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- Bricks Without Straw - 87/87 -


been distributed to free public schools in the South, upon a system which does not seriously interfere with the jealously-guarded rights of those states."

"You mean the Peabody Fund?"

"Yes; I do refer to that act of unparalleled beneficence and wisdom."

"But that was not the act of the Nation."

"Very true; but why should not the Nation distribute a like bounty upon the same system? It is admitted, beyond serious controversy, that the Nation may raise and appropriate funds for such purposes among the different states, provided it be not for the exclusive benefit of any in particular. It is perhaps past controversy that the Government might distribute a fund to the different states _in the proportion of illiteracy_. This, it is true, would give greater amounts to certain states than to others, but only greater in proportion to the evil to be remedied."

"Yes," said the other; "but the experience of the Nation in distributing lands and funds for educational purposes has not been encouraging. The results have hardly been commensurate with the investment."

"That is true," said Hesden, "and this is why I instance the Peabody Fund. That is not given into the hands of the officers of the various states, but when a school is organized and fulfills the requirements laid down for the distribution of that fund, in regard to numbers and average attendance--in other words, is shown to be an efficient institution of learning--then the managers of the fund give to it a sum sufficient to defray a certain proportion of its expenses."

"And you think such a system might be applied to a Government appropriation?"

"Certainly. The amount to which the county, township, or school district would be entitled might be easily ascertained, and upon the organization and maintenance of a school complying with the reasonable requirements of a well-drawn statute in regard to attendance and instruction, such amount might be paid over."

"Yes," was the reply, after a thoughtful pause; "but would not that necessitate a National supervision of State schools?"

"To a certain extent, yes. Yet there would be nothing compulsory about it. It would only be such inspection as would be necessary to determine whether the applicant had entitled himself to share the Nation's bounty. Surely the Nation may condition its own bounty."

"But suppose these states should refuse to submit to such inspection, or accept such appropriation?"

"That is the point, exactly, to which I desire to bring your attention," said Le Moyne. "Ignorance, unless biased by religious bigotry, always clamors for knowledge. You could well count upon the forty-five per cent of ignorant voters insisting upon the reception of that bounty. The number of those that recognize the necessity of instructing the ignorant voter, even in those states, is hourly increasing, and but a brief time would elapse until no party would dare to risk opposition to such a course. I doubt whether any party would venture upon it, even now."

"But are not its results too remote, Mr. Le Moyne, to make such a measure of present interest in the cure of present evils?"

"Not at all," answered Hesden. "By such a measure you bring the purest men of the South into close and intimate relations with the Government. You cut off the sap which nourishes the yet living root of the State Rights dogma. You bring every man to feel as you feel, that there is something greater and grander than his State and section. Besides that, you draw the poison from the sting which rankles deeper than you think. The Southern white man feels, and justly feels, that the burden of educating the colored man ought not to be laid upon the South alone. He says truly, 'The Nation fostered and encouraged slavery; it gave it greater protection and threw greater safeguards around it than any other kind of property; it encouraged my ancestors and myself to invest the proceeds of generations of care and skill and growth in slaves. When the war ended it not only at one stroke dissipated all these accumulations, but it also gave to these men the ballot, and would now drive me, for my own protection, to provide for their education. This is unjust and oppressive. I will not do it, nor consent that it shall be done by my people or by our section alone.' To such a man--and there are many thousands of them--such a measure would come as an act of justice. It would be a grateful balm to his outraged feelings, and would incline him to forget, much more readily than he otherwise would, what he regards to be the injustice of emancipation. It will lead him to consider whether he has not been wrong in supposing that the emancipation and enfranchisement of the blacks proceeded from a feeling of resentment, and was intended as a punishment merely. It will incline him to consider whether the people of the North, the controlling power of the Government at that time, did not act from a better motive than he has given them credit for. But even if this plan should meet with disapproval, instead of approval, from the white voters of the South, it would still be the true and wise policy for the Nation to pursue."

"So you really think," said the Northerner dubiously, "that such a measure would produce good results even in the present generation?"

"Unquestionably," was the reply. "Perhaps the chief incentive to the acts which have disgraced our civilization--which have made the white people of the South almost a unit in opposing by every means, lawful and unlawful, the course of the Government in reconstruction, has been a deep and bitter conviction that hatred, envy, and resentment against them on the part of the North, were the motives which prompted those acts. Such a measure, planned upon a liberal scale, would be a vindication of the manhood of the North; an assertion of its sense of right as well as its determination to develop at the South the same intelligence, the same freedom of thought and action, the same equality of individual right, that have made the North prosperous and free and strong, while the lack of them has made the South poor and ignorant and weak."

"Well, well," said the Congressman seriously, "you may be right. I had never thought of it _quite_ in that light before. It is worth thinking about, my friend; it is worth thinking about."

"That it is!" said Le Moyne, joyfully extending his hand. "Think! If you will only _think_--if the free people of the North will only think of this matter, I have no fears but a solution will be found. Mine may not be the right one. That is no matter. As I said, the question of method is entirely subordinate to the result. But let the people think, and they will think rightly. Don't think of it as a politician in the little sense of that word, but in the great one. Don't try to compel the Nation to accept your view or mine; but spur the national thought by every possible means to consider the evil, to demand its cure, and to devise a remedy."

So, day by day, the "irrepressible conflict" is renewed. The Past bequeaths to the Present its wondrous legacy of good and ill. Names are changed, but truths remain. The soil which slavery claimed, baptized with blood becomes the Promised Land of the freedman and poor white. The late master wonders at the mockery of Fate. Ignorance marvels at the power of Knowledge. Love overleaps the barriers of prejudice, and Faith laughs at the Impossible.

"The world goes up and the world goes down, The sunshine follows the rain; And yesterday's sneer and yesterday's frown Can never come over again."

On the trestle-board of the Present, Liberty forever sets before the Future some new query. The Wise-man sweats drops of blood. The Greatheart abides in his strength. The King makes commandment. The Fool laughs.


Bricks Without Straw - 87/87

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