Josiah H. (Josiah Henry) Benton.

Address of J.H. Benton, Jr., at the dedication of the Bradford Public Library building, Bradford, Vermont, July 4, 1895 online

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Online LibraryJosiah H. (Josiah Henry) BentonAddress of J.H. Benton, Jr., at the dedication of the Bradford Public Library building, Bradford, Vermont, July 4, 1895 → online text (page 2 of 5)
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ity and duty of each officer, establishing the mode of
admission of members, and regulating all other con-
cerns and interests of said corporation, and to enact
penalties on such persons as transgress such rules and

"Provided, that such penalties shall not extend to
any thing more than the forfeiture of the share or
shares of the respective delinquents.

"And provided also, that such bye-laws and regula-
tions of said corporation, hereafter made, shall not be
repugnant to the constitution and laws of this state.

"IV. Provided also, and It is hereby further en-
acted, that no bye-laws or regulations of said corpora-
tion hereafter made, shall be binding upon the officers
or members thereof, unless the same shall have been
proposed at one regular meeting of the said society,
and enacted and received at another, after the inter-
vention of at least twenty days.

;t V. And it is hereby further enacted, that Micah
Barron be, and he is hereby authorized to warn the
first meeting of said society, and duly notify the mem-
bers of the time and place.

"Provided nevertheless, it shall be in the power of
the legislature of this state to regulate or dissolve said
corporation, at any time when they shall see fit, any
thing in said act to the contrary notwithstanding."

[Passed November 5, 1796.]

This was the first library act passed by the general
assembly, and the Bradford Social Library Society was
the first library corporation established in Vermont,

This act of incorporation is in some respects as interest-
ing as the petition upon which it was granted. It shows


by its preamble that the petitioners were already associated
as a library society, and sets forth their purpose in English
equally concise and perspicuous with that of the petition.

It also contains in itself all the necessary provisions for
the creation, organization, and government of a corporate
body. It would not be possible to-day, with the experience
of a hundred years, to frame a corporate charter which
would better provide for the creation of a corporation, its
organization, and its regulation, than does this.

It also contains a provision which to the legal profession
is of peculiar interest, and that is the provision that it shall
be in the power of the legislature to regulate or dissolve
said corporation at any time when they shall see fit. It
was not until 1819 that the Supreme Court of the United
States decided, in the famous Dartmouth College case,
that a charter was a contract, within the meaning of the
provision of the United States Constitution, forbidding the
states to pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts.

When the legislature of New Hampshire in 1816 passed
an act amending the charter of Dartmouth College, and
changing the college into a university, it was for the first
time claimed that such an act was contrary to the Constitu-
tion of the United States, because the charter of the corpo-
ration was a contract. The Supreme Court of New Hamp-
shire held otherwise, and it was not until 18 19 that the
Supreme Court of the United States reversed their decision,
and held that such a charter was a contract, and could not
be repealed by the legislature unless the legislature had
reserved a power to repeal it. It was in consequence of
this decision that the familiar provision now inserted in
charters, or made by general laws in all the states, re-
serving the power to amend or repeal charters, was adopted
in state legislation. And yet a quarter of a century be-


fore the Supreme Court of the United States held that any
such reserved power was necessary to enable the legisla-
ture to dissolve a corporation, these rude frontiersmen of
Vermont inserted in this charter a provision reserving that

The man who drew this provision must have had in his
mind the idea, which was not then generally held by the
legal profession, that a charter might be a contract, and
that unless the legislature reserved the power to regulate
or dissolve a corporation, it could not afterwards do so.
This presupposes an accurate study of the Federal Consti-
tution, and of the clause with regard to state laws impair-
ing the obligation of contracts. It presupposes also an ac-
curate knowledge of the nature of a corporate body. In
short, it presupposes all the essential ideas which are con-
tained in the wonderful opinion of Chief Justice Marshall
in the Dartmouth College case nearly a quarter of a century

It was ten years later before the legislature of Massa-
chusetts inserted in any charter a provision authorizing the
legislature to dissolve it; and, so far as I know, this Brad-
ford Library Society charter is the earliest charter which
contains such a provision. There is no more interesting
or instructive chapter in the legislation of any state.

