PRESIDENTIAL WESTERN TOUR ("FREE SCHOOL") SPEECH

September 2, 1880
Burlington, Iowa

Ottumwa, Ia.

I am heartily glad to meet this large assemblage of citizens of this grand state of Iowa, and should be still more glad if the days' travel with its weariness and dullness had left me in a better condition to talk worthily to such an audience. One of the features of this occasion is, that the people coming here to welcome this party of men and women come from all political parties and are of all creeds and from every description and rank of life. They come, perhaps, mainly from curiosity, and after that their motive is to show respect to those who for the time happen to occupy prominent positions in Government; not for themselves, but for the country of which they are the representatives. I am circumscribed as to topics on which I may talk. I cannot discuss politics, the all-absorbing topic of the day, and you will pardon me if I refer to the fact that there was a time when it was somewhat doubtful which party would receive me most heartily in Burlington. To the Democrats who about three years ago would have been glad to see me, I thank you for this greeting; to the Republicans who are now glad to see me I thank you. I have a hobby which I have talked on of late, that in this period of universal prosperity with the most prosperous Government on the globe, we might inaugurate a new policy on one important subject- Iowa need be told as little as any State that knowledge is power. When universal suffrage prevails, there must be universal education, but why say this in Iowa? Because this country is all tied together, and the ignorance of one section is detrimental, or perhaps even dangerous to others. There should be every where free schools that will fit every man to vote. Mere voters are simply powder and ball for demigods. Let a means of education be provided by the General Government. You say, Why shall not Maine and Georgia take care of their own educational matters and not put it on us? This has some force as an argument, but there is another side. There is much for the General Government to do before some of the States can educate themselves. The people who have never known the benefits of education are those who never will until it is brought to their doors. Some sections of the country never had any education. We have cast on the colored people of the South the duty of citizenship, and we can't complete that great work until we give them the means of becoming as great as they may with education. If we would make reconstruction complete we must also give every southern white the same means of becoming a power, and not a machine.