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Lincoln promoted science while fighting the Civil War

Morrill Act, 1862; National Academy of Sciences, 1863

In the throes of the Civil War (1861-1865), the United States began to systematically incorporate science into the country’s future. In July 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, “An Act Donating public lands to the several States and [Territories] which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the Mechanic arts” (hence, “A&M” colleges).

This was the first federal funding for higher education.

Also known the Land-Grant College Act of 1862, the law gave each state 30,000 acres for each of its Congressional seats (Senators and Representatives).

States could sell the land and establish new colleges or fund “existing state or private colleges.” Some states have more than one land grant institution; southern states often have a historically Black college like Tuskegee University in Alabama. Some have only one (e.g., Cornell, Penn State, Perdue and Rutgers).

The law required land grant schools to offer military training as part of the curriculum. This evolved into the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC, 1916), which expanded the number of people eligible to be military officers.

The following year, President Abraham Lincoln signed the National Academy of Sciences (NAS, 03 March 1863) into law after first the Senate and then the House of Representatives passed its bill of origin the same day. Its purpose: “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art” when needed.

President Lincoln and Congress adopted an expansion of education, science and technology in the middle of the Civil War. In so doing, they “affirm[ed] that a single nation would emerge after that war, and that this nation would have world-class ambitions.”

President James Buchanan, a Democrat (today’s Republicans) had vetoed the proposal in 1859, “sid[ing] with the southern faction of his party in believing that education was a state matter, not a federal one.”

In this effort, we lagged Britain, which established the British Science Association (BSA) in 1831 (originally the British Association for the Advancement of Science). The mathematician Charles Babbage (1791–1871) had criticized the “failure of government to support science and scientists” in an 1830 treatise, Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of its Causes

Luddites had protested “industrial capitalism” earlier in the century.

At heart, the fight was not really about technology. The Luddites were happy to use machinery—indeed, weavers had used smaller frames for decades. What galled them was the new logic of industrial capitalism, where the productivity gains from new technology enriched only the machines’ owners and weren’t shared with the workers.

The Luddites were often careful to spare employers who they felt dealt fairly. During one attack, Luddites broke into a house and destroyed four frames—but left two intact after determining that their owner hadn’t lowered wages for his weaver.

In 1964, National Academy of Engineering began advising the nation on the practices of engineering. In 1970, National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) began advising the nation on medical and health issues. Both exist under the NAS charter.

#scitech (042/365)

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Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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