The "War Governor" and "Soldiers’ Friend."
It was most fortunate for the great State of Pennsylvania that she had for her chief magistrate, in the mighty struggle of our civil war, so faithful, so enlightened, and so patriotic a man as Andrew Gregg Curtin. His State was, of all other, most imperiled, and her moral and physical power in determining the question of war was exceptionally great; and Governor Curtin was first called upon to speak officially for the Commonwealth, defining the relations of the State to our sister Border States and to the general government. It was a time when a mistake would have been a crime, and its consequences immeasurable. A sentence of passion, or a departure from the soundest statesmanship or generous comity, might have made the Keystone State responsible in history, and possibly, in fact, for fraternal war. The unity of the Republic was to be preserved, and the respect of the Border States was to be maintained. If the conflict had to come, every consideration of patriotism forbade that Pennsylvania should be responsible for its immediate or remote provocation. It was under these circumstances that Governor Curtin was inaugurated in January, 1861; and not only all the States of the North waited for his utterances to guide them, but the South paused in the tide of revolt to await the position of the great central Commonwealth. That he spoke wisely and patriotically is proven by the singular vindication of the position he then assumed, and which was maintained until peace came again through the tempest of battle. He not only witnessed the inauguration of civil war, against which he directed every effort consistent with his devotion to the Union, but he remained in his high trust until the banners he had himself given to his hundreds of thousands
of brave warriors sent to the field, had been brought back with their victories inscribed on them. He saw war come, and accepted its terrible duties and grave responsibilities, and he welcomed peace before his retirement. In all his efforts he was a must judicious, energetic, and patriotic man. Through all the years of fearful struggle he kept his post, notwithstanding his great physical suffering, and discharged his responsible duties with honor to himself and honor to his State. Under the inspiration of his leadership, Pennsylvania promptly filled every requisition made upon her by the President for troops, amounting in the aggregate to over three hundred and eighty thousand men.
Nor did Governor Curtin consider his duties ended when he had complied with the demands of the parent Government for men to defend the Union. His zeal in hastening soldiers to the field was but the beginning of his efforts, for wherever a Pennsylvania soldier bore the flag, the beneficent laws and agencies of his State, devised and executed by Governor Curtin, followed him. His devotion to the cause of the Government made him known as the "War Governor;" and his ceaseless care for the soldiers in the field, in the hospital, and when fallen as martyrs in the strife, has crowned him as the "Soldiers’ Friend." Blessed in his home and household gods, and generous in every sympathy of our better nature; he was ever more than faithful in healing the wounds and solacing the bereavements of the widowed and fatherless. When he reviewed the gallant men who had responded to his call, as he was about to leave them in the march for the harvest of death, he pledged himself and his State to care for their wives and little ones if they should give life for country. It was a great pledge – great in its purport and in the grandeur of its fruition; but it was made by Governor Curtin, and it was most faithfully fulfilled.
A Special Providence and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
In accordance with a custom which had its origin in New England during the early days of her history, and afterwards adopted by most of the States of the American Union, Governor Curtin, in 1863, issued the usual proclamation appointing the 26th of November as a day of Thanksgiving, and requested the people of Pennsylvania to assemble in their various places of worship and give thanks to God for the mercies and blessings of the closing year. On the morning of the day designated for this sacred service, two children called at the executive mansion and asked for bread. The request was not an uncommon one. Scores had, at that same door, asked and received alms, unobserved save by the servants who dealt out the charity. It would seem that it was ordain by Him who calls himself the God of the fatherless, that the Governor himself should meet and speak with these needy ones, to be told by them how their father had been killed in battle, how their mother had since died, and how they had been left utterly friendless and alone. There they stood before him, on that chill November day – the day appointed for public thanksgiving and social joy and feasting – clad in rags, timid, and piteously begging food! A pitiful sight, indeed, to the chief magistrate, who had been for more than two years calling for troops and hurrying them beyond the State border to the seat of war, with vows of guardianship over their children! Keenly did that great-hearted man feel the appeal.
He attended Thanksgiving service heavily oppressed with the sad reflections which the fate of those two forlorn children of a slain soldier had awakened; and when again with his family, the deep
regret burst forth in an agonized expression: “Great God! is it possible that the people of Pennsylvania can feast this day, while the children of her soldiers who have fallen in this war beg bread from door to door!” He then narrated to them the affecting scene of the morning, and with deep feeling and much excitement went from one thought to another evolved by the contemplation of the subject, feeling, as it were, his way to the attitude to be taken by the State towards these unfortunates. It was, he said, an unjust, a disgraceful, an unchristian-like thing, that a soldier’s child should beg. Something, he determined should be done to remove such disgrace from the escutcheons of the State.
