Draft of a Speech on Education Written by Jacob Barr
Salutations and Greetings! You will not expect of me a display of oratory and eloquence equal to that of speakers who have preceded me. And were I not actuated by a sense of duty and responsibility I would shrink from the task. Yet when I gaze around me and behold the mighty achievements of man accomplished by energy and perseverance and consider the blessings we enjoy as free born sons and daughters of America, I hold it my duty and the duty of everyone to labor in any good cause that has for its object the improvement of the condition of our glorious republic. And education or knowledge being the firm and immovable rock upon which republics stand and the mighty lever by which men wield the most powerful influence, I have thought proper to adopt it as the basis of what I shall say to you this evening, for I know of no subject of more vital importance, so full of interest and beauty, or more immediately connected with the business of the school. And although it may be handled time and again by men of the highest endorsements who keep revolving the mass till every shining truth comes to the surface, it never will be worn thread-bare or cease to be the pearl of greatest price as long as we love liberty and the happy results flowing there-from.
We claim to love our country and boast to the world of our freedom as though we did not inherit it from the God of the universe. I tell you it is the slave of ignorance that is the slave to tyrants, and if we educate and liberate our minds we will burst every chain and shackle that usurpers seek to enthrall us, and walk forth like men in the world. For an enlightened and intelligent people can never be enslaved.
‘Tis true that we owe our prosperity and happiness in a great measure to the unparalleled struggles of our forefathers whose cultivated minds detected the encroachments of a haughty and oppressive nation, and with resolutions as firm as the pyramids of Egypt they hurled back the insults and chains of old England and declared themselves free and independent. And when I look back through history and behold the dense volumes of sulphrous smoke rolling into heaven mingled with the shriek and groans of the wounded and dying and see the American forces in rags and starvation marching to battle, the blood trickling from their bare feet, marking every footprint in the snow, I thank God that I am an American to walk over the graves of such true hearts and extol their mighty deeds.
And shall we the happy recipients of the priceless boon of freedom transmitted to us pure and spotless by those lion hearts and giant intellects prove ourselves unworthy of the inheritance by ignorance and licentiousness? Lock up your schoolrooms and let two successive generations grow up in utter ignorance and they would cease to be freemen and become the abject subjects and vassals of a king and perhaps be ruled with a rod of iron. The grand machinery of your government is so complicated that it requires a highly developed mind to take hold of the helm and guide the ship of state safely over the surging billows of political excitement and hand it down to our posterity perfect and sound as when it was left to us, and what have the deep thought and foresight of our noble fathers done for the cause of education in Ohio?
By and act of congress in 1803 one 36th part of the land of the state was set apart for the support of common schools, and the money derived from the sale and lease of those lands, besides the interest on the states share of the surplus revenue of the United States and the revenue from banking insurance companies, and with a small amount raised by taxation, form the great school fund of the state of Ohio. And to each district is apportioned every year a sum from the state fund sufficient to defray the expense for 10 months school. Who would not get an education under such circumstances when all that is left for us to do is to take off our coats, roll up our sleeves and pitch in to the books?
And could I elevate and expand your minds so that you could see the beauty and value of it as I see it, as your parents and teacher see it, you would study assiduously. Do you suppose this fine school room was built and furnished at an expense of 8 or 9 hundred dollars merely for your amusement? Nay, verily not, and you will have to account perhaps before you end your career in this world for the manner in which you have improved these precious opportunities. Compare your condition with the condition of the poor African slaves of the south who are born into slavery and drag out a miserable existence in servitude under the lash; no heavenly rays from the gospel are allowed to penetrate the dark recesses of their benighted minds, to loom up the soul with a living hope. No books are allowed to come within their reach from which they may learn the eternal truth that all men are born free and equal. No, they are kept in ignorance. They could not be kept as slaves and they scarcely know that their condition might be better. Or compare an enlightened notion with the savage tribes of the forest if you want to see what education has done. Do you see among them the huge steam boat with two or three hundred tons burden sailing up the river or plowing the deep at the rate of 2 hundred miles in twenty four hours, or do you see large cities churches school mills manufactories canals railroads and telegraphs? No. The birch bark canoe is their steam boat. The bow and arrow, tomahawk, and scalping knife are their implements and weapons, rude wigwams their mansions, and the furs of animals their dress, and yet they can learn as fast as you can when they have the same chances. How easy is it to get an education at the present day? Look at the advantages we enjoy. We have all the inventions, discoveries, and improvements of the world for more than two thousand years past and we seldom think of the toil, energy, and deep thought it has cost intellectuals to discover and establish the shining truths that we have in our possession. How long do you suppose it took man to sail on every sea and traverse every land to discover all the islands, bays, gulfs, lakes, rivers, and measure their length, ascend all the mountains and measure their height, and horizon; have it all nicely compiled in your geography and you can learn all about the world in two or three months.
-Draft ends uncompleted-