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Encouraging as had been the movement to enlighten the Negroes, there had always been at work certain reactionary forces which impeded the intellectual progress of the colored people. The effort to enlighten them that they might be emancipated to enjoy the political rights given white men, failed to meet with success in those sections where slaves were found in large numbers. Feeling that the body politic, as conceived by Locke and Montesquieu, did not include the slaves, many citizens opposed their education on the ground that their mental improvement was inconsistent with their position as persons held to service. For this reason there was never put forward any systematic effort to elevate the slaves. Every master believed that he had a divine right to deal with the situation as he chose. Moreover, even before the policy of mental and moral improvement of the slaves could be given a trial, some colonists, anticipating the “evils of the scheme,” sought to obviate them by legislation. Such we have observed was the case in Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. To control the assemblies of slaves, North Carolina, Delaware, and Maryland early passed strict regulations for their inspection.

The actual opposition of the masters to the mental improvement of Negroes, however, did not assume sufficiently large proportions to prevent the intellectual progress of that race, until two forces then at work had had time to become effective in arousing southern planters to the realization of what a danger enlightened colored men would be to the institution of slavery. These forces were the industrial revolution and the development of an insurrectionary spirit among slaves, accelerated by the rapid spreading of the abolition agitation. The industrial revolution was effected by the multiplication of mechanical appliances for spinning and weaving which so influenced the institution of slavery as seemingly to doom the Negroes to heathenism. These inventions were the spinning jenny, the steam engine, the power loom, the wool-combing machine, and the cotton gin. They augmented the output of spinning mills, and in cheapening cloth, increased the demand by bringing it within the reach of the poor. The result was that a revolution was brought about not only in Europe, but also in the United States to which the world looked for this larger supply of cotton fiber. This demand led to the extension of the plantation system on a larger scale. It was unfortunate, however, that many of the planters thus enriched, believed that the slightest amount of education, merely teaching slaves to read, impaired their value because it instantly destroyed their contentedness. Since they did not contemplate changing their condition, it was surely doing them an ill service to destroy their acquiescence in it. This revolution then had brought it to pass that slaves who were, during the eighteenth century advertised as valuable on account of having been enlightened, were in the nineteenth century considered more dangerous than useful.

With the rise of this system, and the attendant increased importation of slaves, came the end of the helpful contact of servants with their masters. Slavery was thereby changed from a patriarchal to an economic institution. Thereafter most owners of extensive estates abandoned the idea that the mental improvement of slaves made them better servants. Doomed then to be half-fed, poorly clad, and driven to death in this cotton kingdom, what need had the slaves for education? Some planters hit upon the seemingly more profitable scheme of working newly imported slaves to death during seven years and buying another supply rather than attempt to humanize them. Deprived thus of helpful advice and instruction, the slaves became the object of pity not only to abolitionists of the North but also to some southerners. Not a few of these reformers, therefore, favored the extermination of the institution. Others advocated the expansion of slavery not to extend the influence of the South, but to disperse the slaves with a view to bringing about a closer contact between them and their masters. This policy was duly emphasized during the debate on the admission of the State of Missouri.

Seeking to direct the attention of the world to the slavery of men’s bodies and minds the abolitionists spread broadcast through the South newspapers, tracts, and pamphlets which, whether or not they had much effect in inducing masters to improve the condition of their slaves, certainly moved Negroes themselves. It hardly required enlightenment to convince slaves that they would be better off as freemen than as dependents whose very wills were subject to those of their masters. Accordingly even in the seventeenth century there developed in the minds of bondmen the spirit of resistance. The white settlers of the colonies held out successfully in putting down the early riots of Negroes. When the increasing intelligent Negroes of the South, however, observed in the abolition literature how the condition of the American slaves differed from that of the ancient servants and even from what it once had been in the United States; when they fully realized their intolerable condition compared with that of white men, who were clamoring for liberty and equality, there rankled in the bosom of slaves that insurrectionary passion productive of the daring uprisings which made the chances for the enlightenment of colored people poorer than they had ever been in the history of this country.

