The antebellum common school movement began with attention to the problem of undereducated children. Virginia’s Watchman of the South estimated that there were 3.5-4 million school age children, and that somewhere between 600,000 to one million were not receiving a basic education.[1] As William Swan Plumer, editor of the Watchman and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, argued, “if we wish to transmit our republican government to posterity, we must extend the opportunities of intellectual and moral instruction. Intelligence and Virtue are the only safe-guards of our free institutions.”[2] The American experiment depended upon education, for the character of the nation would determine its future.

            The contours of the development of the common schools are well-known. From their roots in New England in the 1820s, the common schools spread throughout the north and west during the antebellum era. With wide-ranging support from businessmen, labor organizations, commercial farmers, religious leaders, and politicians–each for their own reasons–the common school was an engine of market values and national identity.[3] In an era of heated political contests and ethnic riots,[4] many of which had a strong religious component, the common school was also designed to provide a common Protestant moral tone to the nation. If the goal had merely been the economic benefit of a well-educated public, or the altruistic vision of elevating the lower classes, then a variety of educational systems could have fit the bill; but the vision for the common school was to provide a common moral vision. As immigration brought an increasing number of German and Irish Roman Catholics, Protestants hoped to acculturate them to republican values through the generic Protestant education offered in the common schools.

            Old School Presbyterians demonstrated the same concern over these matters as others. Presbyterian newspapers regularly published educational statistics both local and national. The 1840 census, for instance, suggested that only one-fifth of school-age children in Kentucky were actually in school,[5] and that those states that had developed common schools had the best literacy rates in the country.[6] The South and the West (except for Michigan) could not compete with New England.

            The solution, for most Protestants was to establish common schools that would provide a public Protestant education for all children. Presbyterians were frequently involved in early discussions of how to conduct common schools, especially since Presbyterian ministers often conducted schools of their own.

            But some Presbyterians expressed ambivalence about the common schools. The Old School Presbyterians had forced a division of the Presbyterian church in 1837, at least in part over the importance of the church’s control over missions and ministerial education. The New School preferred to see individual Christians work together across denominational lines, but the Old School insisted that the institutional church was the proper agent for both missionary activity and the training of ministers. Indeed Howard Miller has argued that this denominational shift signaled the end of Presbyterian interest in public life, and an increasingly narrow focus on its own denominational interests.[7] But this is not borne out by the arguments that Old Schoolers used to support their more ecclesiastical vision.

            Presbyterians had expressed concerns about the religious content of public education as early as 1812.[8] Sporadic discussion of parochial education seems to have occurred over the next couple of decades, but it was only during the national educational debates of the 1830s and 1840s that the Old School developed its own position. True to the New School concept of catholicity (individual Christians working together across denominational lines), few New School Presbyterians liked the concept of parochial schools. In the Old School General Assembly of 1839, John Breckinridge (PTS 1822), secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions (and former secretary of the Board of Education, 1831-36), recommended the creation of a committee of Samuel Miller (his father-in-law), Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Joseph Addison Alexander (the faculty of Princeton Seminary), and Samuel Carnahan (president of the College of New Jersey) to study proposals for Christian education. That committee returned in 1840 suggesting that every congregation should have a school for ages 6-10, and every presbytery should have at least one Grammar School or Academy. Weekly catechizing in the church should be overseen by the session, and Sunday schools should be placed under sessional oversight. The report was accepted by GA in 1840 and adopted in 1841. The report suggested that a better educational system would produce greater attachment to the Presbyterian doctrine, and hopefully would increase the number of ministerial candidates. Most telling, however, was their conviction that the secularization of public education resulted in the removal of religious content and church control.[9]


1. Background

            A. The Role of Rome

            But the immediate occasion for the development of parochial schools was identical to the rationale for repudiating Roman Catholic baptism: the influx and growing power of Roman Catholics. “Papists” and “infidels” were the chief targets of Old School educational rhetoric (and in that order). Presbyterian newspapers responded with alarm when Bishop Hughes of New York claimed public funds for Roman Catholic schools in New York City. Arguing that the public schools lacked adequate religious teaching for Roman Catholics, Hughes claimed that since the State of New York gave money to schools that taught the Protestant bible, Roman Catholics schools should also receive a portion of common school funds.[10]

            Early in 1840 New York Catholics had failed to “secure a portion of the Common School fund for the support of their separate and exclusively Roman Catholic schools.” Sidney E. Morse, editor of the New York Observer granted that Roman Catholics had the right to train their children in their own ways, but questioned “the right of this State to grant the public money to aid Roman Catholics or Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, or any other denomination, in the support of sectarian schools.” Initially Morse’s response was conciliatory, suggesting that any offensive books be removed from the curriculum. Nonetheless he was repulsed by Hughes’ suggestion that the entire Roman Catholic vote in New York City might be given to a political party simply because they would give them money for their schools.[11]

            In an attempt to resolve the tensions, the trustees of the Public School Society suggested that the city could follow the Irish practice of having a committee of Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian clergy approve of all religious teaching, but Hughes refused.[12] At a Common Council meeting in the fall of 1840, Hughes claimed to represent one-fifth of the New York population “whose rights of conscience contended were crushed by the present school system.” Arguing that the common schools led to both infidelity and Protestantism (which in his mind were virtually interchangeable), he insisted that the Council remove the Protestant Bible from the schools, along with any books that were offensive to Roman Catholics.[13]

            The Trustees of the Public School Society declared that they had removed all offensive literature from the schools, but they would not remove the Bible. Theodore Sedgwick insisted that Catholics were not discriminated against any more than any other denomination.[14] Hiram Ketcham argued that the Bible could not be removed from the schools. He pointed out that the trustees had sought to find an approved list of passages, but Hughes had refused to consent because the Pope had not yet ruled. Given the Pope’s status as the political ruler of Italy, Ketcham used this for all it was worth. Would a foreign ruler determine what may be taught in American schools?[15]

            As the Council deliberated during the fall and winter of 1840, Morse gave them something to think about. In a rare threat of civil unrest, he warned that if Protestants were to be taxed to support Roman Catholic schools, “let them rest assured, that the fires of Smithfield will be rekindled in front of the City Hall, before this monstrous proposition will be submitted to the free people of this country.”[16] Did the Common Council wish to provoke riots in the streets of New York? If not, then they had better decide against Hughes’ petition. Three weeks later the Council voted 15-1 against the petition.[17]

            When Hughes took his case to the state legislature the following month, supported by Governor William H. Seward,[18] Morse warned his readers that he was also “sustained in his plans by the contributions of societies in Italy and Austria that hate Republicanism and defend despotism with their best blood.” They want sectarian schools to be supported by public money. In reply Morse declared that New York must see “liberty of conscience preserved.”[19] For Morse, liberty of conscience did not refer to each individual doing as he or she pleased. Rather, liberty of conscience was a corporate concept that required protection from all despotic and anarchic threats. When the New York legislature permitted any group to organize a school, Morse howled in anger. This would allow not just sectarian schools, but would permit any social or political group to organize a school. Morse trembled at the thought of Fanny Wright schools, or even schools opposed to republican government. “Papists will teach Popery, and Presbyterians will teach Calvinism, and Infidels will teach infidelity. And we submit it to the good sense of the republicans of this city and state and Union (for the question will soon be general), whether it is consistent with the genius of our government to allow such schools to derive their support from the common treasury.”[20]

            The end result in New York City was the removal of the Bible from the city’s common schools. Philadelphia followed in 1843.[21] In seeming confirmation of Protestant fears that Roman Catholics were seeking to control American education, the Baltimore Provincial Council of 1843 called upon Roman Catholics to endeavor to make all public education conformable to Catholic views.[22] Presbyterians all over the United States joined their fellow Protestants in objecting to these developments and solidifying their commitment to a common school system that would maintain the basics of a generic Protestant moral teaching.[23]

            Robert J. Breckinridge spoke for many when he expressed his fears that Roman Catholics would use tax money to create a system of schools that would work to subvert not only Protestant religion, but also republican institutions.[24] The pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, and editor of the anti-Catholic Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine, spoke at the American Bible Society in New York City in 1839 in support of his resolution to encourage the use of the bible in schools throughout the country. Breckinridge argued that religious training was essential to moral formation, and that Roman Catholic schools could not adequately train the moral faculties because they inculcated error.[25] Breckinridge championed public schools with a distinctively Protestant flavor as the best way to combat Rome.

            Concern over Roman Catholic influence in education was not merely an eastern phenomenon. James Wood, professor at New Albany Theological Seminary, wrote to the Foreign Missionary Chronicle in 1843 that the West would soon “hold the balance of power in the government of the United States; and if religion does not exert a controlling influence here, what will become of the liberties of our country?” The Pope, he claimed, was trying to take over the west–especially through education. He pled with the east to “furnish us with the means necessary to carry on a successful warfare against Despotism and Infidelity--against Popery and Sin; and to fortify and adorn every state and country, every village and neighborhood, with schools and churches--with Bibles and ministers.”[26] The five western Old School anti-Catholic papers started in 1844-45 all devoted significant energy to promoting the general Protestant character of the common schools.[27]

            But not all Old School Presbyterians approved of the common school system. Indeed many centered around Princeton Theological Seminary thought that Hughes’ claim to a portion of the educational funds was just. They argued that if the state would support all schools, regardless of their religious teaching, the end result would be a better system of education for all concerned.[28] Their zeal for a system of Presbyterian parochial schools led to one of the most ambitious educational programs of the antebellum era.

            Cortlandt Van Rensselaer was one of a few Old School Presbyterians who agreed with Hughes. Reviewing Horace Bushnell’s Common Schools in 1853, he disagreed that the common schools were the only defense of morality and civil order. Indeed, he agreed with the Roman Catholic claim that parochial schools should receive a portion of state funding. It was simply a matter of justice. No religious group should be taxed for the support of any other group–therefore each taxpayer should be allowed to select which schools (parochial or secular) his tax money should support.[29] When the New York Independent claimed that Presbyterians and Papists were joining forces against the common schools, William Engles of the Presbyterian replied that no Old School Presbyterian wished to see the common school system abolished unless a better system was substituted.[30]

            But Van Rensselaer spoke for a minority in the Old School. When, also in 1853, Bishop O’Connor (of Pittsburgh) argued that Roman Catholic schools should be supported by tax money with the common schools, Melanchthon W. Jacobus (professor of oriental and biblical literature at Western Theological Seminary) replied by claiming that this would require Protestants to subsidize Roman Catholic schools. In a two-part letter that took up six columns in the Presbyterian Advocate, Jacobus argued that “our public school system, which is the pride, not of Pennsylvania alone, but of our whole land, is truly an AMERICAN system. It is framed for the masses. Its kind and wise object is to amalgamate from such various elements, all national interests, and to run into the new mould of our Institutions the children of all others with our own.” It was crucial that all children be educated in that system. While Roman Catholics argued that everyone setting up a school should be allowed to draw from the state treasury, Jacobus warned that this would result in swarms of Jesuits establishing dozens of schools where there should be one. The end result would be the destruction of the public school.[31] Jacobus wrote a letter to the editor (William Annan) a month later suggesting that the timing of Bishop O’Connor’s proposal, just after returning from Rome, was ominous. Jacobus declared that O’Connor was “a sworn official of that political power which rules at Rome,” and was “duty bound. . . [to] do battle, after his measure, against our republican institutions and our popular liberties.”[32]

            This is plainly a far cry from Van Rensselaer’s argument that the Roman Catholics were correct to seek public funding. Old School Presbyterians were divided. Was it best to work together in education with other Protestants? Or would parochial schools prove more effective?[33]


            B. The Example of Scotland

            As often was the case, when a crisis developed in the Old School, one of the first thoughts was to inquire what the Mother Kirk in Scotland had done. At the end of 1837, as the education debates were heating up in New York, the New York Observer published a study of “Education in Scotland,” which was reprinted in the Presbyterian, praising the Scottish system of parochial schools. The author pointed out that ever since the First Book of Discipline, the Reformed Church of Scotland had urged every kirk to have a school, and every leading town to have a college.[34] William Swan Plumer added his praise in the Watchman of the South, arguing that the parochial school was the instrument for Scotland’s “extraordinary degree of mental culture, for its uniform and wide diffusion, and for the tenacity with which it has maintained Calvinistic soundness, while other churches of the same confession have lapsed into error and heresy.” The public schools in America cannot maintain the high level of religious teaching that the Scots maintained. Therefore, if “we would secure the complete religious education of the children of the church, we must have schools under the patronage of our Church sessions.”[35]

            Samuel Miller’s 1841 report to the Old School General Assembly gave the details. From 1560 the Church of Scotland had urged every parish to have a church school with an orthodox and qualified teacher. The General Assembly of 1642 had ordered the erection of grammar schools in every presbytery, and in 1706 the Kirk required presbyteries to visit the grammar schools within their bounds twice a year. As recently as 1838 the Scottish Assembly had ratified these acts, urging the church to pay careful attention to the education of the youth of the church.[36] Could the American Presbyterian church modify this system to fit the new world?

