Why does Auburn University even exist?

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.