Sylvester Scovel,
Inaugural Address
Delivered March 26, 1847

(Cincinnati: Holland & Hitchler, 1847).

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned by Heather Haralson, January 1997.
Proofread by David Gabbard, May 1997.

The West and Western Institutions

To restore our race to their original moral rights, is the great object of revelation, redemption, law, and education. Revelation finds man in the distance from his Creator; redemption proposes to bring him near; divine laws are so many safe-guards of his moral interests, and so many guides to lead him in the right way; while education developes his powers and tends to place him erect in all his relations, both human and divine. It is education which comes within the range of human possibilities, and it is this, by which the barbarian rises by slow degrees to the rank of civilization. "When we contrast the ignorance, rudeness and helplessness of the savage, with the knowledge, refinement, and resources of civilized man, the difference between them appears so wide, that they can hardly be regarded as of the same species. Yet compare the infant of the savage with that of the philosopher and you will find them in all respects the same. The same high capacious powers of mind lie folded up in both; and in both, the organs of sensation adapted to these powers are exactly similar. All the difference, which is afterwards to distinguish them, depends upon their education. While the mind of the savage, left entirely neglected, will scarcely raise him above the level of the animals around him, insensible to all the wonders of creation, and shut out from all the treasures of nature, the more fortunate member of enlightened society, whose capacities shall be evolved by a proper education, will comprehend within the ample range of his intelligence the universe of God.

The untutored barbarian, like the beasts which he hunts for subsistence, or from which he dreads destruction, acts merely under the guidance of instinct, or from the impulse of appetite, passion, or feeling. A stranger to control, he acknowledges no law but his own will. Not disciplined to subordination, or trained to reflect on the relations of society, and the duties which arise out of these relations, he submits to no superior, but the leader whom he chooses to conduct him to the gratification of his private or national animosities; and his wildest desires are indulged without the slightest regard to any future consequence, or to any feelings or interests but his own. His enjoyments therefore are entirely selfish, and spring from the gratification of the most ferocious passions or the most groveling appetites. His devotion is a feeling of terror; and the whole system of his superstition is a fabric reared by his vices, which it serves to fortify and confirm. He may hope for immortality; but the scenes which he pictures to himself beyond the limits of time, derive all their coloring from his own dark imagination; and the expectation of a heaven of insulting triumph over vanquished foes, only inflames to greater violence the malignant passions which rankle in his breast.

Can a nature thus selfish, thus fiend-like be transformed by any culture into the likeness of man as we contemplate him in the more enlightened and happy regions of the world? Are the benevolent schemes which embrace in their object the happiness of millions, conceived by minds akin to those, whose ingenuity was never exercised but in places of murder and devastation?

Yes! these natures opposite as they appear, are formed originally after the same image. It is to education alone, that the civilized and enlightened man owes all his superiority. It is education, which, raising him above the degrading dominion of sense, teaches him to respect the voice of reason, and to follow her as the guide of his conduct. It is education which reminds him of the necessity of subordination in regular communities; and which, convincing him how much the happiness of the individual is promoted and secured by submission to government and laws, expands even his selfish feelings into kindness and patriotism. It is education, which, leading him to reflect on the ties that unite him with friends, with kindred, and with the great family of mankind, makes his bosom glow with social tenderness, confirms the emotions of sympathy into habitual benevolence, imparts to him the noble delight of rejoicing with those who rejoice, and the melancholy pleasure of weeping with those that weep; in a word, which renders his self love only a modification of generosity, and enables him to gather his purest bliss, from seeing others blest."[1]

If this is the natural effect of educating even the mind shrouded in the greatest darkness, what are the institutions needed for this noble work in the age and country in which we dwell? There are three stages of society passed in the settlement of a new country: the first, in which the highest effort of political economy is to supply the commonest necessities of the pioneer families: the second, in which the system of internal exchange commences, and the substantial conveniences of life are reached: the third, in which our cities and villages are reared; the farmer leaves his rude cabin for the stately dwelling, and surrounds himself with the comforts and some of the luxuries of life. In the first and second stages, every energy is strung for purposes other than mental advancement; and the height of literary attainment is usually from the speller conn'd by the cabin fire. We are just approaching the third stage, and to it, only portions of our country have yet attained. The childhood of the West is passed, only so far as to reach the period of vigorous youth. Every thing is yet to be done - principles are to be settled -plans digested - connexions formed - business entered upon - and the whole future character assumed, while as yet the great traits of it exist but in the germ. This youth is however a giant, tractable and generous under wise tuition, but under ill-training and discipline, capable of raising worse storms in his dominions, than ever issued from the mountain smitten by the king of storms.

