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Diving Deeper into the Morrill Act in Texas

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act, I recently sent out an email celebrating that pivotal legislative act that made higher education a possibility for people in every state. Click here to see that email.

As soon as I sent out that email, I immediately received numerous questions about how the Act was able to take effect in Texas. Not only was I pleased to see so much interest in such a seminal piece of our national history, but also to see such keen observations and questions about our state’s history. Several of you honed in on the fact that Texas was part of the Confederate States of America during the time the Morill Act was signed…

Since Texas did not consider its self to be in the US in 1862, did the original Morrill Act cover Texas or was later action by Congress required?

Due to section 5, provision 6 of the Morrill Act, which states that “No State while in a condition of rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States shall be entitled to the benefit of this act [1],” none of the Confederate States, including Texas, were entitled to benefit from the Morrill Act during the Civil War. Following the war, Texas entered a period of reconstruction, during which time the Texas Legislature accepted the terms of the act. Interestingly, Texas was not officially readmitted to the Union until 1870.

Here’s a brief timeline of Texas history from 1836 to 1871:

  • 1836: Texas declared its independence from Mexico [2]
  • 1845: Texas became the 28th state in the United States when congress voted to annex the state on December 29, 1845 [3]
  • 1861: Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America when voters ratified secession on February 23, 1861 [4]
  • 1865: Texas entered a period of reconstruction following civil war [5]
  • 1866: Texas was enabled to accept the terms of the federal government’s Morrill Land-Grant College Act when the Eleventh Texas Legislature approved a joint resolution on November 1, 1866 [6]
  • 1870: Texas was readmitted to the Union when U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act that ended Congressional Reconstruction on March 30, 1870 [7]
  • 1871: Texas state legislature established the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas on April 17, 1871 [8]

There was no federal “public domain” in Texas (it was state land) at that time, so where was the land given to Texas and when given?

Texas was entitled to claim unappropriated public lands in Colorado in 1871. The following is an excerpt from an article in the Handbook of Texas:

The Morrill Land-Grant College Act of July 2, 1862, provided for the donation of public lands in a quantity equal to 30,000 acres for each senator and representative in Congress. Following the war and the acceptance of the Morrill Act, the Constitutional Convention of 1866 provided for an additional endowment of one million acres of public land for one or more state universities. This was followed in 1883 by an additional grant of one million acres of state land. Thus, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas became both a federal and Texas land-grant college. Under the terms of the Morrill Act, donated lands from the federal government were to be drawn from the public lands within the states receiving the grants, but where no such lands existed, as was true in Texas, the Secretary of the Interior issued scrip entitling the state to claim unappropriated public lands in the territories. Texas received title to 180,000 acres of land in Colorado on February 16, 1871. [9]

So funding came from land in Colorado. The 2,416 acres of land on which the University was built came from the citizens of Brazos County in 1871, and instruction began in 1876. [10]

In what way was Matthew Gaines instrumental in the process of Texas participating in the land grant?

Matthew Gaines (August 4, 1840-June 11, 1900) was a former slave, community leader, minister, and Republican Texas State Senator. Gaines passionately supported public education, prison reform, the protection of black voters, and tenant farming reformation. He assisted in the establishment of free public education in the State of Texas and the passage of the legislation which allowed the state to accept the Morrill Land Grant College Act. He is said to have been “daring, keen of mind, courageous, and firm in the equality for all men without regard to race or color . . .” and “the most vigilant guardian of black rights to sit in the Texas Legislature. . . .” [11]

If you have any additional questions or information to contribute, please don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment below. The Morrill Act is an important part of our history that paved the way for all people to gain access to higher education. It’s a piece of our story that should not be forgotten.


Mark A. Hussey, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor and Dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences


[1] Our Documents: Transcript of the Morrill Act (1862)
[2] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: Convention of 1836
[3] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: U.S. Congress approves annexation of Texas
[4] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: Constitution of 1861
[5] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: Reconstruction
[6] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: Texas A&M University
[7] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: Congressional Reconstruction ends as Texas readmitted to Union
[8] Texas A&M University: History of the University
[9] Texas State Historical Association: Handbook of Texas: Texas A&M University
[10] Texas A&M University: History of the University
[11] Texas State Library and Archives Commission: The 1870s: Matthew Gaines

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