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ART. III.—Popular Education.
Branches in Schools, in the Origin, Nature and Use of
at Law. Boston. 1830. 2. The Moral Class Book, or the Law of Morals derived
from the Created Universe, and from Revealed Religion, Intended for Schools. By the SAME. Boston. 1830.
The diffusion of knowledge among the mass of mankind is the grand feature of the present age. The history of the nineteenth century, if all auguries do not disappoint us, will be a history of the effects of popular education. Even if war, to a certain extent, must, unhappily, be the school ; if tactics must be one of the lessons, yet under this rough and stern tuition the general mind will advance; for it is not difficult to foresee that the wars of the nineteenth century, if they must come, will be wars of the oppressed many against the oppressive few, wars of the people against despotism, wars of individual man against official man. They will be, as has been said, wars of opinion. And the grand opinion on which the history of this age will be based, the great characteristic idea, the secretly working, but strong and controlling philosophy of the age, the germ of its chief developments will be found, as we believe, in a regard, never before paid, to individual man. Not, as in the Grecian philosophy, to the ideal man, honored in theory and bodied forth in beautiful creations of art, while man himself was left ignorant and oppressed; but to the personal, actual being. Yes, we believe that the sublime age is approaching, which is to place man in his just position amidst the material and social works of God; which is to give full development to the great idea that man, simple man,-not any fiction of feudal and artificial society,—not the king, the prince, the noble, the priest, the official being, the creature of forms, but that man himself and by himself is to be the central, the ultimate, the engrossing object of attention; that he is to be protected, provided for, educated; that he is to be made intelligent, free, religious, virtuous, happy; and that this is the very end of society, government, jurisprudence,
VOL. XXXVI.—No. 78
theology, art, labor, and whatsoever pertains to the combined power and action of the world.
But this elevation in importance of man as man, this elevation of the mass of mankind to knowledge and power, is held by many to be a step full of danger. We have said that the general diffusion of knowledge is the grand feature of the age. We will now add, that the relation which knowledge bears to political liberty is one of the most important practical subjects which the age presents to us. This relation we propose to examine, and we will then proceed to consider what education should be, in order to be adapted to the condition of a free people, or to the purpose of promoting and securing political freedom.
The relation of knowledge to freedom, then, to proceed to the examination of it, is, as we maintain, immediate, strong, and indissoluble. It is the relation of cause to effect. Knowledge will invariably and inevitably produce freedom. The question, whether a people shall be educated, amounts to the whole question, whether they shall be free.
This we argue from the very nature of the human mind. It is the effect of knowledge to give the mind a sense of its own value. The feeling of its own ultimate and personal im+ portance springs from education with equal directness and certainty. A mind, under this training of knowledge, becomes conscious of itself, conscious of what itself is, and, from thence, intuitively conscious of its own intrinsic worth. Just in proportion as any mind possesses this conviction, it must feel that it was made not merely for relative objects, not merely for political uses, not merely to act its part in the machinery of a state; but that it was made for purposes of which the state is the instrument, for purposes terminating in itself, for improvement, for virtue, for happiness. The power of this conviction is expansive ; as truly so as that of any element in nature, and it is as mighty and irresistible. The mind possessing this sense of its own worth and destiny, will demand freedom to act for those great ends which God and nature have established as the ultimate ends of its existence. It will not be a slave to any political institution, but will hold the institution to be its servant, investing it, indeed, with power, but with only, so much power as is necessary to make it a useful servant. It will cease to respect, and at length to tolerate, any government, but such as ministers to its improvement, virtue and happiness. If an intelligent being would not build a habitation or plan a village full of obstructions to his movement and progress in its passages and thoroughfares, so neither will he build a fabric of government bearing this character. And if such a being, who found himself amidst such inconveniences of a merely local situation, would strive to remedy them; how much more will he strive to reform the evils and errors of government. Political reform is no creature of temporary circumstances and impulses, but it is the steady and strong demand of every enlightened community. The tendency to it is irresistible. It is the tendency of thought,-of mind, -of an agent endowed with invincible energies, of an agent which, when once awakened and aroused to action, can never be lulled to sleep again. The power of the mind, in such circumstances, we repeat, is expansive. It will penetrate the surrounding mass of institutions and forms, gently insinuating itself into them, and swelling and moulding thern at its pleasure; or being pent up, it will reveal itself in the outbreakings of popular tumult, or in the earthquake voice of revolution.
