A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Who’s the Mann?

People are most familiar with Horace Mann (1796-1859) for his dedicated work for public education. But he applied the same fire to his orations against the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the debate on extending slavery into the newly acquired territories of what would become California and New Mexico.

RIHS Printed Collection

Speech of Mr. Horace Mann, on the right of Congress to legislate for the territories of the United States, and its duty to exclude slavery therefrom. Delivered in the House of Representatives, in Committee of the whole, June 30, 1848. (Boston: William B. Fowle, 1848.)

Raised a strict Calvinist on a farm in Franklin, MA, he educated himself at his town library and with a tutor. “The Father of American Education” then attended Brown University in Providence and was valedictorian of the Class of 1819. Biographer George Allen Hubbell even credits Brown with helping to solidify his beliefs in universal rights: “Those who made the charter of Brown University had decided that it should be a liberal institution, in which no religious test were to be required; but for all members there was free, full, absolute and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.” He left Brown a committed Unitarian.

This Rhode Island connection can probably account for the trove of newly “re-discovered” Mann imprints at the RIHS Library. Most notably rare copy of the Speech of Honorable Horace Mann, delivered at Lancaster, Mass., May 19, 1851, on the Fugitive Slave Law. (Boston: Office of the Commonwealth [Charles List & Co.], 1851.)

RIHS Printed Collection

Mann resigned as Secretary of the Mass. Board of Education in order to fill John Quincy Adam’s seat in Congress. In Washington from 1848 to 1852, he devoted himself to opposing slavery and was known as the “Whig and Free Soil Congressman from Massachusetts”. The Mann Imprints at RIHS range from 1823 to 1854, encompassing his vibrant education reports, these explosive, taunting abolitionist speeches as well his inaugural address as the first president of Antioch College. In Mann’s words to the graduating class three weeks before his death:

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Horace Mann, between 1844 and 1859 (Library of Congress)


Further Reading

“Oratory and Learning: Horace Mann at Brown,” by Kathleen Edgerton Kendall. Rhode Island History, Vol. 30(Winter):(1971). The Rhode Island Historical Society.

“Horace Mann at Brown,” by Jonathan C. Messerli. Harvard Educational Review, 33(3):285–311 (1963)

Horace Mann. By Jonathan Messerli (New York: Knopf, 1972)

Horace Mann, educator, patriot and reformer: a study in leadership.               By George Allen Hubbell.  Philadelphia: 1910)

Horace Mann, 1796–1859: A Bibliography. By Clyde S. King.                         (Oceana Publications, 1966)


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