According to M. Guizot, there are two great essentials of civilization; social progress, and individual progress. Of the former, our country gives no doubtful indications, in subdued forests and prairies, in the buzz and rattle of our machinery, the flocks and herds, and varied industry of our States, the Cotton fields and sugar plantations of the South, the golden eared and wide waving harvest of our own State, "the net-work of rail-ways threading our valleys and climbing our mountains, the whistle of our steamers ascending every river, our mercantile shipping converting our ports into mimic forests, and penetrating with the products of our industry almost every harbor on the globe, - all bear testimony to our Social progress; a testimony visible to the world, and too conspicuous to be denied."[2]

Of the other essential of civilization, the individual progress, or the development of the individual man, we cannot speak so confidently. Something has been done in the present age in laying foundations. Indeed it is an age of foundations, some of which, placed by wise master builders, are well sustaining the superstructures now rising upon them in beauty and fair proportions; others no doubt will disappoint the fond expectations of their proprietors. But the abiding foundation must be laid, and splendidly too, for sustaining such appliances as will secure mental development, and that to the masses of the 9,000,000 population in this broad valley: a population, made up of the restless, the daring, and the enterprising of almost every kindred, tribe, tongue and people, homogeneous in nothing, and to be melted together only by the sameness of the powerful means employed alike upon all. Without this, you might make every acre a garden, every village a Lowell, and every port a mart of boundless commerce, and yet never secure the happiness of society; that happiness depends upon the harmonious combination of the two great essentials of civilization.

In this state of our country, the question returns, what are the needful institutions for the great work before us? Manifestly those adapted to earlier and later periods of life, and to the education of the whole man, physical, moral, and intellectual. As appropriate means to accomplish this, we enumerate, Common Schools, Parochial Schools, Academies, (male and female,) Colleges, and Professional Seminaries.

The excellence of the Common School system, is the hope of carrying its benefits to all classes of society; but the system is too new and feeble to thrust out the warmth and life from the centre to the extremities, in any of our States. An immeasurable additional force would be given to that system, by an able general superentendant, aided if possible by a zealous County Superintendant, acting in concert with him in every County. No work can be well done, but by some one whose especial calling it is to do it. This truth is so sanctioned by the common principle of division of labor, as seen in every orderly community, that it needs no other enforcement.

The Secretary of State, in Ohio, formerly Professor in this Institution, states in his last Report to that Legislature, that "there are not less than 40,000 of their citizens, over 20 years of age, who can neither read nor write, and that there are nearly 150,000 under that age, and within the limits of the provision of the law, entirely illiterate." The Secretary well remarks upon these facts, - "were there as many thousands in the midst of us, who through poverty or imbecility should pass their lives without any improvement in their vital powers; who should, in the lanuage of Scripture, 'have eyes but see not, ears but hear not,' their senses all torpid, their limbs nerveless and incapable of muscular movement, all but lifeless, and yet alive, what should we think of such existence, of such being? And yet that which in debasement, surpasses even our imagination, if done to the body, is done by individuals and the community, and permitted to be done by civilized governments, by ourself, under the full blaze of Christianity, to the immortal mind, to those lofty capacities which, in their nature and destiny, as far exceed the physical powers, as mind excels matter, spirit clay, heaven earth." At the last census in Indiana and Illinois, a still greater proportion was entirely illiterate. These facts and declarations are, at least, as fearfully true of the other and newer Western States. There are more than 2,000,000 of children without Schools, in the West.

