Read CHAPTER I of Public School Education , free online book, by Michael Mueller, on ReadCentral.com.

INTRODUCTORY

American fellow-citizens America is my home! I have no other country. After my God and my religion, my country is the dearest object of my life! I love my country as dearly as any one else can. It is this love that makes my heart bleed when I call to mind the actual state of society in our country, and the principles that prevail everywhere. It is indeed but too true that we live in a most anti-Christian age; principles are disregarded, and iniquity is held in veneration. We see nothing but confusion in religion, in government, in the family circle. Sects spring up and swarm like locusts, destroying not only revealed religion, but rejecting even the law of nature. Fraud, theft, and robbery are practised almost as a common trade. The press justifies rebellion, secret societies, and plots for the overthrow of established governments. The civil law, by granting divorce, has broken the family tie. Children are allowed to grow up in ignorance of true religious principles, and thereby become regardless of their parents. The number of apostates from Christianity is on the increase, at least in the rising generation. Current literature is penetrated with the spirit of licentiousness, from the pretentious quarterly to the arrogant and flippant daily newspaper, and the weekly and monthly publications are mostly heathen or maudlin. They express and inculcate, on the one hand, stoical, cold, and polished pride of mere intellect, or on the other, empty and wretched sentimentality. Some employ the skill of the engraver to caricature the institutions and offices of the Christian religion, and others to exhibit the grossest forms of vice, and the most distressing scenes of crime and suffering. The illustrated press has become to us what the amphitheatre was to the Romans when men were slain, women were outraged, and Christians given to the lions to please a degenerate populace. The number of the most unnatural crimes is beyond computation. A wide-spread and deep-seated dishonesty and corruption has, like some poisonous virus, inoculated the great body of our public men in national, state, and municipal positions, so much so that rascality seems to be the rule, and honesty the exception. Real statesmanship has departed from amongst us; neither the men nor the principles of the olden time exist any longer.

The shameless cynicism with which the great public plunderers of our day brazen out their infamy, is only equalled by the apathy with which the public permits these robberies, and condone for them by lavishing place and power upon the offenders. “The way of the transgressor” has ceased to be “hard” unless he be a transgressor of very low degree and rascality rides rampant over the land, from the halls of Congress to the lowest department of public plunder.

The poet has well said that Vice, once grown familiar to the view, after first exciting our hate, next succeeded in gaining our pity, and finally was taken into our embrace.

The familiarity of the public mind with daily and almost hourly instances of public peculation and betrayal of high trusts has created this indulgent disposition, until at last the wholesome indignation, which is the best safeguard of honesty, has been diluted into a maudlin sympathy with the malefactors. And the rankness of the growth of this evil is not more startling than its rapidity. It is a new thing a foul fungus, suddenly forced into fetid life, out of the corruptions engendered by the war. It is “a new departure” in a wrong direction down that smooth, broad path to the devil.

We all remember the sensation which, before the war, was ever caused by the discovery of a public defaulter, and the indignation which drove him ever forth from place and country, on his detection. Punishment sure and swift was certain to seize upon him, if he dared linger after the facts were known.

A breach of trust was not then considered a joke, nor theft elevated into the dignity of a fine art, whose most eminent professors were to be regarded with envy and admiration.

Think of the clamor which was raised over the comparatively petty peculations of Swartwout, Schuyler, Fowler, and other small sinners like them, who even found the country too hot to hold them, and died in exile, as an expiation to the public sentiment they had outraged.

Yet their frauds were as molehills to the mountains which the busy hands of our public peculators have heaped up, and are daily piling higher. Within the last ten years, where they stole cents, their successors stole by thousands and tens of thousands; and, instead of flying from punishment, flaunt their crimes and their ill-gotten wealth in the face of the community, heedless either of the arm of the law, or the more potent hiss of public scorn.

