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Justin Smith Morrill

Justin Smith Morrill
United States Senator
from Vermont
In office
March 4, 1867 – December 28, 1898
Preceded by Luke P. Poland
Succeeded by Jonathan Ross
Chairman of the House Republican Conference
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1867
Preceded by Inaugural holder
Succeeded by Vacant
Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means
In office
March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1867
Preceded by Thaddeus Stevens
Succeeded by Robert C. Schenck
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1867
Preceded by Andrew Tracy
Succeeded by Luke P. Poland
Personal details
Born (1810-04-14)April 14, 1810
Strafford, Vermont, US
Died December 28, 1898(1898-12-28) (aged 88)
Washington, D.C., US
Political party Whig, Republican
Spouse(s) Ruth Barrell Swan (1821-1898)
Profession Businessman
Religion Universalist[1]
(Later Unitarian)[2]

Justin Smith Morrill (April 14, 1810 – December 28, 1898) was a Representative (1855–1867) and a Senator (1867–1898) from Vermont, most widely remembered today for the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act that established federal funding for establishing many of the United States' public colleges and universities. He was one of the founders of the Republican Party.[3]


  • Early life 1
  • Congressional career 2
  • Legislation 3
  • Death and burial 4
  • Family 5
  • Legacy 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Born in Strafford, Vermont, Morrill attended the common schools, Thetford Academy and Randolph Academy. He was trained for a business career by working as a merchant’s clerk in Strafford and Portland, Maine. He then was a merchant in Strafford, and the partnership in which he participated with Judge Jedediah H. Harris grew to own and operate four stores throughout the state.[4] Morrill also served in local offices including Town Auditor and Justice of the Peace.[5]

One of Judge Harris's daughters married Portus Baxter, who also served in Congress. Baxter and Morrill became close friends as a result of the connection to Judge Harris, with Morrill referring to Baxter as "one of nature's noblemen" and Baxter consciously patterning his business and political career on Morrill's.[6]

Morrill invested in several successful ventures, including banks, railroads and real estate. By the late 1840s he was financially secure enough to retire, and he became a gentleman farmer.[7]

In addition to farming, Morrill became active in the Whig Party, including serving as Chairman of the Orange County Whig Committee, a member of the Vermont State Whig Committee, and a Delegate to the 1852 Whig National Convention.[8]

Congressional career

Justin Smith Morrill

In 1854 Morrill was elected to the Thirty-fourth Congress as a Whig. He was a founder of the Republican Party, and won reelection five times as a Republican, serving from March 4, 1855 to March 3, 1867. He served as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means in the Thirty-ninth Congress. He also served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In 1866 Morrill was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Union Republican. He was reelected as a Republican in 1872, 1878, 1884, 1890, and 1896, and served from March 4, 1867, until his death, almost thirty-one years. He served as chairman of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds (Forty-first through Forty-fourth Congresses) where he played a vital role in obtaining the current Library of Congress main building through his work on the Joint Select Committee on Additional Accommodations for the Library. He also served as chairman of the Committee on Finance (Forty-fifth, Forty-seventh through Fifty-second, Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Congresses). In addition, Morrill was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution from 1883 to 1898 and a trustee of the University of Vermont from 1865 to 1898.


Morrill Hall at Iowa State University, one of several Morrill Halls at colleges created by the Morrill Act.

The Morrill Tariff of 1861 was a protective tariff law adopted on March 2, 1861. Passed after anti-tariff southerners had left Congress during the process of secession, Morrill designed it with the advice of Pennsylvania economist Henry C. Carey.[9] It was one of the last acts signed into law by James Buchanan, and replaced the Tariff of 1857.[10] Additional tariffs Morrill sponsored were passed to raise revenue during the American Civil War.[11]

Morrill is best known for sponsoring the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act. This act was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and established federal funding for higher education in every state of the country. In his own words:

"This bill proposes to establish at least one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught, where neither the higher graces of classical studies nor that military drill our country now so greatly appreciates will be entirely ignored, and where agriculture, the foundation of all present and future prosperity, may look for troops of earnest friends, studying its familiar and recondite economies, and at last elevating it to that higher level where it may fearlessly invoke comparison with the most advanced standards of the world." —1862, as quoted by William Belmont Parker, The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill

He also authored the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, which targeted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based on the then-existing practice of plural marriage (polygamy). It imposed a five-hundred dollar fine and up to five years imprisonment for the crime of polygamy. On January 6, 1879, in Reynolds v. United States the Supreme Court, upheld the Anti-Bigamy Act's ban on plural marriage.[12][13][14]

A second Land Grant College Act in 1890 targeted the former Confederate states and led to the creation of several historically black colleges and universities.[15]

The Land Grant College Acts ultimately led to the founding of 106 colleges including many state universities, polytechnic colleges, and agricultural and mechanical colleges.[16]

Death and burial

Mausoleum of Senator Justin Smith Morrill in Strafford, Vermont.