The engrossing duties and cares of his office, peculiarly great at this time, never drove the resolve from his thoughts. “I really believe,” he write, “I am safe in saying that at some period of each day, until accomplished, it crossed my mind.” Yet it was difficult to devise a method of bringing the subject before the people, in such a way as to show them a duty, and thus secure legislative action, without arousing a suspicion of vanity and self-glorification. Plan after plan suggested itself only to be rejected.
It was while such reflections were revolving in his mind that an eminent religious teacher returned from England, where he had ably endeavored to enlighten public opinion in regard to the nature of the struggle going on in this country, and thus create more generous sentiments towards the North than then prevailed among certain classes of English society. As a recognition of his distinguished services abroad, a public reception, in the interests of the United States Sanitary Commission, was given him in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Governor Curtin was invited to preside; and recognizing this as his opportunity to bring to the light the thoughts that were crystallizing in his mind, he accepted. On taking the chair, he took occasion, while eulogizing the good work of the Sanitary Commission in their care of the sick and wounded, to refer to the “uncared for who were left at home by the gallant fellows who have gone forward.” Eloquently he recalled the pledges made them, the abundance enjoyed by the people dwelling in safety at home, “unshared,” he said, “by the surviving relatives of the slain, and the families of those who, maimed and wounded, have become helpless . . . Coming, as the claimants upon our patriotism and benevolence usually do, from the humble walks of life, their modest and unpretending wants are hardly recognized amid the
clamor and excitement of the times, and the soldiers’ widow turns with natural pride from what might be considered the condition of a mendicant or the recipient of charity. My friends, let us no longer fail in the performance of our solemn duty, but let us make the position of these an honorable one, and not one of degradation. Let the widow and her dependent offspring become, in fact and in truth, “the children of the State,” and let the mighty people of this great Commonwealth nurture and maintain them. Let his not be a mere spasmodic effort, but let us now at once lay the foundation of a systematic and continuous work, which will enable the defender of the Constitution to know, as he paces his weary vigils upon the cheerless picket, that living, his family at home is cared for, and that dying, the “justice,” not the charity, of the country has provided for the helpless survivors.”
Slowly, in the heat of conflicting thought, an idea had matured that was destined to give happiness and usefulness to many lives, which, but for its inspiration, would be miserably wrecked – the idea of making the children of disabled and deceased soldiers and sailors the honored wards of the State. To accomplish this, large sums of money would be required. Provision must be made for clothing, maintaining, and educating hundreds of children; and legislative guardians of the public funds are necessarily cautious in exercising their power of granting appropriations. How to move them was the Governor’s perplexing problem. But money is cumulative. One dollar attracts another. And a nucleus had already been provided by that God whose providence is so plainly visible in the strange origin and through all the slow process of maturing and perfecting this most wonderful undertaking.
After the failure of the campaign on the Peninsula, in 1862, the President of the United States, at the instance of the loyal governors, issued a call for three hundred thousand more men. To arouse the people of Pennsylvania from the depression of that unexpected disaster, a public meeting was held in Pittsburgh, on the 10th of July, 1862. Many stirring addresses were made, and the excitement ran high; but the enthusiasm rose to its highest pitch, when Governor Curtin announced to the eager throng the reception of a telegram from the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, offering fifty thousand dollars for the organization and the equipment of troops. The Governor, however, declined this offer, as he could not accept it on account of the State without legislative sanction, and
was unwilling to undertake its disbursement in his private capacity. And so for a while the matter rested.
Subsequently, he entered into correspondence with the President of the Railroad Company in relation to the proffered sum, in the course of which he suggested the propriety of using it to erect an asylum for disabled soldiers. Consent was readily given, and the Governor, in a brief message to the Legislature, January, 1863, recommended the appropriation of the money for that purpose. The Legislature adjourned, however, without taking action on this communication.
Before another year rolled around God had sent those two forlorn children to the Governor’s door, or rather to his hear, and the idea of adopting the orphans of soldiers, as the special wards of the State, had matured. Abandoning his original purpose, he now requested the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad to allow the fifty thousand dollars, offered but not accepted, to be paid into the treasury of the State, for the purpose of creating a fund to be used in educating and maintain destitute soldiers’ orphans. That the case might have a warmer advocacy than letter-writing would admit of, he twice sent one of his official staff to Philadelphia to personally urge its adoption. The Company finally consented to permit the money to be used in accordance with the cherished wishes of the Governor, reserving the right to pay it in installments as it might be needed. The generosity of this concession will be appreciated, when it is considered that making grants for equipping troops in a time of danger was but making provision to guard its own extensive interests; while giving money to aid helpless children was a most unselfish and purely beneficent act.
