It’s the birthday of the man who said, “Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark, all is deluge.” The father of American public education, Horace Mann (books by this author), was born on this day in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 1796. He grew up without much money or schooling, and what he did learn, he learned on his own at his local library, which had been founded by Benjamin Franklin. He was accepted into Brown University and graduated in three years, valedictorian of his class.
He was elected to the state legislature in 1827, and 10 years later, when Massachusetts created the first board of education in the country, he was appointed secretary. Up to this point, he hadn’t had any particular interest in education, but when he took the post he dedicated himself to it wholeheartedly. He personally inspected every school in the state, gave numerous lectures, and published annual reports advocating the benefits of a common school education for both the student and the state. He spearheaded the Common School Movement, which ensured all children could receive a basic education funded by taxes.
He was elected to the United States Congress in 1848 after the death of John Quincy Adams, and in his first speech, he spoke out against slavery. He wrote in a letter later that year: “I think the country is to experience serious times. Interference with slavery will excite civil commotion in the South. But it is best to interfere. Now is the time to see whether the Union is a rope of sand or a band of steel.”
When he left politics, he moved to Ohio to accept a position as president of Antioch College. “I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words,” he told one graduating class: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”