            While discussions continued throughout the first half of the 1840s, Old School Presbyterians do not seem to have been convinced that parochial schools were practicable on a large scale until the development of the Free Church of Scotland’s school system. The Free Church established 513 schools in the five years after the Disruption of 1843, in spite of the fact that they had lost their buildings and their ministerial stipends by leaving the established church. They required all teachers to be examined by presbytery, in order to ensure the quality and orthodoxy of the religious education, and had established two normal schools in order to train teachers. Cortlandt Van Rensselaer and other Presbyterian editors regularly kept the American church informed of the progress of the Scottish educational system in order to prompt Old School Presbyterians to their own endeavors. One result, as Van Rensselaer pointed out, was that while American Presbyterians had nearly two churches per minister, the Scottish churches had more ministers than parishes.[37]

            Benjamin Gildersleeve published an article in 1845 expressing concern that “education has of recent years been lamentably divorced from the church, her only safe and legitimate foster mother.” Reminding the church of the days when ministers ran all the schools in the South, and appealing to the example of the Free Church, he suggested that “the great secret of the Scotch character. . . [is] that the church assumes and controls the education of her children from infancy to manhood. And I may say this principle is potent for evil as well as for good. The power of the Papal church is the result of her system of education.” But the lesson was clear: the future of Presbyterianism depended upon what she did for her children.[38]

            In western Pennsylvania the Presbyterian Advocate echoed the call to learn from Scotland. Indeed, JWF went so far as to suggest that “The result of this plan of education in Scotland, would almost reconcile me, American as I am, for two and three generations, to the State establishment of the church.” Whereas many Americans were arguing for the separation of education from the church, he suggested that an Americanized version of the Scottish model might require the separation of education from the state, putting schools under the oversight of the church.[39]


            C. Regional Discussions before 1846

            One of the first extended arguments for denominational education was printed in the Protestant and Herald by David Monfort, pastor at Franklin, Indiana. Echoing the 1840 Assembly report, Monfort argued that every congregation should operate a grammar school under the supervision of the session. While acknowledging that western churches were generally poor, he argued that this matter was too important to allow money to get in the way. He admitted that Presbyterians might be called illiberal by their neighbors, but he insisted that “a desire to please the world, which is enmity to God, is like a pernicious leaven corrupting the whole mass. If it continues, (mark what I say) it will, before long, bring on a universal reign of infidelity and terror in Church and State.[40] Parochial education was not a way of withdrawing from society, as Howard Miller has claimed,[41] but a way of preserving society from its self-destructive tendencies. Monfort called for a reform of the curriculum that would orient classical studies towards the scriptures, the fathers, and the Reformers–and away from the Greek poets, whom Monfort considered peripheral at best to a solid moral and literary education.[42]

            In the South, commonly considered the bastion of private education, Benjamin Gildersleeve, editor of the Charleston Observer, noted that Charleston’s Episcopalians had established a primary school in 1841, and chastised Presbyterians for falling behind in education.[43] “Melville” commented three years later that as other denominations had founded schools, some Presbyterian children had ended up joining those denominations through the school’s influence. Presbyterians, he argued, should show more denominational spirit and establish their own system of schools.[44]

            James L. Pettigrue spoke to the literary societies of the Presbyterian Oglethorpe University that fall. Gildersleeve commented that the “Legislature of Georgia, then in Session, adjourned to attend upon the exercises.” Arguing from the disestablishment of the church, Pettigrue claimed that “Experience has shown that religion can not only dispense with the patronage of State, but that it is better without it. And may we not hope that education also will feel the same heathy influence, and rejoice in the soil of freedom.”[45]

            Thomas Smyth, the Ulster born and trained pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, added his voice to the chorus of calls for denominational education. Like Monfort his first concern was collegiate education (his address was also given at Oglethorpe University), but his argument drew upon his wide-ranging study of patristic, medieval, and Reformed history to argue for the necessity of church oversight of education. He argued that the church had always operated schools, and claimed that denominational education “is as practicable as it is essential to the purity and permanence of our free institutions.” Indeed, Smyth agreed with Van Rensselaer that the state should support denominational schools, since there is no such thing as nonsectarian education. “Bigotry and Sectarianism are the invariable results of an ill-informed, ignorant, and mere nominal christianity; while liberality, charity, and mutual forbearance, are as surely the fruits of a deep, sincere, and thoroughly instructed piety.” An education that is thoroughly grounded in religion is the “true foe to intolerance, persecution, and illiberality towards a difference of opinion.” In other words, for Smyth, a truly catholic education provided the context for liberty of conscience. He insisted that Presbyterian education “is not sectarian education.” A Presbyterian college should not focus on all the minutiae of Presbyterian doctrine and polity, but should build on “that truly Catholic foundation,--the Bible, the whole Bible,--including which we have all religion, and excluding which we have none.” But since the Bible is construed in so many different ways, “it must be exhibited thro' the interpretation of some one denomination” in order to provide coherence in education. While Presbyterians were often accused of being narrow and bigoted, Smyth replied that “she is in reality most Catholic and liberal, and eminently adapted to be the guardian and patron of a religious education,” because Presbyterian distinctives are not required for membership, but only for the eldership. “Since, therefore, our only terms of communion are the fundamental truths of the gospel and the evidences of personal piety, our basis for a denominational education is as broad, as free, and as catholic, as that of God's own blessed word.” The Shorter Catechism, he claimed, did not inculcate any uniquely Presbyterian doctrines, but Augustinian views affirmed by “the most learned, and the most pious party in the Romish Church,” all the Reformed churches--including the Church of England and the orthodox parties of Congregationalists and Baptists.[46]


2. The General Assembly of 1846

            The General Assembly of 1845 had appointed a committee, chaired by James W. Alexander, pastor of Duane Street Presbyterian Church in New York City (and son of Archibald Alexander), to report on the subject of parochial schools. Its report to the Assembly of 1846 (moderated by Charles Hodge, one of the authors of the 1840 report) concluded with a series of resolutions calling for a system of education that would seek to mingle “the doctrines of our church with the daily teachings of the school” as closely as “may comport with the circumstances of this country,” and recommended that the whole church consider founding new parochial schools. John C. Young, president of Centre College in Kentucky, added a resolution from the floor, referring the matter to the Board of Education, “that they may, from time to time, report to the General Assembly any further action that may be needed for extending through our churches a system of Parochial Schools,” in order to provide a mechanism for maintaining further discussion at the General Assembly level.[47]

            This called forth some opposition from Robert J. Breckinridge, president of Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, who argued briefly against parochial schools, urging the duty of every evangelical denomination to influence the public schools. He claimed that since Presbyterians had an influence in education disproportionate to the church’s numbers, it should be the last to withdraw from this general partnership. If the Presbyterian church “would prosper they must enter heart and hand in the common enterprises of the country, in which they have an interest, and not attempt to set up for themselves.” Two Presbyterian college presidents from the south immediately replied. Samuel K. Talmage, president of Oglethorpe University in Georgia, defended the principle of parochial education, as did Dr. John C. Young, president of Centre College, Danville, Kentucky).[48] Young argued that natural religion was insufficient for the education of children. If Presbyterian children were not receiving adequate religious training, then it was the church’s fault. Presbyterians could not expect the state to teach the knowledge of God properly to their children. Both in Protestant and Papal countries in Europe the church was in charge of overseeing the religious education of the schools. The error of Rome was not in “incorporating religion with early education, but in teaching a false system of religion.” Indeed, he suggested that the states should permit any religious group to draw money from the public fund for their schools.[49] But if the state would not allow Presbyterians a portion of the common funds, then they must go our own path: “The Free Church of Scotland has taught us that it is not only in established churches that the system of parochial schools is feasible.” Hodge’s hope was that “if the several denominations adopt the plan of parochial schools, the state will soon be forced to the obviously just method of a proportionate distribution of the public funds, whether derived from taxation or lands or a capital stock.”[50]

            Without much more debate, the Assembly passed the resolutions almost unanimously, pledging to develop a system of Presbyterian parochial schools. After such sweeping resolutions, the church newspapers were busy for much of the following year discussing education.[51] Not surprisingly, the New School Presbyterians thought that this was simply more evidence of Old School bigotry and sectarianism. The Christian Journal, the New School paper in Columbus, Ohio, suggested that parochial schools were contrary to American republican institutions. This called forth a response from Nathan L. Rice, editor of the Presbyterian of the West, who argued that republican institutions “secure to every man and to every denomination, the right to educate their children in their own way.” The common schools offered an insufficiently religious education. But most objectionable to Rice was the Journal’s argument that Protestantism leaves “it to every mind to come to its own conclusions on the teachings of the Bible, without attempting to bias it early in favor of any particular creed.” Rice objected that this was not Protestant but infidel! Parents were not to leave their children free from “bias,” but were to catechize their children.[52]


3. From Theory to Practice: Hodge’s Sermon on Education

            As the outgoing moderator in 1847, Charles Hodge used his retiring sermon to endorse the principle of parochial education, and several reviewers hailed it as winning the hearts of the church to the idea.[53] Hodge grounded the need for religious education in human depravity. “It is precisely because the mind is by nature dark, that it needs illumination from without; it is because the conscience is callous and perverse, that it needs to be roused and guided; it is because evil propensities are so strong, that they must be counteracted. To leave a fallen human being, therefore, to grow up without religious instruction, is to render its perdition certain.”[54]

            The responsibility for this education devolved first upon the parents. “But while it is universally conceded that the obligation to provide for the religious instruction of the young, rests primarily on parents, it is almost as generally acknowledged that the responsibility does not rest on them alone.” If parents cannot feed their children, then others must do it; likewise with education. Some parents are either unable or unwilling to provide a religious education for their children. Some parents “need themselves to be taught what are the first principles of the oracles of God.” Others from poverty do not have the time to teach their children. “If, therefore, the work must be done; if the best interests of society, the prosperity of the church, the salvation of souls, demand that the young should be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, others, besides parents must undertake the work.”[55]

            But who? For Hodge, as for other Presbyterians, there were only two other communities to consider–the state and the church. Hodge reviewed several different conceptions of how the state and the church should relate in education:

            1. The Church and State Plan–which Hodge identified as “the common doctrine of Christians, under all forms of government.” For Hodge, the fact that it was the common doctrine of the Reformed churches in all of Europe carried much weight. “The State just so far as it discharges its recognized duty, provides and establishes schools, prescribes the course of instruction, requires that the doctrines of the Church should be taught, and taught in the form and from the books, and by the agents determined or appointed by the Church.” This system requires a pure and faithful church, a religious state, and that the state and the church are essentially coterminous. However desirable it might be, Hodge concluded that such a plan was not possible in America.[56]

            2. Independent Plan of Church and State–in which the state sees that schools are established, that competent teachers are hired and paid, but leaves religion up to the school district (the early New England system). Hodge suggested that the disadvantages were the tendency toward centralization, and the increasing lack of agreement on the local level. “Since the great increase of the population, its division into sects, and the prevalence of indifference and error, it has been found impracticable to secure a general and efficient religious education of the young, by means of schools whose character was determined by the mixed community in which they are placed. The impossibility of pleasing all, has led to the general determination to do nothing–to banish religion almost entirely from the public schools.”[57]

            3. The Compromise Plan–in which the State permits the teaching of those doctrines on which all denominations agree (as in England and Ireland). The problem is that in our country the sects are so divided that there is very little upon which they agree. “Besides this, it is obvious that the inculcation of religion in the general but not under any definite form, is not mere neutrality. From the nature of the case it is a rejection of positive doctrines.”[58]

            4. The Secular Plan–which was the result of the rejection of the first three. “It proposes to confine the instruction given in schools supported by the State to the secular branches of education; and to leave the religious instruction to parents and churches.” Hodge admitted that almost all political leaders supported this approach, and most denominations (except Roman Catholics). But, Hodge argued that

Religion is so important, it is so pervading, it is so connected with morality, and social and civil polity, it is so diffused through the literature of our language, that it cannot be banished from our schools. Any system of education which proposes to banish religion becomes, from the necessity of the case, irreligious. . . . All that the most ardent infidel need desire, in order to propagate infidelity through the community, would be that nothing should be said about religion. . . and the training of the young be conducted, just as it would be were there no God, no redemption, no future state. . . . The whole tendency of the instruction conducted on the is plan is not neutral, but positively anti-religious.[59]


Second, Hodge claimed that the education of the public schools is often the only education that a child will get, so it leaves thousands of children without any religious education whatsoever. Third, he argued that irreligious education was a dangerous risk. “The experiment which we are making is a novel one in the history of the world, and one of fearful risk. We can hardly venture to hope, contrary to all experience, that Christianity can ever take firm hold of the public mind, or form the public character, unless it is taught in the public schools.” Fourth, he added, it is unscriptural. “God has required his people to teach their children his word. . . . We therefore go counter to his commands, when we resign our children to the operation of a system which necessarily makes religion altogether subordinate; which banishes it from the place of education.” Fifth, the state has no authority to forbid the teaching of religion. “This is saying to the people, you must either consent to have your children brought up irreligiously, as far as the school is concerned in their education, or you shall be disinherited, cut off from all participation of the public property. If Presbyterians conscientiously believe they are bound to mingle religion in the secular education of their children, are they to be refused any portion of the school fund, and taxed to sustain it; forced to support schools to which they cannot send their children, and whose influence they regard as directly opposed to all religion? This is obviously unjust. The Romanists in New York, have forced the authorities to this admission. Believing the public schools system to be anti-Christian, they refused to send their children to the public institutions and having established schools of their own, they demanded their portion of the educational funds.”[60]

            5. The Church Plan–since neither parents nor the state can be relied upon to provide the proper sort of education, only the church remains. “Her very vocation is to lead men to the knowledge of the truth. For this purpose she is bound to use all appropriate agencies. . . . Her work is to teach, and the school is, therefore, her peculiar and appropriate province.” The gifts of teaching are not given to the State, but to the Church. In establishment countries, the State taught because the church was coterminous with it. “By a strange perversion, after long enlisting the State in this service as her agent, she has come in a measure to think that education was the work of the State, and to forget her own immediate obligations on this subject.” The great irony, for Hodge, was that Rome “set us the example of declaring off from the control of the State, and of asserting the right of children to be taught religion. This they have done, at the risk of losing all assistance from the public funds. And this we must do, let the State take what course it may.” Hodge called for a system of Presbyterian schools with “one or more schools in every parish, a classical academy in every Presbytery, and a college in every Synod.”[61]

            While the debate at the Assembly of 1846 was not extensive, many in the church were ready for action, and in such places the initial response was enthusiastic. Within a year of Hodge’s Assembly sermon, thirty-nine schools had begun. Newspaper articles and presbytery and synod reports generally encouraged the founding of parochial schools and presbyterial academies, especially as fears of “infidel and papist” power continued to rise.[62] Georgia’s Southern Presbyterian voiced the general sentiment of North and South alike in declaring that the church could not “put out her children. . . to the world, to receive from it their religious training.”[63] The parochial school plan would save the church “from the sin of sending her offspring to the world for their training.”[64]

            Indeed Thomas Smyth claimed that to reject parochial education was to repudiate “the honoured name of Old School. . . at least in its educational principles.”[65] Since baptized children belong to God, they must be trained under the oversight of the church. “As Parents, we must see to it that our children are 'trained up' under the supervision, direction and control of the church, through the whole course of their education, until they grow 'old' and are fitted for their calling in life.” Recognizing that some considered parochial schools to be “unrepublican,” he argued that parochial schools left the matter to the dictates of the parents’ conscience and, if the state would appropriate a proportionate amount of funds for such schools, would not result in double taxation.[66]

            In 1848 the Indianapolis Presbytery responded to the movement in Indiana to establish free schools without religious teaching. Declaring that “God has committed the education and training of children to the parent, they feel assured that no earthly power has the just right to interpose between the parent and that education he believes it his duty to give to his child, unless it is manifestly injurious to the public welfare.” Further, they argued that “every parent who is taxed to support the schools has a just right to send to the school of his choice, and have the portion of the fund so raised, to which his children would be entitled, applied to its support.” Therefore they “recommend to all their congregations to petition the Legislature that, if a system of free schools be established, any persons who may associate to establish a school shall be entitled to a portion of the public funds in proportion to the number of their children.”[67]


4. The Rise of Opposition to Parochial Schools

            While the initial response to the project of parochial education was positive, by 1850, the chorus of approval faced increasing opposition. The Board of Education had been given the task of organizing support for parochial schools, so long as funds were given especially for that purpose, and Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, the secretary of the Board, energetically devoted himself to the support of Presbyterian schools.[68] But many objected that this took too much time and energy away from ministerial education–the Board’s first priority. Others objected that it was not the church’s job to operate schools. But few objected so long as the parochial school movement was viewed as supplementary and merely of local interest. Presbyterians had long held that in matters of liberty of conscience, one did not impose one’s personal views on the whole church.

