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History of Calhoun county, Michigan : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principle interests (Volume 1) online

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tory of the first session of the 2-l:th Congress, together with the legisla-
tive records of 1836, aud 1837 of this State, not only disprove the
quotations above made, but that they establish beyond all controversy,
that Isaac E. Crary was the founder of the public school system of
Michigan, and that such a system was founded long before John D.
Pierce entered upon his educational career, or had any official existence.

After his appointment to office, Mr. Pierce commenced the work of
organizing the public schools and the state university, out of the ma-

** Miehigan Pioneer and Historical Coll., Vol. V, p. 45.

45 Life of John D. Pierce, p. SO.

40 Michigan as a Province, Territory and State, Vol. III.


terials I'liniishcd liiiii, and upon the roiunlatioii alrrady laid and ac-
cording to tlic i)hms outlined in Article X of the stale eonstitutiou.
He threw his great soul and magnetic intluence into the work, lie in-
spired governors, legislators, school officers and people with his own
earnest enthusiasm, and he was accepted and followed as prime leader
in the enterprise. He drew the primary school law of 1837, borrowing
freely from the public school system of New York, and from other
states. ^' He formulated bills for the re-organization of the state uni-
versity and for the management and disposition of educational lands.
He had the tifty years of experience of Thomas Jetfersou in the evolution
and establishment of the University of Virginia before him as an aid.
It will be remembered that Jetferson was not only the father of the
University of Virginia, but he was also the father of the American sys-
tem of state universities. The official reports of Mr. Pierce were able
and convincing, and his recommendations were promptly adopted by
the legislature. He was a gifted and successful organizer, and for four
years and a half in that capacity Mr. Pierce rendered invaluable serv-
ices to the State and to the cause of education.

Isaac E. Crary was known in public affairs in his native State before
coming to Michigan. Dr. Bushnell, in his lectures on Historic Persons
of Connecticut, comments upon ilr. Crary 's public life and then adds,
"He has now gone to help found a new state in the west.''^" ]\lr. Crary
studied at Amherst, ^^ and he graduated at Washington College, now
Trinity in 1827.''" He was a sound thinker, a close observer, an able
lawyer, and a close student of sociological and governmental affaii-s.^'
He had devoted much time and thought to tlir schools and colleges and
had made much research in educational and kimlicd suli.jccts. The large
collection of pamphlets, papers, reports, letters and addresses by schol-
ars and statesmen, upon these subjects and the collection of college
catalogues made by ilr. Crary and now in the possession of the writer,
clearly show that he was deeply interested in these subjects and that
he was far in advance of his time. He studied the Prussian system of
public instruction before he commenced his great work. Cousin 's'^
Digest of that system had been translated ami published in this country
and at this time, was being examined and discussed by progressive
educators and thinkers throughout the country. • •

*- Revised Statutes for New York for lS2t), Chap. XV.

•»8 Mieh. Pioneer and Hist. Coll., Vol. XiV, p. liSO.

*» Catalogue of Collegiate Institute, Amherst, Mass., 1S23, p. 91.

50 History of the University of Michigan, Hinsdale and Deninion, p. 174.

51 Mich. Pioneer and Hist. Colls., Vol. XIV, p. 28.5.

52 Victor Cousin was a Frenchman, born in Paris, Nov. 28. 1792, who taught and
lectured in the Sorbonne. In 1831 he was commissioned by the government to
visit cities in Germany for the purpose of studying their educational systems.
This resulted in a series of reports to the minister, published as "Rapport sur
Petat de 1 'Instruction Publique dans quelque pays de I'Allemagne et particuliere-
ment en Prusse. " They were translated by Mrs. Sarah Austin in 1834 and spread
about the United States. He took part in the politics of his times, was apparently
in sympathy with the monarchy under certain constitutional safeguards. The last
few years of his life were spent quietly at the Sorbonne. He died at Cannes, .Ian.
13, 1867. He bequeathed his library to the Sorbonne.