Thus you see that, taken together, this petition, and the
charter which was granted upon it, form a chapter in the
history of your town of which you have peculiar reason to
be proud. I believe no other New England town can
match it, and it should be kept in perpetual remembrance
by you and by those who come after you.

Perhaps the most interesting inquiry in respect to it is :
How did these men do this thing? How did these early
settlers, cutting down the forest, subduing the soil, strug-


gling with all the adverse forces of nature on the frontiers
of civilization, come to have the capacity to frame such
papers as this petition and charter?

Addison could not have written English more pure than
that of this petition ; the most accomplished jurist of to-day
could not frame a charter more complete and accurate than
this act of incorporation. Why was it?

I think the answer is to be largely found in the character
of the books they read. They did not form their style
upon the daily newspaper and the modern novel. They
read Goldsmith and Addison, Bacon and Locke, Shakes-
peare and Milton, and, above all, that wonderful English
translation, King James' Bible.

They expressed themselves accurately and clearly be-
cause they read books which trained them to think accu-
rately and clearly. If we would do the same we must
follow their example, and drink deep of those wells of
" English undefiled."

The library of this corporation was kept in one of the
village stores. Your townsman, Col. Dudley K. Andross,
says he remembers going with his mother to that library
for the purpose of exchanging books, when it was kept in
Deacon Prichard's old store. The books were kept, as he
says, in a great case with double doors, which to his youth-
ful eyes seemed as large as Moosilauke.

The organization seems to have fallen into decay. Its
books were scattered, and there are no records of its action
now to be found. It is surprising, however, that no men-
tion of it is made in the History of Bradford, written in

1874 b y tne Rev - I^ 1 "- McKeen.

In some way which I have not been able to ascertain,
a considerable number of its books passed into the posses-


sion of the Bradford Academy, and are now a part of the
Merrill library in the graded high school. Some of them
are in a good state of preservation, and bear the original
label containing the regulations of the society, as fol-
lows :

" Bradford Social Library Society.

"No. (240).

"Annual meeting last Monday in September, 2
o'clock p.m. Books must be returned Thursday
before Annual Meeting, or 25 cents tine. May be
drawn again on Annual Meeting days, immediately
after adjournment. Other drawing days last Monday
in November, January, March, May and July, last two
hours before sunsetting. Books must be drawn be-
fore drawing time or 6 cents fine ; and 1 cent a day
till returned. May be drawn and returned on other
days, at any time suitable for doing business. One
volume drawn to a share. May be bid off at auction.
Must be kept well covered by those who take them
out. For lending a book out of the Society 34 cents.
Drop of tallow on the letters 4 cents ; on the margin
2 cents ; for folding down a leaf 3 cents. Fines must
be paid next drawing day after they are assessed or
no books drawn."

On all the labels is written in a good hand, f Well
covered or 4 cents fine."

The number of this label shows that the society had at
least 240 books, and these were probably as great in num-
ber and value, in proportion to the population and valua-
tion of the town, as the six hundred thousand volumes of
the Boston Public Library are to the valuation of Boston, and


the population who are entitled to the use of that greatest
free public library of the world.

The next library corporations incorporated in Vermont
were the Fairhaven Library Society and the Rockingham
Library Society, which were incorporated by the general
assembly in October, 1799. The interest of the people of
Vermont in libraries at that early day is clearly shown by
the fact that, as early as November, 1800, a general law
was passed incorporating library societies within the state.
The preamble of this act, which was passed November 6,
1800, is as follows :

'' Whereas a number of petitions have been present-
ed to this Legislature from various library societies in
this state, pra}ang to be incorporated into bodies cor-
porate and politic forever, with such powers, privileges
and immunities, as will best answer the laudable pur-
poses for which they associated : Therefore to assist
and encourage the said societies in the prosecution and
advancement of useful knowledge, and rational enter-
tainment, and to establish a uniformity through the
various societies of the same kind, in this state."

