Morrill Land Grant Act: Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges

The structure and purpose of the Morrill Land Grant Act was to provide land for publicly funded colleges and universities in every state. These institutions would focus on science, agriculture, mechanical technology and military tactics as well as classical studies. Each state was granted 30,000 acres of federal lands based on the number of senators and representatives in congress. This formula privileged northeastern states with larger populations. In 1861 when the act was signed into law the population calculation included slave populations for states whose legislators were based in part on those populations.

Maryland organized public universities on the land grant model in 1856 in likely understanding previous twenty year history to establish agricultural colleges in the United States. The first attempt to pass the Morrill Act was in 1857.

The University of Maryland was first organized as Maryland Agricultural College with the establishment of a “company known as The Maryland Agricultural College.” The university was established by the state of Maryland in collaboration with private citizens. In 1862 when federal funding for land grant universities was established Maryland participated by acquiring additional land for Maryland Agricultural College.

Many of the early land grant colleges and universities have a Morrill Hall in recognition of Congressman Justin Morrill.

Information for this post comes in part from:

Reveille Yearbook, 1897, p. 13-19, University of Maryland Yearbooks, University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Morrill Act: Primary Documents of American History, Library of Congress,



Photo Courtesy of Course Participant


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