            But long before parochial schools developed, many Old School Presbyterians were thoroughly committed to the public school system. Support for parochial schools could coincide with efforts for public education as well. William Swan Plumer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, and editor of the Watchman of the South, was on the Virginia committee to draft resolutions encouraging a system of popular education, even while supporting parochial schools in his newspaper.[69] In North Carolina and Virginia, Old School Presbyterians zealously supported common schools. The Watchman and Observer reported on the progress of common schools in North Carolina, encouraging Virginia to consider similar measures,[70] and numerous Old School ministers served as superintendents of public education in the west and south, as well as in Pennsylvania.[71]

Name                                       Dates       Birth        College                    Sem.        Pastorate                 State

State Superintendents

Joseph Bardwell (1828-1893)                NC          CNJ 50                    CTS 54    Meridian Mississippi 1876-77

William Bishop (1823-1900)                  Scot         Illinois C 47            PTS 50    Kansas 1870-74, 1878-82

Robert J. Breckinridge (1800-71)           KY          Union C 19             PTS 32                                    Kentucky 1847-53

Jonathan C. Gibbs (1831-1874)             PA           Dartmouth C 52      PTS 54                    Florida 1872-74

John D. Matthews (1809-1884)             VA          Jefferson C 27         PTS 31    Kentucky 1853-59

William H. Ruffner (1824-1908)            VA          WashC VA 42         PTS 47    Virginia 1870-82

Calvin H. Wiley (1819-18??)                  NC          UNC 40  priv 55                    North Carolina 1852-68


County Superintendents

Southeastern        County

Alexander L. Hogshead (1816-80)          VA          WashC VA              UTS 46   Green Spring           Wash Co VA 70-9

Benjamin M. Smith (1811-1893)            VA          HSC 29                   UTS 33   Prof, UTS               Prince Edw. Co VA 71-82

James Kelly (1832-1906)                       NC          UNC 60                  priv         Elizabethtown         Blado Co NC 80-9

William H. Crane (1818-1894)               NJ                                           PTS 44    miss         Gadsden Co FL, 69-70



Thomas Morrow (1805-1885)               SC           Centre C 28             UTS 33   miss         Morgan Co AL 60-1, 67-74

Benjamin F. Peters (1818-1903)             SC           U Virgina 39            UTSNY 47              Fayette Co AL 72-9

James H. Alexander (1826-1906)           TN          Oglethorpe U 49     CTS 52    Kosciusko               Attala Co. MS ca. 70

Stevenson Archer (1838-1916)               MS          Oakland C               DTS 60   Greenville                Wash. Co. MS 75-96

John C. Graham (1826-1901) PA           Centre C 50             PTS 54                    Pike Co MS 60s

Michael H. Bittinger (1826-1913)          DC          CNJ 49                    PTS 52    Centreville               Monroe Co. WV 74-5

Julius Spencer (1831-1903)                    MO         Amherst C 53         PTS 58    Irondale   Wabash Co MO 73-5

David A. Wilson (1821-1912)                PA           Marshall C 45         PTS 51    Ironton    Iron Co MO 68-9



Hallock Armstrong (1823-1904)            NY          Lafayette C 48        PTS 51                    Sullivan Co. PA 59-62

Charles J. Collins (1825-1906)               PA           Williams C 45         PTS 54                    Wilkes-Barre PA 66-74

Cornelius R. Lane (1820-1894)              NJ           Lafayette C 43        PTS 48    Tunkhannock                          Wyoming Co PA 54-6

Robert W. Orr (1808-1857)                    PA           Jefferson C 33         PTS 37    Mt Tabor                Clarion Co PA 54-7

Benjamin F. Patterson (1835-1906)       PA           Lafayette C 60        PTS 63    Pottsville PA 67-1906

James Williamson (1795-1865)              PA           WashC PA 17         PTS 20    Little Valley            Mifflin Co PA 60s

Garret Van Artsdalen (1816-1881)         PA           CNJ 39                    PTS 42    German Valley        Morris Co NJ 53-4

John Squier (1823-1892)                        Scot         Lafayette C 48        PTS 50    Smyrna    Port Deposit MD 68-92



Thomas A. Grove (1823-1896)              PA           MuskingumC 48     WTS53    Woodsfield              Woodsfield OH 63-7,70-3

Alexander S. Milholland (1834-1906)    OH          MuskingumC 60     WTS63    Millersburg             Holmes Co OH 67-70

Mordecai M. Travis (1827-1901)          OH          Jefferson C 56         WTS59    Hibbardville            Athens OH 59-63

                Travis                                                                                                      Brownsville             Newark OH 63-8

William A. Starrett (1834-1887)             PA           Jefferson C 58         PTS 62    Lawrence Douglas Co KS 69-71

Richard H. Jackson (1829-1907)            PA           Jefferson C 55         WTS60                    Atchison KS 70-6

John M. McElroy (1830-1908)              OH          Jefferson C 51         PTS 55    Ottumwa Wapello Co IA 64-5



Henry R. Avery (1828-1901)                 NY          CNJ 53                    PTS 56    miss         Contra Costa Co. CA 63-7


            In the deep South, Presbyterians also took the lead. The Georgia state education convention appointed the Rev. Alonzo Church (president of the University of Georgia) to a committee of three to encourage the development of common schools in the state.[72] The Southern Presbyterian Review ran an article encouraging a common school system for South Carolina in July of 1850.[73] South Carolina’s history of “poor schools” resulted in poor education as well. The leading editors of the Review, Thornwell and Adger, were becoming increasingly convinced that only full Presbyterian participation in public education could preserve the Christian character of the state.

            Likewise in the North, opposition to Roman Catholicism led to strong support for the public schools. In Ohio, when Archbishop Purcell tried to convince Cincinnati to reject the common school system as a godless approach to education, the Presbyterian of the West championed common schools in a steady stream of articles emphasizing the common Protestant heritage that could be taught in the public schools. After the election of 1853 returned supporters of the common schools to the city councils, the editor rejoiced that “Hereafter, he [Purcell] will be a much smaller man in this city than he has been.”[74]

            The first major article opposing parochial schools came from the pen of Robert J. Breckinridge in the Southern Presbyterian Review.[75] He began by affirming the traditional triad of “God-ordained” powers: the family, the state and the church. These three institutions “exhaust completely, the susceptibilities and powers of man, when united with his fellows, and to comprehend absolutely, all his duties and obligations, that are not purely individual.”[76] Breckinridge read the reports of the Board of Education, which affirmed that the church should supervise “the whole of education,” claiming that the historic practice of the church “in its pure days” (i.e., the patristic and reformation periods) should be followed by churches in the United States.[77] To Breckinridge, this was tantamount to saying that education belonged to the church, “to the total exclusion of the civil power.” As Superintendent of Public Education for the State of Kentucky (1847-1853),[78]       Breckinridge became increasingly frustrated with the state legislature, accusing it of sabotaging his efforts, but still poured himself into the schools. By 1853, when he accepted a call as professor of theology at Danville Theological Seminary in Kentucky, he had transformed education in Kentucky. In 1845 there were virtually no public schools in Kentucky, but by 1851 every county had reported some established. In 1847 there were 20,000 children in public schools; in 1852 there were 194,963. Presbyterian Herald 22.42 (June 30, 1853). It helped that his old friend John J. Crittenden had been elected governor in 1848 and vigorously supported his policies, but Crittenden was appointed as Millard Fillmore’s attorney general in 1850. Albert D. Kirwan, John J. Crittenden: The Struggle for the Union (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1962) 243, 265. Breckinridge’s successor was the Rev. John Matthews (PTS 1831)–another Old School Presbyterian minister. Breckinridge was convinced that common schools were necessary. The government could leave certain things to individual initiative, but “can any community, as such, safely, justifiably, omit to provide for the universal education of the people?”[79] Indeed Breckinridge denied the fundamental premise of the Board of Education by arguing that “education is an affair purely civil, purely temporal.” No church supervision was needed--any more than church supervision over any other sort of work is needed. If we must have church oversight over the selection of teachers (due to concern over moral influence), then church oversight over the election of magistrates should follow. Breckinridge reminded his readers that the Scottish example cut both ways. The rise of moderatism in the eighteenth-century Church of Scotland was largely due to the college professors who were under church oversight![80]

            Having banished the church from any active oversight, Breckinridge argued that Christian involvement in the public schools was essential. In most places, concerted Christian effort could bring about Bible reading and prayer in the public schools, and he insisted that the church should be “content to allow God to speak for himself in our schools, to the hearts and minds of our children--reserving for the fireside, the Sabbath schools, the pulpit and the press, comment, elucidation, and thorough systematic instruction.”[81]

            Breckinridge concluded by asserting the catholicity of his views, and the sectarian character of his opponents. Presbyterians could not be so narrow as to withdraw from the national schools. Calling his readers to remember the Presbyterian involvement in the American Revolution, he gloried in his vision of Presbyterian catholicity: “Narrow views may be put forth in her name; they are not hers. . . . Weak, timid or selfish counsels may appear for a time to gain her consent, but the calm, final, settled purpose, the true, earnest, cordial action she will take at last, will be in full accord with the spirit of the age.” While Breckinridge had been a champion of the Old School against the New School, his view of education shared the New School emphasis on individual cooperation. With a parting thrust, he decried denominational education as sectarian and bigoted, sacrificing “all hope of the general education of mankind.”[82] For some, catholicity was developing into a particular form of American nationalism.[83]

            The following year, at the General Assembly of 1850, Breckinridge fired a warning shot across the bow of the Board of Education, warning that parochial education would detract from the testimony of the Presbyterian Church by withdrawing her resources into a corner.[84] For the next four years, the education question would be one of the most fiercely contested issues in the church.[85]

            A second front in the educational war was developing in Virginia. In August of 1851, the Watchman and Observer ran a series on education from the youthful Robert L. Dabney (UTSVA 1846), pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia, opposing the plans of the Board of Education. Writing under the pseudonym “Chorepisocopus,” Dabney argued that the Board of Education should stick to ministerial education, and leave general education alone.[86] He said that he was no enemy to parochial schools, but emphasized his concern that the Board’s claim to direct “all education, in things sacred and secular” was nothing more than a “monstrous, revolutionizing and Popish principle.” The church had no authority, as the church, to conduct secular training. Claiming the authority of the fathers of Virginia Presbyterianism, Moses Hoge, John Holt Rice, and Drury Lacy, Dabney claimed that “they taught that the education of the youth in secular learning was a high and all-important duty, the duty of the individual christian parent, the individual patriot citizen; but not of the church as a church. Her grand function is to teach the Bible, nothing but the Bible.” Their schools, he argued, were supported by the church, but not under ecclesiastical oversight. The plan of the Board, Dabney argued, was an innovation.[87]

            “A Presbyter” replied that Dabney should have checked the minutes of the old Hanover Presbytery before asserting that the Virginia fathers did not allow for ecclesiastical oversight of schools. The Hanover Presbytery established schools, examined scholars, and commissioned the purchase of school books, all in its corporate capacity as a presbytery. Appealing to the long tradition of church oversight of education, “A Presbyter” reminded his readers of Calvin’s academy in Geneva, and the parochial system of Scottish education “which Knox, Melville and sundry others of those glorious days industriously prosecuted in the Fatherland.” He suggested that Dabney had fallen into New School ways of thinking, by considering the presbytery to be a voluntary society in the matter of education. The true innovator, he argued, was Dabney.[88]

            The editor, Benjamin Gildersleeve, commented that he concurred with some of Dabney’s fears, but he still supported parochial education. The following year he reprinted an article from the Free Church Record arguing that “a religious education, in all ordinary circumstances, implies, or presupposes, a church connexion. We are not aware, indeed, of any examples in which, on an extensive scale, a religious education has been attempted or successfully carried out apart from the watchful superintendence and fostering care of the church.” For those, like Gildersleeve, who were uneasy about separating Presbyterians from the general education of the country, this was precisely the issue. Could general education be separated from church oversight without resulting in infidelity?[89]

            This, then, was the challenge that supporters of state education had to meet. How could religion be maintained in a secular state? James Henley Thornwell, president of the College of South Carolina, attempted to meet the challenge in a letter to Governor Manning, which was reprinted throughout North and South alike. Like almost all in the Old School, Thornwell argued that religion was essential to education. While the State “knows nothing of sects, but to protect them, but it does not follow that the State must be necessarily godless.” While public schools should not be denominational, neither should they be atheistic or unchristian. “What is wanted is the pervading influence of religion as a life; the habitual sense of responsibility to God and of the true worth and destiny of the soul, which shall give tone to the character, and regulate all the pursuits of the place.” Having attended the College of South Carolina during the presidency of the “infidel” Thomas Cooper, Thornwell argued that the college should set a Christian example through the life and character of the professors and through requiring (except in the case of conscientious scruple) religious observance. A state school cannot teach religion as a science, or discipline, but “Let it come in the character of the Professors, let it come in the stated worship of the Sanctuary, and let it come in the vindication of those immortal records which constitute the basis of our faith. Leave creeds and confessions to the fireside and Church, the home and the pulpit. Have godly teachers, and you will have comparatively a godly College.” But, Thornwell warned, the only way to maintain the religious character of the teachers is through “the security of public opinion, which, in proportion as its various religious denominations do their duty in their own spheres, will become absolutely irresistible.” Thus the state college can become “religious without being sectarian.” Grant the church control over education, Thornwell argued, and you wind up with a church that intrudes into every aspect of life. “The church is a distinct corporation--with distinct rights and authority. She has direct control over nothing that is not spiritual in its matter and connected with our relations to Jesus Christ. . . and if education in its secular aspects, is not a function of grace, but of nature, if it belongs to man, not as a christian, but simply as a man, then it no more falls within the jurisdiction of the church, than any other secular work.” Due to the fragmentation of the church catholic, it is likely that denominational colleges will be small, unable to provide large endowments, and far more numerous than necessary. Therefore state education is essential for a well educated public.[90] Thornwell’s doctrine of the spirituality of the church should not be seen exclusively in the light of his desire to avoid the church’s involvement in slavery. It also was connected to his desire to avoid the church’s involvement in education.