It is interesting to know that the charter of the Bradford
Social Library Society was only two years later than the
first library charter in Massachusetts, which was an act for
incorporating certain persons by the name of the Boston
Library Society, passed June 17, 1794.

Mass. Special Laws, p. 526.

If, as I believe, the history of a state is most accurately
given in its statutes, it would seem that the people of Mas-
sachusetts were not as much interested in libraries at that


time, and had not as many social library societies, as the
people of Vermont.

The Vermont general law of 1800 shows clearly the ex-
istence of a large number of societies, and was passed to
enable them to become corporations.

The Massachusetts act, although entitled " An act to en-
able the proprietors of social libraries to manage the same,"
does not show the existence of any considerable number
of library societies then existing.

Laws of Massachusetts, 1798, 819.

And there were in fact very few incorporated social
library societies in Massachusetts prior to the passage of
the general law of 1798.

Libraries considered merely as collections are not pecu-
liar to modern civilization. They existed in Greece, Rome,
Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Every nation of which
history gives us knowledge had its collections of tablets or
manuscripts which preserved the literary work of the time.
The library of Nineveh consisted of more than ten thou-
sand distinct works written upon tablets of clay, thousands
of which have been recovered from the ruins and are now
preserved in the British Museum.

The age of books came with the invention of papyrus
paper more than two thousand years before the Christian
era. Collections comprising hundreds of thousands of
manuscript works were made in the palaces of kings and
in the temples of the church. But these collections were
for the rulers, scholars, and priests, and the people had but
little benefit from them.

The public library " free to all " is peculiar to modern


civilization, and the circulating library, from which books
may be taken for home use, is of comparatively recent date.
The great libraries of Europe are almost entirely for the
use of scholars, and not for the circulation of books among
the people.

It has seemed to me that a short sketch of the legislation
in regard to public libraries, and of their development in
England and in the United States, might perhaps be of in-
terest to you at this time.

The first legislation in regard to furnishing books to the
public at the public expense in England was an "injunc-
tion," so called, in September, 1537, for the providing of
Bibles in every parish church throughout England, to be
freely accessible to all parishioners, and the charges there-
for to be borne by a parish book rate. This was followed
by other " injunctions " for a like provision of certain other
books. But the Restoration and the changes of govern-
ment policy destroyed this attempt at popular education,
and it was not until nearly two centuries after, in 1709,
that Dr. Bray, the founder of the Society for the Propaga-
tion of the Gospel, succeeded in obtaining the passage of
an act of Parliament, entitled " An act for the better pre-
servation of parochial libraries in that part of Great Britain
called England."

This act, however, only provided for the preservation of
books which had been given the parishes, and not for their
increase by public money. The conservative Englishman
waited until 1849 before even a proposal was made to con-
sider the question of public libraries. Then, after very
great opposition, a select committee of Parliament was ap-
pointed on the best means of extending the establishment
of libraries freely opened to the public, especially in large


towns. In 1850 the first English libraries act received the
royal assent. This was a purely permissive act, authoriz-
ing town councils in municipalities having a population not
less than ten thousand, if they saw fit to do so, to put to
the voters the question whether they would have a library
rate levied for providing a town library, and, if they voted
in the affirmative, to levy a tax of a half-penny in the
pound for that purpose.

In 1855 a new act was passed reducing the limit of popu-
lation requisite for vote upon the establishment of a public
library to five thousand, and raising the rate limit to one
penny in the pound, and also providing that the money
thus raised might be expended for books, newspapers, and
specimens of art and science for a museum, as well as for
buildings and expenses of management, to which last pur-
poses the tax was limited by the act of 1850.

In 1866 an act was passed providing that any ten rate
payers might require a meeting to be called to decide
whether a library should be established, and reducing the
vote necessary for that purpose from two thirds, which was
required under the previous acts, to one half of the voters
assembled, and also removing the limit of population.

Amendments more or less important have since been
made in the law, but it remains to-day substantially the
same, permissive only, and in no true sense a part of any
system of free popular education.

