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Government meddling comes too late either for help or for renown. There is a freedom, an efficiency, in voluntary education which that of government cannot show. There is in the former an action, a play, of mind, In the other there may be compactness and uniformity, but it is unintelligent and unliving. The compulsory aid is foreign, and stifles rather than sustains. Nature only works from within. Alexander may desire to serve Diogenes, but he can only do so by standing out of his light. We are commonly pressed with the argument, that a government is always far above the people in purpose and information. If this statement can be established, there might be much plausibility in the assumption of the educational function by the State. It is the fault of the people if it do not lend all its intelligence and virtue to its executive. But when other kinds of rule prevail, the statement is not so demonstrable. They who are the quiet of the land will feel it a very dubious policy to disturb an order of things which generally works for the benefit of the subject. In the mean time, they may see much that they regret. An undercurrent of knowledge and religion may flow on far purer than that which is more prominent and extolled. If the people be always inferior, how is it that their suffrage is so commonly sought and their censure so commonly dreaded? The image of Pasquin in later Rome, frequently bore the epigram and lampoon which made its Conclave and Inquisition to turn pale. In truth, governments mistake as the community never can. They are more precipitate, and therefore cannot check haste. They are more timid, and therefore cannot chide fear. They are more isolated, and therefore cannot resist prejudice. They are more privileged, and therefore cannot understand opinion. But we ask,little afraid of contradiction, —Where is there such strange delusion, touching the 'ate of the people, as in cabinets and senates? Where are such egregious blunders spoken, in regard to the religion of different denominations, as in parliament? Does our government lead? Is it not, almost invariably, the last to perceive any political question, the last to allow any moral appeal? Did it, of itself, as going before the times, -strike the fetters from conscience, reform the representation, abolish slavery, and revise the criminal code? Does it precede the national mind in repealing the taxes upon knowledge? We scarcely blame this tardiness of governments: we can account for it; perhaps it is inevitable. They were never, in the nature of things, intended to be pioneers. But we do reprehend their fawning parasites. It is better for governments to follow a people, than for a people to follow governments. Their leadership we deprecate and disown. It is, therefore, in vain to affirm, that government is the most competent to teach. The largest systems of instruction in the land are now independent of it. Dare it direct or advise the studies of the Universities?
Has it not been made to feel the independence of the trustees of foundation schools? The competency of a government to teach, ought rather to be called its tendency and temptation to enslave. Let it prepare all the lessons, appoint all the masters, commission all the inspectors, of one great scholastic institute, and it marshals at pleasure the nation's mind and the country's conscience. The people are bound hand and foot: the iron eats into their sou. . No doubt can exist, that the general notion that every State should establish some religion, has lent great strength to the dogma, that it should provide some education. It is not our assigned task to uphold or contest that notion. But we must not be compelled to suspend upon what is undebated, upon an impounded question, upon an exempt case, any proposition, as though its affirmation were proved. Nor do we regard the propositions as equipollent. Most different religions have, in some countries, been established at the same time, and yet were wholly regulated among themselves, without any State control. So every educational system might be established, and yet without government superintendence. The probability is, however, that any executive power, in its religious and educational establishments, will expect to dispense some patronage, to acquire some influence, and also to receive some report. We can scarcely think that it will ask no political return: the least which it may be supposed to demand, is a general inquisition into the schools that it sustains. This is a just demand. But it is, also, an infant tyranny.
The question is now made one of means. It is pronounced to be an absurd idea, that private benefactions can reach the malady. The ignorance of our country is represented to be its darkest reproach. With what truth the charge is brought against us, we must leave the previous statements to settle. But of this we are confident, that were that charge of ignorance just, better would it be to retain our ignorance, than to lose our liberty! Knowledge is acquired at too dear a rate, if slavery be its price! We see a better future in the one predicament than in the other. Liberty will presently destroy ignorance, but slavery will still sooner extinguish knowledge.
“”T is Liberty alone that gives the flower
Thee I account still happy, and the chief
* Cowper. Task, book v.
We are really encouraged, by certain opinions from high places, verdicts almost new, certainly those which, until now, we have not heard. The Premier of Great Britain said, so recently as the 19th of July, 1844:“As to the institution of libraries in the towns of this country, he thought the obligation of the rich in each district to provide such establishments was so strong, that the public purse ought not to be laid under contribution for this object.” This is exactly our principle: it yet lags a little: but it is travelling in the right direction. It is our very argument: it needs but a more consistent expansion and application.
The question of ability is really not the question of principle. If it be asserted, that the funds of private benevolence are insufficient to educate the nation, the difficulty does not exclusively embarrass this matter. Christians, and Christian churches, see that many great effects are to be secured. They possess not the means. They look to the God whose are the gold and the silver. They cannot invoke any unholy alliance. In him is their help. But if the principle shifted with the means of carrying it out, we should soon find a hopeless check. We would Christianise the country with a system of purely evangelic means! We cannot do it, or, at least, it is said that we cannot. Are we to court worldly measures and resources? Are we to abandon the design to worldly men? In all such cases. we are to do what we can. “For if there be, first, a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man