• The Almost Promised Land: The Opposition to and Veto of the Agricultural College Act of 1857

      Harpool, Robert L.
      In 1857, Representative Justin Morrill put forth before the House of Representatives an act “Donating public lands to the several States and Territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts”. A different iteration of the bill would pass 5 years later, in 1862, under President Lincoln. The latter version would incubate what would become known as land-grant universities whose members would occupy significant positions in the landscape of higher education. The bill in 1857, however, barely passed through both houses of Congress though, and President Buchanan, a supporter of higher education, soundly vetoed it. Many scholars state the defeat of the bill was rooted in Southern opposition on the grounds of constitutionality and states’ rights. This one-dimensional view is an unjust labeling of the South as obstructionists for the sake of convenient curriculum. By making the conclusion the premise, numerous inherent issues such as why an agrarian South would oppose an agricultural bill are overlooked. In reality the veto of the agricultural college land act of 1857 was a result of a competitive interaction between numerous complex interests unbounded by the sectional rivalries of the time. If there is a common theme amongst the interests in opposition to the bill it is not sectionalism or ideology, it is finance.