"As a lawyer who frequently represents schools on appeal, I was interested in how Mills argued his case. What could I learn from Mills today in writing appellate briefs and presenting oral arguments?"
George T. Patton, Jr., is a partner at the law firm of Bose McKinney & Evans in Indianapolis and has written articles on recent developments in Indiana appellate procedure for the Indiana Law Review and a chapter on appellate briefs for The Attorney's Guide to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He has worked on behalf of the Indianapolis Association of Wabash Men on the Wabash College Moot Court Program for about five years.
by George T. Patton, Jr. '84
Caleb Mills: Advocate for Public Schools
A few years ago, I was browsing in a university library while my wife was doing some research for a graduate Indiana history class. I saw an old book that brought Wabash College to mind. The book contained pamphlets Caleb Mills, the first professor at Wabash, wrote to the Indiana General Assembly and Constitutional Convention each year from 1846 to 1852 promoting free public schools. His writings were titled "Read, Circulate and Discuss" and signed only "One of the People." Mills' authorship was known only to enough friends to secure publication and circulation, and his secret was not divulged until years afterward as pointed out in an 1879 memorial address on Mills by Joseph Tuttle, then president of Wabash College.
As a lawyer who frequently represents schools on appeal, I was interested in how Mills argued his case. What could I learn from Mills today in writing appellate briefs and presenting oral arguments? Interestingly, the planning, perseverance, study, and rhetoric that Mills brought to bear on the question of public education in the late 1840s and early 1850s were fundamentally the intellectual tools that I learned at Wabash College in the early 1980s and that I apply every day in the practice of law.
Mills started work early on his education plan. In 1833, the 27-year-old Mills came west from Dartmouth College and Andover Seminary to start Wabash College in Indiana. He planned from the beginning to wage a "common school campaign” in the state:
Mills had a plan and started work early to fulfill the plan—good advice for any advocate.
Mills persevered through more than a decade of inaction on education by the state. He knew it would be a "work of years," but his first pamphlet in 1846 expressed disappointment. He wrote, "I have examined the proceedings of the Legislature for the last 12 years in earnest expectation of seeking the subject of education discussed and disposed of in some good degree as it deserves at the hands of the appointed guardians of the commonwealth. In this I have been disappointed..." Mills did not give up.
Mills mastered his subject. His first missive pointed out the humiliating facts of illiteracy in Indiana, a theme he repeated in later pamphlets. In 1840, about 14% of Hoosier adults were illiterate. In the late 1840s, the number had increased to 20%, below many slave states. In contrast, the percentage in Ohio was about 6% and Michigan 2%. He noted that many citizens could not read the state constitution or laws of the General Assembly. He pointed out the small percentage of children who attended school. He cajoled the legislators into action. In 1847, a referendum on the question of free public schools passed. He analyzed the vote on free public schools in his 1848 pamphlet. He saw a correlation between literacy and those in favor of free public schools. The higher the illiteracy in the county, the lower the vote in favor of education.
He studied the details of the educational systems of all the states in the union. From this material, he proposed solutions as good lawyers do. He suggested raising revenues by means of a property tax: "There is but one way to secure good schools, and that is to pay for them." He proposed purchasing better textbooks. He recommended a state superintendent to direct the school system. (Mills later became the second Superintendent of Public Instruction serving from 1854 to 1857.)
Like any good advocate, Mills used his skills as a wordsmith to persuade the legislators and constitutional delegates. He wrote, "This light cannot be kindled and its rays penetrate the mist of ignorance and the fog of prejudice without the appropriate materials." He called the legislators to action: Shall we dig canals and build railroads to transport the products of our rich soil to market, and leave the intellect of the rising generation undeveloped and undisciplined? Is matter more valuable than mind?
Mills knew that words mattered and used them to rejoice when the 1852 Indiana Constitution passed with strong education provisions: "It is a matter of profound rejoicing to every friend of education, that the history of the last 25 years furnishes abundant and delightful evidence of the existence of wide-spread, heartfelt and increasing interest on the part of a large number of the most patriotic and best-educated citizens of all classes and professions, in the universal education of the masses."
Mills' skills of planning early, persevering through adversity, diligent study and reseach, and use of persuasion are skills that I learned at Wabash College. They are skills that I have used throughout my legal career. One of Mills' students described him as "a keen observer, a close and accurate scholar, gentle in every relation, modest, but courteous, uniformly conscientious, and supremely ruled by the fear of God." These are the attributes that Mills instilled in Wabash College in the 19th century, that Wabash College instilled in me, and that will remain alive in the 21st century.