Do we need Parochial Schools? They are in this country so nearly an untried experiment, it may be well to enquire, what is a Parochial School? It is a school for each Parish or congregation, sustained by the congregation, placed under the direction of the Pastor and principal members, who select the teachers, aid them in their work, especially in bringing a strong religious influence to bear upon the school, thus mingling the cup of knowledge with the cup of salvation continually. But will not these schools clash with the common school system? Not at all. They should be a grade intermediate between the common school and the academy, and while the former is at every man's door, it can be enjoyed until such advancement is made as to prepare the pupils for the best profit at the Parochial School. These schools have not only been fully tested in Scotland, but have been in large part her salvation. They are a part of that complete system of national education, presented to the General Assembly by Knox and his fellow laborers in 1560, of the working of which system, it was affirmed more than 200 years after its establishment, that it had made them a nation of philosophers, heralds of liberty to all that kingdom, a profoundly religious people, and that not one of the pupils of those schools had been arraigned before the tribunals of the country charged with any crime. Other denominations in this country have done something in this department, perhaps more than Presbyterians, but the last General Assembly warmly recommended the system to all its churches, and it is my most ardent aspiration that every Synod, Presbytery and Session in our connexion may speedily adopt a system so calculated to make every wilderness a garden of God.

Largely to the same effect are well conducted academies. To the praise of this state be it said, it has made provision for an institution of this kind at every county seat. Few of these, however, have as yet become efficient aids to literature. We trust in the rising spirit of intelligence and the fostering care of the legislature to re-animate them, and thus make them accomplish their original design. Then, and not till then, will they compare with the preparatory departments in our Colleges, and the High Schools erected by individual enterprise, and which are certainly doing a noble work.

With these brief hints respecting the three classes of minor institutions, we come now to the fourth, beyond which we shall not detain you on the present occasion. Do we then need Colleges? First, do we need Western Colleges? Here is a surface of 1,200,000 square miles, over which must be thrown an intelligence so clear and strong, as not only to suffice for the millions now dwelling on that surface, but sufficient for the 20,000,000 that will occupy the same space in 1856; sufficient too for the 40,000,000 that will be here in 1866 - an intelligence, that will reach every cabin, and can be reflected from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, and to Mexico.

Can you do this without Western Colleges? We are now carrying forward an experiment, the essentials of the success of which are religion and intelligence. This experiment of free government in this country has reached the struggling Greek, the Pole, the Italian, and even the Serf of Russia, and wak'd the oppressed of all nations to look for a similar boon for themselves and their descendants. The hopes of the globe hang upon us, and a voice from the other side of the waters re-echoes, the hopes of the globe hang upon us. What an undying curse will then be upon us, if by ill-success in the experiment, we dash these hopes forever. We are in danger of this very ill-success. You perceive that Divine Providence is rolling its millions of souls into our borders, by which the whole responsibility of this experiment seems to be thrown upon our Western shores. In 19 years, according to the fact, above stated, these 40,000,000 will he dwellers in this great valley; a population, probably double the number that will then inhabit the eastern slope of the country, a population therefore holding in hand the most fearful destiny ever held by mortals, touching the liberties of our race. Let the West erect herself and look at the charge! Is she ready for it? Can she be ready with so small means, for spreading intelligence among her present 9,000,000, and thus preparing them to act favorably upon the heart and mind of the next 9,000,000, and the next, and the next? Colleges are confessedly the fountains; from these must the Professional Seminaries and the Professions be supplied; from these must emanate supplies for the Academy, the Parochial School, and the Common School. If proof were wanted, you have but to observe the improved condition of our Common Schools, within a circle of fifty miles around any well ordered College.

As the redemption of the world draws near, it has been the fond hope of our best men on both sides of the waters, that this country would have a large share in the world's evangelization; that we should be permitted to carry the religion and language of this land to the ends of the earth. Favorable to this view, is our civil and religious liberty; the thorough severance of Church and State; our freedom from the sustenance of a titled nobility on the one hand, and an overwhelming pauperism on the other; with abounding wealth and sanctified intellect, what could we not do in leading the conquest of Immanuel in all lands! If it be asked, can all this be done? The answer must come from between the Alleghenies and the Pacific. But precisely within this range is our danger. The East is settled; she has wrought out the problem of her safety by the patient operation of the most potent moral and intellectual means, and will accordingly be prepared for her part of the high destiny. On the other hand, the West is a generation ahead of its educational means, flooded with a population ignorant of our religion and government, and chosen on the great battle ground of the Beast, where his forces are rallied for the last struggle for empire. If there be an earthly power to meet these dangers, breast these obstacles, and yet make our way to the high destiny indicated, it is our Colleges. From these must go forth the leaders of the host, to dissipate ignorance, to conquer error, to subdue and homologate the masses of society. We do then certainly need Western Colleges. And if so, they must be sustained: sustained by a noble public sentiment, such as will enable them to lift the standard of education, and sustained too by the people. They are the people's institutions; they meet the wants and promote the interests of the people, and the people therefore should uphold them, throw into their bosom the best of their sons, impart to them due portions of their wealth, and untiringly cast around them their cares and sympathies.