The more alarming insurrections of the first quarter of the nineteenth century were the immediate cause of the most reactionary measures. It was easily observed that these movements were due to the mental improvement of the colored people during the struggle for the rights of man. Not only had Negroes heard from the lips of their masters warm words of praise for the leaders of the French Revolution but had developed sufficient intelligence themselves to read the story of the heroes of the world, who were then emboldened to refresh the tree of liberty “with the blood of patriots and tyrants." The insurrectionary passion among the colored people was kindled, too, around Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, and New Orleans by certain Negroes who to escape the horrors of the political upheaval in Santo Domingo, immigrated into this country in 1793. The education of the colored race had paved the way for the dissemination of their ideas of liberty and equality. Enlightened bondmen persistently made trouble for the white people in these vicinities. Negroes who could not read, learned from others the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, whose example colored men were then ambitious to emulate.

The insurrection of Gabriel in Virginia and that of South Carolina in the year 1800 are cases in evidence. Unwilling to concede that slaves could have so well planned such a daring attack, the press of the time insisted that two Frenchmen were the promoters of the affair in Virginia. James Monroe said there was no evidence that any white man was connected with it. It was believed that the general tendency of the Negroes toward an uprising had resulted from French ideas which had come to the slaves through intelligent colored men. Observing that many Negroes were sufficiently enlightened to see things as other men, the editor of the Aurora asserted that in negotiating with the “Black Republic” the United States and Great Britain had set the seal of approval upon servile insurrection. Others referred to inflammatory handbills which Negroes extensively read. Discussing the Gabriel plot in 1800, Judge St. George Tucker said: “Our sole security then consists in their ignorance of this power (doing us mischief) and their means of using it a security which we have lately found is not to be relied on, and which, small as it is, every day diminishes. Every year adds to the number of those who can read and write; and the increase in knowledge is the principal agent in evolving the spirit we have to fear."

Camden was disturbed by an insurrection in 1816 and Charleston in 1822 by a formidable plot which the officials believed was due to the “sinister” influences of enlightened Negroes. The moving spirit of this organization was Denmark Vesey. He had learned to read and write, had accumulated an estate worth $8000, and had purchased his freedom in 1800 Jack Purcell, an accomplice of Vesey, weakened in the crisis and confessed. He said that Vesey was in the habit of reading to him all the passages in the newspapers, that related to Santo Domingo and apparently every accessible pamphlet that had any connection with slavery. One day he read to Purcell the speeches of Mr. King on the subject of slavery and told Purcell how this friend of the Negro race declared he would continue to speak, write, and publish pamphlets against slavery “the longest day he lived,” until the Southern States consented to emancipate their slaves.

The statement of the Governor of South Carolina also shows the influence of the educated Negro. This official felt that Monday, the slave of Mr. Gill, was the most daring conspirator. Being able to read and write he “attained an extraordinary and dangerous influence over his fellows.” “Permitted by his owner to occupy a house in the central part of this city, he was afforded hourly opportunities for the exercise of his skill on those who were attracted to his shop by business or favor.” “Materials were abundantly furnished in the seditious pamphlets brought into the State by equally culpable incendiaries, while the speeches of the oppositionists in Congress to the admission of Missouri gave a serious and imposing effect to his machinations." It was thus brought home to the South that the enlightened Negro was having his heart fired with the spirit of liberty by his perusal of the accounts of servile insurrections and the congressional debate on slavery.

Southerners of all types thereafter attacked the policy of educating Negroes. Men who had expressed themselves neither one way nor the other changed their attitude when it became evident that abolition literature in the hands of slaves would not only make them dissatisfied, but cause them to take drastic measures to secure liberty. Those who had emphasized the education of the Negroes to increase their economic efficiency were largely converted. The clergy who had insisted that the bondmen were entitled to, at least, sufficient training to enable them to understand the principles of the Christian religion, were thereafter willing to forego the benefits of their salvation rather than see them destroy the institution of slavery.

In consequence of this tendency, State after State enacted more stringent laws to control the situation. Missouri passed in 1817 an act so to regulate the traveling and assembly of slaves as to make them ineffective in making headway against the white people by insurrection. Of course, in so doing the reactionaries deprived them of the opportunities of helpful associations and of attending schools. By 1819 much dissatisfaction had arisen from the seeming danger of the various colored schools in Virginia. The General Assembly, therefore, passed a law providing that there should be no more assemblages of slaves, or free Negroes, or mulattoes, mixing or associating with such slaves for teaching them reading and writing. The opposition here seemed to be for the reasons that Negroes were being generally enlightened in the towns of the State and that white persons as teachers in these institutions were largely instrumental in accomplishing this result. Mississippi even as a Territory had tried to meet the problem of unlawful assemblies. In the year 1823 it was declared unlawful for Negroes above the number of five to meet for educational purposes. Only with the permission of their masters could slaves attend religious worship conducted by a recognized white minister or attended by “two discreet and reputable persons."

