THE BIRTH OF AMERICA'S EDUCATION AND SCHOLARSHIP
The Inheritance belonging to America’s Children
In the introduction to the 1828 Dictionary, distributed by the Foundation for American Christian Education, Rosalie Slater has chosen to include some selections from Noah Webster's Masters Thesis from Yale College. Her selections in the preface are carefully chosen to guide us in the use of this volume. Many people consider the 1828 Dictionary as the second most valuable book in the home library, next only to the Holy Bible. This writer certainly does. It contains the language of Liberty, and the definitions are Bible related, when possible.
“The Declaration of Independence,” July 4, 1776, served to announce to the world the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain, their establishment as “free and independent states,” and their “firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence.” To this ringing declaration to faith in God, was affixed the signatures of the 56 men who mutually pledged to “each other” the their “Lives,” their “Fortunes,” and their “sacred Honor.”
It took seven long years of the American Revolution to “dissolve the Political Bands” which connected them to England, and “six more years before the document detailing the Christian philosophy of American Government took shape and form. But political separation alone would not suffice to keep the young republic on her Christian Constitutional course. If American Liberty was to be complete, all mooring from the old world must be cast off...especially those that might bind her in alien philosophies of government, and hence to educational systems lending them support.”
“This country must in some future time, be as distinguished by her literary improvements, as she is by the liberality of civil and ecclesiastical constitutions. Europe has grown old in folly, corruption, and tyranny. In that country, laws are perverted, manners are licentious, literature is declining, and human nature debased. For America, in her infancy, to adopt the present maxims of the old world, would be to stamp the wrinkles of decrepit age upon the bloom of youth, and to plant the seeds of decay in a vigorous constitution.”
“It is the business of Americans to select the wisdom of all nations, as the basis of her constitution, to avoid their errors, to prevent the introduction of foreign vices and corruptions, and check the career of her own,... to promote virtue and patriotism,... to embellish and improve the sciences,... to diffuse a uniformity and purity of language,... to add superior dignity to this infant Empire and to human nature.”
Webster's statements were included in his dictionary and in his translation of the Holy Bible. His vision, his research, his writing and his passion for America’s uniqueness, was used by God to prepare this one individual, who would give birth to American Education. In God's Providence, it has been the means to preserve Liberty until well into the 1900's.
How God prepared Noah Webster for this monumental task is fascinating. He was a descendant on his mother's side of Governor William Bradford of “Plimoth Plantation.” His great, great grandfather was the governor of Connecticut in 1656. With such a devout heritage, it is no surprise that he would write: “The Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis for any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Webster was certainly not alone in his views. The Founding Fathers of the nation made clear the relationship of Christianity to American government and liberty. Their dream was to extend the blessings of liberty to all people through the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.
In recognizing the role of American Government, Webster was careful to limit the jurisdiction of government when it came to Education and the Family. He wrote: “The foundation of all free government and of all social order must be laid in families and in the discipline of youth. The Education for youth, an employment of more consequence than making laws and preaching the gospel, because it lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success....”
It is a fascinating read to learn how God prepared this young man for his life's work of the “founding of America’s distinctively Christian Educational System.” Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut on a family farm, he and his siblings were happy to be diligent laborers and prayed for good weather, because a good crop of corn harvested in good weather would provide for the winter months. The corn was grown to eat, of course, but primarily for export to ship to England. However, when night came, while the brothers, Abram and Charles, slept nearby, Noah could be found with his small candle burning brightly by his bed. Books were scarce, but words and a printed page had always fascinated this young boy. In 1771, books were rare in the colonies, but everyone had a family Bible. The local pastor probably had 20 or more books, but most of them were in Latin.
Probably, on a weekly basis, a family might see the newspaper from Hartford, and an annual Ames Almanack at Christmas time. It brought weather information and tid-bits of things, such as maxims, poetry, etc.
In the little school house by the church, there was a scarcity of books as well, but usually had a speller from which the small child could learn his letters, a primer and a Psalter. In 1764, Noah was six years old, and already fascinated with letters, words, and spelling.
At age 13, when the fields and harvesting was done, Noah went back to the one room school house. Boys usually did not continue their schooling after age 14. He walked four miles to school. Without books available, many of Noah's questions remained unanswered. In the following spring, a new minister came to town, Dr. Nathan Perkins. He had graduated from Princeton and had many books for this time. Dr. Perkins took a great interest in Noah Webster. He welcomed him into his study and loaned him books, first of all, a Latin Grammar. Novels and story books as we know them today, hardly existed in Noah's childhood, certainly not in the colonies.