The Rejected Stone.
Confidently believing that he had now found the best way to redeem the many pledges made by the State through him, Governor Curtin made use of every available means to perfect his scheme, and allowed no obstacle to impede its speedy success. He consulted with leading men of the State; he won politicians over to his cause; he inspired editors with his own grand and noble thoughts, that the press might prepare the way for their reception.
The first official recommendation relating to the project was in January, 1864. In his annual message of that year to the Legislature, he commended to its prompt attention the honorable maintenance and education of the orphans of soldiers in these words:
“I commend to the prompt attention of the Legislature the subject of relief of poor orphans of our soldiers who have given, or shall give, their lives to the country during this crisis. In my opinion, their maintenance and education should be provided for by the State. Failing other natural friends of ability to provide for them, they should be honorably received and fostered as children of the Commonwealth. The $50,000 heretofore given by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, referred to in my last message, is still unappropriated, and I recommend that this sum, with such other means as the Legislature may think fit, be applied to this end, in such manner as may be thought most expedient and effective. In anticipation of the adoption of a more perfect system, I recommend that provision be made for securing the admission of such children into existing educational establishment, to be there clothed, nurtured, and instructed at the public expense. I make this recom-
mendation earnestly, feeling assured that in doing so, I represent the wishes of the patriotic, the benevolent, and the good of the State.”
This part of the message was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, but received from it no attention whatever. But the Governor, and those whom he had interested in the good work, would not permit the matter to rest. Professor J. P. Wickersham, then Principal of the State Normal School at Millersville, Lancaster county, was sent for, and to this distinguished educator Governor Curtin imparted at length his ideas, which had been matured by much reflection, in regard to a system of schools for the children of deceased soldiers, and requested him to prepared a bill, to be laid before the Legislature, embodying the necessary provisions for carrying into effect the measures proposed.
Mr. Wickersham was a man eminently qualified for this work. The sympathies and labors of his life had been in the interests of education. He entered earnestly into the Governor’s views, and cheerfully assumed the task assigned to him. Possessing fine executive powers and a talent for systematizing, he prepared a bill which the Governor commended as doing “great justice to his head and heart.” A few friends of the measure to whom the proposed law was submitted also conceded its merits. As this was the first attempt to frame a law establishing schools for soldiers’ orphans, we give it entire:
Section 1. Be it enacted, &c.: That as soon as convenient, after the passage of this Act, there shall be appointed by the Governor, with the consent of the Senate, an officer to be called the “Superintendent of Schools for Orphans,” whose duty it shall be to carry into effect the several provision of this Act, and to make an annual report to the Legislature, which shall contain a full account of his proceeding, the expenses incurred in the past year and the sums required for the ensuing year, the institutions recognized as orphan schools and the number of pupils in each, and all such matters relating to the instruction and training of the orphan children of soldiers as he may deem expedient to communicate, and whose salary shall be $1600 per annum, and necessary traveling expenses; to be paid quarterly; said Superintendent of Schools for Orphans to hold his office for three years, commencing on the first Monday of June, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, and his successors to be appointed every third year thereafter; all such officers to be subject to removal by the Governor at any time for misbehavior or misconduct during their respective terms, and the vacancies in anywise occurring to be supplied for the unexpired terms by new appointments: Provided, That in case of removal, the Governor shall at the time communicate his reasons therefor, in writing, to
the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans thus displaced, and also to the Senate, if in session; and if not, within ten days after their next meeting.
Section 2. Any institution now established, or which may hereafter be established in this Commonwealth, may apply to the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans, to be recognized as a suitable school or home for the instruction and training of the destitute orphan children of soldiers; and after full opportunity shall have been given for all such institutions as desire to do so to make application, it shall be his duty without delay to visit the several institutions thus applying, make a careful examination as to their means of imparting physical, industrial, intellectual, and moral instruction and training, and their ability to furnish proper food and clothing, and select, subject to the approval of the Governor, from among them those best adapted in all respects to become schools or homes for the said orphan children of soldiers or sailors.