The problem in Louisiana was first to keep out intelligent persons who might so inform the slaves as to cause them to rise. Accordingly in 1814 the State passed a law prohibiting the immigration of free persons of color into that commonwealth. This precaution, however, was not deemed sufficient after the insurrectionary Negroes of New Berne, Tarborough, and Hillsborough, North Carolina, had risen, and David Walker of Massachusetts had published to the slaves his fiery appeal to arms. In 1830, therefore, Louisiana enacted another measure, providing that whoever should write, print, publish, or distribute anything having the tendency to produce discontent among the slaves, should on conviction thereof be imprisoned at hard labor for life or suffer death at the discretion of the court. It was provided, too, that whoever used any language or became instrumental in bringing into the State any paper, book, or pamphlet inducing this discontent should suffer practically the same penalty. All persons who should teach, or permit or cause to be taught, any slave to read or write, should be imprisoned not less than one month nor more than twelve.

Yielding to the demand of slaveholders, Georgia passed a year later a law providing that any Negro who should teach another to read or write should be punished by fine and whipping. If a white person should so offend, he should be punished with a fine not exceeding $500 and with imprisonment in the common jail at the discretion of the committing magistrate.

In Virginia where the prohibition did not then extend to freedmen, there was enacted in 1831 a law providing that any meeting of free Negroes or mulattoes for teaching them reading or writing should be considered an unlawful assembly. To break up assemblies for this purpose any judge or justice of the peace could issue a warrant to apprehend such persons and inflict corporal punishment not exceeding twenty lashes. White persons convicted of teaching Negroes to read or write were to be fined fifty dollars and might be imprisoned two months. For imparting such information to a slave the offender was subject to a fine of not less than ten nor more than one hundred dollars.

The whole country was again disturbed by the insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. The slave States then had a striking example of what the intelligent Negroes of the South might eventually do. The leader of this uprising was Nat Turner. Precocious as a youth he had learned to read so easily that he did not remember when he first had that attainment. Given unusual social and intellectual advantages, he developed into a man of considerable “mental ability and wide information.” His education was chiefly acquired in the Sunday-schools in which “the text-books for the small children were the ordinary speller and reader, and that for the older Negroes the Bible." He had received instruction also from his parents and his indulgent young master, J.C. Turner.

When Nat Turner appeared, the education of the Negro had made the way somewhat easier for him than it was for his predecessors. Negroes who could read and write had before them the revolutionary ideas of the French, the daring deeds of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the bold attempt of General Gabriel, and the far-reaching plans of Denmark Vesey. These were sometimes written up in the abolition literature, the circulation of which was so extensive among the slaves that it became a national question.

Trying to account for this insurrection the Governor of the State lays it to the charge of the Negro preachers who were in position to foment much disorder on account of having acquired “great ascendancy over the minds” of discontented slaves. He believed that these ministers were in direct contact with the agents of abolition, who were using colored leaders as a means to destroy the institutions of the South. The Governor was cognizant of the fact that not only was the sentiment of the incendiary pamphlets read but often the words. To prevent the “enemies” in other States from communicating with the slaves of that section he requested that the laws regulating the assembly of Negroes be more rigidly enforced and that colored preachers be silenced. The General Assembly complied with this request.

The aim of the subsequent reactionary legislation of the South was to complete the work of preventing the dissemination of information among Negroes and their reading of abolition literature. This they endeavored to do by prohibiting the communication of the slaves with one another, with the better informed free persons of color, and with the liberal white people; and by closing all the schools theretofore opened to Negroes. The States passed laws providing for a more stringent regulation of passes, defining unlawful assemblies, and fixing penalties for the same. Other statutes prohibited religious worship, or brought it under direct supervision of the owners of the slaves concerned, and proscribed the private teaching of slaves in any manner whatever.

