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The New England Primer and McGuffey's Readers
Christianity in American Education


Maybe you've seen the article that should go here. Send us the link Or send us the book or journal article and we'll plagiarize it like all our other pages.

Here's what it says:

  • The New England Primer was one of the greatest influences on the Founding Fathers.
  • It was explicitly Christian
  • It was the most influential school text in America

Until you send us this article, readers of this page will have to be content with the following dialogue on American OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Discussion Board.

Subject: Re: The Dark Side of Christian History
To: Separation of Church & State
Date: 4/5/99

I wrote:

>>I am opposed to government meddling. The Ten Commandments
>>were taught in schools for 400 years until the federal judiciary decided
>>to become a national theology board. Let local communities teach
>>the Ten Commandments if they want to.

In article <19990405232121.15607.00003435@ng-ba1.aol.com>, groveldy@aol.com (GroveLdy) writes:

>Where was this Kevin? In your dreams? I have a number of old school texts.
>I sell them so I buy them and NONE of them have the ten commandments in them.
>I have some early 1800s books as well NOpe no 10 commandments. You wouldn't
>be lying would you???? Thats a sin.

You wouldn't be looking in a geometry book, would you?

An online version of the New England Primer is here. View it for yourself.

The First Dixie Reader, Designed to Follow the Dixie Primer (Raleigh: Branson, Farrar & Co., 1863) by Marinda Branson Moore is also online.

Here is a page from The Progressive Pictorial Primer (Boston: Oliver & Ellsworth, c1857) by Salem Town.

Lesson One in The Third Reader: For the Use of Schools (Louisville, Ky.: Morton & Griswold, c1839) by Samuel Griswold Goodrich is "The Bible."

Lesson LII. in The School Reader: First Book (New York: Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman & Co., c1858) by Charles W. Sanders is "The Goodness of God."

A lesson on giving is found in Pollard's Synthetic Third Reader (Chicago: Western Publishing House, 1892, c1890), ed. by Rebecca S. Pollard

The duties of citizens, says Daniel Webster in Osgood's Progressive Fifth Reader (Pittsburgh : A.H. English & Co., c1858), ed. by Lucius Osgood, includes "religion and morality."

"Helen Patterson always believed it was her prayers that saved her father, her brothers, and herself in that trying hour," we read at the end of a story in The New McGuffey Fourth Reader

"Religion and morality" pervade these primers and readers. Had any of the authors been accused of "violating the Constitution" by bringing religion or Christian morality into schools, they would have been flabbergasted. Nobody who signed the Constitution nor lived under its government for the first 150 years believed the teaching of religion and morality was prohibited by the Constitution.

The Ten Commandments were a standard feature of most catechisms and primers up until the Civil War. Preachers told their congregations that education was a moral imperative. Puritan preaching was the source of American movement toward Independence. Butts & Cremin, two of the most respected Secular Humanist historians of education, write:

That Cotton Mather's injunctions were not simply the ravings of a [fanatic] minister is attested by the whole content and spirit of the New England Primer which was the most widely read school book in America for 100 years. The best estimate is made that some 3,000,000 copies were sold from 1700 to 1850.  p.69

Obviously "Grovelady" has never read the New England Primer, which was the primer used by most presidents up to James A. Garfield (or the McGuffey readers, which were also widely read).

The third section common to every was the "Shorter Catechism." This first-grade textbook contained questions like these:

And similarly for each of the Ten Commandments.

Other questions:

  • What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?
  • How does Christ execute the office of a prophet?
  • How does Christ execute the office of a priest?
  • How does Christ execute the office of a king?

So grovelady's claim is something like the guy who announces "ALL INDIANS WALK SINGLE FILE!" and upon inquiry admits, " -- the one I saw did."

McGuffey writes in his school text:

"From no source has the author drawn more copiously than from the Sacred Scriptures. For this [I] certainly apprehend no censure. In a Christian country, that man is to be pitied, who, at this day, can honestly object to imbuing the minds of youth with the language and spirit of the Word of God."
(Wm McGuffey, McGuffey's Eclectic Third Reader, Cincinnati: Winthrop Smith & Co., 1848, p.5, preface.)

As a result of the teaching of the Ten Commandments in schools, Harvard Law Prof. Harold J. Berman has written,

[E]ven fifty years ago . . . if you had asked Americans where our system of law came from, on what it was ultimately based, the overwhelming majority would have said, "the Ten Commandments," or "the Bible," or perhaps "the law of God." . . . In the past two generations the public philosophy of America has shifted radically from a religious to a secular theory of law. . . ."
H. Berman, The Interaction of Law and Religion, 8 CAP. U. L. REV. 345 at 349-50 (1979).

And they would have been right, as the state of Kentucky observed (something not denied by the US Supreme Court):

"The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States."

All state criminal codes before the Constitution were based on the Bible. I've cited Massachusetts and the New Haven Colony Law, 1644:

"The judicial laws of God as they were delivered by Moses . . . [are to] be a rule to all the courts in this jurisdiction."

The Constitution did not change this. Supreme Court decisions have been based on Christian morality, and it wasn't until 1980 that any aspersions have been cast on this philosophy. As Supreme Court Justice and Founder of Harvard Law School Joseph Story put it:

One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is part of the Common Law. . . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundations. . . . I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society.
(Life and Letters of Joseph Story, Wm.W. Story, ed., Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851, II:8,92)

If anyone would like to purchase copies of the most frequently used textbooks in the first 300 years of American history, Wallbuilder's sells them.

McGuffey makes Top Ten

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