Education: Master Planner

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Even in the days before the U.S. Civil War, Vermont's farm-bred Congressman Justin Smith Morrill looked about him and saw an ill-trained nation speeding toward "decay and degradation." His bold proposal: launch land-grant colleges in every state to educate farmers, mechanics and "those at the bottom of the ladder who want to climb up." On a tense day in July 1862—as McClellan frittered away the Union Army at Malvern Hill—Lincoln signed the Morrill Act that gave 17.4 million acres to "people's colleges." So began the biggest effort in the history of...

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