But if we must have Western Colleges, they must be sustained by the generous youth of our country. Love of country is almost universal, but surely no country ever exercised this affection for so cogent reasons.

What would be love elsewhere, should be enthusiasm here. Your country is not only the home of the brave and the free, the home of your ancestors, but your own peculiar home. It is a land more fertile in soil, more beautiful in surface, more genial in climate, a land of more noble lakes, rivers, mountains, valleys, ravines and cascades, than the sun shines upon besides. It is a broad land, that will soon sway the destinies of the Union. Give then your mite of influence to the institutions of your own native West. The time is fully come, when in any profession, it is a pleasure to you to have your birth and training here. Seek not then to expatriate yourselves for an education. Never reflect such dishonor upon the rising College or Seminary. Let not another household be built up on the downfall of your own. A thorough education in the West is a better and surer passport to success, in any profession or business here. This I say deliberately, after twenty years of the most careful observation. But if you were even to bear sacrifices to uphold the Institutions of your own country; a heathen could say

"Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori," - (HOR.) is not the less included in the greater, would you hesitate to endure the less, while he bared his bosom to the greater sacrifice? But is there sacrifice in a Western education? I believe our Colleges teach the Ancient Languages sufficiently thorough to improve the memory, to impart a mild discipline to the mind, to give a copious use of one's mother tongue, to polish style, and give a nice discrimination in the meaning of terms. Are these noble languages taught to any better purpose eastward? Here are Mathemathics, to the aching of many a head, only to enable it to think strongly, and in a straight line. Can the Exact Sciences do any thing more there? Here is Natural Philosophy, teaching the action of bodies one upon another, as wholes, and Chemistry, that goes into particulars, and shows how these bodies act one upon another by particles, thus covering the whole ground: have they any bigger book of nature there? The West teaches the Astronomy of the whole heavens: have they any wider heavens there? Here we unfold that mental philosophy and ethics which acquaint a man with his powers and duties: can the great "gnothi Seauton" be gathered better thro' other channels? No, gentlemen, it is the "limae labor," and not the place, that is to shape you to greatness. But it is said that Eastern Institutions are near two centuries older than ours, and therefore much better. If their superior age is a good reason for draining the west of its youth, to be educated in their Halls; it will ever be a good reason, for they will ever be near two centuries older than those reared on our soil. If this objection is valid for one student going East, it is valid for all, and the consequence will easily be perceived; either we shall forever have no Colleges here, or none but dwarfs. Will the clear-sighted parent, or the ardent youth of the West, willingly contribute to such a result? But our Institutions eastward have large libraries: yes, and by the help of God we will have larger ones here in a few years. But no Western College can suddenly grow to such dimensions. It cannot spring into being like Pallas from the head of Jupiter. It is a work of time, especially at the stage of society which we are now passing. Let every generous youth contribute his modicum to the general influence, and the work is done, and when done, is a work to cheer and bless and save our country forever. That was a noble reply of Zeuxis, when asked why he took such endless pains with the last pencillings of his picture, "I paint for eternity." We are laying foundations for eternity, and every talented youth may do that now for his Alma mater, which will make an indelible impression upon it, and through it upon coming ages; and so, cause unborn millions to rise up and call him blessed.

Finally, do we need a Church College? A few hints are all we propose. If we trace the learning of any age, we shall find it in close connexion with the religion of that age and country. "The Priests' lips keep knowledge." The last glimmerings of the dark ages went forth from the cloister and the monastery. In later times, the Scotch Church is a noble example.

