Why did Auburn University ever even come into existence? Why didn't the University
of Alabama just expand its curriculum to block Auburn from being created. That
question was asked as part of Ask Alabama by Greg... Just Greg? Fine.
Well Just Greg, they tried.
Special thanks to Just Greg because digging into this appears
to show the real start of the Alabama- Auburn rivalry and it had nothing to do
with football. The University of Alabama was established in 1831
but back then colleges weren't what we think of them we think of colleges today.
The University of Alabama and most other colleges around the country focused on
the classics. That meant making sure their students could read and write
Latin and Greek and students study philosophy and theology
and literature. And that was great if you were from an upper-crusty family looking
to become a lawyer or a politician. It was like a status symbol. But if you were
like most people in the US who made there living either in factories or
especially in the south planting things into and pulling things out of the dirt,
it wasn't super useful. The dirt don't speak Latin. In an effort to promote
learning among the working class and increase agricultural and manufacturing
output in the US Congress passed the Morrill Act, a law that would establish
Agricultural and Mechanical Schools in states that wanted them. Now you may hear
Agricultural and Mechanical School and think these schools just taught skills
to farmers and line workers but what they were really teaching was science
and engineering which most other colleges at the time weren't. You can still
find some of the schools created by the Morrill Act because they include A and M
in their name. Agricultural and Mechanical. Unfortunately, Alabama
couldn't get an A&M school because the Morrill Act was passed during the Civil
War and states that were actively trying to leave the country weren't eligible.
But eventually after the war, Confederate States became eligible and Alabama was
offered a grant to establish an A&M school and a lot of Alabama cities
wanted it. These schools have proved pretty popular in the North because they
appealed not just the upper class but also to the working class. And the town
that got the school could expect a big boost to the economy from all the
teachers and students moving in. So there was a lot of debate as to where it
should go. Under the Morrill Act the grants couldn't be used to build new
buildings. So the school had to go somewhere an existing school already was.
The University of Alabama made a claim to have the A&M school included as part
of their campus in Tuscaloosa and most people thought they were going to get it
because it was the state's oldest university. But they had competition.
First from Florence which offered up a Methodist College in their town to
become the new A&M school. They also had backing from a former governor and a lot
of power players. And finally Auburn, Alabama. Auburn,
Alabama offered up another Methodist college but this one was financially
failing to the point that if it didn't get taken by the state it was going to
have to be closed down anyway. Auburn had a weak bid. Regardless,
lawmakers chose a search committee to pick which city was going to get the new
school. Now if we're being honest, the University of
Alabama was never really a front-runner because it had lost most of its
buildings in the Civil War. But they thought they were and a lot of other
people thought they were and that may explain the bitterness later on in this
story. ?But after voting the committee publicly announced their decision for
the new home of the A&M school: Florence. And I know this is a video about Auburn.
Something weird happened. The committee did vote for Florence but when a small
group from the committee went to the House of Representatives to present the
decision, that group instead presented a dissenting report about how the school
should be in Auburn. And I can't exactly nail down why beyond this was just the
post-civil war Reconstruction era South and there was all kinds of chicanery and
backroom dealings happening all over the place. But didn't matter because that's
where it went. The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama was set up
in Auburn in 1872 and eventually just became Auburn University. And people at
the University of Alabama held a big grudge against Auburn since pretty much
the second it opened its doors. Keep in mind, this is 20 years before either school football team.
But eventually they did get football teams and found a healthy outlet for
this rivalry in the form of football. So there you go. Alabama tried to stop
Auburn from being created but they'd just been wrecked by the Civil War
weren't really in a position to do anything. And a little of the secret history
of the rivalry between the two schools. I'm Jonathan Sobolewski for Reckon.