The New York Public Education Controversy, 1753-1755
In 1746 the colonists of New York began to discuss the formation of a college. The idea was not new in America. Massachusetts Bay had founded Harvard in 1636, Virginia had established William and Mary in 1693, and Connecticut had started Yale in 1701. What was unique about these institutions from a contemporary view was the fact that they were all run by religious denominations but received government financing. The pattern of establishing religious institutions of learning with government funding continued throughout most of the colonial era.
The central purpose of these colleges, then, was to train ministers and instruct students in Christianity. "The chief Thing that is aimed at," a New York writer said, "is, to teach and engage the Children to know God in Jesus Christ, and to love and serve him in all Sobriety, Godliness and Righteousness of Life with a perfect Heart and a willing Mind."1 But education, others such as Benjamin Franklin said, was the best foundation for creating stable governments and informed citizenry. Schools did not necessarily have to have religious backing. "The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men of all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Commonwealths," Franklin wrote in a pamphlet on education.2
The issue in America surrounding education, then, did not focus on the necessity of education, but on the religious affiliation of the institution. These differences were exacerbated in American society in the 1740s following the Great Awakening and the religious divisions it caused (see Chapters 8 and 9). Denominations and Americans in general wanted an