53 Report of John A. Dix, Commissioner of Common Schools of New York, 1S3B 38.


Perhaps no man in the territory in 1835 was better equipped to take
charge of the educational interests of the people that Mr. Crary,^^ and
the convention, recognizing the fact, readily followed his leadership and
promptly adopted his measures. Traditions tell us that after his election
as delegate, (April 4, 1835) until the convention met May 11, 1835, Mr.
Crary devoted his time in preparing himself for his work in convention.
He made careful research and sought light and infonnation from all
available sources. It was during this period that the well-known con-
versation was had with Mr. Pierce sitting on a log north of the old
court house in Marshall. Isaac E. Crary laid the foundation of the
public school system in Michigan, broad and deep in the adamant of
the constitutional enactment and cemented it with congressional com-
pacts, long before John D. Pierce entered the educational field. If John_
Harvard by donating seven hundred pounds sterling and a library of
three hundred volumes to a struggling institution — if Elihu Yale by con-
tributing five hundred pounds sterling to another institution — if Ezra
Cornell by giving five hundred thousand dollars to establish "an in-
stitution where any person can find instruction in any study," and if
Leland Stanford by providing a few million dollars to endow still an-
other institution, are entitled to be called founders of the institutions
respectively bearing their names; why should not Isaac E. Crary who
secured the primary school funds now amoimting to nearly six million
of dollars, and who obtained the endowment fund of the state univer-
sity now amounting to over half a million dollars, be awarded the dis-
tinction of being the founder, not only of the primary and secondary
schools of the State, but also of being the founder of the University
of Michigan ?

While the fame of Isaac E. Crary for two-thirds of a century has
been dimmed by the grotesque fabrications, sarcastic abuse and dramatic
ridicule of Thomas Corwin,^^ have not his own beneficiaries treated him
more un.iustly, and more cruelly than did his great political antagonist
in 1840? Have not the people of Michigan overlooked his achievements
and ignored the fame of her most viseful statesman, and by common
accord awarded another the honor due him?

A casual observer, in comparing the work of these two great men,
might well consider Isaac E. Crary as the architect and John D. Pierce
as the builder of our educational structure. Mr. Crary was more than
the architect, he not only laid the foundation and drew plans and speci-
fications, but as regent of the university, member of the local school
board and as member of the state board of education, he rendered invalu-
able services in building and developing our great university and in
establishing and perfecting our grand system of normal and high schools.
He provided for school libraries and for instruction in agriculture in
the constitution of 1835 and for free schools in the constitution of 1850.
Mr. Crarj^ was therefore both architect and builder. He labored in the
educational field long before Mr. Pierce entered it and he toiled years
after Mr. Pierce had retired.

6* History of Higher Education of Michigan, by McLaughlin, 150.
55 Thomas Corwin, for slieteh, see Vol. XIV, p. 280, this series. This attack was
made upon Crary in the House of Eepresentatives, Feb. 15, 1840.

HISTORY OF cALiiorx corxTY 4:5

The iuriueiK-e of Mr. Crary's statesinausliip has aliV'e-ted imiro li\cs,
controlled more destinies, diffused more knowledge, created more living
institutions, and has advanced and enlightened civilization more than
that of any other citizen of Michigan. Every rural schoolhouse, every
high school building, every normal school edifice and every university
hall not only in Alichigan, but also in other states copying his system,
and every agricultural college in the Union are the results, and existing
monuments of his life work. Today three fourths of a million of school
population of this State are I'eceiving or are entitled to receive the
benefits of the primary school fund which he secured for them. To-day
myriads of high school, normal school and university students in this
and other states are receiving benefits of his policy. Every person,
living or dead, who has ever received instruction in any of the public
schools of iMichigan or in any other states adopting his system, is a debtor
to him. The numberless millions of children and students of the future,
who shall receive instructions in any of these public schools, will be under
lasting obligation to him. Mr. Crary's beneficent purposes, and his
exalted ideals were revealed in his address dedicating the first state
normal school edifice by these words, "I do dedicate this building to
the People of the State of Michigan, and to promote the great cause
of education — the cause of man — the cause of God." '^^ Shall we not
preserve the perishable traditions of his fame and make them immortal?

Has not his widow, Mrs. Belona Crary Frink, in giving his portrait
to be hung in the capitol, where the present and future generations can
became familiar with the features of the statesman, who did so much
for them, made a priceless gift to the State?