Morrill died in Washington, D.C. on December 28, 1898.[17] He was buried at Strafford Cemetery.[18]

At the time of Morrill's death his 43 years and 299 days of continuous Congressional service was the longest in U.S. history. He has since been surpassed, but still ranks 18th as of March 2014.[19]


Ruth Morrill, wife of Senator Justin S. Morrill

In 1851 Morrill married Ruth Barrell Swan (1822-1898) of Columbian College Law School in 1882. He was a lawyer and farmer and served in offices including member of the Vermont House of Representatives.[20][21][22][23]


The Justin Smith Morrill Homestead in Strafford is a National Historic Landmark.[24]

Many colleges established under the Morill Act created a 'Morrill Hall' in his honor.[25]

Morrill was initiated into the Delta Upsilon Fraternity as an honorary member in 1864.[26] He received honorary degrees from the University of Vermont, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and many other institutions.[27]

Justin Morrill College at Michigan State University was named for him.[28]

In 1962, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 4 cent postage stamp to celebrate the centennial of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act. In 1999, the Postal Service issued a 55 cent Great Americans series postage stamp of Morrill to honor his role in establishing the land grant colleges.[29]

In 1967 Ohio State University opened two residence halls on its campus. Named for Morrill and Abraham Lincoln, they are also known as The Towers.[30] They are the tallest buildings on the OSU campus, and among the tallest in Columbus Ohio.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ McCarthy, Daniel (2008-05-05) Fewer Bases, More Baseball, The American Conservative
  4. ^ Hiram Carleton, Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont, Volume 1, 1903, page 83
  5. ^ Richard Zuczek, Encyclopedia of the Reconstruction Era, Volume 2, page 422
  6. ^ William Belmont Parker, The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill, 1924, page 52
  7. ^ Coy F. Cross II, Coy F. Cross, Justin Smith Morrill: Father of the Land-Grant Colleges, 2012
  8. ^ Alfred Charles True, A History of Agricultural Education in the United States: 1785-1925, 1929, page 95
  9. ^ Cynthia Clark Northrup, Elaine C. Prange Turney, Encyclopedia of Tariffs and Trade in U.S. History, 2003, page 265
  10. ^ Alvin S. Felzenberg, The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few we Didn't), 2010, page 190
  11. ^ Bob Navarro, The Country in Conflict, 2008, page 105
  12. ^ Michael S. Durham, Desert Between the Mountains, 1999, page 199
  13. ^ Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, The Utah Journey, 2009, page 211
  14. ^ Gordon Morris Bakken, editor, Law in the Western United States, 2000, page 292
  15. ^ Roger L. Geiger, editor, History of Higher Education Annual, 1998, page 81
  16. ^ Epsilon Sigma Phi, Land Grant Universities, retrieved March 10, 2014
  17. ^ Leonard C. Schlup, James G. Ryan, Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age, 2003, page 321
  18. ^ Inter-state Journal magazine, The Morrill Mausoleum, September 1900, page 3
  19. ^ U.S. Senate Art & History, Biography of Justin Smith Morrill, retrieved March 10, 2014
  20. ^ Hiram Carleton, Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont, Volume 1, 1903, page 85
  21. ^ Vermont Secretary of State, Legislative Manual, 1902, page 107
  22. ^ Washington Post, James S. Morrill Dead, July 29, 1910
  23. ^ George Washington University, General Alumni Catalogue of George Washington University, 1917, page 174
  24. ^ U.S. Government Printing Office, House Resolution 1253, Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Vermont Senator Justin Smith Morrill, April 14, 2010
  25. ^ Robert F. Wilson, Vermont Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff, 2008
  26. ^ Delta Upsilon fraternity, The Delta Upsilon Quarterly, Volume 11, 1892, page 30
  27. ^ D. Appleton and Company, Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events, 1898, page 559
  28. ^ Michigan State University, College of Arts and Letters, Justin Morrill College, 1965–1979, retrieved March 10, 2014
  29. ^ Cornell University, Senator Justin S. Morrill: The Land-Grant College Act and Cornell, retrieved March 10, 2014
  30. ^

Further reading

  • Cross, Coy F. Justin Smith Morrill Father of the Land-Grant Colleges. Michigan State University Press: 1999. ISBN 978-0-87013-508-8.
  • Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Justin S. Morrill. Government Printing Office: 1899.

External links

  • Justin Smith Morrill at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Includes Guide to Research Collections where his papers are located.
  • "An Audacious Act: How A High School Dropout Helped Educate America" produced by WFCR New England Public Radio and journalist, Lisa Mullins
  • Justin Smith Morrill at Find a Grave
  • Ruth Swan Morrill at Find A Grave
  • NDSU shrine to Morrill
  • Vermont Division for Historic Preservation
  • Friends of the Morrill Homestead
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Andrew Tracy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's 2nd congressional district

March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1867 (obsolete district)
Succeeded by
Luke P. Poland
United States Senate
Preceded by
Luke P. Poland
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Vermont
March 4, 1867 – December 28, 1898
Served alongside: Redfield Proctor
Succeeded by
Jonathan Ross
Political offices
Preceded by
John Sherman
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Bayard
Preceded by
Thomas F. Bayard
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
Daniel Voorhees
Preceded by
Daniel Voorhees
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
Nelson Aldrich
Rhode Island
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