Signed on July 2, 1862, by President Lincoln, the Morrill Act of 1862 granted public lands to the states on the condition that the moneys derived from the sale of these lands be appropriated to the endowment, support, and maintenance of colleges that became known as land grant universities. First proposed by Vermont’s Representative Justin Smith Morrill, the Morrill Act is recognized as the first federal grant-in-aid program.
The Morrill Act of 1862 helped Congress share and divide over 1 billion acres of land in the western territory, and addressed a perceived need to educate farmers in efficient agricultural production and provide education to rural populations. Under the act, each qualifying state received 30,000 federally controlled acres for each senator and state representative appointed to Congress. The state was then responsible to sell the land and invest the proceeds in the establishment and maintenance of at least one college. As prescribed by the federal government, the state-run college was to teach subjects related to agriculture, mechanical arts, and military tactics (the beginnings of today’s ROTC), but not exclude scientific and classical studies. No state in rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States could qualify for this land grant.
The Morrill Act of 1862 was the first delegated federal program in U.S. history. For the first time, states implemented a federally legislated and federally funded program to achieve the shared objective of higher education. This early cooperation between the federal and state governments is the beginning of the grant-in-aid program and established a foundation on which much future legislation was based. Such federally funded state administered programs include the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Coy F. Cross, Justin Smith Morrill: Father of the Land-Grant Colleges (Ann Arbor: Michigan State University, 1999).