            William Engles, editor of the Presbyterian (and one of the leading champions of Van Rensselaer’s parochial plan), admitted that Thornwell’s letter had attracted the attention of political as well as religious journals. But Presbyterians had always maintained their own educational institutions, and with the separation of religion from education, Engles insisted that the church was being forced to be even more reliant upon its own resources. “We admit that there is force in the suggestion that we may lose our influence in the State, by severing ourselves from it and rallying around sectarian standards; but these evils are to some extent exaggerated, and even in their largest extent, are not to be compared with the greater evils of leaving the youth of our congregations to the influences of a godless education.” Engles agreed that common schools were necessary, but urged the church to supplement the common schools with Presbyterian schools.[91]

            Perhaps the most extensive review of Thornwell’s argument for public education came from “Theophilus” (Rev. George Junkin, president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia). Junkin rejected Thornwell’s argument, claiming that “civil government has no authority to interpose between parent and child. God has put the child under parental tuition, and until the parent delegates his authority to teach and train up his child, no teacher has any right and power over it.” Rejecting compulsory attendance of children in school as tyrannical and despotic, Junkin defended parental rights against state interference. Junkin went further even than Van Rensselaer and Engles in openly denying the state’s right to operate schools. Education, Junkin argued, belonged to the church. Arguing that Reformed covenant theology formed the foundation of American republicanism, Junkin argued that “every element of the Common Law that is based on moral law and also with very many of its positive enactments; they are copies from the positive statutes of the Mosaic code.”[92] Only a religious education could provide the moral foundation for civil government.

            David McKinney, editor of the Presbyterian Banner, pointed out that this sounded very much like Van Rensselaer. He quoted the report of the Board of Education for 1852 as saying that “the present State system is an inferior and temporary dispensation, which, like some things under the law of Moses, may be tolerated as antecedent to the introduction of a more perfect system.”[93] Such statements provoked even those congenial to parochial schools to react negatively, pointing out that many Presbyterians operated schools and colleges that were not directly under church authority. Van Rensselaer replied to his critics by pointing out that he had always considered private colleges such as Princeton, Jefferson, and Hampden-Sydney to be “included in the denominational resources.”[94] Nonetheless, Van Rensselaer gave critics fodder for their suspicions when the following month he declared that corporations were a poor substitute for church oversight. Pointing to Andover Theological Seminary, Van Rensselaer noted that while the charter required all professors to subscribe to the Shorter Catechism, the Trustees had released the majority of the professors from this obligation, going “the way of Harvard,” which he could not help but note, was also run by a corporation. “The Church, and not politically chartered corporations, is 'the pillar and ground of the truth.'”[95] It sounded to many as if Van Rensselaer was systematically denying that any organization outside the church had the right to operate schools. “Old Paths” replied in the Banner that if Van Rensselaer and his supporters did not moderate their tone, they would lose support for their parochial schools.[96]


            A. The Education Debate of 1854

            The opening salvo of the education debate at the 1854 General Assembly was fired, predictably, by the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge (now professor of theology at Danville Theological Seminary). He argued that “the great mass of our people could not be brought to separate the Presbyterian Church from the great educational movements of the age.”[97] In his opinion, such a separation would be disastrous and ought not to take place. He thought that such “collateral” work distracted from the church’s main task of preaching the gospel. Nevertheless, he was willing to have the Church conduct institutions of her own, provided it would not be considered disloyal to her authority for those who entertained different opinions, “to continue to act in favour of the state system.”[98]

            Two ruling elders were the first to respond. Judge John Fine, from Ogdensburg, New York, argued that the requirements of an educated ministry forced the church to start its work long before seminary. “The Church did not want superficial men. She wanted men learned in the Scriptures and acquainted with human nature; and amidst all other attainments, a knowledge of the ancient languages and of philosophy was pre-eminent.” Using a scientific metaphor, Fine insisted that “We must look to the under strata and not confine ourselves merely to the upper rocks. A true view of education, as of geology, includes a survey of the whole field.”[99] Silas Holmes, a ruling elder from New York City, and the leading contributor to the Board’s parochial school fund, insisted that the early education of children was pre-eminently the church’s task. “The case of Samuel was full of instruction. Our candidates for the ministry would not be so few, if the church had mothers like Hannah. The time of beginning education was in infancy; and mothers were the first and best instructors of children. . . . Schools were necessary to carry on and complete the work of mothers at home; and these schools should be religious schools.” Colleges were necessary too, but “Let us have religious schools for the young, at any rate–parochial schools, where the Church could see that religion was properly taught.”[100]

            A couple of ministers chimed in. Rev. W. J. Frazier of Palmyra Presbytery in Missouri pointed out that many parents were not training their children adequately in religion, admitting that his own early education was deficient. “If parents fail to teach religion to their children, where must we look for the supply of the deficiency? To the State? No. But to the Church of Christ. The Church has no higher duty than to take care of the young. . . . Neglected children are a woeful inheritance to society, and as probationers for eternity, how awful is their condition! We need the organized instrumentality of the Church.”[101] Rev. D. V. McLean (president of Lafayette College) argued that the church needs to do more “collateral” work (using Breckinridge’s term) before the supply of ministers will increase significantly. “We take up young men too late. Dr. Alexander used to say that we had to educate a great many young men in order to get a few good ones. That is true. We begin too late; and besides that, the Church has too little oversight of the work.” Parochial schools are beginning to change that, but they are still few in number. We do not oppose the state schools, but they are generally inadequate in religion. “What had made Scotland such a glorious country but the early care of her children? Her parochial schools had been her strength. If our Church were to abandon her position on education, we should be going a century backwards.”[102] At this, R. J. Breckinridge broke in with his warning that the church should not separate herself from the great educational movements of the age, to which McLean fired back, “It will be a dark hour for us when we give up the control of our youth to the secular powers.”[103]

            Charles Hodge (professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary) restated the theory that the Board of Education had settled upon: “When the Church finds that the family and the State fail to provide the requisite kind or amount of education, then the Church may intervene and provide institutions under her own care. . . . Our Church schools owe their origin to the exclusion of religion from the public schools.” We do not wish to cut ourselves off from the public schools, but where those schools are inadequate, we must have good schools.[104]

            This chorus of support for the Board was too much for Stuart Robinson (pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore). He denied the church’s right to establish schools. “The Church was no party to education outside of the ordinances of the house of God. The Church educates by preaching the Gospel, and by making parents assume vows in the baptism of their children.” At this point Hodge asked if Robinson’s views forbade schools in the foreign missionary context, but Robinson ignored the question and continued: “Christians may exercise a good influence over the schools of their neighborhood, but to have control as a part of a Church session, was another thing; and if in this sense the Church was claimed as a party in education, he denied the position.”[105]

            Realizing that he could not win on grounds of principle, Breckinridge turned to practical arguments. He feared that the energies of the Board would be consumed by its responsibilities in overseeing all education. As the former Superintendent of Education for the State of Kentucky, he knew how much time and energy could be consumed in such a role.[106] But he was gratified to hear that the Board was softening its rhetoric against the public schools.

            But the advocates of parochial schools were unwilling to let Breckinridge move away from matters of principle. Gardiner Spring (pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City) declared that “The State was formerly sanctified by the Church, and the public schools taught religion, as in Scotland.” Indeed, Spring believed that “The question was fast coming to this–whether the Church, or an infidel world, was to educate our youth.” Spring recognized that while General Assemblies might continue to support parochial schools with resolutions, the fact was that the schools were closing. “I regret the spirit of indifference to our new educational operations, or rather to the old operations of the Church in a new form.”[107] While northern Presbyterians generally agreed that parochial education was acceptable, by the mid-1850s indifference was indeed paralyzing the movement.

            Formal opposition to church oversight of education came largely from the South. John B. Adger (a South Carolinian former missionary to Turkey with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) “did not agree that secular education formed a part of the business of the Church court. He did not deny that religion was an important part of education; but the question was whether the Church courts had the right to engage in secular education.” And even if the right existed, the sessions and presbyteries simply did not have enough time to do the job properly.[108] More concerned with practical matters, Professor Joseph Ruggles Wilson of Hampden-Sydney College feared that colleges which were not under church oversight would be excluded from Presbyterian support.[109]

            But Southerners could be found on both sides of the question. In reply to Wilson, Rev. Robert H. Chapman of Talladega Presbytery (Alabama) suggested that the Board’s policy would encourage institutions like Hampden-Sydney. “As to the right of the Church to take part in education, he believed it with all his heart, and the time may come when the Church will be required to do a great deal more than she is now doing.”[110]

            Paul T. Jones, Esq., a ruling elder from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia brought his experience as a director of the Philadelphia public schools to bear on the debate. Out of some 1500 graduates of the Philadelphia High School only around a dozen had become ministers. “I. . . can speak with confidence of their admirable management, as secular institutions. But religion is scarcely leavening the schools. A portion of the Bible is indeed read by the teacher, but what is reading a few verses as a part of religious education?” He would continue to support public education as a necessity, although “the absence of religion is a sore evil,” but he had greater respect for the parochial school that his church operated.[111]

            The final speech came from Dr. John C. Young, president of Centre College in Kentucky, and a long-time supporter of parochial schools. He did not agree with Van Rensselaer and the Board of Education on all points, but he had seen progress as the church had debated the question over the years. He was convinced that the Board was on the right track, and urged the church to continue to work towards further harmony.[112]

            The vote on the resolutions endorsing the Board’s plan of education was nearly unanimous. No doubt Adger, Robinson and a few others voted against it, but even in the South the majority overwhelmingly supported denominational education in principle. The strongest vocal support came from the New York/Philadelphia corridor, but was echoed by others from Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Wisconsin.


            B. Educational Debates in the mid-1850s

            After the Assembly’s debate, several newspapers conducted lengthy debates on educational questions. Throughout the 1850s, presbyteries and synods continued to affirm the importance of denominational education. Samuel K. Talmage, president of Oglethorpe University in Georgia, wrote to the Southern Presbyterian that “one of the most alarming features of the age, seems to be the comparative fewness of young men who are turning their attention to the work of the ministry. Is it not a special judgment of Heaven upon the Church for her worldly-mindedness and other sins?” While other denominations were having the same trouble, it encouraged Talmage that “God . . . has inclined our Church with almost unbroken unanimity, from the General Assembly to the lowest ecclesiastical judicatures, to commit themselves fully, and in earnest, to the great and momentous work of denominational and religious education.”[113] Van Rensselaer, hoping to conciliate those that had opposed the Board of Education at the Assembly, re-affirmed his stance that the church does not claim an exclusive right to educate. “All that the General Assembly has ever claimed, is the right to educate, as one of the parties in the great work--not the only party, and the exclusive party--but simply a party, and a true party.”[114]

            The Southern Presbyterian had hoped that church education would win the day, but now not only Thornwell and Breckinridge, but even Matthew B. Hope, an Old School professor at the College of New Jersey had turned against parochial schools. J. L. Kirkpatrick, the new editor, commented that even Scotland was considering transferring education from the “church to the crown,” in view of the division of the Scottish Church.[115] Kirkpatrick pointed out that while a large majority still supported denominational education with their votes, fewer had supported it with their money and patronage.[116]

            Whereas in the late 1840s presbyterial and synodical schools were established with minimal opposition, by 1854 the debates were more significant. Even the Synod of New Jersey, the place of origin of the parochial school movement, debated the education question in the fall of 1854. All agreed that parents have the most basic right and responsibility to educate their children. They disagreed, however, on the question of whether the church courts should organize schools, or whether the matter should be left to groups of Christians. The advocates of parochial schools pointed out that at least in the matter of colleges, the latter approach was nearly impossible. Private Christian associations lacked the necessary resources–which was why nearly all the Presbyterian colleges founded after 1830 were denominational enterprises. And if it appropriate for the church to organize colleges, then why not other schools as well?[117]

            Four years later the Synod of New York discussed whether it should encourage all Presbyterians to abandon the public schools. Their concluding resolution stated, “that the education of children in the schools of the State requires the most vigilant attention of the Church, lest, by neglect of the Bible, and those Christian principles which inculcate obedience to government and respect for law, the Public School should lose all moral power, and become subservient to infidelity, Romanism, licentiousness, and anarchy.” Protesting against the complete removal of the Bible and prayer from some of the state’s public schools, the synod appointed a committee of five to consider the expediency of “abandoning the present system of education by the State, leaving education, with religion, to be supported by the voluntary action of the people.”[118]

            The following year, in November of 1859, the committee reported that the common school movement was too popular and successful to consider withdrawing from it. New York Presbyterians would have to accept it and entrust the religious education of their children to “parents, ministers, ruling elders, parochial and Sunday-schools, &c., where our rights and duties are unembarrassed by any public or exterior control.” Indeed, since the New York legislature had ruled that the schools were under the “rule of the people,” through the Board of Education, they hoped that religious influence could increase. Nonetheless, they added, “It is the policy of our people and of our nation, to promote the commingling of our youth and of all our citizens, so as to coalesce as one united homogeneous population.” To withdraw from the common schools would leave them to godless influence. Its resolution was adopted unanimously:

1. Resolved, That the Synod reiterates its strong and solemn conviction that the public schools should enjoy the influence of the daily reading of the Holy Scriptures; and that while the present system is continued,, it is not expedient to abandon the policy of State education, so as to leave it to be supported exclusively by private or ecclesiastical effort.[119]


As in other states, local communities still controlled the religious content of their schools, so many Old School Presbyterians hoped that they could influence the direction of the common schools.