There are no reliable statistics of public libraries in the
United States prior to 1850. In that year the Smithsonian
Institution published a monograph by Professor Jewett, en-
titled " Notices of Public Libraries."

This gave the number as 694, containing 2,201,632 vol-


The census of 1850 stated the number, exclusive of
school and Sunday-school libraries, at 1560, with 2,447,-
086 volumes ; but in a summary of libraries published in
1856 by Mr. Edward Edwards, the number of libraries
was given at only 342, though the number of volumes was
2,371,887, based upon the census of 1850.

In 1859 Mr. William J. Rhees published a manual of
public libraries, and gave a list of 2902, of which, how-
ever, only 13 1 2 reported the number of volumes they con-

In 1867 a department of education was created by the
United States, and in 1869 this was created a bureau of

In 1870 this bureau began the collection of statistics for
a special report on public libraries, which was issued in
1876, before any regular library journal was printed in the
United States.

This report gave a list of 3649 libraries of over 300 vol-
umes each, with a total number of 12,276,964 volumes.

In the report of the United States Bureau of Education
for 1884-5, the number of public libraries containing over
300 volumes each was stated to be 5388, containing 20,-
622,076 volumes, showing an increase during the preced-
ing ten years of nearly 54 per cent in the number of libra-
ries, and about 66 per cent in the number of volumes.

It is to be observed, however, that the libraries under
500 volumes included only about 20 per cent of the books,
showing that the distribution of books was imperfect.

In 1886 the bureau reported 1777 libraries containing
1000 volumes or more, with 14,012,370 volumes in all.

Of the libraries thus reported, however, only 670, con-
taining 6,963,850 volumes, were wholly or partly sup-
ported by public moneys, i.e., by money raised by taxation,


but nearly all of these were free for public use. Of the
remaining 1109 libraries, containing 7,048,520 volumes,
only 868 required payment for use.

In 1887 there were nearly a thousand (911) free libra-
ries, containing nearly nine million (8,896,620) volumes.

In 1891 there were 3804 public libraries, containing over
1000 volumes each, with 26,896,537 bound volumes and
4,340,817 pamphlets. The average size of these libraries
was 8194 volumes, and the average population to a library
was 16,463, making an average of 50 books to every 100
of the entire population of the United States.

The largest proportion of books to the population was in
the District of Columbia, which had 924 books to every
one hundred persons, due, doubtless, to the large collec-
tion of the Congressional Library ; and the next largest
proportion was in Massachusetts, where it was 257 to every
one hundred persons.

In 1855 there were in the libraries of the United States
having over one thousand volumes, 34 books to every one
hundred persons of the population, while in 1891 the
number had increased to 50 for each one hundred, or an
increase of 47 per cent.

In the six New England states and New York, New
Jersey, and Pennsylvania, the increase during the six
years from 1885 to 1891 was 34 per cent, and in the
Northwestern states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois,
Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming, Missouri,
North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, the in-
crease was 65 per cent. On the whole, during that six
years the increase of books in public libraries of this class
was about 8 per cent greater than the increase of the
population during the same period.


The first free public library in the United States was
founded in New York in 1700 by a bequest from the Rev.
John Sharpe, who bequeathed his books as the foundation
of a public library. About thirty years after, an English
clergyman, Dr. Millington, rector of Millington in the
county of Surrey, gave his library to the " British Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts," for
such disposition as they might think of the greatest public
advantage. That society gave it to the municipal corpora-
tion of New York " for the use of the clergy and gentle-
men of that city and neighbouring parts."

These gifts, however, were naturally little appreciated
by the people of New York, though in 1754, probably
stimulated by the establishment of a library in Philadelphia,
subscriptions were made for the purchase of about 700
volumes in addition to the gifts above mentioned.

In 1772 the library was incorporated as the Society
Library of New York, and made a proprietary library.

Not long after the establishment of the library in New
York, James Logan, the friend and confidential adviser of
William Penn, founded a public library in Philadelphia,
to which another collection formed by his brother, Dr.
William Logan, was added in 1776, and the combined
collection was transferred to a corporation known as the
Library Company, in 1792.

