The soul of the truly benevolent man does not seem to reside much in his own body. Its life, to a great extent, is a mere reflex of the lives of others. It migrates into their bodies, and identifying its existence with their existence, finds its own happiness in increasing and prolonging their pleasures, in extinguishing or solacing their pains.
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Some languages are musical in themselves, so that it is pleasant to hear any one read or converse in them, even though we do not understand a word that we hear.... Others are full of growling, snarling, hissing sounds, as though wild beasts and serpents had first taught the people to speak.
In our country and in our times no man is worthy the honored name of statesman who does not include the highest practicable education of the people in all his plans of administration. He may have eloquence, he may have a knowledge of all history, diplomacy, jurisprudence; and by these he might claim, in other countries, the elevated rank of a statesman: but unless he speaks, plans, labors, at all times and in all places, for the culture and edification of the whole people, he is not, he cannot be, an American statesman.
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In such a world as ours the idle man is not so much a biped as a bivalve; and the wealth which breeds idleness, of which the English peerage is an example, and of which we are beginning to abound in specimens in this country, is only a sort of human oyster bed, where heirs and heiresses are planted, to spend a contemptible life of slothfulness in growing plump and succulent for the grave-worms' banquet.
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Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School, improved and energized, as it can easily be, may become the most effective and benignant of all the forces of civilization. Two reasons sustain this position. In the first place, there is a universality in its operation, which can be affirmed of no other institution whatever... And, in the second place, the materials upon which it operates are so pliant and ductile as to be susceptible of assuming a greater variety of forms than any other earthly work of the Creator.
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If ever there was a cause, if ever there can be a cause, worthy to be upheld by all of toil or sacrifice that the human heart can endure, it is the cause of Education. It has intrinsic and indestructible merits. It holds the welfare of mankind in its embrace, as the protecting arms of a mother hold her infant to her bosom. The very ignorance and selfishness which obstructs its path are the strongest arguments for its promotion, for it furnishes the only adequate means for their removal.
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So multifarious are the different classes of truths, and so multitudinous the truths in each class, that it may be undoubtingly affirmed that no man has yet lived who could so much as name all the different classes and subdivisions of truths, and far less anyone who was acquainted with all the truths belonging to any one class. What wonderful extent, what amazing variety, what collective magnificence! And if such be the number of truths pertaining to this tiny ball of earth, how must it be in the incomprehensible immensity!
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Forts, arsenals, garrisons, armies, navies, are means of security and defence, which were invented in half-civilized times and in feudal or despotic countries; but schoolhouses are the republican line of fortifications, and if they are dismantled and dilapidated, ignorance and vice will pour in their legions through every breach.
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It is well when the wise and the learned discover new truths; but how much better to diffuse the truths already discovered amongst the multitudes. Every addition to true knowledge is an addition to human power; and while a philosopher is discovering one new truth, millions of truths may be propagated amongst the people.... The whole land must be watered with the streams of knowledge.
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A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them. It is a wrong to his family. He cheats them! Children learn to read by being in the presence of books. The love of knowledge comes with reading and grows upon it.
To-day Massachusetts; and the whole of the American republic, from the border of Maine to the Pacific slopes, and from the Lakes to the Gulf, stand upon the immutable and everlasting principles of equal and exact justice. The days of unrequited labor are numbered with the past. Fugitive slave laws are only remembered as relics of that barbarism which John Wesley pronounced "the sum of all villainies," and whose knowledge of its blighting effects was matured by his travels in Georgia and the Carolinas.
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As an innovation... the establishment of Free Schools was the boldest ever promulgated, since the commencement of the Christian era... Time has ratified its soundness. Two centuries proclaim it to be as wise as it was courageous, as beneficient as it was disinterested. It was one of those grand mental and moral experiments... The sincerity of our gratitude must be tested by our efforts to perpetuate and improve what they established. The gratitude of the lips only is an unholy offering.
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The experience of the ages that are past, the hopes of the ages that are yet to come, unite their voices in an appeal to us; they implore us to think more of the character of our people than of its vast numbers; to look upon our vast natural resources, not as tempters to ostentation and pride, but as means to be converted, by the refining alchemy of education, into mental and spiritual treasures-and thus give to the world the example of a nation whose wisdom increases with its prosperity, and whose virtues are equal to its power.
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Resistance to improvement contradicts the noblest instincts of the race. It begets its opposite. The fanaticism of reform is only the raging of the accumulated waters caused by the obstructions which an ultra conservatism has thrown across the stream of progress; and revolution itself is but the sudden overwhelming and sweeping away of impediments that should have been seasonably removed.
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Under the Providence of God, our means of education are the grand machinery by which the 'raw material' of human nature can be worked up into inventors and discoverers, into skilled artisans and scientific farmers, into scholars and jurists, into the founders of benevolent institutions, and the great expounders of ethical and theological science.
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Finally, in regard to those who possess the largest shares in the stock of worldly goods, could there, in your opinion, be any police so vigilant and effetive, for the protections of all the rights of person, property and character, as such a sound and comprehensive education and training, as our system of Common Schools could be made to impart; and would not the payment of a sufficient tax to make such education and training universal, be the cheapest means of self-protection and insurance?
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Truths, no matter how momentous or enduring, are nothing to the individual until he appreciates them, and feels their force, and acknowledges their sovereignty. He cannot bow to their majesty until he sees their power. All the blind then, and all the ignorant--that is, all the children--must be educated up to the point of perceiving and admitting the truth, and acting according to its mandates.
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Temptation is a fearful word. It indicates the beginning of a possible series of infinite evils. It is the ringing of an alarm bell, whose melancholy sounds may reverberate through eternity. Like the sudden, sharp cry of "Fire!" under our windows by night, it should rouse us to instantaneous action, and brace every muscle to its highest tension.
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A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them. It is a wrong to his family. Children learn to read by being in the presence of books. The love of knowledge comes with reading and grows upon it. And the love of knowledge, in a young mind, is almost always a warrant against the inferior excitement of passions and vices.
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The most formidable attribute of temptation is its increasing power, its accelerating ratio of velocity. Every act of repetition increases power, diminishes resistance. It is like the letting out of waters-where a drop can go, a river can go. Whoever yields to temptation, subjects himself to the law of falling bodies.
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Doing nothing for others is the undoing of one's self. We must be purposely kind and generous, or we miss the best part of existence. The heart that goes out of itself, gets large and full of joy. This is the great secret of the inner life. We do ourselves the most good doing something for others.