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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 20. DeWitt Clinton

Jefferson’s influence on education was local, not national. Only one other local or state leader of this generation was comparable to Jefferson: Governor De Witt Clinton of New York. Clinton, an organizer and a promoter of all movements for social betterment, left numerous addresses on various phases of the quasi-public educational endeavours of his time. Scientific societies, libraries, mechanics’ institutes, hospitals, societies for the relief of the poor, infant school societies, Lancasterian societies, all held his interest and called forth statements of his democratic views. These, together with his messages to the legislature commending educational reforms, constitute the most considerable body of educational materials of the times. It was particularly the mechanical and temporarily successful Lancasterian system which aroused his greatest enthusiasm. While Mayor of New York City he was instrumental in organizing (1805) the Free School Society of which he was president until his death. For thirty-eight years this society was the sole public or quasi-public educational agency for the children of the metropolis, and for ten years longer it continued a potent factor in competition with the growing public school system. As Governor of the state (1817–22 and 1824–28) Clinton continued an ardent advocate of this system through public address and official paper.

The chief literary as well as practical exponent of the system was John Griscom (1774–1852), a New York Quaker. In 1819 he published his observations on a visit to European countries, as A Year in Europe. In this he records his impressions of all types of European educational, philanthropic, and reformatory efforts, thus giving to his countrymen in this direction a great stimulus to endeavour. Of this work Henry Barnard later declared: “No one volume in the first half of the nineteenth century had so wide an influence on our educational, reformatory, and preventive measures, directly and indirectly, as this.” Griscom’s Recollections gives an intimate account of his services as teacher, administrator, educational innovator, and public-spirited citizen, covering a period of more than half a century.