The idea that books, to be of real benefit, should be put
into the hands of the people for use outside the library was
first put into practical execution by Benjamin Franklin,
who in 1 73 1 established at Philadelphia the first effective
circulating library, now known as "The Old Philadelphia
Library." This w r as an association, or what was known
as a "Society Library," supported by subscription, and was


the mother of all the North American subscription libra-
ries subsequently formed, nearly a thousand in number.*
Speaking of them in his autobiography, Franklin said,

'These libraries have improved the general con-
versation of the Americans, have made the common
tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentle-
men in other countries, and perhaps have contributed
in some degree to the stand so generally made through-
out the colonies in defence of their privileges."

It was more than a hundred years after the establish-
ment of proprietary or society libraries under the guidance
of Franklin before the principle of taxing municipalities
and school districts for the establishment and maintenance
of libraries as public institutions free to all was advanced.

The first step in this direction was taken by the state of
New York. In 1834, J onn A. Dix (afterwards General
Dix), then superintendent of common schools in New
York, in his official report recommended that school dis-
tricts be authorized to levy a tax for the establishment of
district libraries. He advised that this be made discretion-
ary, because he said that,

"by making the imposition of the tax wholly discre-

* The original subscribers were fifty in number, who each contributed
forty shillings, and agreed to pay ten shillings annually. The number in-
creased, and in 1742 the proprietors were incorporated as "The Library
Company of Philadelphia." Several other similar companies were after-
wards formed in that city, and were finally united with the first, which,
in 1806, had more than 14,000 volumes, and owned a commodious building.

Its shares were then forty dollars each, subject to an annual payment
of two dollars, and there were over five hundred shareholders.

Travels in U.S. J/r/is/i (iSo6),vol. 1. p. 164.


tionary with the inhabitants of each district, and leav-
ing the selection of the works under their entire
control, the danger of rendering such a provision
subservient to the propagation of particular doctrines
or opinions would be effectually guarded against by
their own watchfulness and intelligence." *

Following this recommendation, a law was passed in
1835 authorizing an annual tax not to exceed twenty dol-
lars in each district, and by the year 1853 the fund for the
purchase of books under this act had grown to $55,000
a year, and the libraries had accumulated 1,604,210 vol-
umes. The interest in this subject then seemed to de-
crease, and from 1853 to 1857 there was an average yearly
decrease of 56,569 volumes in the circulation. *

In 1852 the state of Indiana passed what was known as
the "Education Law," which provided for a library tax of
a quarter of a mill on all the taxable property, and a poll
tax of a quarter of a dollar for the establishment of a free
library in every civil township. Under this law each of
the 690 townships in Indiana was supplied with a library
containing 391 volumes.

In 1853 the state of Ohio, in its school law of that year,
appropriated one tenth of a mill on the valuation of taxa-
ble property for state purposes to the establishment and
maintenance of libraries in the common-school districts,
purchases to be made, as was the case in Indiana, by the
Department of Education.

Under this law, 245,887 volumes were distributed in

The original school law of the state of Wisconsin au-
thorized each town superintendent in his discretion to apply

* Report Superintendent of Common Schools, New York, 1834.


not exceeding ten per cent of the gross amount of school
money for the purchase of a school-district library. Before
the close of the year 1854 over eight hundred little libra-
ries had been formed under this law, but in 1859 a library
law was enacted providing for a permanent town-school
library fund, created by appropriating ten per cent of the
income of the school fund annually and by a special an-
nual state tax of a tenth of a mill on the taxable property.
The libraries formed were to be town libraries, and the
books to be purchased by the Department of Instruction.

It thus appears that, in the matter of free public libraries,
as in many others relating to education, the New England
states followed, and did not lead, the great states of the

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Online LibraryJosiah H. (Josiah Henry) BentonAddress of J.H. Benton, Jr., at the dedication of the Bradford Public Library building, Bradford, Vermont, July 4, 1895 → online text (page 2 of 5)