The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XXIII. Education
§ 18. The Positions of the Fathers
During this period communication was slow, travel most difficult, publication costly. As bespeaks an age of relative leisure, much of the literature was epistolary in character. The subject of education often entered into the correspondence of our forefathers, and sometimes found its way into the public press of the day. But on the whole the amount of such writing is surprisingly small; the interest in education of the generation that founded our government and put it into operation was slight and lacking in penetration.
Washington believed in a national university and wrote frequently on that subject. His outlook here, as on other aspects of education, was that of a Virginian or an English country gentleman—that educators were necessary but that the means to this end were a matter chiefly of individual concern. John Adams wrote his views into the first state constitution of Massachusetts, but they were the traditional views of colonial Massachusetts. He also left a diary or fragmentary autobiography which covers his experience as a district school teacher, without revealing more than a passing interest in education. James Madison held a broad conception of education, expressed frequently in his correspondence, but not at length. “A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.” Though probably the most widely informed man of his time, he did little more for education than occasionally to express such views.