The principle on which they set out was, "that we are under the same obligation to give a pious education to our children and adherents, that we are to afford them a pious ministry," and that to this end the Church should select the teachers, try their qualifications, and control them. If it is absurd to place ourselves or others under an ungodly ministry, not less so is it to place them under impious teachers; for these are next in influence to the ministry. In pursuance of these views, at the head of those Parochial Schools before alluded to in Scotland was a University, distinguished to this day for a union of religion and learning. There multitudes of the youth of that country were educated. This system of Church education became so unalterably settled there, that when some 600 of their Pastors, with their flocks, were compelled for principle's sake to leave the establishment, they, now the Free Church, in a few months after the disruption, endowed a College with $100,000. This they did, when they went out from their former homes, without a house and without a dollar, having churches and manses to build, and all their other foundations to lay at the same time. Here are Church Colleges tested for more than two centuries, and after that long experiment, such were the sacrifices with which the Free Church is ready to continue them. Comment on such a fact is unnecessary. Have not Presbyterians in this country a still greater need of such an institution? It is their high vocation of God in this form to educate. A vocation to save men is a calling to diffuse intelligence. The faith we cultivate requires light, and our hope of extending sound doctrine is in precise proportion to our labors in diffusing intelligence. The cast of mind most commonly met here is bold, enquiring, and incredulous. To impress such mind, we come not with authority, nor with pomp and ceremonies, but with the simple power of truth. That truth, from the book of nature and the book of God, must, in blended colors, be thrown upon the mass of mind, and especially upon those in the most plastic period of life.

But a Church College is required by the law of self-preservation. The relation of the Church to such a College is that of mutual support and dependence. The one cannot prosper without the other. It is probably wise that College education should be conducted denominationally. But whether wise or unwise, the question is settled that it is to be so done in the West. In a line of States, lying northwest of the Ohio river, and of which surface, this point is near the centre, there are twenty-five Denominational Colleges; and of these one only is under control of the Presbyterian Church. In these various institutions is a body of talent and means sufficient to bear the palm in educating on this surface. As to ourselves, this practical question urges itself upon us; Shall we give our youth to other influences during their College course, or keep them under our own? However well the education might be conducted under other hands, still, if there be any thing in our "form of sound words," worth preserving or extending, any thing that has sanctfied the martyrdom of thousands that have died for it, we must open our own Halls, and receive our sons to educational honors, impressed with the signet of eternal truth. It is only thus we can be preserved from defections to Papists, Ritualists, and enthusiasts; only thus that those who "from their youth have known the Holy Scriptures," shall have this knowledge deepened into fixed principles; and only thus by the daily impression of Bible doctrine, can you rear the strong man ready for the great conflict with anti-Christ, which is fast approaching. The silent preparation for this conflict is going on, on the part of the enemy. Five heavily endowed Colleges, and some fifteen or twenty institutions answering similar purposes, are already planted by the Papists in the line of States to which allusion was made. These are the flanking posts of the enemy, and diligently does he hold and strengthen them. Bye and bye the tocsin will sound, and the hosts will muster for the fatal struggle, and even till then, some will scout the danger, and cry, peace, peace, but it will be when their chains are forged, and when their clanking is heard on the breeze. Let the Church awake then, and care in time for the heritage God has given her.

To compass this self preservation, this Institution was founded. It is a church college, and the only one possessed by our denomination in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, amidst a population of 4,000,000. It has been reared, therefore, we trust to a high destiny, and notwithstanding the newness of the country, and past embarrassments from external causes, it will we doubt not, steadily move on to that destiny. This we hope, the rather, because it was founded in prayer poverty and tears, to educate the heart and mind for both worlds, and if it might be, to rear many who would spend and be spent, in breaking the bread of life to the famishing in our wastes and among the millions on the other side of the world. To the accomplishment of these great ends, with a full view of the responsibilities involved, I give myself this day. I do it with no hope of success, except for the fervent sympathies, prayers and co-operation of the church: the efficient efforts of the Board of Trustees, and especially the co-labors of our Brethren of the Faculty who have already borne the burden and heat of the day. We confide too in the talents, industry and good conduct of those who are students, to sustain the honor of the Institution, and to give to us in their own respectability and usefulness, to the community, and to the Kingdom of our God, the reward of our toil. But chiefly to God only wise, our covenant God do we commit this Institution, and our poor labors to build it up, rejoicing in his province to make the feeble mighty in his strength.


[1] Edin. Encyc.

[2] Prof. Smith.

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