PART II THE TEST AND IMPLICATIONS 228 A B C D E State Free/Slave Slave Density (slaves as % of total population) Native-born, free adult illiteracy rate (%) Total adult illiteracy rate (%) South Carolina Slave 57 12 61 Mississippi Slave 55 10 61 Alabama Slave 45 18 55 Louisiana Slave 47 12 53 Florida Slave 44 16 53 Georgia Slave 44 18 53 North Carolina Slave 33 26 48 Virginia Slave 31 18 42 Arkansas Slave 26 19 40 Tennessee Slave 25 20 39 Texas Slave 30 8 36 Kentucky Slave 20 18 32 Delaware Slave 2 25 27 Maryland Slave 13 14 23 Missouri Slave 10 14 20 Indiana Free 0 11 11 California Free 0 7 8 Illinois Free 0 7 8 Iowa Free 0 6 7 Massachusetts Free 0 0 7 New Jersey Free 0 5 7 Minnesota Free 0 2 6 NewYork Free 0 2 6 Ohio Free 0 6 6 Oregon Free 0 6 6 Pennsylvania Free 0 4 6 Rhode Island Free 0 2 6 Michigan Free 0 3 5 Vermont Free 0 0 5 Wisconsin Free 0 1 5 Connecticut Free 0 0 3 Maine Free 0 1 3 New Hampshire Free 0 1 3 Source: “Illiteracy in the United States,” Appendix F, in Special Report of the Commissioner of Education on the Condition and Improvement of Public Schools in the District of Columbia, Submitted to the Senate June 1868, and to the House with Additions June 13, 1870, by U.S. Bureau of Education, 808–11. TABLE 1. Illiteracy versus slavery in 1860 CHAPTER SIX THE EVIDENCE 229 more disciples they will have.” Thomas Jefferson’s “Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge” noted that in the past, “those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large.” A general education would also find and develop talent that nations had always neglected in favor of the well-­ born and the rich. Adams recognized that the laboring classes “are not always the meanest; there arise, in the course of human life, many among them of the most splendid geniuses, the most active and benevolent dispositions, and most undaunted bravery.” Likewise, Jefferson acknowledged those “talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich . . . perish without use, if not sought for and cultivated.”6 Although they agreed on the principles of education policy, their sections differed in putting these principles into practice. In the early national period, education in the South was not so widespread as in the North...


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