Centennnial History of the University of Nebraska, by Robert Manley

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to us, forever, educational privileges of the highest order, with the smallest possible burdens." The most obvious result of the Morrill Act, then, was to convince many Nebraskans that tax funds would never be required to support the land-grant university. Despite this serious misunderstanding, however, the Morrill Act stimulated intense interest in higher education, and steps were taken to create a state university. With the end of the Civil War an exciting era dawned in Nebraska Territory. The frontiersmen faced new problems - statehood, the locaiton of the new state capital, and the establishment of the University of Nebraska.


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Locating and Chartering the University

With the end of the Civil War political observers in Nebraska knew that it was just a matter of time the Territory was admitted to the Union. Although most Nebraskans looked forward eagerly to statehood, its attainment would pose some difficult problems. First, there was the matter of the location of the state capital. After the creation of the Territory a struggle for power had been waged among the towns which sprang up along the west bank of the Missouri River. Omaha rapidly outstripped the other communities and was designated the territorial capital on December 20, 1854. Political contention then polarized into a struggle between the North Platters and the South Platters- those who lived north of the Platte and lined up with Omaha, and those who lived south of that broad, muddy river. Of course there were exceptions, but as a rule South Platters and North Platters took opposite sides on important issues. After 1865 more settlers moved into the South Platte than the North Platter region. With increased population came politicaldominance, and by the statehood year of 1867 the South Platters had the upper hand. They decided that Omaha should be stripped of the capital and a new location chosen somewhere in the South Platter region. In the 1867 session of the legislature the South Platte faction had its day. After a long and bitter battle, a bill was enacted providing for the relocation of Nebraska's capital city. This so-called removal bill created a special commission consisting of the governor, the secretary of state, and the state auditor to seek out a suitable capital site. It also contained the stipulation that the state university and state agricultural college, "united as one educational institution," were to be located in the new capital. In order to provide funds for the construction of state buildings there, the commissioners were empowered to see lots not yield the hundred thousand dollars to the state by the federal government could be sold at not less than five dollars an acre. The removal bill passed with little opposition. Even the newspapers of the North Platte faction were strangely silent. Perhaps the editorial brigade, which had been feeding a steady diet of propaganda to their readers for some months, were relieved to have the tiresome issue at last resolved. However, George W. Frost, a membre of the House Committee on Ways and Means, issued a minority report in June, 1867, after the committee's endorsement of the removal proposal. He said that the question of capital relocation had not been adequately discussed, and that the people were either uninformed or misinformed; he felt that the


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legislature was deciding the matter too hastily, that the people would want to delay the establishment of the state university and agricultural college until "we have the means at hand to make them what they ought to be-an honor and blessing to the people." As for the university and agricultural college, Frost said: "Another reonstrance which will be presented is, that the question has not yet been fully discussed, nor has the time come to discuss it, whether the University and Agricultural College should be united, or should be different institutions, wholly separated in their organization. Some of the best minds prefer the one course and some the other...." How these "best minds" reached agreement cannot be definitely established from existing records, but it was decided that Nebraska, unlike the majority of states (which had both a state university and a state agricultural college), was to have a single institution combining the two functions. We may assume that politics influenced the decision to some degree. We know, for example, that before the meeting of the 1867 legislature, J. Sterling Morton suggested cooperation with the Omaha delegation: Omaha would retain the capital and Nebraska City, Morton's home town (and Omaha's old enemy), would receive the state university. But evidently the old animosity won out, for Morton rejoiced when the university and agricultural college were located in Lincoln. Another story, amusing as well as revealing, describes the logrolling that attended the enactment of the removal bill. One advocate for removal, Representative A. B. Fuller from Ashland, sought to interest William Daily and T. J. Majors, both members of the legislature from Nemaha Couty, in a plan to move the capital out of Omaha. Fuller said to Daily, "See here, Daily, you have a school at Peru with a plot of land, buildings, etc. If you will pull for removal I will see that Peru gets the normal school>" Daily replied that he would have to talk with an official of the Methodist Church, to which the school property had been offered. Learning that the Methodists would relinguish their claims, Daily threw his support to Fuller's scheme, and Majors eventually came over also. Then, "after it had been decided to maek a Normal School at Peru, Mr. Majors came to Mr. Daily saying, "Waht is a Normal School, Bill?" Daily replied with a puzzl[ed], "Dammed if I know." Consequently they both were obliged to ask Mr. Fuller what a Normal School was," and were told it was a teacher training school. Despite such political maneuvering, the Nebraska lawmakers did not have many alternatives in regard to the location of the state university and the agricultureal college. Few legislators wanted to award the institutions to Omaha, and every attempt to locate one or the other in an eastern Nebraska town was defeated on the floor of the legislature. Moreover, there was one very crucial factor affecting the legislature's ultimate decision: in Nebraska only two struggling collgees- at Peru and at Fontenelle- were then in existence. The importance of this factor can be seen by contrasting the situation in Nebraska with taht in Iowa or Kansas, where a number of colleges already had been established at the time of the MOrrill bill's enactment. All these colleges, naturally enough, were eager to obtain the support provided by the act, and the battle over the spoils had to be resolved by a political compromise- the state university was located in one town and the state agricultural college in another. But in Nebraska no legislator seriously considered expanding the colleges at Peru and Fontenelle into state institutions because of the political repercussions likely to follow. Also, both colleges were situated in the extreme eastern part of the new state, and a more central location was universally desired. Although there were a few who had misgivings, as Frost's report indicates, once it had been decided where to establish the new capital, the decision to locate the state university and the state agricultural college in Lincoln followed almost as a matter of course. This decision presupposed that the two


