Tuesday, January 28, 1868
The Convention was called to order on Tuesday at 11 o’clock, Mr. Pres. Cowles in the Chair.
After some discussion regarding political disabilities, the convention returned to yesterday’s debate regarding state officers to be named in the constitution for two-year terms by election, including the state superintendent of public instruction.
Mr. Durham’s amendment to strike out the offices of Lt. Governor, Superintendents of Public Works and of Public Instruction was announced to be pending. The following are excerpts from the debate focused on the state superintendent and public education1:
Mr. Durham: I would not have arisen to speak to-day, had not the reported remarks of debate yesterday, left the impression that Conservative members were opposed to free schools. Now it is scarcely necessary to say that we favor free schools, as soon as the people are able to bear taxes to support them. But this Convention is called on to create an office, to be filled by a partizan, with a salary of perhaps $2,500 or $3,000. It may be ten years before free schools are established, and if this salary run there would be a useless expense of $2,500 or $3,000. The people are now scarcely able to pay their taxes; and it is now according to the old Constitution in the power of the Legislature at any time to frame a system of common schools. Still this Convention is now required to create a new salaried officer to be paid out of the pockets of the people. It is an innovation.
Mr. Tourgee: I am glad the creation of these offices are opposed on the ground of innovation. There could be no higher ground for Republicans, or truer ground for Conservatives. They said they were not opposed to public instruction, but counted the long time before North Carolina could be able to establish a system of free schools. Now North Carolina needed that at once, and also an able Superintendent of Public Instruction. If not able to have free schools, she was not worthy of a place in the Union.
Mr. Ashley: the State would be obliged to have a system of Public Schools in it at some time. I thank the gentlemen for the avowal that they are in favor of it. But a Superintendent of Public Instruction should be appointed prior to the formation of the system in any contingency. The State must be canvassed, and statistical information gathered. This duty should be placed in responsible hands. Resources must be created. The people are now heavily taxed, and need relief. No man would do more for them than I would.
Mr. Welker: I can not see how any intelligent North Carolinian could object to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. A Superintendent must be had to carry out any well devised system of public instruction, and the objection made that it would be ten or fifteen years before a system of public schools would be established, was clearly insufficient. Besides it was charged that the office would be filled by a partizan. Now it was the duty of every one to stand in this matter not as a partizan, but as a citizen in favor of education. Upon education depends future success, and if in the next ten or twelve years the children of the people were permitted to grow in ignorance, they would be better qualified from crime than the duties of an American citizen. It would cost the State far more in jails and Courts, than it would to educate them. All that he desired for the present was to have a school in every nook and valley of the State, where the children could at least go to school four or five months of the year. Then the ancient glory of North Carolina, of which so much is heard, would not pass away.
Mr. Harris, of Wake: [Opposition] comes either from too much love of the olden time or too much hatred of the new condition of affairs. The party which now oppose had formerly expended money with a liberal hand for educational purposes.—Large sums of money had been bestowed by former Legislatures, and when the late war begun North Carolina had two millions of dollars in specie for a Literary fund. It was needless to say what went with it, for all know that too well. Besides the State then paid out $500,000 annually for the same purposes.…The very party they represent appropriated $14,000 to keep up Chapel Hill, through the last Legislature, in order to educate the sons of the aristocracy. But when this Convention magnanimously proposes to educate the poor children, the cry of party is raised. Thousands have been spent on the sons of aristocracy,— specie in millions have been squandered, how then can gentlemen oppose this request of the people? Besides, there was a history of the Swamp land, which he might relate, but enough had been said. Only this in conclusion, more had been spent in one year to educate the sons of the gentry, than this Convention proposed to spend on the children of the people for the next ten years.
After this lengthy debate, the delegates took up the next section of the constitution on the qualifications for Governor.
On motion the Convention adjourned.
Ferrell, Joseph, ed., Compilation of the Official Report of the Proceedings of the Convention (Chapel Hill, N.C.: unpublished manuscript 2007). (See day 8 for fuller explanation of this resource.)
- For EdNC, the debate excerpts are derived from Mr. Ferrell’s resource and returned to first person/ present tense where it seems appropriate. ↩