The Necessity of Education by Lyman Beecher

From McGuffey’s Sixth Eclectic Reader.  Also found in The Original McGuffey’s: The Eclectic Fourth Reader from Mott Media.  The Sixth Reader’s version is an abridged version of the one found in the original Fourth Reader.  I have marked the omissions from the Fourth Reader in blue:


We must educate! We must educate! or we must perish by our own prosperity. If we do not, short will be our race from the cradle to the grave. If, in our haste to be rich and mighty, we outrun our literary and religious institutions, they will never overtake us; or only come up after the battle of liberty is fought and lost, as spoils to grace the victory, and as resources of inexorable despotism for the perpetuity of our bondage.

But what will become of the West if her prosperity rushes up to such a majesty of power, while those great institutions linger which are necessary to form the mind, and the conscience, and the heart of the vast world? It must not be permitted.

And yet what is done must be done quickly; for population will not wait, and commerce will not cast anchor, and manufactures will not shut off the steam, nor shut down the gate, and agriculture, pushed by millions of freemen on their fertile soil, will not withhold her corrupting abundance.

And let no man at the East quiet himself, and dream of liberty, whatever may become of the West. Our alliance of blood, and political institutions, and common interests, is such, that we can not stand aloof in the hour of her calamity, should it ever come. Her destiny is our destiny; and the day that her gallant ship goes down, our little boat sinks in the vortex!

The motives which call on us to cooperate in this glorious work of consummating the institutions of the West, essential to the perpetuity of her greatness and glory are neither few, nor feeble, nor obscure.

All at the West is on a great scale, and the minds and the views of the people correspond with these relative proportions.  It is not parsimony which renders momentary aid necessary to the West.  It is want of time and assimilation for the consciousness and wielding of her powers.  How cheaply can the aid be rendered for rearing immediately the first generation of her institutions!  cheaper than we could rear the barracks to accommodate an army for the defense of our liberty, for a single campaign; cheaper than the taxations of crime and its punishment during the same period, in the absence of literary and evangelical influence.

Consider, also, that the mighty resources at the West are worse than useless without the supervening influence of the government of God.

To balance the temptation of such unrivaled abundance, the capacity of the West for self-destruction, without religious and moral culture, will be as terrific as her capacity for self-preservation, with it, will be glorious.

But all the moral energies of the government of God over men, are indissolubly associated with “the ministry of reconciliation.”  The Sabbath and the preaching of the gospel are Heaven’s consecrated instrumentality for the efficacious administration of the government of mind in a happy, social state.  By these only does the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his beams, and ignorance, and vice, and superstition encamp around evangelical institutions, to rush in whenever their light and power is extinct.

The great experiment is now making, and from its extent and rapid filling up, is making in the West, whether the perpetuity of our republican institutions can be reconciled with universal suffrage. Without the education of the head and heart of the nation, they can not be; and the question to be decided is, can the nation, or the vast balance power of it, be so imbued with intelligence and virtue as to bring out, in laws and their administration, a perpetual self-preserving energy. We know that the work is a vast one, and of great difficulty; and yet we believe it can be done.

I am aware that our ablest patriots are looking out on the deep, vexed with storms, with great forebodings and failings of heart, for fear of the things that are coming upon us; and I perceive a spirit of impatience rising, and distrust in respect to the perpetuity of our republic; and I am sure that these fears are well founded, and am glad that they exist. It is the star of hope in our dark horizon.

Fear is what we need, as the ship needs wind on a rocking sea, after a storm, to prevent foundering. But when our fear and our efforts shall correspond with our danger, the danger is past.

For it is not the impossibility of self-preservation which threatens us; nor is it the unwillingness of the nation to pay the price of the preservation, as she has paid the price of the purchase of our liberties.

It is inattention and inconsideration, protracted till the crisis is past, and the things which belong to our peace are hid from our eyes. And blessed be God, that the tokens of a national waking up, the harbinger of God’s mercy, are multiplying upon us!

We did not, in the darkest hour, believe that God had brought our fathers to this goodly land to lay the foundation of religious liberty, and wrought such wonders in their preservation, and raised their descendants to such heights of civil and religious liberty, only to reverse the analogy of his providence, and abandon his work.

And though there now be clouds, and the sea roaring, and men’s hearts failing, we believe there is light behind the cloud, and that the imminence of our danger is intended, under the guidance of Heaven, to call forth and apply a holy, fraternal fellowship between the East and the West, which shall secure our preservation, and make the prosperity of our nation durable as time, and as abundant as the waves of the sea.

I would add, as a motive to immediate action, that if we do fail in our great experiment of self-government, our destruction will be as signal as the birthright abandoned, the mercies abused, and the provocation offered to beneficent Heaven. The descent of desolation will correspond with the past elevation.

No punishments of Heaven are so severe as those for mercies abused; and no instrumentality employed in their infliction is so dreadful as the wrath of man. No spasms are like the spasms of expiring liberty, and no wailing such as her convulsions extort.

It took Rome three hundred years to die; and our death, if we perish, will be as much more terrific as our intelligence and free institutions have given us more bone, sinew, and vitality. May God hide from me the day when the dying agonies of my country shall begin! O thou beloved land, bound together by the ties of brotherhood, and common interest, and perils! live forever–one and undivided! –Lyman Beecher.

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