An informal lunch hour celebration at the foot of the Campanile on Monday marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of what is now known as the Morrill Land-Grant Act, a law passed on July 2, 1862 that provided crucial funding to establish the University of California in Berkeley.
“Its big contribution to the founding of the university was that it provided federal funding for state universities,” said Steve Finacom, planning analyst for UC Capital Projects and organizer of Monday’s event. “The mechanism of the federal funding was that the government had a lot of land, particularly in the western states. Each state was allocated about 30,000 acres of land that could be sold, and then the income from that land was used to finance the state institution.”
In 1868, California took advantage of the Morrill Act’s funding and created the University of California. In return for the government’s support, the university abided by the Morrill Act’s purpose to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes…” and placed agriculture at the core of the curriculum. Additionally, the university engaged in providing military training, which explains why ROTC programs continue to exist at UC Berkeley today.
Out of respect for the president’s involvement in the Morrill Act, Monday’s small gathering at the Campanile was held beneath the tower’s bust of Abraham Lincoln, a piece designed by the same artist responsible for Mount Rushmore, John Gutzon Borglum.
After a commemorative toast, a brief history of the statue of Lincoln was given by Harvey Helfand, a retired campus planner and author of an architectural guidebook to the Berkeley campus.
“It was kind of a grassroots thing,” Helfand said. “It had a nice little turnout, about 40 or so, and from the comments I received from people, I think they really appreciated it.”