The Morrill Act

In 1862, the passage of the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act, became the pathway for the industrial classes to gain access to higher education. While still embroiled in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the landmark legislation, sponsored by Congressman Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont. The act gave to every state that had remained in the union a grant of public land, apportioned to each state according to its congressional representation. States were to use the proceeds from the sale of the federal "land-grants" to establish colleges in engineering, agriculture and military science. A second Morrill Act (The Agricultural College Act) in 1890 extended the land-grant provisions to the former Confederate states and eventually, to every state and territory. Read the transcript of the Morrill Act at the National Archives.

With the signing of the Morrill Act in 1862, President Lincoln laid the framework for a system of higher education institutions that would offer unprecedented access to technical know-how and prepare an expanding workforce to respond to the demands of the growing industrialization across the U.S.

The provisions of the Morrill Act have had a profound and enduring effect on the growth of the U.S., leading as it did to a system of public higher education serving the sons and daughters of America's growing industrial class, disseminating practical knowledge to serve the states and their citizens, and ensuring the stability of institutions devoted to the public good and the national interest.

With few exceptions, most of the over 100 land-grant colleges in the U.S. are public. Many, with additional state aid, evolved into comprehensive public universities, as did Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.