Only Massachusetts and New Hampshire

Published: February 10, 2020

By Jim Lichtman
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Due to declining  student populations in public colleges and universities around the country, budget cutbacks have had a serious impact on education. Libraries and staff are particularly vulnerable, affecting the vital help students need from the valuable services libraries provide.

How important?

Gilbert Stuart, John Adams, American, 1755 – 1828, c. 1800/1815.

The nation’s second president, John Adams, believed education was so important that he included a clause in the Massachusetts constitution.

In an interview for the book, The American Story, historian David McCullough explains that Adams’ comprehensive clause reminds us “what our obligations are, not just to these oncoming generations, but to our country and the future.”

What Adams writes is no less important today than when it was drafted. Only Massachusetts and New Hampshire have included the passage in their respective constitutions.

“Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue,” Adams writes, “diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them in public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufacturers, and the natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings, sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.”

“Adams was, without question, a strong proponent of the importance of education and the imperative for the State to nurture and support it to maintain our democratic way of life,” The University of New Hampshire Law Review states.

“The writings of this central founding father plainly reflect that he did not consider his ‘cherish’ public education constitutional language to lack teeth-to be something that could be ignored if the Legislature wished to do so. Rather, they confirm his strong dedication to the essentiality of education to the preservation of our republican form of government. As was said by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court… in discussing the significance of Adams: ‘There is substantial evidence that John Adams believed that widespread public education was integral to the very existence of a republican government.’ ”

Notwithstanding the length of the Adams clause, it is one of the most consequential statements made regarding the invaluable service that colleges and universities provide, and libraries are the beating heart of those institutions.

I submit that you cannot “inculcate,” as Adams writes, “Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue,” without libraries and the staff necessary to guide us – students and adults alike – through the immense and complex information now available.

Adams 1780 clause should be adopted by all states so that future generations of Americans can have the kind of information, not only necessary for their own education, but essential in making informed decisions for this republic.

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