While Isaac E. Crary, as founder of the most comprehensive and com-
plete system of public instruction ever devised deser\'es to be held in
immortal remembrance, his name has almost been forgotten and his
fame has almost been buried in oblivion. Not a county or a township,
not a city or a village, not a school or a postoffice in Michigan, and not
a professorship in the normal school or in the unversity he founded
now bears his name. I would not detract from the fame of John D.
Pierce. As an organizer, he deserves lasting remembrance. I simply de-
mand exact justice for Isaac E. Crary. Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum.

The fact that great un.justiee has been done him is the cause and the
excuse for the argumentative length of this part of the paper.

Let the inaccuracies of the past be rectified, the unspeakable in.juries
alread.y done to the memory of Mr. Crary, so far as possible be redressed,
and let future writers go to the original documents for their facts. Ex-
Superintendent of Public Instructions Delos Fall has well said "There
are three names which every teacher in Michigan should learn to pro-
nounce in logical order and with due appreciation of their worth and
the great part they played in the formation of this State : Victor Cousin,
Isaac E. Crary and John D. Pierce."-'^ Cousin should be honored as
interpreter, Crary as the founder and Pierce as organizer of tlie Prussian
system of public instruction on the western continent.

58 Public Instruction of Mich., 1S53, p. 80.

5- Introduction to the Life of .Tohn D. Pierce, p. 2. ^


Wlieu impartial historians shall eai-efully cousider the original re-
cords, and the chronology of the public services of these two great men,
and their respective class of honors shall be correctly determined, the
honor of founder of the public school system of Michigan will be awarded
to Isaac E. Crary, and that of organizer to John D. Pierce, then and
only then, will ample justice be done the name of Isaac E. Crary. Then
indeed will be fulfilled the prophecy of the eloquent George C. Bates,
who said, "The life and public services of General Crary will remain a
monument to his memory, when all that Corwin has done or said to
benefit the world is buried in oblivion." ^^

Justice demands that his portrait be assig-ned to a prominent place
in the gallery of Michigan's most eminent statesmen. Hoping that the
progressive statesmanship of Isaac E. Crary may be recalled, his .just
fame be restored, and liis name handed down to posterity, as the
"Founder of the Public School System of Michigan," I leave his fame
in the custody of the State which he served so ably and so well.


The system of uniting the primary, secondary and higher schools at
public expense, and under the state control was not originated by the
founders of our school policy. This policy existed in the Prussian code,
but that system provided for the teachint;' nl' the Catholic Catechism to
the children of Catholic parents, mid I lie 1c:iching of the Lutheran
Catechism to the children of Lutlici-aii pnii'iils, thus recognizing the
union of the church and state ; while our system was independent of the
church. Thomas Jefferson ^o i^^^ labored for years to combine these
grades of secular schools under state control and at public expense for
Virginia before our school fathers (•iiiiiiiicnccd tlieir work. Thomas .
Jefferson was the first educator on this coiitinciit to work for an in-
stitution of higher education exclusivciy undci' the state government,
divorced rrinii ecclesiastical influence and control. It had long been the
estalilishfd prjicfiee of the sectarian organizers to establish and to sus-
tain dcnoiiiinational colleges as a rule of church polity, to educate their
clergj', their workers for religious purposes and for church extension.
Jefferson endeavored to establish and maintain a university independent
of the church to educate citizens, legislators, .judges, executives and
statesmen for national service and progress. He was the first to en-
counter "ecclesiastical opposition directed against the proposed non-
sectarian university," and to meet tlie prevailing notion that higher
education should be under the control of the church. That practice had

58 Mich. Pioneer and Hist. Colls., Vol. XVIT, p. 349.

59 Thomas Jefferson spent the late years of his life in devising a scheme of edu-
cation which would embrace all the children of his native state. He was assisted
by his friend Joseph C. Cabell, a member of the senate of Virginia. Cabell car-
ried out all of Jefferson 's plans. He induced the legislature to expend $300,000
in the work of construction and to appropriate $15,000 as a yearly support to the
institution. Jefferson personally superintended every detail of construction and in
March, 1825, the institution was opened with forty students. At the beginning of the
second year there were 177 students.


long been followed, iiuil it was tlie prevaiiiiiu;- sentiment of his day. In-
deed that sentiment still exists, and in spite of our numerous popular
state universities, it is a mighty power in the eollegiate world.