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institutions would be combined in a single university. Thus, instead of having to divide her resources to support two separate institutions, Nebraska could devote her available means to the creation and maintenance of a single school. It was a most momentous development. As for the new capital, the commissioners could hardly have found a less likely spot for a major city. The town of Lancaster which stood on the site, selected in the summer of 1867, consisted of a handful of shabby buildings housing less than a hundred people. Herds of antelope pranced where in later years O Street, Lincoln's main commercial thoroughfare, would run. But the commission ers insisted that the location possessed important advantages. Vigorously pushing the development of the new capital, they surveyed the city lots and arranged for their sale. The proceeds from the sales were to finance the construction of state buildings, including those to house the university, and in an effort to force up prices the commissioners planted men to shout bids at appropriate intervals. Questionable tactics, but they brought money into the state coffers, and work began on the state capitol. In 1869, two years after Lincoln was designated the capital city, the legislature moved from Omaha into its new quarters. At the time of the legislature's move to Lincoln, the city was still a raw frontier village, most of its streets unpaved and municipal water and sewage sys tems totally unknown. Four square blocks on the north edge of the town had been set aside for the university campus; and although the location appeared to be a satisfactory one, the commissioners overlooked that the campus stood almost directly in the line of the railroads which were expected to build into Lincoln. There were better locations for the campus readily available. In the words of Miss Edna D. Bullock, an early graduate of the University of Nebraska; "The commissioners . . . must have selected the location of these four blocks when blindfolded. No good angel whispered to them of seats of learning set upon the hills. The gentle slopes of the Antelope valley were ignored, and a site bordering on Salt Creek valley and inevitably in the path of railroads, then imminent, was chosen." No single decision made in the first hectic days of Lincoln's history occasioned so much later comment as the unfortunate location of the campus.

The University Charter

Meeting for the first time in the new capitol in Lincoln, the legislature accepted and ratified all actions taken by the commission, even though some of them were at best extralegal. The legislature authorized the commissioners to sell the remaining city lots in Lincoln and earmarked the revenue for the construction of the various state buildings, including a university building. Governor David Butler urged the lawmakers to take immediate action in regard to the state university. Under the terms of the Morrill Act, Nebraska had only three years after the proclamation of statehood to accept the provisions of the act, and only two additional years in which to erect a building and open a land-grant university. Two significant education measures were enacted by the 1869 legislature: one brought a thorough overhauling of Nebraska's general school laws; the second created the University of Nebraska. Augustus F. Harvey, a prominent resident of Nebraska City, wrote the University's Charter during the early days of the 1869 session. Aware that land values were rising, he assumed that the landed endow-ment would soon provide enough money "to start the university upon at least a college basis." Although he stated that he had no model for the Charter, Harvey could not have been wholly unaware of what was happening in other states where public universities and land-grant colleges had already been founded. Compari son of the University of Nebraska's Charter with those of other western univer



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sities indicates that Harvey drew ideas and inspiration from the charters of the University of Minnesota, the Illinois Industrial School (later the University of Illinois), and the Iowa Agricultural College at Ames. Over the past twenty years these state institutions had marked out the guidelines for a new approach to higher education, and Harvey tapped the body of accumulated philosophy and experience. The Charter written by Harvey provided for a university rather than a col lege, and Harvey had to spend some time explaining to his legislative colleagues how a university differed from a college. Nevertheless, it is clear from his own testimony that his plans were not definite. The idea of the University, he later wrote in a letter, "was somewhat inchoate, but my prime object was to get the institution at work as early as possible with as high a grade as the finances would permit, and then improve upon the general foundation as experience warranted or indicated modification." Harvey showed the completed Charter to State Superintendent S. D. Beals and to the clerk of the House, a Mr. Bowen, and he also summoned into consul tation a number of friends of the University from Lincoln, Omaha, and Nebraska City. Having secured their approval, he then presented the document to Senator Benjamin F. Cunningham of Richardson County, who introduced the Charter, in bill form, in the Senate on February 11, 1869. On the same day the bill, entitled "An Act to Establish the University of Nebraska," went to the Committee on Education under the chairmanship of Charles H. Gere, editor of Lincoln's Daily State Journal.1 Gere, a staunch supporter of higher education, was destined to be one of the University's most outstanding regents. On February 12, Gere's committee reported the measure back to the Senate floor with minor modifica tions, and it passed the Senate the next day and was sent to the House. In the House the rules were suspended so that the bill could have its first and second readings. Time was running out and the proponents of the Charter wanted action taken before adjournment. On February 15, 1869, the bill was approved by the House Committee on Schools, and passed a voice vote on the House floor. It was then sent to Governor Butler, who signed the measure that same day. According to Harvey, only a few members of the legislature opposed the Charter. Some objected because they felt that the Charter, which provided for the creation of six colleges and more than fifty chairs, attempted too much. Others, still bewildered by the name "university," required intensive briefing before they realized what Harvey's bill entailed. And there were a few legislators who objected because Lincoln was to have the state university. Most important, in the light of later developments, was the concern expressed by several legislators that the University would be biased in favor of a single denomination, the most likely being the Christian Church, to which Governor Butler belonged. Others feared that the University might fall under the influence of atheists. Despite these points of contention the Charter passed with only slight modification and in a surprisingly congenial atmosphere. The unanimous vote given the Charter in both houses of the legislature attests to the efficient manner in which the passage of the proposal was managed. As for the Charter itself, its provisions represented a continuation of, rather than a deviation from, traditional educational principles. Even though the University was to be endowed in great part by the Morrill land grant, which ostensibly was to be used to set up an institution given over to instruction in "agricultural and the mechanic arts," the first paragraph of the Charter stated, "The object of such institution shall be to afford to the inhabitants of this State, the means of


1 Later called the Nebraska State Journal.


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