The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49
It is my duty this afternoon to speak to you upon the "public school question as viewed by the Liberal American Citizen;" terms which I understand to indicate merely the point of view occupied by those who look at this question in the light of well-recognized American principles, and with reference to the interests of the whole people and their self-chosen government, as distinguished from the point of view occupied by those who look at it in the light of other than American principles, and with reference to the interests of a party, a sect, or a church. There is a sectional, and there is also a national, aspect of every great public issue; there is a partizan, ecclesiastical and sectarian view of the school question, and also a universal, secular and strictly non-sectarian view of it. It is the latter view alone that I hold, and I shall try to represent faithfully this afternoon all who hold it. That they are only a portion, though a very large portion, of page 62 the entire population of the country, I of course admit; but that they look at this question in the light of their own interests as a party, and not in that of the equal interests of each and every inhabitant of the land, I emphatically deny. In other words, I maintain, contrary to the plausible and ingenious misrepresentation sometimes put forward, that the secular party to this school question is not a "sect," and cannot be justly so considered from the mere fact of its not embracing the whole population. If that fact alone were decisive, then unsectarianism is an impossibility, so long as a difference of opinion exists among men. But what really makes a party partizan, or sectarian, is the selfish endeavor to sacrifice the interests of the whole people to their own interests as a mere part of the people; while, if any party aims honestly at securing the interests of the whole people by rendering equal and exact justice to every individual, it is a strictly non-partizan and non-sectarian party. For instance, the Republican party, whatever its subsequent sins, was an organized national and non-partizan party during the war of the rebellion, because it aimed at the true interests of the whole nation, including the very South which was in rebellion; and to-day the great body of honest men, who are opposed to the army of corruptionists in politics, is an unorganized national and non-partizan party, because it aims at establishing politics on the basis of common honesty, which is really the equal interest of all. Precisely in the same manner I maintain that the secular party on the school question is a strictly non-sectarian party, and not a sect at all, because it aims solely to settle this question on the basis of that equal justice which is the common and supreme interest of all mankind. What I have to say on the school question, therefore, will be said in the interest of no part of the people, but of the whole people; for, unlike some others, I belong to no page 63 party or sect which has interests separate from, or hostile to, the interests of the whole people.
But how comes there to be any school question at all? The public school system was established, and has been sustained, by the people itself, solely for the purpose of supplying a universal want: namely, the education of the people's children. Nothing human is perfect, and the school system is not perfect; but it was honestly founded for the good of the whole people, not of a party or sect, and can be improved. Why is there to-day a "school question" to be settled?