I’ve posted part of this quote many times, but just came across Caleb Mills’ second “One of the People” addresses from 1848, and it bears quoting at length. It remains relevant:
STATE TAX TO SUPPORT SCHOOLS.
There is but one way to secure good schools, and that is to pay for them. There is but one method to induce the youth to frequent them and that is to make them what they ought to be, by such applicances of funds, as will awaken an universal interest in them. Experience has shown that this can be effectually done only by drawing a large share of the funds for their support, directly from the pockets of the people, upon the ad valorem principle of taxation. When we are required to pay a tax for the support of schools, irrespective of the question whether we have children to educate or not, then we shall attend the school meetings, take an interest in having a good school in our several districts by employing competent teachers, furnishing the children with suitable school books, comfortable and convenient school rooms, and visiting them from time to time to ascertain whether teachers and taught are doing their duty. It is vain and idle to suppose they will flourish without the appliance of that motive power of universal action, interest. In no department of human enterprise has this truth been more fully demonstrated than in Education. The best schools, both in this country and Europe, are to be found only in connection with funds raised on the principle above mentioned. Public funds are desirable only to encourage effort, not to supersede the necessity of exertion. This is evident from the character of schools in States where they are sustained almost wholly by public funds, compared with schools sustained by taxes.
Let us shut our eyes no longer to the teachings of experience. Let us have a system based on the broad and republican principle, that it is the duty of the state to furnish the means of primary education to the entire youth within her bounds. Impressed with a just appreciation of the magnitude of the enterprise, the value of the interests at stake, and the obstacles to be overcome, let us not despair of success, assured that intelligent efforts, directed by kindness and perseverance can not fail of ultimate triumph. We must not be discouraged by ignorance and prejudice. To remove the one and correct the other, we need nothing but the combined influence of light and love. All, to a greater or less extent, are aiming at the same object, and they differ only as to the means. Convince the ignorant man that knowledge would increase his happiness, and give him power for good, and you make him a staunch friend of learning. Satisfy the prejudiced man, that he has only misapprehended the best means of securing his own welfare, and the happiness of his children, and you convert him into an unflinching and zealous advocate of common schools. Let us gather up the experience of the past, and bring it to bear upon the subject of popular education, and we shall find in Indiana as cordial friends to the intellectual and moral culture of the rising generation, as in any other State in the Union. Awaken the public mind, and concentrate it on the question, Am I not interested in the proper education of all that are socially and politically connected with me? The bearings of such a question have not been duly considered. It needs to be discussed and examined. We are a shrewd people where dollars and cents are concerned. Many have never taken that view of their duty, and when it has been presented to them have frankly acknowledged that they have never thought of it in that light. Does not the Farmer derive as large a percent upon what he expends in the education of his children, as from any investment he can make of his funds? Does the amount which he pays to sustain a good school for the instruction of all the children in the district or township in which he lives, never find its way back again to him in the improved character of the community for intelligence, enterprise, and morals? Is not real estate in such a community more valuable, capital more productive, and enterprise more intelligent and successful? Would not the general thrift and prosperity caused by this intellectual and moral elevation, lighten public burdens, increase social enjoyments, enhance the value of property, multiply the facilities for its acquisition, and increase the security of its possession? Such cultivation could not fail to diminish pauperism and crime, lessen poverty and suffering, throw around the gardens, orchards, and the products of the field, an inclosure that would never be passed, improve the highways, and materially increase the substantial comforts and conveniences of the house, the farm, and the implements of husbandry.
[Following a discussion of the principal of ad valorem taxes]
Such a plan would distribute the burdens equitably on all according to their ability to bear them, and according to the pecuniary interests affected by the intellectual and moral elevation of the great mass of the people. Is not the rich land holder interested to the full amount of his property in the moral and intellectual culture of the community in which it is located? Is not its value enhanced by the intelligence and virtue, and lessened by the ignorance and vice of the surrounding neighborhood? Is not the merchant also interested to the full amount of his stock in trade, in the enterprise, intelligence and integrity of the community in which he does business? Would he find so large a share of his profits engulfed in the whirlpool of bad debts, if the people were honest and industrious? Can the manufacturer invest his capital with equal security and hope of success among an ignorant and vicious people that he could in an intelligent and virtuous community? Would a railroad or a telegraph running through a region, whose inhabitants, induced by designing men to believe that such monopolies were hostile to their interests, should obstruct the cars, remove the rails, or cut the wires, be as productive, or the market value of its stock be as high, as it would be, if such an improvement was situated in a section of the country distinguished for its provision for the education of the whole rising generation without distinction?
Then the rich will have no occasion to complain of the burden of a two mill tax, when they consider that their property is not only affected in its value by the character of the immediate community in which it is located, but also by the legislation of the State, where it is vested. It is evident that the vote of a wise man and a sound statesman, will count no more than that given by an ignorant, selfish demagogue. Can it be reasonably expected that the representatives of an ignorant county will be as intelligent and competent to enact wise and judicious laws, or take as enlarged and liberal views of the real interests of the commonwealth, as those chosen by a more intelligent constituency? Their honesty and patriotism may be equal, but their legislative competency may justly be questioned. If this be a sound and correct conclusion, then the man of wealth will find no better investment for the small portion of his funds, which such a law would require, than the object contemplated by the passage of such a bill. His property, as far as affected by legislation, is just as much in the power of the representative of a constituency, one third of whom can neither read nor write, as it is in that of the man who has the honor to represent “Old Wayne,” and who may well be proud of the fact that of his 9349 adult constituency in 1840, only forty-four were unable to read.
Pass such a law, and it would immediately remove two of the most formidable obstacles to the prosperity of our schools—the want of adequate funds, and a proper degree of interest in the school by the great mass of the people.”
All six of Mills’ “One of the People” messages are available here.