Section 3. That the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans shall, with the approval of the Governor, appoint a committee of both sexes in each county to serve gratuitously, whose duty it shall be to make application to the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans for the admission of any child into one of the institutions selected as suitable to become schools or homes for the destitute orphan children of soldiers and sailors, who resides in Pennsylvania, and is between the ages of five and fifteen, whose father was killed while in the military or naval service of the United States, or died of wounds received or disease contracted in that service, and whose circumstances are such as to render him or her dependent upon either public or private charity for support: Provided, That all such applications must be accompanied with a statement, certified to by oath or affirmation, of the name and age of the child, the place of residence and nativity, the extent of destitution, the name of the father, his regiment or vessel on which he served, rank, and the manner of his death.
Section 4. The Superintendent of Schools for Orphans shall grant all applications for admittance into the institutions selected as orphan schools or homes that seem to him proper, and assign the children so applying to such one of them as he may consider most convenient or suitable, having regard as far as possible to the religious denomination or faith of their parents.
It shall be his further duty to visit each institution so selected at least once in three months, and carefully inspect its arrangements for promoting the health and comfort of its pupils, the methods of instruction pursued, and the kind of food and clothing furnished; and if any of the schools so selected prove derelict in duty in there or other respects to the orphan children placed under their care, he shall lay the facts before the Governor, and with his approval refuse longer to recognize them in the capacity of orphan schools: Provided, That such a decision shall in all cases be made known to the institution concerned one month before it is carried into effect.
Section 5. It shall be the duty of the authorities of all institutions selected as orphan schools or homes to record the names of all persons who may desire to take into their service any orphan child connected with said institutions, and shall have authority to bind such children as apprentices with the consent of the mother, if living; but all contracts to apprentice or bind out an orphan child must be made at the time of the tri-monthly visit of the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans, and be signed by him.
Section 6. All institutions instructing and training the orphan children of soldiers and providing them with food and clothing, as prescribed in the preceding sections, shall be entitled to receive from the treasury of the State an amount to be determined by contract between the authorities of said schools respectively and the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans, and approved by the Governor, to be graduated by the respective ages of the children, but in no case to exceed $100 per annum, for each orphan child thus instructed and cared for, to be paid in quarterly instalments upon warrants issued by the Superintendent of Schools for Orphans: Provided, That before the payment of any quarterly instalments, the authorities of the institutions to which payment is to be made, shall have made under oath or affirmation a quarterly report stating the number of orphan children of soldiers, admitted according to the provisions of this Act, there were in the institute at the commencement of the quarter, the number admitted and discharged during the quarter with the respective dates, and the number then remaining.
This bill was read in place, on the 8th of April, by Mr. Robert L. McClellan, of Chester county, and referred to the Committee on Education.
On the 13th of April, just five days after, the Governor sent to the Legislature the following special message in regard to the care and education of the orphan children of soldiers: “I have heretofore invited the attention of the Legislature to the subject of maintaining and educating, at the public expense, such orphan children of Pennsylvania volunteers who have died in the public service, as may be destitute of other means of aid. I have since caused inquires to be made through the school department and otherwise, in regard to the probably number of such orphans. It has been found, however, impossible to obtain reliable information in so short a time; but, in my opinion, the number to be at present provided for will not exceed one thousand. I submit to the wisdom of the Legislature the propriety of making early provision on the subject, merely suggesting that the orphans, as far as possible, be committed to the care of persons of the same religious denominations as their parents. I would also remind the Legislature that the sum of fifty thousand dollars, donated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, is subject to my order, and could be properly appropriated towards the expenses to be incurred.” Objections had been made to the proposed measure, from certain quarters, on account of difficulties which might attend the religious training of the orphans, while, from other sources, opposition arose in view of the great cost involved in its execution. To remove these hindrances and to insure prompt
and favorable action on the bill then under consideration by the educational committee of the House, and to prepare the way for its cordial reception, this communication was sent to the Legislature. Governor Curtin went to the utmost limit of his authority as an executive officer; he gave to the project the full weight of his personal and official influence, that he might interest the indifferent, silence and win, if possible, those who opposed, and strengthen and encourage the friends of his darling scheme.
On the 29th of April the bill came before the House for consideration.
