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DISTRICT SCHOOL SYSTEM IN NEW YORK.

THERE are some indications of a near approach of “perilous times” for those who adhere strictly to the doctrine and precepts of the gospel as the rule of their faith and practice. The cloud has, for some time past, been gathering darkly and densely above and around us, and now seems almost ready to burst upon us in dreadful fury; its murmuring thunders are beginning to be more and more distinctly heard, and its vivid lightnings to flash fearfully in our eyes.

We cannot do justice to the subject under consideration, without touching upon subjects which beat affinity to the political concerns of our country, but in their political bearings we shall not discuss them. Men of diversified and conflicting political connections and creeds are alike involved, as actors in these movements, which we believe deeply concern the vital interests of the Sion of God. The insatiable greedíness of the popular fanatics of modern times, to seize and make religious stock of every thing which by fraud or force comes within their grasp, has received some attention in former articles published in this paper. Would to heaven the story had already been fully told, and we had nothing to add to the records already made; but every revolution of the wheel of time develops some new display of the workings of the man of sin, the son of perdition, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness in them that perish. Our state was considerably agitated not long since upon the subject of our common district schools, and memorials were poured in upon our legislature by wholesale, praying for legislative protection from the Catholic influence, which Protestant religionists apprehended our schools were threatened with. Laws were finally passed to reject from our schools sectarian books, &c., all having in view to answer the desires of petitioners, but to the great dissatisfaction of the Catholic citizens of our country. Every intelligent disciple of Jesus, and every well-wisher of our republican institutions, must see the propriety of separating sectarian religious influence from our common schools; the christian knows that the things of the Spirit of God can only be taught by the Holy Ghost, and the enlightened statesman knows that it is anti-republican, and subversive of rights guaranteed to every citizen to make our common schools the channel through which to communicate sectarian religious influence to and upon the unsuspecting minds of our children. But instead of being satisfied with the provisions of the law to disconnect the schools from sectarian influence, those who were so loud and zealous in crying out against Catholic influence, are now as busily engaged to convert our school system into an engine of intolerance, and to make them subserve their sectarian purposes, as though they had been blind and passive iii regard to the Catholics. But if chains of dire oppression are to clank around our necks, what will be the difference to Old School Baptists whether they be forged by a Catholic or Protestant smith? There is at this day scarcely a standard book in common use in our district schools that is not strongly impregnated with sectarian doctrines, and these doctrines are so interwoven with all the elementary studies in our schools, that we must relinquish our right to a share of the School Fund, or suffer our children to drink in the poisoned draught. If the old Westminster or the Episcopalian catechisms are not now taught generally in. our schools, such lessons as they have falsely called “the apostles’ creed,” “forms of prayer,” with “grace before meat,” and “grace after meat,” with a large assortment of “Now I lay me down to sleep,” &c., all of which has a direct tendency to lead the pupil to believe, with such sectarians as hold the heresy, that they are capable, in their unregenerate state, to offer prayers and devotional exercises to their Creator which he will regard with approbation. These may be considered trivial matters; but are not these instructions in the very face of what God has said in the volume of divine revelation? And is it a light matter to tax the people of America to support schools in which is taught that which every soul that has been taught of God knows to be in plain. contradiction of his word and Spirit?

In connection with the foregoing remarks, would it be unpardonable for us to inquire into the propriety of robbing the common school fund, to pay large sums from it annually to literary and theological colleges for the training up amongst us of a political and religious aristocracy? Have not the Catholic citizens of our states the same right to complain of appropriations to support Protestant sectarianism, as the Protestants had in the opposite case? None can more unqualifiedly deprecate the heresies of Catholicism than we do; but we equally loathe the same heresies among Protestants. If we must be sacrificed, it is of very little consequence to us who shall be the executioner.

In the present organization of our district school system, we have a state superintendent, anti county and town superintendents, amounting to a “standing army,” to be fed out of our school fund, and, as we intend presently to show, to be used as pliant tools in the hands of religious fanatics and clerical demagogues for the removal of the battlements of our civil and religious rights; and besides these, a code of laws sufficiently ample for the government of a state, and so complicated as to require an attorney in each district to expound them.

The process by which all this machinery can he attached to the popular car of religious speculation, is simple and easy. A periodical publication, called the District School Journal, is attached to the system, ostensibly, for the purpose of publishing the laws in relation to schools, but in reality embracing the belchings forth of the anti-christian and anti-republican doctrines of the rulers of the darkness of this world. One district in this town has been recently informed by Samuel Young, Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Common Schools, &c., that he had appropriated six thousand dollars annually for copies of this “District School Journal” to be sent to every district in our State; and that the clerk or trustees of each district were by law required, under the penalty of heavy fines, to pay the postage, take from their post office, carefully preserve, and at the end of each volume cause them to be bound and placed in the school library, and that they were authorized by law to reimburse the expense by taxing the inhabitants of their respective districts for the amount. To show what the people are to be legally taxed, and compelled to pray for, we copy the following extracts from the “District School Journal,” vol. ii. page 42, which may serve as a specimen:

