This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
The organized opposition to the new system came chiefly from "Old Pennsylvania," that is, the eastern and southeastern parts of the state, while the northern counties and the newer sections west of the mountains were not generally opposed to the free schools, although they were very frequently in favor of minor modifications of the act. *101 This opposition had four principal sources. In the first place the religious bodies that had established parochial schools, particularly the Friends and the numerous German denominations, were averse to the introduction of the public schools. The new system left these people free to maintain their semi-religious schools, but they objected to paying taxes for the support of a public institution that they felt they could not patronize. Furthermore they could easily foresee the downfall of the parochial school once the free public school was well established. *102
101 Mayo, A. D. The American Common School in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania during the First Half Century of The Republic, in Report of the United States Commissioner of Education for 1895-96, I, pp. 263 ff.
In the second place there was the opposition of the wealthier families who desired to educate their children in private schools or by employing tutors. These families intended, no doubt, to continue so to educate their children, and were opposed to the democratization of the common schools, partly as a matter of principle, and partly because they feared the effect that the school expenditures would have upon the tax rate. *103
A third source of opposition came from those sections of the state where the German language was largely in use. *104 It must be remembered that nowhere, perhaps, in the country have any non-English speaking people clung with such tenacity to the language and customs of their fatherland as have the Pennsylvania Germans. At the time the school system was introduced entire neighborhoods were almost as German in speech, dress, and social customs as were the inhabitants of the Palatinate communities from which their ancestors emigrated to America. These Germans saw in the public common school the agency that should wean their children from the customs and language of their fathers. Their opposition, if not the most bitter, was the most prolonged that the free schools had to encounter.
102 For contemporary statements concerning opposition to the free public schools see statements of Mr. Dickey in the Constitutional Convention of 1837-38, Proceedings and Debates, V, p. 245; of Mr. Hiester, idem, XI, p. 135; and of Mr. Darlington idem, XI, p. 134.
103 For a satirical characterization of these "nabobs," see Thaddeus Stevens' speech in the Constitutional Convention of 1837-38, Proceedings and Debates, V, p. 352,
104 Mayo, p. 261; also statement of Mr. Cox in the Constitutional Convention, of 1837-38, Proceedings and Debates V, pp. 265-266.
In counties other than those settled chiefly by the Germans, the most determined opposition came from persons who denied the right of the state to tax them for the education of children whose parents were financially able to provide for their schooling. Hardly to be differentiated from this type of opposition was that of a large class who were willing enough to educate their children at public expense, but who complained loudly of the high taxes that the free schools would necessitate. This opposition, which was directed against local taxation, was to be found in practically every community of the state and was, on that account, all the more formidable. Commenting on the grudging financial support of the people in the local districts, in 1838, the state superintendent wrote, " At present the best means of aiding the cause of common school education is to forbear coupling it, to any extent that can possibly be avoided, with the unpopularity of the tax collector, and to sustain it, as far as practicable, out of the State Treasury. " *105
Further evidence of the indispensability of the state subvention might be cited were it necessary, but it seems clear that the opposition to the system at this time would in many instances have succeeded in preventing its acceptance and would have seriously impeded its progress throughout the commonwealth, had not the state been able to contribute liberally to its support during the years 1836 to 1840. The subvention, therefore, was of the greatest aid to the cause of free common schools in two ways; first, by contributing directly to their support, and second, by inciting the districts to levy taxes for their maintenance. The mere appropriation of money from the treasury accomplished the first purpose, while the requirement for local taxation as a condition prerequisite to obtaining state aid achieved the latter.