And this financial dishonesty of the times is as true of commercial as of political circles, and as patent at Washington as at New York and other cities. “Think you that those eighteen men on whom the tower of Siloam fell, were sinners above all others in Jerusalem? I tell you nay!” Think you that those six or seven on whom the axe of the public press fell, are sinners above all in New York and elsewhere? If all men that have been guilty of fraud in New York and elsewhere were to have a tower fall on them, there would be funerals enough for fifty years.

One of the saddest symptoms of degeneracy in a people is evinced by a desperate levity a scoffing spirit such as that which inspired the French people when they denied even God, and substituted a prostitute to be their “Goddess of Reason.” Much of that spirit is unhappily manifesting itself in our country.

That most fearful picture of a corrupt community drawn by Curran in his description of the public pests of his day “remaining at the bottom like drowned bodies while soundness remained in them, but rising only as they rotted, and floating only from the buoyancy of corruption” seems, unhappily, destined to find its parallel here, unless public virtue and public indignation should awake to condemn and chastise the corruption which is tainting and poisoning the air around us.

The judgment which overtook the men of Siloam was visited on them for sins not unlike those which seem to invite a similar judgment from offended Heaven upon our modern Siloams, and is no jesting matter. Nay, in view of the many recent terrible visitations which have fallen upon different parts of our country, many voices have already been raised proclaiming them as marks of Divine wrath against national sins, perpetrated by a people who should, by their lives, testify their sense of the blessings showered upon them in more prodigal profusion than on any other nation in the annals of mankind.

That the great body of our people are corrupt, or that they at heart approve of corruption, no one will be mad enough to maintain. But they are responsible before Heaven and to posterity for the criminal apathy they manifest in their silent sanction of the corruption and crime which are fast making the American name a synonyme for theft, for brazen impudence and unblushing rascality.

In the life of a nation, as in that of an individual, there are periods which are critical; and a restoration to health, or the certainty of speedy death, depends on the way this malady is met. The crisis which now menaces the life and health of the United States cannot be far distant; for private virtue cannot long survive the death of public honor and honesty, nor private morality fail to catch the contagion of public profligacy. If the representative men of a country, those in whom its high trusts are reposed, be corrupt and shameless, they will drag down into the same mire the morals of the people they plunder and misrepresent. Indeed we want no prophet, nor one raised from the dead, to tell us the awfully fatal results. What can be done to stem the fearful torrent of evils that flood the land? We all know that when, in 1765, the famous Stamp Act was passed in the British Parliament, on the news reaching Boston the bells were muffled, and rang a funeral peal. In New York the “Act” was carried through the streets with a death’s head bearing this inscription: “The Folly of England and the Ruin of America.” So great was the opposition to the “Act,” that it was repealed during the spring of 1766. This shows how quickly the evils of society can be put down if people set to work in earnest.

Now we cannot expect the people to set to work in earnest about stemming the torrent of the great evils of the land, unless they are well enlightened as to the source from which they flow. This source is principally that wrong system of education introduced into this country about fifty years ago. At that time very few, perhaps, could foresee what effects it was calculated to produce. After a long trial, we can now pronounce on it with certainty by its results. The tree, no longer a sapling, can be judged by its fruits. These fruits have been so bad that it is high time to call the attention of the public to the tree.

Now in calling attention to this tree, I wish it to be once for all distinctly understood, that whatever of a seemingly or even really harsh nature I may say in this discussion on the Public Schools, is intended and directed solely against the system. For those who manage or officiate in them, as teachers or otherwise, I have, I trust, all the courtesy, charity, and respect due from one citizen to another. If I offend the prejudices, convictions, or susceptibilities of any on this strangely misrepresented subject, no one can more regret it than myself; I can truly say it is not intended. All I ask of my fellow-citizens is a fair discussion on this great question of education, to look at it without prejudice, without bigotry; for if prejudice and bigotry stand in our way, they will stand in the way of the glory and stability of this country, whose future God only knows. It is the duty of all citizens to labor with a good heart, a clear mind, an earnest soul, to do all they can in building up, and strengthening, and making still more glorious this great American people.