“It cannot be denied that the influence of private select schools has been found to be injurious to the reputation and patronage of our common schools. But in a free country like this, where enterprise and talents are encouraged, and where every individual seeks a fair compensation for his labor, no one can fairly object to the establishment of private schools; nor can any be censured as anti-republicans for the encouragement of these, if suitable public provision is not made for a safe and thorough training of children in the district schools; and especially since religious and moral culture has been so generally excluded from the latter, through sectarian jealousies or infidel opposition. In the purer days of New England, when her clergymen visited the schools and afforded them the encouragement of their presence and counsels, they flourished and were respectable. But long since, the people, not in New England only, but generally through the United States, have contracted such an apprehension of danger from clerical influence, that no minister of the gospel feels at ease in crossing the threshold of a common school, lest some bigoted sectarian, errorist, or infidel, should slander him, as prosecuting some sectarian enterprise. Hence, unfortunately for the interest of common schools, some of their best friends, those who feel as deeply as any for the welfare of children and youth, whose professional duty is to train the immortal mind to pure and elevated action, are excluded from rendering that aid which experience has shown to be almost indispensably necessary to the prosperity of the common school. * * * * *

“To secure these results in a high degree, he (the teacher) should enter into, and practice the saying of Dr. Dwight, ‘he that makes a little child happier for half an hour is a co-worker with God.’ It has also been remarked, that no one can be happy as a teacher who is not prepared to devote all his powers to the performance of his duties. Fellenburg does not ask too much in requiring ‘a vigilance that never sleeps, a perseverance that never tires.’ The motto of Luther, ‘work on earth, and rest in heaven,’ must be the motto of every faithful schoolmaster, and he who is not prepared to live and act in this spirit, had better leave the service to warmer hearts and nobler minds. He should teach, not for pecuniary reward chiefly, but for usefulness.”

These extracts are from part of an address delivered by J. R. Boyd, Principal of Black River Literary and Religious Institution. The speaker in the above extract charges our misgivings to jealousy, &c., but is there no cause for jealousy when we discover so much union of interest between the clergy and the statesman? The clergy can make the politician popular, if the politician will reciprocate the favor; the former will manage the ballot box by their influence, if the latter will cause their will to be done in the legislature. To enable them to make good this sort of contract or covenant it becomes the designing politician to give the clergy as free access as possible to our schools, and to all the fountains of intellectual training – and as far as possible contribute to their popular influence. It has always been the settled maxim of all who deserve the name of Christians, that the religion of Jesus Christ require nothing from the rulers of the earth, but simply to be let alone.

While the Legislature of our State is already, to some extent at least, committed on the subject of appropriating the people’s money without their consent, and in the face of the constitution, to the patronage of religions interests, and that, too, in a manner eminently calculated to elevate the arminian, or work-mongrel sects at the expense, and to the direct oppression of those who are governed in their faith and practice alone by the scriptures, the Congress of our nation is called upon gravely, to pass laws which would, if passed, extinguish the last spark of our boasted religious liberty, prostrate to the dust the fair fabric of independence, and build up an hierarchal despotism upon their ruin. Hierarchy and monarchy are limbs of the same beast, and always go together; none can ask for the former without desiring the latter. The petition presented to the House of Representatives, on the eleventh ult., by Hon. J. Q. Adams, from citizens of Illinois, embraces the following, as stated by Mr. Adams himself, viz : First, “Praying that Congress would pass some law confessing our national sins.” Some laughter was excited, whereupon Mr. A. said: “Sir, this petition comes from two hundred and twenty-six respectable people of Illinois. It is no idle paper, and ought to be treated with respect.” The second prayer was, that Congress would pass a law acknowledging the dominion of Jesus Christ! The third prayer was, that Congress should pass a law defining what the law of God is: and the fourth prayer was, for such amendment of the constitution as would secure to all the people of the United States the self-evident truths of the declaration of independence – the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If our Congress should attempt to define, by enactment, the law of God, would they not also be required to provide some law to enforce obedience to the law of God according to the definition so established? And how could this be done, without stoning to death the offender. Are the citizens of Illinois prepared to be circumcised, and to engage in the performance of all the precepts which were once obligatory upon the nation of Israel, and which were never adapted to, nor by divine authority enjoined upon any of the Gentile nations of the earth? Can the legislatures of our States, or of our nation, define to us the relationship between us as creatures and God as our Creator, and the necessary obligations devolving upon us, without lording it over the consciences of a very large portion of the citizens whom they represent, and from whom they have derived their power for other purposes Is our legislature composed of men, who, from their experimental knowledge of God, are more competent to define divine things, than others are? The kingdom of Jesus Christ is a spiritual kingdom; it is not of this world, and the King has taught his subjects to acknowledge his dominion in such language as this, viz: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and The glory, forever, Amen.” We cannot say the kingdom is Christ’s and the power belongs to Congress. Congress has been harrassed for years past to define to us the law of God in part, if not in full: it has been called upon to define a Sabbath day, and to establish by law the religious opinions of a portion of the citizens of our country, and compel a compliance on the par of others at the edge of the sword.

One remark more and we will dismiss this subject for the present. This loathing of freedom and of the civil and religious rights of mankind, and this sighing after hierarchy, despotism and bloodshed, (for bloodshed is involved in the petition) was never heard of from the settlers of our western states, until they had been corrupted by the influence of modern missionaries; and the whole fanatical movement in Illinois, may, in our candid Opinion, justly be charged to the spirit and doctrines of modern missionists.

New Vernon, N.Y.,
January 15, 1844

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 382 - 389