Morrill Act of 1862

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The Morrill Act was one of two important pieces of legislation (along with the Homestead Act) passed in 1862 that spurred on economic growth in newly added states in what was then the western United States.

President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law. It was proposed by Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont, and gave federal land to every state that remained in the Union during the Civil War for the purpose of the creation of "Land-grant colleges".[1] The law used the number of congressmen allocated to each state by the 1860 census times 30,000 acres to set the amount of land awarded to each state. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding educational institutions with the purpose of:

without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.[2]

The schools were also to teach "military tactic" which lead to ROTC programs in colleges. If a state did not have enough federal land within its borders to meet that state's land grant, the state was issued "scrip" which authorized the state to select federal lands in other states to fund its institution.[3] For example, New York carefully selected valuable timber land in Wisconsin to fund Cornell University.[4] The resulting management of this scrip by the university yielded one third of the total grant revenues generated by all the states, even though New York received only one-tenth of the 1862 land grant.[5] Overall, the 1862 Morrill Act allocated 17,400,000 acres of land, which when sold yielded a collective endowment of $7.55 million.[6] The state of Iowa was the first to accept the terms of the Morrill Act which provided a needed financial boost for the fledgling Ames College (now Iowa State University.)

Except for Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all of the Land-Grant Colleges are public. (Cornell University, while private, administers several state-supported statutory colleges that fulfill its public land-grant mission to the state of New York.)

Congress later passed the Morrill Act of 1890 to address the problem of states that refused to admit blacks to their land grant colleges.


  2. 7 U.S.C. § 304
  3. 7 U.S.C. § 302
  4. p. 9
  5. p. 10
  6. p. 8