            While church newspapers usually emphasized synodical and presbyterial actions, and published debates between ministers and elders, occasionally other voices were heard as well. In May of 1855 a poor widow from the West with six small children wrote to the Home and Foreign Record:

I am often ready to sink in sorrow, as it respects the education of my children. I stand alone in my views of educating children in the district. My views are as you have them in the Record--a religious education. It has often been said to me, 'Your children are no better than other children.' By nature they are not, and I have feared that if sent to the schools that we have here, they will be no better by practice.[120]


Few women’s voices were recorded in the newspapers, but their silence should not be taken as lack of interest. Editorial comments and subscription records indicate that women formed a substantial portion of the readership of the newspapers, and their efforts were often enlisted in educational endeavors.[121]


            C. Virginia Again

            While every Old School newspaper published debates between advocates of state and church oversight, the most thorough debate ran in the Watchman and Observer, published in Richmond, Virginia. Rev. Clement Read Vaughan (UTSVA 1847, and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia) launched a lengthy attack on the educational policy of the Board of Education in the Watchman and Observer.[122] The ensuing debate lasted from June 22-August 10, 1854, and then after a brief respite, continued from October 26, 1854-May 31, 1855.

            Vaughan opened his argument by claiming that the Board was hiding its true principles. When Van Rensselaer and Hodge claimed to support public schools, it was merely a ploy to gain the church’s consent for their conspiracy to take over the management of the whole of general education, “invested with absolute control over the whole secular and religious education of the children of the church, holding the destiny of a thousand schools at its breath.” Either the church should approve this tyranny or repudiate it outright. But, Vaughan argued, “it is a breach of the apostolic commission for the church to pass her strictly spiritual bounds and claim an unlimited jurisdiction over the whole system of secular education.” Arguing for the exclusively spiritual jurisdiction of the church, he urged the church to “interfere and prevent the officers of that Board from turning their whole machinery into implements of evil.” Calling every true Christian to “come out of these schools” and “cleanse his hands from all contact with a system built upon the prostrate charter of the church of God,” Vaughan suggested that ecclesiastical oversight of education was not just a bad idea–it was evidence of apostasy.[123]

            Vaughan pointed out that two camps opposed the Board’s plan. The first supported private education run by parents, and the second contended for public education run by the state. Both agreed that the church does not have authority from God to operate schools. The supporters of parochial education could not prove from scripture that God commanded the church, either directly or indirectly, to conduct general education, therefore Vaughan insisted that such schools violated the church’s divine charter.[124] The power to “teach the nations” does not include anything besides the gospel. Hodge and Smyth, he claimed, tried to make gospel ministers into teachers of science as well as preachers of the cross. If this was true, then “the obligation is the same for both, and by divine command he is ex officio a pedagogue not less than a pastor, and both offices equally authoritative and equally divine.”[125] They try to claim that these are “incidental powers,” not of equal weight with the authority to preach the gospel, but if the church has the authority to teach anything incidental to biblical truth, then the church would have the authority to train blacksmiths and hatters. In reply Vaughan insisted that the educational endeavors of the church should be restricted to training ministers only.[126]

            Vaughan was concerned that the boundaries between family, church and state were becoming blurred. It was obvious to all that an elder who was a magistrate may not try an ecclesiastical offense in his civil court. And if the state should prove faithless in its administration of justice, that would not permit the church to “usurp its functions on pretense of its interest in the right administration of civil government.” Likewise, “if the parent neglects his duty to his children, neither church nor State have the right to compel him to do it, except in a limited and specific sense. . . [when] the violation of his duty as a parent becomes a public offence against the civil law in the one case, or incompatible with Christian character in the other.” The State cannot provide an education that will satisfy the parents, because parents have different religious standards for education. “Let parents. . . unite if it be best on any principle, civil, scientific or religious which may be supposed to be expedient; and let them seek within the shadow of the great social body, distinct from church and State, on the great principle of supply and demand, for the agents and instruments to accomplish it.” The church’s role is simply to instruct the parents in their duty, while the State may simply grant charters and other appropriate encouragement, whether financial or otherwise. But the schools themselves must be under parental control.[127]

            Benjamin Gildersleeve had intended to allow Vaughan to finish his series before allowing responses in the Watchman and Observer, but by now the clamor to engage with this young radical had grown too great. Far South replied that if the State and individuals failed to provide good schools, “the church is bound to resume the work herself, and set aside all such corrupt coadjutors.” Relying on one of the favorite arguments of denominational education, he warned that if the church followed Theta’s argument, “then the church can never go ahead of civilization in giving the gospel to the heathen. She must wait until States or individuals teach the heathen letters and give them such secular education as is necessary to comprehend the great or the simple truths of religion.” The work of foreign missions depends upon education, and mission schools have proven to be the most effective means of evangelizing the heathen. Confident that the vast majority of the church, both North and South, affirmed the teachings of Dr. Hodge on education, Far South warned that “great will be the loss” if these doctrines are “repudiated by the church, or by a majority of either section.”[128]

            Theta (Vaughan) replied that the church indeed has the “right to do what may be absolutely an indispensable condition to the successful preaching of the gospel. . . . It may be that the education of the heathen in secular schools may be necessary to the understanding of the gospel and there being no other agency in the land to give this education, it might be admitted fully that it was competent to the church to establish such a school.” But in America Vaughan saw no such necessity. Parents were fully capable of establishing good schools. But Vaughan immediately felt the weight of his concession. If the church has discretionary power to create schools in foreign missions, why not at home? Vaughan argued that the parochial school was different in character from the mission school. “We affirm the one to be a secular school and the other to be a religious school, the one identical with ordinary schools for secular instruction, the other analogous, though not absolutely identical with the Sabbath school organization.” The mission school, then is a place to preach the gospel, while the parochial school is a place to impart secular instruction.[129]

            Theophilus (George Junkin, president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia) challenged Vaughan’s divorce between sacred and secular. Learning to read, he claimed, was not a secular act. If mathematics, natural philosophy, and philology were secular matters, then he pointed out that the church must depend on the world for the training of her ministers. “Most assuredly she not only may, but she must teach any branch, necessary to the understanding of the Bible, or she is false to her Master's cause. . . . In every Sabbath School children are taught to read. . . . a purely secular affair, is taught by the church and on the Sabbath day.” The fundamental fallacy of Theta is that he defines education as secular–“relating to things not immediately or primarily respecting the soul, but the body; worldly, temporal.” Theophilus replied that “I deny that letters and reading, any more than speech are in this sense secular.” Art and science are “of the soul and not of the body.” You cannot divide man into two parts–“one sacred and the other secular. . . . We repudiate wholly the supposed divorce between things that God has joined together.”[130]

            No sooner did Vaughan’s series end, than David McKinney, the editor of the Philadelphia Presbyterian Banner, started a series of articles similar to Vaughan, though since he lived in a state with an extensive public school system, he urged greater involvement in the public schools.[131] Like all Presbyterians, he affirmed that parents are “a party–yea, the party in the whole of education.” Others may assist them, but the parents are the ones who are obligated to provide for the education of their children. McKinney’s approval of state education was due to his different definition of the state. The state is not equal to the government. The state “embraces all who dwell in a community.” And because conduct is rooted in moral principles, the state has “as deep an interest in that training which will produce the best moral principles, as it has in that which will result in the fullest intellectual development.” Therefore, McKinney argued, general Protestant teaching should be included in the schools without favoring one denomination over others. If the whole community was of one mind, then that teaching should be taught in the schools, because “the whole of education belongs to the parent, it does not belong to the State.” The state has an interest in education, and may encourage it, but it cannot overrule the parental interest.[132]

            Likewise, McKinney viewed the church as the people of God, not simply the church courts. But he considered even the church courts as “still parents and men,” and therefore he claimed that it is “perfectly competent for members of a Session, a Presbytery, Synod or General Assembly, to confer with each other on the education of their offspring and of the young of the land, to devise a system of education, or to give efficiency to a plan already existing.” Church schools would only become a problem if they were made mandatory. “Let all be voluntary, and it may then be, within judicious limits, a safe as well as convenient manner of carrying out the common will.”[133] But, McKinney viewed the parochial school movement of the Board of Education as unnecessary. He argued that if the public schools were inadequate, then all evangelical Christians should band together–not just Old School Presbyterians.[134] But in most places, in order to halt the advance of infidelity and Roman Catholicism, all Protestants should join forces in the public schools.[135] Unlike Vaughan in his radical critique, McKinney did not think that the parochial school system was wrong in principle, but that it was inexpedient in ceding evangelical influence in society.

            Benjamin Gildersleeve, editor of the Watchman and Observer, commented that Vaughan and McKinney had convinced him that the parochial schools were flawed. The erstwhile supporter of parochial schools now feared that separation from other Christian brethren would only weaken the Protestant effort against Rome. The challenge was how to find a way to work together to form evangelical Christian schools–not parochial Presbyterian schools.[136]

            Junkin, however, did not wish to lose Virginia to the radicals. He launched a series of articles entitled “Lux Mundi” in the Watchman and Observer in order to defend the principle of church schools. He argued that general education is necessary in order to understand the Bible correctly. Philology, natural philosophy, indeed, every branch of knowledge is ancillary to comprehending the Word of God. All knowledge has a spiritual purpose. Therefore, if ministers are to teach the Word of God to the nations, they must teach everything.[137] Certainly unbelievers could master all these branches of learning, but all “learning, all art, all science may be and ought to be made subservient to the Master’s glory.” When “secular” learning was cut loose from the religion of the cross, Junkin believed that the “most brutal barbarism” would be unleashed. “Naples and Rome are more savage than the Choctaws and the Omahas. . . . Timbuctoo will be christianized before Paris.”[138] The distinction between sacred and secular will not hold. The church is “God’s great education society, ordained of him to educate man for earth and for heaven, for time and for eternity."[139] Arguing that the church had operated schools at least since the second and third centuries, Junkin argued that the magistrate had no authority to teach. That is the distinctive function of the church.[140] For Junkin it did not matter whether parents formed the school under the general oversight of the church, or whether the session assumed direct control. Either way, the school must be “in a degree under the inspection of the officers of their church.”[141]

            Beta (identity unknown–but sounds like Theta/Vaughan) caught this distinction, and replied to Theophilus that the duty of a church court to conduct education “must be specified from the word of God.” And this he has not done. It is not enough to say that the church should do it, because Theta (Vaughan) is willing to allow church members to start schools under the general oversight of the church. But in order to defend the Board’s system, Junkin must first prove that the elders are required by the word of God to establish and operate schools.[142] Junkin replied in the same issue that he considered the whole church–not just the eldership–to be the divinely constituted education society.[143]

            This called forth a reply from “Fair Fight” who pointed out that under Theophilus’s (Junkin’s) definition, “if a public school is taught by a Christian it is under ecclesiastical control.” But Theophilus has not answered the question whether “the Presbyterian church as an organized body. . . have the power to supervise and control as well as originally create” schools.[144]

            Gildersleeve entered the fray to quote the Papal instruction of 1854 to form Catholic schools under every bishop. He insisted that the Board was not trying to imitate Rome, because the Board did not insist that every member send their children to these parochial schools. In the end, after some hesitation, Gildersleeve was concluding (with the majority of Old School Presbyterians) that while parents have control over their children’s education, state, church or private schools could all co-exist peacefully.[145]

            Theophilus (Junkin) concluded his lengthy series by examining the principles on which these schools should operate. He argued that the church should welcome all students into her schools whose parents are willing to help support the school and submit their children to its discipline. So long as the school is under church oversight, there is no need to require all parents to be Christian. If a community is sparsely populated, then the several denominations should work together until they can start their own schools.[146] For Junkin, the best way to administer such schools is through a board of trustees. The property should be held by a closed corporation and the teachers appointed by the session or presbytery who would give general supervision to the school.[147]

            What particularly alarmed Junkin, however, was the compromise that many Presbyterians (such as Breckinridge and Thornwell) were promoting that made the civil government the “financier of schools.” “It nearly approaches the idea of church schools; for it leaves the entire business of education to the voice of the people.” Where the majority is religious, this is a popular approach. “In fact, it will be under church supervision from first to last,” since ministers and elders are so often chosen as public school superintendents. But as attractive as this sounds, there is a danger of the state suppression of religion. “Let the civil government arrogate the function of teaching–let it assume the control of general education and such results not only may, but must occur.”[148]

            Beta, on the other hand, was incensed by Theophilus’s continued blurring of the distinction between the church and the church courts. While Theophilus (Junkin) had made it clear that he had no quarrel with either private or parochial schools, Beta (Vaughan?) wanted someone to show that the scripture required the church courts to operate schools.[149] Beta at least appreciated the fact that Theophilus was consistent in denying the state’s right to educate, a point on which he lambasted the Board of Education:

we charge her [the Board] with inconsistency in advocating Church Education, and at the same time recognizing the right of the State to educate. . . . We acknowledge that the charge of inconsistency does not apply, if the Board concedes to the State nothing more than the right to educate those who cannot be educated without her interference. We understand her as conceding a great deal more.[150]


Beta rejected any sense of discretionary power. When it comes to the church, there are no grey areas. Everything is strictly black or white. He insisted that without scriptural support, the argument from history is papist and high-church, not Presbyterian.[151] Admitting that he could not overthrow the historical argument for parochial schools, Beta simply dismissed history with an appeal to scripture. As such, Beta and Theta (who are probably the same person–Clement Read Vaughan) reflects a sort of biblicism that was becoming increasingly characteristic in the second generation of southern Old School Presbyterianism.[152]

            The final major series on education in the Watchman and Observer came from the pen of Thomas V. Moore (PTS 1842), pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia. Moore, in reply to Junkin’s claim that the church was the divinely ordained education society, argued that the family should be considered “God’s University.” Arguing that the family was the original government, school and church, Moore set forth a guide for parents in considering how to train their children to be productive members of both the church and the state.[153]

            In spite of the fact that several leading ministers in Virginia were opposed to parochial schools, the synod continued to endorse the project as late as the fall of 1855. While insisting that the primary purpose of the Board of Education should remain ministerial training, the synod affirmed that parochial education “may also be commended, as worthy of the enlightened liberality of those whom God has enabled and disposed to contribute to this special purpose.” Maintaining that church oversight was not necessary, the synod promised to support all schools that gave sound religious instruction, and concluded “that whatever diversity of opinion may exist in regard to certain of the views and arguments advanced in former publications of the Board, yet in the educational policy of the church as defined in the resolutions of the General Assembly and explained in the last report of the Board, we find no grounds for suspicion of the Board, or further controversy in the church.”[154]

            Predictably, this was not sufficient for Clement Vaughan. He authored a protest against the idea that the church “acting in its high official and governmental capacity, is possessed of the right to control secular education,” interfering with the rights of parents. Joining him were Edward Martin, his younger brother, licentiate Alexander Martin,[155] and ruling elders A. D. Dickinson, William P. Dickinson, and James Calhoun. The principled opposition to the Board of Education in Virginia, in 1855, consisted of two young ministers, a licentiate, and three ruling elders.

