Justin Smith Morrill was born April 14, 1810 in Strafford, Vermont
to blacksmith Nathaniel Morrill
and Mary Hunt
. He attended Thetford
and Randolph Academies
, but left school at age 15 to work as a merchant's clerk in Strafford from 1825 to 1828, and in Portland, Maine
, from 1828 to 1831. Then he came back to Strafford to run his own store from 1831 to 1848. Next, he tried agriculture until 1855. In 1851 he married Ruth Barrell Swan
and they had two sons: Justin Harris Morrill
in 1853 and James Swan Morrill
In 1855, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives (as a Whig but later Republican) and was reelected until 1867. That year, he became a Senator and served for 31 years until his death on
December 28, 1898. He was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, heading the
subcommittee on taxation that worked to provide funding for the Civil War. He wrote several internal revenue
bills that later became the basis of the Internal Revenue Service. He also authored the Morrill Tariff Act of 1861 which increased tariff rates. In 1865 he became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
In 1862, Morrill championed the passage of the Land-Grant Act which provided funds for each State to create
a college. The colleges would be open to everyone and would focus on practical knowledge, such as
engineering, agriculture and military science. A similar bill had been defeated in 1856, mainly by the southern States who were then absent in 1862. The second Morrill Act in 1890 extended the provisions of 1862 to the States of secession.
In the Senate, Morrill was chairman of the Finance Committee three times between 1877 and 1898. He was
also chair of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds from 1867 to 1870, where he helped set up
the Library of Congress and the Washington Monument. His interest in architecture and landscape gardening encouraged him to design and build a mansion in Strafford in 1850, which is now a Vermont State Historic Site.
Morrill was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution from 1883 to 1898 and a trustee of the University of Vermont from 1865 to 1898. After his death in 1898, he was buried in City Cemetary, Strafford. A 55-cent postage stamp with his portrait was issued by the United States Post Office July 17, 1999 as part of the "Great Americans" series. In addition, many of the land-grant colleges and universities have buildings and other works named for him all over the country.
Biographies of Justin Smith Morrill:
Coy F. Cross Justin Smith Morrill: Father of the Land-Grant Colleges (1999) Michigan State University
Press, East Lansing, MI.
William Belmont Parker The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill (1924) Houghton Mifflin Co.,