Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/65

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SMALL COLLEGES

only two were graduates of large colleges; while nearly ninety per cent. of the distinguished men in congress from 1870 to 1895 were furnished by the small colleges, which in addition have provided many of the most prominent men in the cabinet and other departments of the government. This is a thoroughly typical argument and is an admirable example of non sequitur, but but it is effective, being easily comprehended by the most indolent intellect. One might take exception to it throughout on the ground that there are directions other than politics along which men achieve success, and that a training which induces men to seek political preferment as the summum honum is hardly to be commended; but this would be merely a reflection on the speaker and not criticism of his argument.

The statement is partially true as to fact and wholly false as to implication. When the men referred to were graduated every American college was small; even Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia were small, and two of them had fewer students than are claimed by some colleges whose presidents are bombarding the generously inclined with letters, circulars and speeches denouncing the evils of great universities; on the other hand, even the smallest colleges of the older days had more genuine college students than can be found in two thirds of the mendicant concerns to-day. The statement is imperfect in that it is a suppression of the truth. Geographical considerations enter into the choice of presidents, congressmen and cabinet officers. Political parties do not go to the eastern border alone for candidates; not every office seeker in the central and western part of this country could attend the older colleges of the east. If among the candidates there were men with college degrees, they were necessarily men from the local schools.

But exception must be taken to the lists as usually given. Selecting men from colleges which since the war have become great, and comparing them with those from colleges which, for various reasons, have remained small may be ingenious, but no stretching of courtesy could make it ingenuous. Yet even with that, the larger colleges do not suffer. No one would consider accidental or compromise presidents, such as Polk, Pierce, Hayes, Buchanan and some others as in any sense comparable with the Adamses, Madison, Roosevelt or Taft.[1] More, the mode of comparison makes use of ancient history as though it were that of recent times. No conclusions are to be drawn from lists of men prior to 1895, for present conditions did not exist in their college days.

  1. Jefferson is not included, because, through bad location and the mishaps of the Civil War, his college remained small; he is often listed as proving the superiority of the small college, though at the time of his graduation William and Mary rivalled Harvard in public esteem.