I found it interesting that in the interest of educating the people for self-government, both George Washington and James Madison during their presidency suggested the establishment of a national university in Washington, D.C. to be supported by public funds resulting from the sale of public lands. Congress' response?
We have seen that the Founders considered education to be of a massive importance, of the highest importance. We have seen that they found ways to subsidize it on a huge scale, but ways that preserved the ability of people engaged in education--ultimately parents, students, and teachers--to manage it themselves. They did this for reasons having to do strictly with education itself. They did it also for the sake of the central reasons behind the American Revolution. (p. 13)
I find this interesting. Today, we talk about "original intent" and what our founding fathers meant in their writings. We argue back and forth about the language of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and letters written between its authors. Or we just declare it a "living document" and maleable to our intents and purposes. Here, Congress could have simply asked the President. One was the chairman of the convention that approved the Constitution and the other was its principle author. But neither were kings and both were subject to and limited by the same principles of government they helped to establish.
It was necessary to consider whether Congress possessed the power to found and endow a national university. It is argued, from the total silence of the Constitution, that such a power has not been granted to Congress, inasmuch as the only means by which it is therein contemplated to promote the progress of science and the useful arts is, by securing to authors and inventors exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries for limited times. The Constitution, therefore, does not warrant the creation of such corporation by any express provision.
--House Select Committee, "which relates to the establishment of a seminary of learning by the National Legislature," Report to the House of Representatives, read by Samuel L. Mitchill, February 18, 1811.
Or, as Alexis de Toqueville would later write in Democracy in America,
Often the European sees in the public official only force; the American sees in him right. One can therefore say that in America man never obeys man, but justice or law. (p. 57)Even our founding fathers did not have the last say in what government could or could not do. The Constitution did.
Related Tags: education, government, Liberty and Learning, homeschooling, self-government