To-day, obedient to that sentiment, a large number of the students en-
rolled for tlie baehelors" degree roiiienini; institutions of the country
are in the so-ealled denominatimiiil ((illcucs and institutions founded,
built up, and maintained by rclii;iciiis organizations or private dona-
tions. It Avill be retiieiiibiTcd that in 1JS17 when Judge "Woodward was
formulating bis ('atlicilipistciiiaid or "University of ..Miehigania," and
when the governor and .iiulgvs of the Territory in 1821 were formulating
their charter for the ' ' University of Michigan, ' ' "for the purpose of edu-
cating youths," Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell were laboring
to estal)lish the University of Virginia. Jetferson labored forty years
for that institution, and he is not only the father of the University
of Virginia but he is also the father of the state \iniversity system of
America. "We are nnder greater obligation to him as an educator than
as the author of the Declaration of Independence, while the form and
rhetoric of that innnortal decnment were his, the sentiment and sub-
stance were paraphrased from the Virginia Bill of Rights previously
formulated by Georuv Masun,''" (the great uncle of JMichigan's first
governor). The Ann rican s.xstem of state universities was an evolution
from the constructi\r slalrsmanship of the Sage of jMonticcUo. At hrst
these universities were opposed as Godless, sacrilegious and dangerous,
and ^Ir. Jefferson was denounced as an infidel.

Isaac E. Crary and John D. Pierce were familiar with 'Siv. Jefferson's
struggles in the Old Dominion, and of the charges nuide against him,
before they commenced their work in Michigan. They too, in re-organ-
izing the university, were compelled to contend with the prevailing .senti-
ment and establish precedents, of having higher education iinder eccle-
siastical control. Both were eminently qualified to battle with custom.
As layman ^Ir. Crary was known as a stanch churchman, and as a
clergyman. ]\lr. Pierce was extensively known as an orthodox missionary,
and both had the entire confidence of the religious people. Mr. Pierce,
however, after he was appointed superintendent of pulilic instruction
was compelled to abandon and oppose a denominational institution
which he had taken an active part in establishing, to be consistent with
his state imiversity policy. The Presbyterians of the State in 1835 had
organized [Michigan College, "^ and 'Sir. Pierce labored earnestly to raise
funds for that institution and was active in secui'ing its location at
Marshall. The trustees of this college on the 20th day of October, 1837,
resolved that "in the opinion of the board it is not expedient for the
friends of the enterprise to engage in advancing the interests of the
University of ^Michigan or its branches by pecuniaiy patronage or other-

«" George Mason, for sketch, see Vol. XXXV, p. 60.^. this series.

»i Michigan College, later called Marshall College, was chartered in 1.S38 and
liberally endowed by citizens of the village of Marsliall. It was incorporated as
Marshall College, April 16, 1839. The Rev^ John J. Cleaveland, Presbyterian divine,
was president from 1839-1843, and then retired, having brought the college into high
repute both at home ami abroad. See sketch. Vol. XXX, pp. 52S-349, this series.


wise." '^- llr. Pierce at that time had been engaged on the public school
system for about a year, and had filed his first report the January
preceding, and this resolution was the result. Michigan College was in-
corporated under the name of Marshall College in 1839, and Mr. Pierce
signed a spirited remonstration against granting a charter. Marshall
College, then under the gifted leadership of the Rev. John P. Cleaveland,
D.D., was a rival of the Michigan University. In his first report, Mr.
Pierce, disapproved granting charters to denominational colleges and
recommended that the exclusive power of conferring degrees be given to
the university, which policy with scarcely an exception was followed for
a quarter of a century. Unlike Jefferson, Messrs. Crary and Pierce were
able to successfully meet and overcome to a large extent the sentiment
and prejudice against a Godless college without being denounced as
infidels and corrupters of the morals of youth.