This bill called forth a warm debate. Mr. William Burgwin, of Venango county, said the proposed Act provided for the disgracing of destitute orphan children and making them serfs. He objected to the expense of establishing a new bureau, and thought the work could be more effectually done by the department of common schools through the medium of its school boards and county superintendents, and moved an amendment embodying his views. Mr. Bryan S. Hill, of Erie, coincided with Mr. Burgwin. Mr. McClellan argued against the amendment. The care of the destitute children made orphans by the calamities of war he considered a work of great importance. There would be doubtless a large number of such children in the State, and unless provisions similar to those proposed were made, they would, in all probability, become the inmates of poor-houses, prisons, and penitentiaries. He stated that the friends of the bill, after carefully considering the subject for several weeks, came to the conclusion that, in order to carry out its object effectually, the work must be confided to an officer specially appointed for that purpose.
Mr. George H. Wells, of Susquehanna county, moved to amend by striking out all after the enacting clause, and inserting the following:
Section 1. That it shall be the duty of the secretary of the board of school directors of every township, ward, or borough of this Commonwealth, as soon as may be after the passage of this Act, and at such times hereafter as may be directed by the superintendent of common schools of this Commonwealth, to make a list of all the orphan children of soldiers or sailors, under the age of fifteen years, residing in said township, ward, or borough, whose father was killed while in the military or naval service of the United States, or died of wounds received or disease contracted in that service, and whose circumstances are such as to render him or her dependent in whole or in part upon either public or private charity for support; that said list shall be accompanied with
a statement, certified to by oath or affirmation, of the name and age of the child, the place of residence and nativity, the extent of destitution, the name of the father, his regiment or vessel in which he served, his rank and the manner of his death, and to enter the same at length in a book kept for that purpose; and also return said certified list to the superintendent of common schools within ninety days after the passage of this Act.
Section 2. It shall be the duty of said secretary to find suitable homes for said orphan children in the said township, ward, or borough were said orphan child may reside, or an adjoining ward or township; and said secretary is hereby authorized to sign, seal, and execute a contract with such suitable person or persons, (subject to the approval of a majority of the board of school directors or a public meeting thereof,) fixing the time for which said orphan child or children shall remain with said person or persons, the amount of money to be paid for food, clothing, and schooling, (said schooling not to be less than five months in each and every year,) and define particularly the duties and obligations of the parties to said contract: Provided, That a majority of the board of school directors shall have power at any public meeting therof to annul any such contract and declare the same cancelled, if they shall believe it to be to the interest of said orphan child or children to do so.
Section 3. The said secretary of the board of school directors (with the approval as aforesaid) shall have authority to bind such orphan child or children as apprentices, with the consent of the mother, if living: Provided, That no male child shall be so bound until he has arrived at the age of thirteen, nor shall the apprenticeship extend beyond the time when he shall be twenty-one years of age: And provided, also, That no female child be so bound until she has arrived at the age of eleven years, and shall not extend beyond the time when she shall be eighteen years of age.
Section 4. It shall be the duty of the secretary of the board of school directors to make out semi-annually a full statement, under oath, of the expenses incurred in his township, ward, or borough, for the support and education of said orphan children; and when said statement is approved by the president of said board, it shall be forwarded to the superintendent of common schools, whose duty it shall be to draw his warrant upon the State treasurer for the amount found due, and for such additional amount as may be awarded by said board of school directors for the services of said secretary under this Act: Provided, That in no case shall the amount paid exceed the sum of one hundred dollars annually for the support and education of one child.
Section 5. It shall be the duty of the superintendent of common schools to furnish the several school boards of this Commonwealth, desiring the same, such forms, blanks, and instructions as may be necessary to carry into effect the several provisions of this Act, and to make report annually to the Legislature, and in the same volume with common school report, a full account of his proceedings, the expenses incurred in the past year, and the sums required for the ensuing year, the number of destitute orphans of soldiers and sailors of this Commonwealth, their names, ages, and places of residence, and such matters relating to their education and well-being as he may decide expedient to communicate.
Section 6. That the superintendent of common schools shall receive the sum of ______ dollars per annum for the additional duties imposed upon him by this Act, and is authorized to employ such additional clerk-hire as may be necessary.
Section 7. That the Governor be authorized and required to cause to be paid into the State treasury the fifty thousand dollars heretofore donated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and many other donations that may be received by him; and the said sum of money be, and the same are hereby, appropriated to defray the expenses to be incurred under the provisions of this Act.