Mississippi, which already had a law to prevent the mental improvement of the slaves, enacted in 1831 another measure to remove from them the more enlightened members of their race. All free colored persons were to leave the State in ninety days. The same law provided, too, that no Negro should preach in that State unless to the slaves of his plantation and with the permission of the owner. Delaware saw fit to take a bold step in this direction. The act of 1831 provided that no congregation or meeting of free Negroes or mulattoes of more than twelve persons should be held later than twelve o’clock at night, except under the direction of three respectable white persons who were to attend the meeting. It further provided that no free Negro should attempt to call a meeting for religious worship, to exhort or preach, unless he was authorized to do so by a judge or justice of the peace, upon the recommendation of five “respectable and judicious citizens.” This measure tended only to prevent the dissemination of information among Negroes by making it impossible for them to assemble. It was not until 1863 that the State of Delaware finally passed a positive measure to prevent the assemblages of colored persons for instruction and all other meetings except for religious worship and the burial of the dead. Following the example of Delaware in 1832, Florida passed a law prohibiting all meetings of Negroes except those for divine worship at a church or place attended by white persons. Florida made the same regulations more stringent in 1846 when she enjoyed the freedom of a State.

Alabama had some difficulty in getting a satisfactory law. In 1832 this commonwealth enacted a law imposing a fine of from $250 to $500 on persons who should attempt to educate any Negro whatsoever. The act also prohibited the usual unlawful assemblies and the preaching or exhorting of Negroes except in the presence of five “respectable slaveholders” or unless the officiating minister was licensed by some regular church of which the persons thus exhorted were members. It soon developed that the State had gone too far. It had infringed upon the rights and privileges of certain créoles, who, being residents of the Louisiana Territory when it was purchased in 1803, had been guaranteed the rights of citizens of the United States. Accordingly in 1833 the Mayor and the Aldermen of Mobile were authorized by law to grant licenses to such persons as they might deem suitable to instruct for limited periods, in that city and the counties of Mobile and Baldwin, the free colored children, who were descendants of colored créoles residing in the district in 1803.

Another difficulty of certain commonwealths had to be overcome. Apparently Georgia had already incorporated into its laws provisions adequate to the prevention of the mental improvement of Negroes. But it was discovered that employed as they had been in various positions either requiring knowledge, or affording its acquirement, Negroes would pick up the rudiments of education, despite the fact that they had no access to schools. The State then passed a law imposing a penalty not exceeding one hundred dollars for the employment of any slave or free person of color “in setting up type or other labor about a printing office requiring a knowledge of reading and writing." In 1834 South Carolina saw the same danger. In addition to enacting a more stringent law for the prevention of the teaching of Negroes by white or colored friends, and for the destruction of their schools, it provided that persons of African blood should not be employed as clerks or salesmen in or about any shop or store or house used for trading.

North Carolina was among the last States to take such drastic measures for the protection of the white race. In this commonwealth the whites and blacks had lived on liberal terms. Negroes had up to this time enjoyed the right of suffrage there. Some attended schools open to both races. A few even taught white children.

The intense feeling against Negroes engendered by the frequency of insurrections, however, sufficed to swing the State into the reactionary column by 1835. An act passed by the Legislature that year prohibited the public instruction of Negroes, making it impossible for youth of African descent to get any more education than what they could in their own family circle. The public school system established thereafter specifically provided that its benefits should not extend to any descendant from Negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive. Bearing so grievously this loss of their social status after they had toiled up from poverty, many ambitious free persons of color, left the State for more congenial communities.

The States of the West did not have to deal so severely with their slaves as was deemed necessary in Southern States. Missouri found it advisable in 1833 to amend the law of 1817 so as to regulate more rigorously the traveling and the assembling of slaves. It was not until 1847, however, that this commonwealth specifically provided that no one should keep or teach any school for the education of Negroes. Tennessee had as early as 1803 a law governing the movement of slaves but exhibited a little more reactionary spirit in 1836 in providing that there should be no circulation of seditious books or pamphlets which might lead to insurrection or rebellion among Negroes. Tennessee, however, did not positively forbid the education of colored people. Kentucky had a system of regulating the egress and regress of slaves but never passed any law prohibiting their instruction. Yet statistics show that although the education of Negroes was not penalized, it was in many places made impossible by public sentiment. So was it in the State of Maryland, which did not expressly forbid the instruction of anyone.