Again, the mind of a people, in proportion as it is educated, will not only feel its own value, but will also perceive its rights. We speak now of those palpable rights which are recognised by all free states; for there is, as we think and will soon undertake to show, a higher estimate of human rights, to which knowledge and reflection will yet lead. But the palpable rights of men, those of personal security, of property and of the free and unembarrassed pursuit of individual welfare, it is obviously impossible to conceal from an educated and reading people. Such a people rises at once above the condition of feudal tenants. It is no longer part and parcel of the soil it cultivates or defends. It directs its attention to the laws and institutions that govern it. It compels public office to give an account of itself. It strips off the veil of secrecy from the machinery of power. The mysterious budget of national expenses is opened, and its details are spread before the public eye. How much is levied for war, how much for internal improvements and for what improvements of this character, how much for the support of public officers, of magistrates, of kings and royal families, how much for pensions and sinecures,--all this is known. And when all this is spread abroad in newspaper details, when it is thus carried to the firesides of a whole people, of a people
and nowledgePath, le
that can read; when the estimate is freely made, of what the government tax levies upon the daily board, and upon apparel, and upon every comfort of life, can it be doubted that such a people will demand and obtain an influence in affairs that so vitally concern it? This would be freedom. When government is a fair expression of the aggregate mind of a country, there is perfect political freedom. If enlightened human nature will not demand this, then there is no index by which we may know it. If we cannot be sure that it will demand this, struggle for it, fight for it, gain it, by little and little perhaps, but inevitably gain it,—then it is certain that neither philosophy nor history teaches us any thing.
We say, nor history; for the truth is, that history most fully confirms the position we have taken. The most enlightened nations in the world have been the freest nations. The steps of freedom are ever to be found in the path of light; in the broad path, let it be observed, however, where the sun of knowledge has' shone upon the whole mass of the people, and not necessarily where a single taper has shone from the scholastic cloister, or from the study of the secluded philosopher. These indeed are radiating points, and they tend to spread lights; but it is only where this result is obtained, by whatever means ; it is only among nations the most enlightened in the whole body and mass of their population, that the greatest freedom is alleged by us to have existed. Of this truth, the history of Grecian civilization furnishes a familiar example. If we ascend to times more ancient, the only instance of political freedom is found in the Hebrew Commonwealth. And although we hear much of the learning of Egypt, yet it cannot be doubted, whether we consider the institutions, the laws, the usages, the theology or the popular literature of the Hebrews, that they must have been in the body and in their best days a more enlightened people than the Egyptians were. The wisdom of Solomon was not of that vague and half-fictitious, nor of that merely religious character, which is commonly ascribed to him ; but it consisted very much of popular common sense, and useful learning. He was a proverbialist, a poet, and a naturalist. The cast of his productions and the kind of knowledge he cultivated sufficiently appear from the brief catalogue given in our Bibles. “He spake,' we are informed, that is he wrote, “three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from
truth cest filee whole it is only when pointhe
the cedar that is in Lebanon, to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall ; he spake also,'—still meaning that he wrote,—what now indeed is lost to us, ' of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things and of fishes.'
If we now come to the history of modern civilization, it bears witness to our position, at every step. Just in proportion as education has been carried down among the mass of any people, has it demanded, and with such exceptions as circumstances always will create has it obtained, civil liberty. Wherever the schoolmaster has been abroad, the political reformer has invariably followed. The successive struggles for freedom in England, the growing demands for reform in its constitution, have always kept pace with the increasing intelligence of the people, and it requires no gift of prophecy to predict other demands of the same nature. We would not, indeed, offer the intelligence of any people in pledge for the propriety of all its requisitions ; because this tendency of human nature, like every other, is liable to error. We might even venture to say, that in some cases, the extent of the demand will be in an inverse ratio to the intelligence that makes it; that is to say, it may very well happen, that in proportion as any people is intelligent, wise and reflecting, the changes they demand will be less violent and sudden. Still the general tendency of the diffusion of knowledge to the spread of liberal principles is unquestionable.
This tendency, in fine, has been most fully illustrated among ourselves. The revolutionary struggle, as has often been said, was a contest for principle ; for a principle almost theoretical. There was no grievous and grinding oppression to complain of. But there was an erroneous principle asserted, a dangerous precedent put forth, and we fought against it, as if it were against the rack and the dungeon. That spirit sprung from the intelligence of the people. It was not a mere arbitrary fashion of thinking which we had got in this country. It was the offspring of thought, of reflection, of reading. It sprung from our schools. These are our walls of defence against the encroachments of arbitrary power. These are the nurseries of that free spirit which nothing can conquer. May they ever fulfil their high vocation !
Obvious as these reflections may be, on the tendencies of knowledge, they serve at least one useful purpose ; they show what the question is, about free institutions. They bring that