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Morrill Act

Morrill Act



What was the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862?

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 was promulgated by Justin Morrill, representative of Vermont in the House of Representatives.  The bill was signed into law by President Lincoln during the Civil War.  The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 authorized the grant of federal land to the states for sale.  Each state was to receive 30,000 acres of land for each representative; both senators and members of the House, mostly from the western territories.  That would be sold and the proceeds go to funding higher education in those states.  As such each state was to receive a minimum of 90,000 acres of land to be sold.

According to the Morrill Land Grant Act the proceeds from the sales were to go to establishing institutions of higher education in the "agricultural and mechanical arts." The bill also included the promotion of military and traditional learning institutions.  The policy behind the act was to open up opportunities for higher education to members of the working classes.

The Morrill Land Grant Act is directly responsible for the establishment or improvement of:  Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, Penn State University, Rutgers University, The University of Minnesota, The University of Missouri, Cornell University, and The University of Wisconsin.  Almost all of the Universities and Colleges that were funded by the act are public Universities.  Overall, the 1862 Act allocated more than 17 million acres of land to the several states to be allocated for sale. 

The Morrill Land Grant Act, in its original form, specifically refused to include states that had seceded to the confederacy.  The exact provision of the Act states "No State while in a condition of rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States shall be entitled to the benefit of this act."  

Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890 expanded on the previous Act by expending more funds to the enhancement of education in agriculture and mechanics.  The new provision also included more aspects of study including the life sciences, mathematics and english.  Under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890 each state and territory; specifically including Guam and the Virgin Islands, would receive $15,000 for the use of creating; or in the case of Universities already established through the 1862 Act, enhancing Colleges and Universities.  From that point on each state was to receive another $15,000 every year with a yearly increase of $1,000 above the previous year's allocation.  This would continue for 10 years and upon the 11th year each state would receive $50,000 per year.  

The 1890 Act also allocated funds to southern states that had now re-entered the Union.  The Act specified that in order to receive funds from the federal government for education under the Act the states would be required to permit attendance of African Americans into those institutions that were funded through the Act.  For those Universities that refused to allow for African Americans and Whites to use the same facilities the Act proposed a compromise where separate institutions were required to be established to meet the needs of African Americans.  The Morrill Land Grant Act also required all states who receive money under the act to show, in annual reports, and meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture that the funds were being properly allocated to blacks and whites in equal apportionment.  If a state was found to violate this obligation it was ruled that they would no longer be privy to the land grant acts and relinquish and funds that were to be distributed in the future.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890 established 16 "Negro Land Grant Institutions" including South Carolina State University, Tennessee State University, Tuskegee University, West Virginia State College Florida A&M University and Kentucky State University.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 expanded even more on the educational initiatives taken by the first two Morrill Land Grant Acts.  The Smith-Lever Act was enacted in order to deal with the education of rural individuals in the manner of farming and home economics.  In the past Universities had taken it upon themselves to establish cooperative extensions in rural regions surrounding the land-grant universities.  Their actions greatly helped agriculture in those rural states.

The Smith-Lever Act made the creation of cooperative extensions mandatory.  In all states of the Union, the act allocated $480,000 to be distributed equally to each state in the amount of $10,000 per year for these extensions to promote good farming and home techniques.  This allotment was to increase to $500,000 for the second year of the enactment and increase by $500,000 more until year 7 when the federal government would allocate $4.58 million to be distributed equally among the states.  The Smith-Lever Act was the first of the amendments to the Morrill Land Grant to require that the states match any distribution made to the states for the purpose of education.

The Bankhead-Jones Act of 1935

The Bankhead-Jones Act of 1935 took another step to ensuring education and the establishment of public Universities.  This addition to the original Morrill Land Grants was passed during the height of the great depression and was, in a way, part of a larger plan to educate individuals in farming techniques that would lessen the effects of the dust bowl in the Midwest by teaching appropriate farming techniques.  The Bankhead-Jones Act increased federal allocation of funds to educational institutions throughout the several states.

The Act required $8.1 million to be distributed equally to all of the States in the Union including the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  After the initial year each state and the specified territories were to receive $4.36 million in funds to be distributed based on the population of the state or territory.  

In 1994 the Morrill Land Grants were expanded once more when the National Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching Act Reauthorization act was passed.  This law required $23 million to over 5 years to be designated to the building and support of tribal colleges on Indian reservations throughout the Union.


Overall, the Morrill Land Grants are responsible for the establishment of over 60 universities including the University of California, which is the largest of the land-grant universities, which has an enrollment of 150,000 students.  The Morrill Land Grants are responsible for 33% of all bachelor's degrees attained in this country and 70% of all doctorates.