The Land-Grant College Act of 1862, also known as the Morrill Act, was legislation enacted by the United States Congress to assist states in financing colleges that would specialize in “agriculture and the mechanic arts,” meaning agriculture, engineering and military science. It did this, initially, by making grants of land to states. The states, in turn, were directed to sell the land and use the funds generated to establish the new colleges. This act is named for Justin Morrill, a Vermont Congressman, who authored it.
Under the Morrill Act, each state was granted 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares) of federal land for each congressional seat it had as determined by the census of 1860. The U.S. Constitution guarantees each state a minimum of two senators and one representative, so no state received less than 90,000 acres (36,420 hectares). Some of the states used the land-grant funds to set up new colleges, but others gave the money to existing colleges to establish schools of agriculture and mechanics. These schools became known as “A&M” colleges.
The Morrill Act was first introduced into Congress in 1857 in response to a political movement, spanning 15 years, which called for the establishment of agricultural colleges. Colleges of the early 19th century traditionally taught classical studies, and the general sciences rather than practical or applied fields of interest. The Morrill Act was passed by Congress in 1859, but President James Buchanan vetoed it.
Morrill amended the act to include the teaching of military tactics in addition to agriculture and engineering, and he resubmitted it to Congress in 1861. The act was passed and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. At the time of its passage, the act excluded Confederate because of their secession from the U.S. The Morrill Act was extended to include those states after the end of the American Civil War.
In 1890, Congress passed a second Morrill Act that was directed at former Confederate states. It required states to show that race was not a criterion for admission or to establish separate land-grant colleges for blacks. In lieu of land, this Morrill Act granted money to the states so they could establish new colleges.
The Morrill Acts, by forcing the inclusion of applied and technical fields of study such as agriculture and engineering in colleges, fueled industrialization and significantly affected U.S. education and society. In total, 69 land-grant colleges were founded. Some examples of land-grant schools are Michigan State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California.