These reactionary results were not obtained without some opposition. The governing element of some States divided on the question. The opinions of this class were well expressed in the discussion between Chancellor Harper and J.B. O’Neal of the South Carolina bar. The former said that of the many Negroes whom he had known to be capable of reading, he had never seen one read anything but the Bible. He thought that they imposed this task upon themselves as a matter of duty. Because of the Negroes’ “defective comprehension and the laborious nature of this employment to them" he considered such reading an inefficient method of religious instruction. He, therefore, supported the oppressive measures of the South. The other member of the bar maintained that men could not reflect as Christians and justify the position that slaves should not be permitted to read the Bible. “It is in vain,” added he, “to say there is danger in it. The best slaves of the State are those who can and do read the Scriptures. Again, who is it that teaches your slaves to read? It is generally done by the children of the owners. Who would tolerate an indictment against his son or daughter for teaching a slave to read? Such laws look to me as rather cowardly." This attorney was almost of the opinion of many others who believed that the argument that to Christianize and educate the colored people of a slave commonwealth had a tendency to elevate them above their masters and to destroy the “legitimate distinctions” of the community, could be admitted only where the people themselves were degraded.

After these laws had been passed, American slavery extended not as that of the ancients, only to the body, but also to the mind. Education was thereafter regarded as positively inconsistent with the institution. The precaution taken to prevent the dissemination of information was declared indispensable to the system. The situation in many parts of the South was just as Berry portrayed it in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1832. He said: “We have as far as possible closed every avenue by which light may enter their [the slaves’] minds. If we could extinguish the capacity to see the light, our work would be completed; they would then be on a level with the beasts of the field and we should be safe! I am not certain that we would not do it, if we could find out the process, and that on the plea of necessity."

It had then come to pass that in the South, where once were found a considerable number of intelligent Negroes, they had become exceedingly scarce or disappeared from certain sections altogether. On plantations of hundreds of slaves it was common to discover that not one of them had the mere rudiments of education. In some large districts it was considered almost a phenomenon to find a Negro who could read the Bible or sign his name.

The reactionary tendency was in no sense confined to the Southern States. Laws were passed in the North to prevent the migration of Negroes to that section. Their education at certain places was discouraged. In fact, in the proportion that the conditions in the South made it necessary for free blacks to flee from oppression, the people of the North grew less tolerant on account of the large number of those who crowded the towns and cities of the free States near the border. The antislavery societies at one time found it necessary to devote their time to the amelioration of the economic condition of the refugees to make them acceptable to the white people rather than to direct their attention to mere education. Not a few northerners, dreading an influx of free Negroes, drove them even from communities to which they had learned to, repair for education.

The best example of this intolerance was the opposition encountered by Prudence Crandall, a well-educated young Quaker lady, who had established a boarding-school at Canterbury, Connecticut. Trouble arose when Sarah Harris, a colored girl, asked admission to this institution. For many reasons Miss Crandall hesitated to admit her but finally yielded. Only a few days thereafter the parents of the white girls called on Miss Crandall to offer their objections to sending their children to school with a “nigger." Miss Crandall stood firm, the white girls withdrew, and the teacher advertised for young women of color. The determination to continue the school on this basis incited the townsmen to hold an indignation meeting. They passed resolutions to protest through a committee of local officials against the establishment of a school of this kind in that community. At this meeting Andrew T. Judson denounced the policy of Miss Crandall, while the Rev. Samuel J. May ably defended it. Judson was not only opposed to the establishment of such a school in Canterbury but in any part of the State. He believed that colored people, who could never rise from their menial condition in the United States, should not to be encouraged to expect to elevate themselves in Connecticut. He considered them inferior servants who should not be treated as equals of the Caucasians, but should be sent back to Africa to improve themselves and Christianize the natives. On the contrary, Mr. May thought that there would never be fewer colored people in this country than were found here then and that it would be unjust to exile them. He asserted that white people should grant Negroes their rights or lose their own and that since education is the primal, fundamental right of all men, Connecticut was the last place where this should be denied.