The achievements of John D. Pierce, as a constructive statesman were
not confined to the domain of education, but were extended into other
fields of progress no less beneficial and lasting. Mr. Pierce was a
thinker, a philosopher and philanthropist as well as a statesman. From
the existing laws and conditions of society, he could reason out new
measures and conditions for the benefit of mankind. He had experi-
enced the anxieties of the head of a family under overwhelming financial
misfortune, when the law permitted imprisonment for debt and allowed
the creditors to turn the unfortunate debtor, wife and helpless chil-
dren into the street without food or shelter, and to take the wife's
property to pay the husband's debts contracted before marriage. His
love for humanity caused him to grapple with the problem and to seek
a remedy for the misfortune. In 184.5, standing on the streets of Detroit
with the late William H. Brown, of Marshall, ilr. Pierce called his at-
tention to the large number of people passing to-and-fro on the street
and remarked, "'All these people have a God-given right to live. If they
have a right to live, it follows that they have a God-given right to a
domicile, to a home, a place in which to live. If .society protects the life of
a debtor, it should protect the home of a debtor, for himself and his
family. If life is sacred, the home of the family, the unit of society,
the foundation of all government should be sacred. Without a home,
life is not worth living, and good citizenship cannot be expected.
Humanity and patriotism demand that the home should be protected
from Shyloek ci'i'ditors. misrortune and improvidence."

This was the thcinc (if discussion between the pioneer minister and
pioneer lawyer of .Marshall Tor hours. Thus ilr. Pierce was elabora-
ting his measures for relief long before the statute was formulated. He
enlarged upon the principle that a man's home is his castle, his refuge,
his sanctuary and seems to have elaborated from his own brain a method

62 History of Olivet College (Williams), 150-15.5; Record and Papers of Marshall
College in the Mich. Pion. and Hist. Colls.; Public Instruction and School Laws,
1852, pp. 38-44.


of protecting and preserviug it. Tiio law I'or imprisoument for debt had
been abolished in 1839, and the statute exempting personal property
from execution, substantially as it now exists, was enacted in 1842, but
the home was still subject to alienation for debt in Michigan. i\Ir. Pierce
was a member of the state house of representatives in 1847, and he
introduced a bill to exempt the homestead from execution, but it failed
to pass. He was elected to the next legislature, and he again introduced
his exemption measure, and through his personal intiuenee secured its
passage. It became the homestead law of 1848, which was the tirst
homestead exemption law adopted in any of the northern states, and
John D. Pierce became the father of the homestead exemption policy of
Michigan. This law provided that a homestead of forty acres in the
country, or one lot in any city or village, with a house thereon owned
and occupied by any resident of the State shall not be sold on execution
or any final process of court to satisfy any debt upon contract made
after July 3d, 1848. While the law required amendments to perfect it,
it established the principle and contained the substance of the constitu-
tional provision and law as it now exists. The Michigan homestead ex-
emption law introduced the subject, and it was discussed throughout
the land, and it became the model for many states. Mr. Pierce was not
satisfied to leave the sancitity of the home simply to legislative enact-
ments. He was a delegate to the constitutional convention in 1850 and
was appointed chairman of the committee on Exemptions and Rights
of JIarried Women. This gave him an opportunity to strengthen his
great measure and to fortify it by constitutional safeguards. Jlr. Pierce
formulated, and on the 25th day of June, 1850, introduced as a minority
report of that committee, substantially what now exists as Article XXI
of our state constitution."-' Three members of the committee concurred
in the report. The other four members of the committee reported against
the exemption policy in the majority report made July 17, 1850.''^ The
exemption policy having come up for discussion on the 30th of July in
the convention, Mr. Pierce, as the author of the measure, supported it
and discussed its sentiments and philosophy with great earnestness,
ability and eloquence. Among other things, he said: "The measure now
under consideration is one of great interest to the people of the state.
The subject is one that has come home to every family." He referred to
the Hebrew code, which every seven years cancelled all debts, and to the
exemption of the fee of real estate from alienation ; while the creditors
could seize the use of the land for a time, but once in every fifteen years,
the land returned to the owner, as "a code provided for every man and
his family," and with this single exception in the histoi-y of the race,
the legislation of the world has been for the incidentals pertaining to
human life rather than for man himself. "Humanit.y has been wronged,
outraged, down-trodden, and the whole care of the legislation has been
bestowed upon property, and its representative, money. ^lan and the

Online LibraryWashington GardnerHistory of Calhoun county, Michigan : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principle interests (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 74)