            The synod replied graciously that the protest had missed the point. The synod did not claim the right to “control secular education”–nor did the General Assembly. Rather, “it claims the right of the church to provide the means of a Christian education to her own children and youth whenever those means are not otherwise provided.” No interference with any other party is intended. It is not surprising that the protestants were all recent Union Seminary alumni, while the ones defending parochial education were Princeton graduates from the very period when the Princeton faculty first began to promote parochial education.[156]

            Likewise, in South Carolina, while Thornwell’s influence was considerable, it could not make a serious dent in the support for parochial education. In 1858 the Synod of South Carolina stated that “in most of our Presbyteries provision has been made, or is making, for the education of our sons and daughters under the supervision of our Ecclesiastical courts.” Divine approval was seen in the large number of professions of faith that were coming out of these denominational schools.[157]

            Since even Virginia and South Carolina, where the debate had been the hottest, supported of the Board’s moderated policy of establishing ecclesiastical schools only where adequate schools were unavailable, the General Assembly of 1855 saw a much briefer debate. Both Dabney and Thornwell were commissioners, but Dabney’s speech on the Board of Education was focused on the need to improve ministerial training, and while Thornwell expressed his objection to the Board’s involvement in general education–and especially to the idea that education belongs exclusively to the church–he did not press the matter. He concluded his remarks by saying that “as the Scotch Presbyterians say in their Presbyteries, he had exonerated his conscience, and would stop there.” While both Dabney and Thornwell objected to the Board’s operations they recognized that they were in a small minority and did not wish to disrupt the church. At least in this matter catholicity provided a way to maintain a clear conscience even with serious opposition to the church’s policy.[158]

            Thornwell and Vaughan continued to argue against the idea that the church had an exclusive right to educate, but it is hard to find anyone who actually argued for that position. But both Thornwell and Vaughan remained convinced that the Board was simply covering its true agenda with the rhetoric of compromise. It is difficult not to draw comparisons with the increasing southern paranoia about the secret abolitionist agenda of all northerners, or the protestant paranoia about the secret agenda of Roman Catholics. What was lacking was a genuine trust in one another–something that was increasingly difficult to obtain given the growing isolation between various regions.[159]


            D. The California Radical

            In 1859 a new voice began arguing a most shocking proposition: William A. Scott, editor of the Pacific Expositor, and pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, California, suggested that compulsory Bible reading in the common schools was contrary to American Republicanism. The proposition itself was not shocking–infidels and papists had been making the claim for decades–but the fact that it was uttered by a leading Old School minister, the moderator of the 1858 General Assembly. Indeed, what was most disturbing to editors throughout the country was the fact that Scott had persuaded the Synod of the Pacific to protest against the compulsory introduction of the Bible.[160] Scott, who had been ordained in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and had been the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans for twelve years before moving to San Francisco in 1855, was convinced by James Henley Thornwell and Stuart Robinson of the complete spirituality of the church, and took the next logical step.[161]

            Scott supported the use of the Bible in public schools, but not “its compulsory use, by law, in such schools.”[162] Arguing that public schools were necessary for universal education, Scott nonetheless urged the formation of denominational schools, because of his conviction that no “religion or sect or denomination, should be supported in any way by law.”[163] Scott especially deplored any attempt to gain state money for religious schools. We must “resist the invasion of the State treasury for the promotion of anything distinctively religious.”[164]

            The Presbyterian and other newspapers howled in protest that Scott was denying the Protestant character of the United States. Scott replied that the United States was not Protestant. He supported bible reading in the public schools, but not when teachers or parents were “conscientiously opposed to it. . . let there be no legislation to compel any one to read the Bible, recite the Creed, or go to Church.”[165] Defending himself against his critics, Scott argued that Christians were called to suffer–not to impose hardships on others: “Nor has the time past when they that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”[166] To a certain extent, William A. Scott was an anomaly in the Old School, but he signaled the direction in which American culture was heading, and the ironic way in which a Thornwellian version of the spirituality of the church could lead Presbyterians to a comfortable truce with the dominant culture of the future.



            In the late 1840s the Old School committed itself on paper to an extensive project of parochial education. If the newspapers and courts of the church reflect church opinion, a large proportion of the church hoped that a Presbyterian school system could stem the tide of irreligion and secular education. But even those committed to Presbyterian schools generally supported the rising common school system–a system whose principles were formed in direct opposition to the parochial system. Old School choices reveal much about how catholicity was becoming a national, rather than religious, principle.

            While the only church court to specifically deny the church’s right to establish parochial schools (as far as my research shows) was Vaughan’s Roanoke Presbytery in 1859, which argued his position that parents are the educators of their children, and that the church only offers religious teaching,[167] by the end of the 1850s, parochial schools were fading out. The St. Louis Presbyterian discussed the education question in 1858. The Common School Report for 1854 had shown that of the 203,658 children from ages 5-20 in Missouri, only around 35% were in the common schools, while an equal number were privately educated, leaving an estimated 30% who did not attend any school at all.[168] Some still defended Presbyterian schools, but even they admitted that public opposition was too strong: “Ministers who could not feed and clothe their families a year, upon what is often expended upon one party of pleasure, have been reproached for teaching pious youth of the church who could find no other than Romish schools.”[169] Another writer confessed that he loved the public schools, but regretted that “in deference to infidel prejudice, the reading of the Scriptures and prayer had to be excluded, for, without religion to sanctify it, education can raise us to nothing better nor higher than the heathen civilization of Athens and Rome.” And to make matters worse, the St. Louis schools had chosen the Unitarian hymnal, which altered hymns to delete any references to the divinity of Christ. Will St. Louis Christians be content, he asked, to “be taxed to propagate Unitarianism?” This, he claimed, was a sectarianism just as much as if the papists demanded the public schools to say the Hail Mary.[170]

            By 1870 parochial schools were almost completely abandoned by the Presbyterian church. A column in the Home and Foreign Record set forth the official position of the post-Van Rensselaer Board of Education. A truly American system of education must be universal, equal and supported at the public expense. The author suggested that “if ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights’. . . so also it is self-evident that the nature, exercise and limits of these rights must be taught in the appropriate period of youth, to each generation. Thus the ends of government are accomplished in the most cheap, effectual, and wholesome way.” Further, he argued that while no creed could be taught, “the Bible should be read as an authority, and for its information upon matters of infinite value to the soul of man; a brief prayer, in some simple form if preferred should be offered,” juvenile hymns should be sung and a “spirit of reverence towards God and respect for his truth should pervade the literature and tuition of the school room.” This Protestant vision for the common schools, he insisted that “every pastor of a church should feel. . . [that] he is called, by his vows to God, by his professional duty, by his interest in the future of the youth, and by his patriotism to diligently cultivate.”[171] Catholicity had become a particular version of American Protestant nationalism.

[1]Watchman of the South 1.39 (May 24, 1838) 155; 3.6 (October 3, 1839) 23.

[2]Watchman of the South 1.39 (May 24, 1838) 155.

[3]The standard history of education is Lawrence A. Cremin’s multi-volume study, American Education. On the antebellum era see Cremin, American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); Frederick M. Binder, The Age of the Common School, 1830-1865 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1974); Michael Katz, Class, Bureaucracy and Schools: The Illusion of Educational Change in America (New York: Praeger, 1975); Donald H. Parkerson and Jo Ann Parkerson, The Emergence of the Common School in the U. S. Countryside (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998).

[4]Mary P. Ryan, Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

[5]“Common Schools (from the Commonwealth)” Protestant and Herald 10.7 (January 21, 1841).

[6]Figure 5.1 comes from P&H 12.1 (October 6, 1842). The W&O 1.8 (October 9, 1845) gave similar numbers from Professor Tucker's Progress of the United States in Population and Wealth.

[7]Howard Miller has demonstrated the centrality of Presbyterians in American higher education in the colonial era and the early republic. The Revolutionary College: American Presbyterian Higher Education, 1707-1837 (New York: New York University Press, 1976). Presbyterian ministers frequently operated grammar schools or academies as well.

[8]Lewis Joseph Sherrill, Presbyterian Parochial Schools, 1846-1870 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932) 2. Sherrill, the definitive study of the Presbyterian parochial school movement, reports that a committee report in 1812 argued that satisfactory discipline was impossible in the current school system, and that since it is the legitimate job of the church to educate (and not the state) a Presbyterian system of schools would be desirable. The General Assembly did not adopt the report, but the first indication of dissatisfaction with the low state of religion in American schools was recorded.

[9]Sherrill, 8-11. There is a connection between this sort of plan (which would later include a college in each synod) and the secular proposals of Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson forty years before. They have a common source in the educational system of Scotland where each parish had a school, and each presbytery an academy.

[10]“Roman Catholic Claim (from the New York Observer)” Protestant and Herald 10.1 (December 3, 1840).

[11]Editorial, “Movements of the Catholics,” NYO 18.31 (August 1, 1840) 122. Morse was a New School Presbyterian, though his paper maintained a large Old School readership. The following week Morse explained the history of New York City’s Common School Fund, established in 1812. “It was then declared that every religious society in this city that had then established, or should afterwards establish common schools, should be entitled to receive a portion of this fund.” But in 1824 one of those religious societies used school funds for “other purposes than those of education,” which resulted in the withdrawal of school funds from all “sectarian” schools. Editorial, “Designs of the Catholics,” NYO 18.32 (August 8, 1840) 126.

[12]“Light on the Catholic Question,” NYO 18.39 (September 26, 1840) 154.

[13]Editorial, “Roman Catholic Claim,” NYO (November 7, 1840) 178.

[14]Editorial, “Roman Catholic Claim,” NYO (November 7, 1840) 178.

[15]Editorial, “Roman Catholic Claim,” NYO (November 7, 1840) 178.

[16]Editorial, “Roman Catholic Equity,” NYO 18.51 (December 19, 1840) 202. The reference to Smithfield, of course, was the famous burning of the Massachusetts convent.

[17]Editorial, “The School Fund Question,” NYO 19.3 (January 16, 1841) 10.

[18]Frederick M. Binder, The Age of the Common School, 1830-1865 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1974) 64. Cf. Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938) 145-158.

[19]Editorial, “The ‘Church and State’ Party,” NYO 19.8 (February 20, 1841) 30.

[20]Editorial, “Another Feature in the School Bill,” NYO 19.28 (July 10, 1841) 110. The bill withheld state funds from sectarian schools, but New York City funds were not affected by that provision.

[21]“The Public Schools of Philadelphia,” Presbyterian 13.3 (January 21, 1843) 10. The Philadelphia riots of 1844, referred to in the previous chapter were connected to these developments. The riots have been described by Vincent P. Lannie and Bernard C. Diethorn, “For the Honor and Glory of God: The Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1840,” History of Education Quarterly 8.1 (Spring, 1968) 44-106. Binder points out that the grand jury which investigated the riots reported that blame was largely due to “the effort of a portion of the community to exclude the Bible from our Public Schools.” (Binder, 69)

[22]Editorial, “The Baltimore Provincial Counsel,” CO 17.24 (June 17, 1843) 94.

[23]The New York situation was reviewed, and the secularizing tendency condemned in Frederick A. Packard, “Religious Instruction in Common Schools,” BRPR 13.3 (July, 1841) 315-368.

[24]“Papal Interference with Public Schools” BLRM 6.12 (December, 1840) 535-536.

[25]“A Plea for the Restoration of the Scriptures to the Schools” BLRM 5.7 (July, 1839) 294.

[26]James Wood, “Letter to Board of Missions” Foreign Missionary Chronicle 11.11 (November 1843) 346.

[27]The Western Protestant (Cincinnati, Ohio), the True Catholic (Louisville, Kentucky), the Jackson Protestant (Jackson, Tennessee), the Herald of Religious Liberty (St. Louis, Missouri), and the New Orleans Protestant (New Orleans, Louisiana) all began in 1844, with Old School Presbyterians either as sole editor or in cooperation with other Protestant ministers. The latter two papers went on to become weekly Old School Presbyterian newspapers, while only the True Catholic maintained its distinctively pan-Protestant character for more than two years.

[28]The Society of Inquiry on Missions and the General State of Religion at Princeton Seminary wrote to the Presbyterian to encourage a system of parochial schools in 1845, claiming that the common schools were becoming “strongholds of the superstition and infidelity of a small minority,” due to the machinations of Rome. “Church Schools,” Presbyterian 15.9 (March 1, 1845) 33.

