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McGuffey 1848 "High School" Lesson: Character of the Puritan Fathers of New England


I recently won this gem on eBay for $5.20. The history of education in America has always fascinated me, but this historic book is like a time capsule from the era of one-room schools, organized and funded by the local parents in each town (what a concept, huh?), and also used in the homes of families on the frontier with no access to a school.

It was written in a time before God was expelled from the classroom; when Americans understood the true intent of "separation of church and state;" when patriotism was a trait to be desired, and oppression and tyranny were to be spurned at even the cost of lands and possessions.

The McGuffey readers were one of two series of textbooks used in educating children in those first days of America. The other was the New England Primer. This particular 4th reader was designed for the highest level of grammar school education. Keep in mind, grades K-12 had not been invented; when a student completed all of the readers, they were finished with school. It typically took about half the time to educate the children that it does in modern times. (For an example of this, see my post about Laura Ingalls Wilder's education here.)

Yet, some great minds were born in the schools that used these books.

"McGuffey Readers played an important role in American history. Most prominent post-Civil War and turn-of-the-Century American figures credited their initial success in learning to the Readers, which provided a guide to what was occurring in the public school movement and in American culture during the 19th century." (source)

I'm going to share Lesson XCVI with you today. It's just your average 1848 English lesson, complete with Rules for Reading and Words to be Spelled and Defined. (Punctuation is just the way it's shown in the reader.)


Character of the Puritan Fathers of New England

1. One of the most prominent features which distinguished our forefathers was their determined resistance to oppression. They seemed born and brought up, for the high and special purpose of showing the world, that the civil and religious rights of man, the rights of self-government, of conscience, and independent thought, are not merely things to be talked of, and woven into theories, but to be adopted with the whole strength and ardor of the mind, and felt in the profoundest recesses of the heart, and carried out into the general life, and made the foundation of practical usefulness, and visible beauty, and true nobility.

2. Liberty with them, was an object of too serious desire and stern resolve, to be personified, allegorized, and enshrined. They made no goddess of it, as the ancients did: they had not time nor inclination for such trifling; they felt that liberty was the simple bright right of every human creature; they called it so; they claimed it as such; they reverence and held it fast as the unalienable gift of the Creator, which was not to be surrendered to power, nor sold for wages.

3. It was theirs, as men; without it, they did not esteem themselves men; more than any other privilege or possession, it was essential to their happiness, for it was essential to their original nature; and therefore they preferred it above wealth, and ease, and country; and that they might enjoy and exercise it fully, they forsook houses, and lands, and kindred, their homes, their native soil, and their fathers' graves.

4. They left all these; they left England, which, whatever it might have been called, was not to them a land of freedom; they launched forth on the pathless ocean, the wide, fathomless ocean, soiled not by the earth beneath, and bounded, all round and above, only by heaven; and it seemed to them like that better and sublimer freedom, which their country knew not, but of which they had the conception and image in their hearts; and, after a toilsome and painful voyage, they came to a hard and wintery coast, unfruitful and desolate, but unguarded and boundless; its calm silence interrupted not the ascent of their prayers; it had no eyes to watch, no ears to hearken, no tongues to report of them; here, again, there was an answer to their soul's desire, and they were satisfied, and gave thanks; they saw that they were free, and the desert smiled.

5. I am telling an old tale; but it is one which must be told, when we speak of those men. It is to be added, that they transmitted their principles to their children, and that peopled by such a race, our country was always free. So long as its inhabitants were unmolested by the mother country, in the exercise of their important rights, they submitted to the form of English government; but when those rights were invaded, they spurned even the form away.

6. This act was the revolution, which came of course, and spontaneously, and had nothing in it of the wonderful or unforseen. The wonder would have been, if it had not occurred. It was indeed, a happy and glorious event, but by no means unnatural; and I intend no slight to the revered actors in the revolution, when I assert that their fathers before them were as free as they - every whit as free.

7. The principles of the revolution were not the suddenly acquired property of a few bosoms; they were abroad in the land ages before; they had always been taught, like the truths of the Bible; they had descended from father to son, down from those primitive days, when the pilgrim, established in his simple dwelling, and seated as his blazing fire, piled high from the forest that shaded his door, repeated to his listening children the story of his wrongs and his resistance, and bade them rejoice, though the wild winds and the wild beasts were howling without, that they had nothing to fear from great men's oppression.

8. Here were the beginnings of the revolution. Every setter's hearth was a school of independence; the scholars were apt, and the lessons sunk deeply; and thus it came that our country was always free; it could not be other than free.

9. As deeply seated as was the principle of liberty and resistance to arbitrary power, in the breasts of the Puritans, it was not more so than their piety and sense of religious obligation. They were emphatically a people whose God was the Lord. Their form of government was as strictly theocratical, if direct communication be excepted, as was that of the Jews; insomuch that it would be difficult to say, where there was any civil authority among them entirely distinct from ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

10. Whenever a few of them settled a town, they immediately gathered themselves into a church; and their elders were magistrates, and their code of laws was the Pentateuch. These were forms, it is true, but forms which faithfully indicated principles and feelings; for no people could have adopted such forms, who were not thoroughly imbued with the spirit, and bent on the practice, of religion.

11. God was their King; and they regarded him as truly and literally so, as if he had dwelt in a visible palace in the midst of their state. They were his devoted, resolute, humble subjects; they undertook nothing which they did not beg of him to prosper; they accomplished nothing without rendering to him the praise; they suffered nothing without carrying up their sorrows to his throne; they ate nothing which they did not implore him to bless.

12. Their piety was not merely external; it was sincere; it had the proof of a good tree in bearing good froot; it produced and sustained a strict morality. their tenacious purity of manners and speech obtained for them, in the mother country, their name of Puritans, which, though given in derision, was as honorable as appelation as was ever bestowed by man on man.

13. That there were hypocrrites among them, is not to be doubted; but they were rare; the men who voluntarily exciled themselves to an unknown coast, and endured there every toil and hardship for conscience' sake, and that they might serve God in their own manner, were not likely to set conscience at defiance, and make the services of God a mockery; they were not likely to be, neither were they, hypocrites. I do not know that it would be arrogating too much for them to say, that, on the extended surface of the globe, there was not a single community of men to be compared with them, in respects of deep religious impressions, and an exact performance of moral duty.

- Greenwood

What was one of the prominent traits of character in the Puritans?
How did they regard Liberty?
What was their conduct in support of liberty?
Why was the revolution a perfectly natural event?, or just what might have been expected?
From whence derived the principles of the revolution?
How were their systems of government formed?
What was the character of their piety?
As a community, how will they bear comparison for moral worth, with all other communities, past and present?

What are the pronouns in the 12th paragraph?
For what noun does "their" stand?
For what does "it" stand?
Parse "which."
Pars the last "as."

Articulate the "h" clearly: high, heart, happiness, heaven, hard, had, hearken, heere, have, happy, whit, howling, hearth, whenever, hypocrites,
Articulate the d: seem'd, talk'd, mind, call'd, preferr'd, England, land, launch'd, soil'd, round, intend.

Spell and define:
1. prominent, self government: 2. unalienable; 3. essential: 4. fathomless: 5. unmolested: 7. pilgrim: 9. ecclesiastical: 11. implore: 12. tenacious: 13. hypocrites.

There's too much good stuff here to comment on; that's why I shared the complete lesson. Imagine our students in the 21st century still practicing reading, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary with this kind of source material! I'll just leave you to ponder the possibilities.

And I plan to share a few more lessons from this "high school" textbook from 19th century America.

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