After serious study with Dr. Perkins over many months, Noah decided that he MUST go to college. He discussed it with his pastor and his father. He found that Yale college had 2500 books in its library. That set on fire Noah's ambition for college. After another year of preparation with his minister and his work in the Latin Grammar School, he was almost 16, and determined to enter Yale in September. With parents willing to place a mortgage on the family property, Noah had the determination to prove its worth.Yale college had three buildings, and those not in good condition. On the edge of Long Island Sound, New Haven was a lovely town of fine old trees, and an atmosphere of “quiet dignity.”
Noah plowed into the academic life of Yale. There were 150 students, and forty boys in his freshman class. Noah displayed leadership ability from the start. He was well aware of his responsibility. He was attending on borrowed money, and would prove his worth to his beloved parents. During the summer months, he would be back on the farm with his hoe.
These were turbulent times in the mid 1770's. There was a universal demand for Liberty, and in 1776, Thomas Jefferson took a pen and paper, and wrote the formal statement that we know as “The Declaration of Independence.” It was adopted on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress. Noah Webster was thrilled and now he wanted to learn everything he could about the 56 men who had signed the document. He learned that 14 were lawyers and 12 jurists, which was really much the same thing. He began an interest in law as a possible career path, and over time, would add that to his many accomplishments.
Due to the war, college would be in recess for months at a time, and Noah would be back on the farm... always reading, always studying. When the new president, Dr. Ezra Stiles, came to Yale, he decided to bring back the boys who were too young to go to war. The New Republic would need educated men and Dr. Stiles was there to see to it. He was extremely versatile and well educated.
Thirty of Noah's classmates returned to graduate. Some had left for the war. Noah's graduating address proved to be the most impressive one of all. Upon returning home after his graduation, Noah learned that the war had ruined his family financially, and his parents could not help him with law school. In a matter of just days, Noah had a position of teaching in the village school at Glastonbury, Connecticut. His class at Yale had spent one summer there previously. The children loved him at the school, but the lack of books was the chief problem. There was only one spelling book for 50 children. In the cruel winter, of 1779-1780, Noah walked four miles to school. It made Noah think of General Washington and his troops at Valley Forge.
Nights found him deep into his law books, and he passed the Bar in April, 1781. However, education was still his passion, and especially for American children. His first to be published textbook, titled The American Instructor, was a spelling book, but filled with inspiration for patriotism and for the courage of Christian character. Simple early phonics were included as well. He took it to Philadelphia, and after a name change and a delay, The Spelling Book was published in 1783 under the title, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Later, millions of copies would be published as The American Spelling Book. This was the beginning of Noah Webster’s school text books, which would form the foundation of America's unique education in all of world History.
One writer has described Noah as “the man on horseback,” for all the travel he did, from colony to colony, with his speller. Among his travels was a visit to Mt.Vernon, hosted by General Washington. By this time, not only The American Spelling Book, but a Reader was in print.
He took a 27 day sailing trip from Baltimore to Charlestown, South Carolina, and was successful in having his textbooks adopted for the entire colony. In addition, he had now written the History text which told of America's founding and early history. Over a period of one hundred years, one hundred million copies of Webster’s dictionary and texts were literally worn out from faithful use. From the pen of Noah Webster, American children, from north to south and from east to west, have learned “their letters, their morality, and their patriotism." Noah Webster was America's Schoolmaster.
When American colonies were first settled, each group brought their old world philosophies. Some were indeed Christians, such as the Pilgrims in Plymouth. Some were more cultural Christians, but not Orthodox in Bible terms. Some were Humanists or fans of other philosophies, mixed together. Webster was very aware of the threats from foreign shores. He made sure that his textbooks and the dictionary addressed those threats. Thankfully, he lived to see the fruit of his labors. Prominent men, such as John Jay, offered support and encouragement.
Looking back over his remarkable life, remembering the direct and divine operation of the heart, Webster wrote: “I could no longer question or have a doubt respecting the Calvinistic and Christian doctrines of regeneration, of free grace, and of the Sovereignty of God... I was struck by the 26th verse in John 14, ‘But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.’ ”
America's History is the story of Individual Liberty as no other nation has ever known. It is a legacy to which every American child is entitled. The Christian Constitutional Republic has been blessed by God as no other nation in world history has been blessed. God used one man, Noah Webster, to set the Truth in textbooks for generations of early America children. One hundred million copies of his textbooks were circulated.
He stressed that it all begins in the Family – the family living out the Biblical mandates of Scripture. Do we have enough families today, to embrace that Biblical order in their home, to cherish and live out once again, “life and liberty,” as generations of our forefathers dared to dream?