[29]“Review of Horace Bushnell’s Common SchoolsPresbyterian Magazine 3.9 (September 1853) 436. Of course Old Schoolers were aware that Scotland itself was engaged in contemporary discussions of common schools. See James W. Alexander, “Necessity of Popular Education,” BRPR 7.1 (January 1835) 40-55; John Hall, “Report on Education in Europe,” BRPR 12.2 (April 1840) 244-267.

[30]Editorial, “The Independent and Ourselves,” Presbyterian 22.40 (October 2, 1852) 158.

[31]Melanchthon W. Jacobus, “Letter to Governor Bigler” Presbyterian Advocate (February 9, 1853).

[32]Jacobus, “Letter to the Editor” Presbyterian Advocate (March 9, 1853).

[33]Or, as Clement Vaughan, Robert L. Dabney, and a tiny minority would argue, should the whole matter of education be left to private sources? See chapter 8.

[34]“Education in Scotland from the New York ObserverPresbyterian 8.1 (January 6, 1838).

[35]“Paragraphs–Religious and Literary” Watchman of the South 4.14 (November 18, 1840) 50.

[36]“The Education of the Youth of the Presbyterian Church,” CO 15.7 (February 13, 1841) 25.

[37]Of course, the geographically compact Scotland generally had smaller parishes with larger congregations. “Education Operations of the Free Church of Scotland” Presbyterian Treasury 1.7 (July 1848) 104. William Swan Plumer also praised the Free Church’s endeavors. “The Educational Scheme of the Free Church of Scotland,” W&O 2.12 (November 5, 1846) 45. Van Rensselaer pointed to the example of the Continental Reformed churches as well. In 1853 he gave the resolutions of the Synod of Dordt (1618) which requested the state to appoint and pay Reformed schoolmasters in every town and village. Ministers and elders were appointed as the visitation committee to ensure that religious education was conducted according to the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. “Catechetical Instruction,” Home and Foreign Record 4.6 (June, 1853) 171-3.

[38]“Duty of the Presbyterian Church to Her Children” W&O 1.7 (October 2, 1845) 25.

[39]JWF “Parochial Schools. No. 1.” Presbyterian Advocate 9.19 (March 8, 1848) 75.

[40]D[avid] M[onfort], “To the Ministers, Elders and Members of the Presbyterian Church: The duty of the church to educate her own youth, and especially to train up men for the work of the holy ministry: Letter IV” Protestant and Herald 14.63 (December 14, 1843). The identity of the author is revealed by his self-identification as a Presbyterian pastor in Franklin, Indiana.

[41]Howard Miller, The Revolutionary College: American Presbyterian Higher Education, 1707-1837 (New York: New York University Press, 1976) 285.

[42]D. M., Letters V and VI Protestant and Herald 14.64-65 (December 21-28, 1843). Monfort’s suggestions seem to have had some currency as some Presbyterian colleges began to offer Hebrew and other more pre-ministerial courses.

[43]Editorial, “Denominational Education,” CO 15.11 (March 13, 1841) 42; CO 15.18 (May 1, 1841) 70.

[44]Melville, “Presbyterian Education,” CO 18.9 (March 2, 1844) 33.

[45]“Can Education Dispense with the Patronage of the State,” CO 16.1 (January 1, 1842) 2.

[46]Thomas Smyth, “Denominational Education, Its Necessity and Practicability, especially as it regards Colleges,” W&O 1.25 (February 5, 1846) 97.

[47]“General Assembly” BRPR (July 1846) 430.

[48]Both had been trained in New Jersey in the 1820s. Other defenders of parochial education on the floor of the General Assembly included Dr. Philip Lindsley (private 1810, president of the University of Nashville), Dr. William S. Reid (who had studied privately with Moses Hoge before 1806, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Lynchburg, Virginia), and the Rev. William S. Mebane (PTS 1837, pastor in Spring Garden, North Carolina), a strong showing of southern support for parochial schools. Ibid., 431. As chapter ten shows, however, these were older southerners–more in line with traditional Presbyterian models. Younger southerners, such as James H. Thornwell, Robert L. Dabney, and Benjamin M. Palmer, would be vigorously opposed to the parochial plan.

[49]“General Assembly” BRPR (July 1846) 431-8. At some point the argument ceases to be a report of Young, and becomes Hodge’s own argument. Hodge’s own views will be examined in his sermon at the following General Assembly.

[50]“General Assembly” BRPR (July 1846) 439.

[51]E.g, the Watchman and Observer was almost entirely focused on education matters in the fall of 1846.

[52]“The Christian Journal and Presbyterian Schools” PW 5.11 (December 23, 1846) 254.

[53]“The General Assembly” SPR 1.2 (September 1847) 97. The reviewer, James Henley Thornwell, commented that if the State schools excluded “the distinctive principles of Christianity,” then “the church will be driven to establish institutions of her own.” (98) Thornwell would later repudiate this statement, but it may suggest how powerful Hodge’s sermon was. Others who agreed that Hodge’s sermon had been instrumental included, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, Presbyterian Treasury (January 1850) 5, and Stuart Robinson, “The General Assembly of 1854,” SPR 8 (January, 1855) 426.

[54]Charles Hodge, “An Address on Parochial Schools” (Delivered before the GA in May, 1847) Presbyterian Treasury 1.1 (January 1848) 6.

[55]Hodge, “An Address,” 6.

[56]Hodge, “An Address,” 6-7.

[57]Hodge, “An Address,” 7.

[58]Hodge, “An Address,” 7.

[59]Hodge, “An Address,” 7.

[60]Hodge, “An Address,” 7-8.

[61]Hodge, “An Address,” 8.

[62]“Cincinnati Presbytery” Presbyterian of the West 5.34 (May 25, 1847) 342; Quisquis “Parochial Schools” Presbyterian of the West (December 14, 1847); “Report of Marion Presbytery” Presbyterian Treasury 1.2 (February, 1848) 23; “Denominational Education (from the New England Puritan)” W&O 2.47 (July 8, 1847) 187, with commentary from editor Benjamin Gildersleeve on the situation in Virginia. That fall, the synods of Virginia and North Carolina approved the system of parochial schools: “Report of the Committee on Denominational Schools to the Synod of Virginia” W&O 3.12 (November 4, 1847) 44; “Synod of North Carolina” W&O 3.14 (November 18, 1847) 52. This is only a tiny fraction of the literature in the periodicals supporting parochial education. See appendix 4.

[63]Editorial, “Parochial Schools,” Southern Presbyterian 1.5 (September 22, 1847) 19.

[64]A., Southern Presbyterian 1.8 (October 13, 1847) 31. See also Richard B. Cater, Southern Presbyterian 1.52 (August 16, 1848) 206.

[65]“Parochial Schools” SPR 2.4 (March 1849) 520. The author sounds like Thomas Smyth, especially in his citations of patristic, medieval, and reformation sources, as well as his emphasis on the Free Church of Scotland.

[66]“Parochial Schools” SPR 2.4 (March 1849) 520-549.

[67]“Decision and Moderation” Presbyterian Treasury 1.11 (November, 1848) 169. The report was written by David Monfort (author of an 1843 call for denominational education), P. D. Gurley and D. V. Smock. In 1831, the Synod of Indiana had called for Presbyterian schools for both boys and girls in the wake of Roman Catholic efforts to establish academies female seminaries throughout the state. See L. C. Rudolph, Hoosier Zion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963) 158.

[68]Besides writing the annual report for the Board of Education, Van Rensselaer edited and regularly contributed to the Board of Education’s section in the denominational monthly, the Home and Foreign Record (1850-1860), along with his own monthly magazines, the Presbyterian Treasury (1848-1849) and the Presbyterian Magazine (1851-1860), and an annual repository of educational essays, Home, the School and the Church (1851-1860). While the other magazines were generally exponents of his views, this latter volume provided a sampling of the best educational writings of the year from every viewpoint within the church.

[69]“Education Meeting in Richmond” W&O 1.1 (August 21, 1845) 11. Old School ministers Henry Ruffner (president of Washington College in Lexington, and Benjamin Mosby Smith (pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro) vigorously promoted common schools in Virginia from the late 1830s. See Thomas C. Hunt, “Henry Ruffner and the Struggle for Public Schools in Antebellum Virginia,” American Presbyterians 64:1 (Spring 1986) 18-26. His son, William Henry Ruffner, also an Old School minister, became the first Superintendent of Public Education in Virginia in 1870. Thomas C. Hunt and Jennings L. Wagoner, Jr., “Race, Religion, and Redeption: William Henry Ruffner and the Moral Foundations of Education in Virginia,” American Presbyterians 66:1 (Spring, 1988) 1-9. The younger Ruffner organized the first Sunday school for blacks in Lexington, Virginia, in the 1840s, where deacon Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson taught. (2)

[70]“Common Schools in North Carolina (from the North Carolina Star)” W&O 9.38 (April 27, 1854) 152.

[71]While Figure 5.2 is not complete, it is instructive to see that only two of the seven state superintendents and only four of the twenty-seven county superintendents had entered the ministry before 1840. The first generation of Old School ministers had a stronger connection to the parochial system, while the second generation was firmly connected to the rising common school system.

[72]Southern Presbyterian 4.7 (October 16, 1851) 25-26. David A. Reese, and George F. Pierce were the other two.

[73]“Educational Policy of South Carolina” SPR 4.1 (July, 1850) 84.

[74]Presbyterian of the West (April 7, 1853). See also “Godless Schools” Presbyterian of the West (March 31, 1853) and several other articles in February and March.

[75]Robert J. Breckinridge, “Denominational Education” SPR 3.1 (June, 1849) 1-19.

[76]Robert J. Breckinridge, “Denominational Education” SPR 3.1 (June, 1849) 2-3. This emphasis on the family, the state and the church as the only three “combinations of the force of individuals, recognized by God in this world–the only aggregate powers he has ordained” was never challenged by Old School Presbyterians. While all acknowledged the existence of corporations, it does not appear that many Presbyterians (or other antebellum Americans) tried to explain how these “combinations of the force of individuals” related to these “God-ordained” powers.

[77]For example, see the “Abstract of the Annual Report for 1848" in Minutes (1848) 206-7. But the Board tried to assure critics that it was not trying to take over all American education, pointing out in the 1849 abstract that it was not trying to prescribe a “universal formula of action,” but was emphasizing the principle, that “no imaginable circumstances can justify the Church in standing aloof from the cause of general education. . . She is bound to exercise a watchful supervision of the work of public education.” Minutes (1849) 421.

[78]As the first Superintendent of Public Education in Kentucky, Breckinridge faced the gargantuan task of creating a system of public schools, with little more than moral suasion and public funding to accomplish the task (the school term was mandated by the legislature as three months in duration). He acknowledged that people were afraid of “a purely State system of education as infidel in its tendencies,” which was why the state had appointed one of its leading clergymen as the first superintendent. In 1851, after four years of organizing schools, Breckinridge called for an Education Convention to discuss common standards and curriculum. The convention of educators (a large proportion of which were ministers) rejected Breckinridge’s call for the Bible to be used “as a reading book in all schools” (though Breckinridge’s plan allowed for conscientious objectors), compromising on wording that the Bible should be “introduced and used” in the schools–which permitted a school to simply have a short Bible reading at the beginning of the class, rather than actually using the Bible as a reading text. “The Educational Convention (from the Frankfort Yeoman)” Presbyterian Herald 21.10 (November 20, 1851).


[79]Robert J. Breckinridge, “Denominational Education” SPR 3.1 (June, 1849) 4.

[80]See R. B. Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1985).

[81]Robert J. Breckinridge, “Denominational Education” SPR 3.1 (June, 1849) 9.

[82]Robert J. Breckinridge, “Denominational Education” SPR 3.1 (June, 1849) 18-19.

[83]This article called forth a controversy over the editorial policy of the SPR. Thomas Smyth complained that the SPR had refused to accept a rebuttal to Breckinridge’s views written by a leading Georgian presbyter. Smyth insisted that if a Presbyterian review would not accept articles defending “the sentiments of the Presbyterian Church. . . then, for consistency’s sake, change the name of the thing.” Smyth astutely feared that James Henley Thornwell was attempting to use the SPR to challenge the present order of the Old School, and hoped that the weekly Southern Presbyterian would be sufficient to combat this educational heresy. Chrysostom, “The Southern Presbyterian Review,” Southern Presbyterian 3.13 (November 23, 1849) 51. Another writer pointed out that Smyth had already published one essay defending parochial education in the SPR, and that the editors simply did not wish to engage the controversy any longer. “Men who ride hobbies often forget that other people can be tired and satisfied with one thing after a while.” He objected to “Chrysostom’s” [Smyth’s] over-zealous attack on the editors. Signum, “The Southern Presbyterian Review–Again,” Southern Presbyterian 3.17 (December 21, 1849) 66. Smyth defended his conduct against the “violent” language of Signum. “I am sorry that the brother in his zeal should have marred his articles with these ‘dead flies in the apothecary’s ointment,’ which very seriously modify its fragrance.” Chrysostom, “‘Signum’ and the Southern Presbyterian Review,” Southern Presbyterian 3.18 (December 28, 1849) 71-72. This bitter exchange reflects both the intensity of conviction regarding education, but also the growing animosity between the growing camp of Thornwellians and the older southern Presbyterian establishment, led by Smyth.

[84]“The General Assembly” BRPR 22.3 (July 1850) 459. At the same Assembly (held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May of 1850), Breckinridge urged the church to present a memorial to Congress on the importance of maintaining the Federal Union. His emphasis on maintaining Presbyterian involvement in the public schools was intimately connected with his hope that the Presbyterian Church could help avert the “calamity” of national disunion.

[85]At the Synod of Kentucky in the fall of 1850, the synod seemed inclined to encourage every congregation to start a parochial school. Breckinridge objected. He argued that the common schools of Kentucky were in their infancy, and needed Presbyterian support. Dr. W. C. Matthews and Dr. John C. Young defended the parochial plan, but out of deference to Breckinridge, the synod laid the report on the table.“Synod of Kentucky (from the Presbyterian Herald) W&O 6.12 (October 31, 1850) 45. Laying a report on the table was a mechanism used in order to avoid making any statement–either positive or negative. It was often used to avoid unnecessary controversy on debated topics.

