The original text for the Morrill Act. (National Archives)
What did the Morrill Act do?
The Morrill Act granted revenues from the sale of millions of acres of federal lands to states in order to create higher education institutions. The act called for land to be “apportioned to each State a quantity to equal thirty thousand acres for each senator and representative in Congress to which the states are respectively entitled” with the primary teaching focus of agricultural and mechanical arts and military tactics.
Sixty-nine universities around the country would be founded under the 1862 Morrill Act in the ensuing decades, effectively making higher education available to general public for the first time.
When did Texas A&M get involved?
Texas was not immediately able to take part in the landmark legislation, because the sixth provision of the Morrill Act stated that “No State while in a condition of rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States shall be entitled to the benefit of this act.”
When the Civil War came to an end and Texas rejoined the Union in 1865, the State of Texas agreed to create a college under the terms of the Morrill act in 1866. Five years later, the Texas Legislature established the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M University, on 2,416 acres of land in Brazos County. Classes began in 1876.
Why is the Morrill Act important to Texas A&M today?
More than 150 years later, the Morrill Act has proven to be a transformative piece of legislation not just for Texas A&M, but for the other universities that were founded under the original 1862 act and the 1890 act, which founded many historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).
The act is such an integral part of Texas A&M’s DNA that even though the Texas Legislature changed the name of the university from the Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1965, the ‘A’ and ‘M’ in Texas A&M are a symbolic homage to the university’s land-grant roots.
The land-grant designation laid the foundation for Texas A&M to become one of the first land-, sea- and space-grant universities by 1989 – a distinction it shares with only 16 other schools.