“The free district school was of itself an important institution was one of the pillars of the State. But the most important thing was the spirit with which it was maintained. Into it was infused, at the outset, and ever after, the genius of a Christian civilization, a civilization which was the growth of ages. Greece had developed the human mind with reference to politics, literature and art, but without a knowledge of the divine plan in respect to the end of human existence. Rome had defined the rights of the individual in a wonderful system of law, and by conquest diflfused this legal spirit over the civilized world; and yet Rome never knew the true value of the human soul, nor the ground of its claim to liberty. Education, in these ancient seats of honor and refinement, could not rise above the principle on which it was founded.
“The Christianity of the early and middle ages furnished the first corrective, but blindly excluded ancient culture as a component part of a complete Christian education. Still an intensity was given to the longings and activity of the human mind by means of its contact with spiritual and eternal things, which prepared it, on its reunion with ancient culture by the revival of learning, to produce what never before existed, a civilization flowing from Christianity as its source, but running in channels opened and prepared by Greece and Rome. [Cheers.]
“The swelling stream of Christianity, making all former and all contemporary progress tributary to itself, this it was which, by a Providential arrangement, came to our fathers at the very time that the institutions of the old world checked its free course, and the new world was thrown open with its larger and freer channels of communication. All previous history was necessary to prepare the colonists for founding our free States. No other people could be educated in the same spirit. It was because our fathers were true to their high trust, with lofty views and aims, striving to usher in a better period, that succeeding generations have been educated and trained for the service required of them in the cause of humanity. The essential condition of success in our schools now is the keeping up in our minds of this pure ideal of human society. [Cheers.]
“We must instill into the minds of the young, ideas of a higher and purer life, and make them feel that there is a great work for them and their posterity to achieve, which was impossible in former years; that all the past has been slowly accumulating knowledge and inventing means and instruments for them to employ in advancing to a still higher degree the well-being of society. The mere mechanical drill of the schoolroom, the daily toil of the teacher in giving the elements of knowledge, will not advance society unless the social atmosphere breathed by the young be healthful and invigorating. The family educates; the social circle educates; the political press educates; literature educates; fashion educates; the public assembly educates; we this day educate. Unless all these teachings tend in the right direction, it will be in vain that we trust in our schools for safety. The schools receive their character from the people. You have tenfold more power over teacher and pupil than they have over you, and can more effectually prevent the good they would do, than they the evil you may do. Create, then, a pure moral atmosphere for your schools. Let the town and the neighborhood be free from contamination, and then it will not reach the school. Let the love of freedom, of virtue and of religion everywhere be manifest, and then a new generation will be trained up in our schools, with all the care that is now bestowed upon them, to whom it will be safe, with God’s blessing, to commit the sacred interests which we so tenderly cherish in our hearts this day.” [Applause.]