[86]Chorepiscopus “The Last General Assembly” W&O 6.52 (August 7, 1851) 205.

[87]Chorepiscopus “The Last General Assembly” W&O 7.1 (August 14, 1851) 1.

[88]A Presbyter “Chorepiscopus No. 3" W&O 7.5 (September 11, 1851) 17. It is worth pointing out that Dabney remained quiet for a year after this drubbing, and next appeared in print with a lengthy letter defending Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (a popular cause), and warning Virginia against “importing Northerners.” W&O 7.49 (July 15, 1852) 193.

[89]“The Church and the School (from the Free Church Record)” W&O 8.8 (September 30, 1852) 29. The basis for this sort of education in Scotland was simple: “In a country such as ours, in which the children of church members are, by profession, Christians, and receive in baptism the seal of that profession, it appears both natural and dutiful that the Church should exercise a watchful superintendence over their education, and, so far as she can, provide that it be such as is fitted to form, not only intelligent citizens, but intelligent and consistent church members.” Presbyterians in America faced a more difficult challenge in articulating the rationale for religious education.

[90]James Henley Thornwell, “Does Education belong to the Church or State?” W&O 9.20 (December 22, 1853) 76. Thornwell cites Breckinridge’s 1849 article in the SPR quite favorably.

[91]Editorial, “Dr. Thornwell on Education,” Presbyterian 24.3 (January 21, 1854) 10.

[92]Theophilus (George Junkin) “Further Remarks on Dr. Thornwell's Letter,” W&O 9.22 (January 5, 1854) 86.

[93]Old Paths, “The Record and Princeton College” Presbyterian Banner 2.30 (April 22, 1854).

[94]“Denominational and Other Colleges” Home and Foreign Record 4.3 (March, 1853) 77.

[95]“Andover Theological Seminary” Home and Foreign Record 4.4 (April, 1853) 109. This is one of the few references to the practice of having corporations operate schools, but while suggesting the dangers of the practice, it does not examine the theory.

[96]Old Paths, “The Record and Princeton College” Presbyterian Banner 2.30 (April 22, 1854).

[97]“Board of Education--State Schools and Church Schools” W&O 9.44 (June 8, 1854) 173.

[98]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 233.

[99]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 233.

[100]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 233. For Holmes’ investment in the Board of Education’s parochial schools see Sherrill, 55-56. Holmes contributed at least $15,000 for parochial schools between 1853-1856.

[101]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 233-234.

[102]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 234.

[103]“Board of Education--State Schools and Church Schools” W&O 9.44 (June 8, 1854) 173.

[104]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 234-235.

[105]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 235.

[106]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 235.

[107]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 235-236.

[108]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 236.

[109]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 237.

[110]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 237.

[111]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 237.

[112]“Education Debate in the General Assembly” Home and Foreign Record (August 1854) 238.

[113]Samuel K. Talmage, “From the Southern PresbyterianHome and Foreign Record 5.10 (October 1854) 298.

[114]Cortland Van Rensselaer, “Right of the Church to Educate” Home and Foreign Record 5.11 (November 1854) 333.

[115]“Education: Shall It Be by the Church or the State?” Southern Presbyterian 7.30 (May 11, 1854) 118.

[116]Editorial, “Prof. Smith’s Defence of Denominational Education,” Southern Presbyterian 8.11 (December 28, 1854) 42.

[117]R, “Synod of New Jersey (from the Presbyterian)” Home and Foreign Record 5.12 (December 1854) 363.

[118]“Synod of New York” Presbyterian Magazine 8.12 (December, 1858) 566-567. The committee consisted of John Krebs, Samuel Irenaeus Prime, William Bannard, A. M. Lyon, and Aaron B. Belknap, leaving out some of the most prominent supporters of parochial schools.

[119]“The Synod of New York on Common Schools,” Presbyterian 29.48 (November 26, 1859) 189.

[120]Home and Foreign Record 6.5 (May 1855) 129.

[121]See Appendix one on periodicals, as well as the significant number of female teachers in Appendix four on education. Also see Page Putnam Miller, A Claim to New Roles (Metuchen, NJ: The American Theological Library Association and The Scarecrow Press, 1985).

[122]Vaughan had replaced the Rev. William S. Reid at Lynchburg, who had been one of the foremost proponents of denominational education. First Presbyterian Lynchburg was one of the leading churches in Roanoke Presbytery, which (as far as my research has uncovered) became the first presbytery to formally reject denominational education in 1859. “Pastoral Letter of the Presbytery of Roanoke” CP 4.29 (July 16, 1859) 114.

[123]Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education” W&O 9.46 (June 22, 1854) 184. (The six-part series was initially signed “Theta,” but it was later published as a pamphlet with Vaughan’s name). “A Review of the Doctrines of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church, upon the relation of the church to the general interests of education; by C. R. Vaughan, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lynchburg, VA” W&O 10.12 (October 26, 1854) 45. A similar argument was made against state sponsored education in 1855 as “State Education Radically Wrong,” Presbyterial Critic 1:8 (August, 1855) 370-373. This author also implied that ecclesiastical education was just as mistaken because both took the educating authority away from parents.

[124]Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education, No II” W&O 9.47 (June 29, 1854) 185.

[125]Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education, No III” W&O 9.48 (July 6, 1854) 189.

[126]Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education, No IV” W&O 9.49 (July 13, 1854) 193.

[127]Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education, No V” W&O 9.50 (July 20, 1854) 197. Vaughan also allowed the state to operate schools for those who were too poor to run them, thereby agreeing with Dabney and the old Virginia system of private education, with state schools for the poor. Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education, No VIII” W&O 10.1 (August 10, 1854) 1.

[128]Far South, “Theta and the Board” W&O 9.51 (July 27, 1854) 201.

[129]Theta (Clement Read Vaughan), “The Board of Education, No VII” W&O 9.52 (August 3, 1854) 205. This is an interesting example of how Foreign Missions became the sacred cow in Old School Presbyterianism. If foreign missionaries did it, it could not be questioned. Every other institution, whether board, school, or periodical, could be challenged, but not foreign missions.

[130]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Ye are the Light of the World” W&O  9.51 (July 27, 1854) 204.

[131]The Banner began as the “opposition” paper in Philadelphia in 1852, since the Presbyterian was edited by William Engles, a former member of the Board of Education, and a staunch supporter of all the Boards. It moved to Pittsburgh in 1855. See appendix one.

[132]David McKinney, “The Education Question–The State a Party” Presbyterian Banner (August 12, 1854).

[133]David McKinney, “The Education Question–The Church a Party” Presbyterian Banner (August 19, 1854).

[134]McKinney, “The Education Question--Parochial Schools” Presbyterian Banner (August 26, 1854).

[135]McKinney, “The Education Question–the Public Schools a field for Christian Usefulness” Presbyterian Banner (September 23, 1854).

[136]W&O 10.5 (September 7, 1854) 20.

[137]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lux Mundi, No 4" W&O 10.18 (December 7, 1854) 69.

[138]Recall that this is 1854 after the Revolution of 1848 has established the secular Roman Republic.

[139]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lux Mundi, No 5" W&O 10.19 (December 14, 1854) 73.

[140]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lux Mundi, No 6" W&O 10.20 (December 21, 1854) 77; “Lux Mundi, No 7" W&O 10.21 (December 28, 1854) 81. He flatly rejected the Princeton Review’s argument that the state does have a legitimate role in operating schools. “Lux Mundi, No 8" W&O 10.22 (January 4, 1855) 85; “Lux Mundi, No 9" W&O 10.23 (January 11, 1855) 89.

[141]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lux Mundi, No 11" W&O 10.25 (January 25, 1855) 97; “Lux Mundi, No 12" W&O 10.26 (February 1, 1855) 101.

[142]Beta, “Remarks on the Education Question, Chiefly in Reply to Theophilus No. 1” W&O 10.28 (February 15, 1855) 107. Beta here begins to reveal Theophilus’s identity. He believes Theophilus to be one who played a most “noble part at the most critical period through which the Presbyterian Church in this country has ever been called to pass--a man whose reputation for learning and talent, for piety and usefulness, is as just as it is high, and far too high to be either elevated by our praises or depressed by our censures.” Few ministers or elders in Virginia in 1854 would meet these criteria. Beta later revealed that Theophilus was a graduate of Jefferson College, and Theophilus himself revealed that he was a native of Pennsylvania who had been involved in the Sunday School at Murray Street Presbyterian Church in New York City. The only man who fits all these items in George Junkin.

[143]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lux Mundi, No 14" W&O 10.28 (February 15, 1855) 111.

[144]Fair Fight, “The Education Question” W&O 10.29 (February 22, 1855) 117. What becomes clear is that Junkin was not particularly interested in the distinction between members founding schools and sessions founding schools, so long as the school was under the oversight of the church.

[145]“The Board of Education” W&O 10.29 (February 22, 1855) 118.

[146]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lex Mundi--No. 13" W&O 10.29 (February 22, 1855) 119.

[147]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lex Mundi--No. 17" W&O 10.32 (March 15, 1855) 131. Junkin also reveals his connection to collegiate education here by complaining about the practice of trustees awarding honorary degrees. The doctor of divinity, in particular, Junkin argued, should only be awarded by faculties of theology–who are the only ones in a position to judge rightly.

[148]Theophilus (George Junkin), “Lex Mundi--No. 15" W&O 10.30 (March 1, 1855) 121.

[149]Beta, “Remarks on the Education Question, Chiefly in Reply to Theophilus. No. VI” W&O 10.33 (March 22, 1855) 131.

[150]Beta, “Remarks on the Education Question, Chiefly in Reply to Theophilus. No. VIII” W&O 10.35 (April 4, 1855) 139. This was a reply to Van Rensselaer’s article in the Home and Foreign Record (November 1854) on “The Right of the Church to Educate.” (The attentive reader may notice that the page numbering in volume 10 of the W&O is inconsistent).

[151]Beta, “Remarks on the Education Question, Chiefly in Reply to Theophilus. No. X” W&O 10.37 (April 19, 1855) 139.

[152]While only tangential to his main argument, it is interesting to note that Beta argued that if sessions have control over teachers through parents, then the consequence would be that they would also have control over servants through masters, suggesting that this is so obviously distasteful to his readers that it will overthrow Theophilus’s argument. Beta, “Remarks on the Education Question, Chiefly in Reply to Theophilus. No. XI” W&O 10.38 (April 26, 1855) 153.

[153]Rev. T. V. Moore, “God's University; Or the Family considered as a Government, a School, and a Church, the Divinely Appointed Institute for Training the Young for the Life that now is, and for that which is to come” W&O 10.41 (May 17, 1855) 165. The series extended to several parts, but was reprinted in the Home, the School, and the Church for 1855 by Cortland Van Rensselaer. Moore articulated a traditional view of male headship, though he noted that since the wife was one flesh with her husband, she therefore should be seen as a part of the head of the family.

[154]“The Late Action of the Synod of Virginia on the Subject of Education” CP 1.2 (January 12, 1856) 5.

[155]Edward Martin had studied privately and at Union Seminary, and was pastor at Nottoway, Virginia; Alexander Martin was a licentiate of East Hanover Presbytery, and possibly a ruling elder–otherwise his vote becomes inexplicable, since licentiates were not permitted to vote. He graduated from Union Seminary in 1855.

[156]“The Late Action of the Synod of Virginia on the Subject of Education” CP 1.2 (January 12, 1856) 5. The authors of the synod’s reply were Abraham B. Van Zandt (Union College and PTS 1842, pastor at Tabb Street Church in Petersburg, Virginia) and Samuel Davies Stuart (Centre College and PTS 1838, pastor at Briery, Virginia).

[157]Home and Foreign Record 9.2 (February 1858) 74.

[158]“General Assembly” CP 1.22 (May 31, 1855) 85.

[159]Cortlandt Van Rensselaer’s visit to the Synod of Virginia in 1853 had cooled the fevered pitch of the rhetoric. Over and over again, rumors and uninformed discussions created unfounded fears, which formal public discussion was able to resolve. But a few radicals remained unconvinced. The problem of “confidence in the brethren” would continue to plague the church and the nation.

[160]Scott noted that the Congregationalists and New School Presbyterians had urged the compulsory introduction of the Bible in California public schools, but the Old School protested against it. Pacific Expositor 1.5 (November, 1859) 230-231.

[161]Scott supported Thornwell’s argument on the church’s mission at the 1859 General Assembly, Pacific Expositor 1.5 (November, 1859), and reprinted Stuart Robinson’s article “State and Church,” Pacific Expositor 1.12 (June, 1860), from the Scottish Presbyterian. Robinson’s views are expressed in “The Issues Stated,” Presbyterial Critic 1:2 (February, 1855) 78–83.

[162]“Synod of the Pacific” Pacific Expositor 1.1 (July, 1859) 190. On this point Scott disagreed with Thornwell, who wished to see Protestantism maintained in the public schools.

[163]“The Synod and Its School” Pacific Expositor 1.5 (November, 1859) 234-235.

[164]“Church Schools and State Schools” Pacific Expositor 2.7 (January, 1861) 282.

[165]“Religious Laws and Objectionable Views” Pacific Expositor 1.9 (March, 1860) 404.

[166]“Sunday Laws” Pacific Expositor 1.11 (May, 1860) 482.

[167]“Pastoral Letter of the Presbytery of Roanoke” CP 4.29 (July 16, 1859) 114.

[168]“Common School Report” St. Louis Presbyterian 11.33 (Feb 15, 1855).

[169]S, “Presbyterial Schools and Colleges” St. Louis Presbyterian 15.14 (September 23, 1858) 50.

[170]“Sectarianism in the Public Schools” St. Louis Presbyterian 15.19 (October 28, 1858) 70.

[171]“American System of Education,” Home and Foreign Record 21 (1870) 221-222. Southern Presbyterians, led by Thornwell’s friend, Benjamin M. Palmer, would ironically turn to parochial schools in order to avoid the integration orders of Reconstruction. See David B. Chesebrough, God Ordained this War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991) 198.