Miss Crandall and her pupils were threatened with violence. Accommodation at the local stores was denied her. The pupils were insulted. The house was besmeared and damaged. An effort was made to invoke the law by which the selectmen might warn any person not an inhabitant of the State to depart under penalty of paying $1.67 for every week he remained after receiving such notice. This failed, but Judson and his followers were still determined that the “nigger school” should never be allowed in Canterbury nor any town of the State. They appealed to the legislature. Setting forth in its preamble that the evil to be obviated was the increase of the black population of the commonwealth, that body passed a law providing that no person should establish a school for the instruction of colored people who were not inhabitants of the State of Connecticut, nor should any one harbor or board students brought to the State for this purpose without first obtaining, in writing, the consent of a majority of the civil authority and of the selectmen of the town.

The enactment of this law caused Canterbury to go wild with joy. Miss Crandall was arrested on the 27th of June, and committed to await her trial at the next session of the Supreme Court. She and her friends refused to give bond that the officials might go the limit in imprisoning her. Miss Crandall was placed in a murderer’s cell. Mr. May, who had stood by her, said when he saw the door locked and the key taken out, “The deed is done, completely done. It cannot be recalled. It has passed into the history of our nation and age.” Miss Crandall was tried the 23d of August, 1833, at Brooklyn, the county seat of the county of Windham. The jury failed to agree upon a verdict, doubtless because Joseph Eaton, who presided, had given it as his opinion that the law was probably unconstitutional. At the second trial before Judge Dagget of the Supreme Court, who was an advocate of the law, Miss Crandall was convicted. Her counsel, however, filed a bill of exceptions and took an appeal to the Court of Errors. The case came up on the 22d of July, 1834. The nature of the law was ably discussed by W.W. Ellsworth and Calvin Goddard, who maintained that it was unconstitutional, and by A.T. Judson and C.F. Cleveland, who undertook to prove its constitutionality. The court reserved its decision, which was never given. Finding that there were defects in the information prepared by the attorney for the State, the indictment was quashed. Because of subsequent attempts to destroy the building, Mr. May and Miss Crandall decided to abandon the school.

It resulted then that even in those States to which free blacks had long looked for sympathy, the fear excited by fugitives from the more reactionary commonwealths had caused northerners so to yield to the prejudices of the South that they opposed insuperable obstacles to the education of Negroes for service in the United States. The colored people, as we shall see elsewhere, were not allowed to locate their manual labor college at New Haven and the principal of the Noyes Academy at Canaan, New Hampshire, saw his institution destroyed because he decided to admit colored students. These fastidious persons, however, raised no objection to the establishment of schools to prepare Negroes to expatriate themselves under the direction of the American Colonization Society.

Observing these conditions the friends of the colored people could not be silent. The abolitionists led by Caruthers, May, and Garrison hurled their weapons at the reactionaries, branding them as inconsistent schemers. After having advanced the argument of the mental inferiority of the colored race they had adopted the policy of educating Negroes on the condition that they be removed from the country. Considering education one of the rights of man, the abolitionists persistently rebuked the North and South for their inhuman policy. On every opportune occasion they appealed to the world in behalf of the oppressed race, which the hostile laws had removed from humanizing influences, reduced to the plane of beasts, and made to die in heathenism.

In reply to the abolitionists the protagonists of the reactionaries said that but for the “intrusive and intriguing interference of pragmatical fanatics" such precautionary enactments would never have been necessary. There was some truth in this statement; for in certain districts these measures operated not to prevent the aristocratic people of the South from enlightening the Negroes, but to keep away from them what they considered undesirable instructors. The southerners regarded the abolitionists as foes in the field, industriously scattering the seeds of insurrection which could then be prevented only by blocking every avenue through which they could operate upon the minds of the slaves. A writer of this period expressed it thus: “It became necessary to check or turn aside the stream which instead of flowing healthfully upon the Negro is polluted and poisoned by the abolitionists and rendered the source of discontent and excitement." He believed that education thus perverted would become equally dangerous to the master and the slave, and that while fanaticism continued its war upon the South the measures of necessary precaution and defense had to be continued. He asserted, however, that education would not only unfit the Negro for his station in life and prepare him for insurrection, but would prove wholly impracticable in the performance of the duties of a laborer. The South has not yet learned that an educated man is a better laborer than an ignorant one.