Mr. P. Frazer Smith, of Chester county, spoke against the adoption of any amendment, and said that the bill before the House embodied a plan which had been recommended by the Governor for carrying out the purposes of the donors of the fifty thousand dollars. Mr. Wells, in a lengthy speech, attempted to show the superiority of his amendment over the original bill. He said it would be a cruel thing to drag these children from their mothers and friends and give them into the hands of strangers. He believed that his substitute would be less expensive, and would better consult the dictates of humanity and better subserve the well-being of the orphans, than the bill reported by the Chairman of the Educational Committee. Mr. T. H. Purdy, of Northumberland county, advocated Mr. Wells’ substitute. Mr. T. J. Barger, of Philadelphia, earnestly advocated the original bill, and thought the division of the children among the district schools of the State would not be more humane, and would be much more expensive, than collecting them into institutions specially provided for them. In his opinion, there could be no cruelty in sending these children to suitable schools selected by a responsible person appointed by the Governor. He did not think it possible, should the responsibility of caring for the orphans be divided among many persons, that the supervision would be so efficient as it would be if an officer be appointed for that special purpose. Mr. Samuel H. Orwig, of Union county, thought that since the Committee on Education had reported the bill favorably after giving it a careful consideration, and since it had been prepared by the advice of the Governor and other benevolent and judicious persons, its provisions must be good. Mr. Thos. Cochran, of Philadelphia, thought the Legislature should not adjourn without taking some action on the bill. Mr. G. Dawson Coleman of Lebanon county, said it would be a disgrace if the Legislature should adjourn
without adopting some measure to provide for the orphan children of soldiers.
Neither Mr. Burgwin’s nor Mr. Wells’ amendments were agreed to. The first and second sections of the original bill, after unimportant amendments, were agreed to. On the reading of the third section, opposition to the bill developed sufficient strength to show its friends that its defeat was inevitable. Mr. Cochran then read as a substitute, which passed both branches of the Legislature, the following:
Act of 1864.
Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania be and is hereby authorized to accept the sum of fifty thousand dollars donated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, for the education and maintenance of destitute orphan children of deceased soldiers and sailors, and appropriate the same in such manner as he may deem best calculated to accomplish the object designed by said donation; the accounts of said disbursements to be settled, in the usual manner, by the Auditor General and the Governor, and make report of the same to the next Legislature.
This little enactment was the sole result of all the perplexity, thought, and labor on the part of Governor Curtin, of the carefully prepared bill of Professor Wickersham and of the lengthy discussion in the legislative halls by the people’s representatives.
It would be gratifying to State pride to allow the Pennsylvania Legislature to share with the Governor and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company the honor of taking the initiatory steps in founding a system of schools for the children of deceased soldiers; but the records read to the contrary. In that body there were earnest advocates of the measure, but the majority were opposed to it. The voice of justice, to say nothing of the calls of mercy and humanity, was silenced by custom. All men, to some extent, are slaves to the past. And when did a people shelter, feed, clothe, and educate the children of those who perish in war? And yet, viewed in the light of unfettered reason, it is an unaccountable thing that the men who had in their keeping the honor of the State, who enacted her laws and disbursed her revenues, should be so ungrateful to the volunteers who, a short distance away, were even then holding at bay the invading foe! Should not the burdens of war, in Republic, be equally shared, so far as possible, by all her citizens? A few miles
to the south of the very capitol where those legislators sat, were thousands of their fellow-citizens, sheltered by army tents or canopied only by the blue vault of heaven, exposed to the frosts of an inclement season, liable at any moment to fall a prey to disease or suffer mutilation and death; hundreds of their comrades in arms had fallen in battle, and their children were left with no father’s breast to shield them, no father’s fond heart to love and cheer them, and no father’s experience to direct and guide them in the devious path of youth. Yesterday, many of that army of citizen soldiery left happy homes, cheered ad gladdened with the merry voices of children who fell asleep nestling in their arms; to-day, they, severed from the endearments of home, are subject to army discipline and come and go at the dictation of another; at nightfall no children gather around them; to-morrow their voices may not be heard at roll call, and their children may be left to grow up in ignorance and neglect and, possibly, crime. And yet these legislators coolly decide that the State, saved from invasion and pillage but a few months before by liberal bulwarks of the heaped-up slain, cannot assume the expense of educating and respectably maintaining the children of her slaughtered defenders! By refusing to make ample provision for this class upon whom the calamities of war press so cruelly, the Legislative Assembly of 1864 evaded an evident duty, - a duty, too, that was plainly pointed out and earnestly pressed, - and lost the honor of performing a great deed which would have given it a golden page in the annals of the State.
But the short Act which it passed authorized the executive to accept
from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company the proffered gift of fifty thousand
dollars for the benefit of the soldiers’ orphans, to be expended as he
might “deem best;” and with it he, disappointed but not discouraged, and
hopefully trusting the future to a kind Providence, laid the foundation
of a system the glory of which will resound through the ages!