I was recently reading through a rather popular elementary/junior high school textbook A History of Us: The New Nation. On page 167, the author, Joy Hakim, says of James Buchanan (the 15th president of the United States):

... In fact, he didn't do much of anything as president. When Congress passed a bill that would have created some colleges, Buchanan vetoed the bill. He said the country didn't need more education. There were already too many educated people, said Buchanan.

This piqued my interest, so I went and read Buchanan's veto bill on the subject, but I didn't find anything like the supposed quote.

The Wikipedia article on Buchanan states the exact opposite:

Buchanan greatly valued education but believed that colleges were the duty of state governments rather than the central government, as expressed in his veto of a bill to grant land for colleges.

"It is extremely doubtful, to say the least, whether this bill would contribute to the advancement of agriculture and the mechanic arts--objects the dignity and value of which can not be too highly appreciated."

Did Buchanan really say "there were too many educated people"?

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    Did you check whether Hakim's book gives a reference? Incidentally, valuing "agriculture and the mechanic arts" is a far cry from valuing education in general. Jan 11, 2015 at 4:14
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    @NateEldredge I checked, but did not find one.
    – Seth
    Jan 11, 2015 at 4:18
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    All the hits I found for Buchanan "too many educated" are either unsourced or reference Hakim. It's hard to prove a negative, but I'd be inclined to say this puts the burden of proof back on Hakim to provide evidence for her claim that he said this. (We should note, though, that she doesn't use quotation marks, so arguably she is not claiming that these were his exact words, but rather this is her interpretation or paraphrase of something he said. In that sense it may be a matter of opinion.) Jan 11, 2015 at 5:23

1 Answer 1


I read the text of the veto and found nothing like this. He did say this:

Now no consideration could be presented of a stronger character to induce the American people to brave the difficulties of frontier life and to settle upon these lands and to purchase them at a fair price than to give to them and their children an assurance of the means of education.

Furthermore, I found these quotations elsewhere:

Education lies at the very root of all our Institutions,--it is the foundation upon which alone, they can repose in safety. Shall the people be educated, is a question not of mere policy; but it is a question of life & death, upon which the existence of our present form of Government stands.

Address, June, 1828, on the Establishment of Common Schools

The best mode of preventing crimes is to educate the people, and instruct them in their moral and religious duties; therefore, Congress possess power to establish a general system of education.

Speech, May 9, 1842, on the United States Courts

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    I'm interested that you say "this is as inaccurate as much of A History of Us" Do you have any other examples of the series inaccuracy and what do you recommend in its place?
    – Seth
    Jan 12, 2015 at 23:44
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    Wow, that question makes me unexpectedly nostalgic... I read about the errors in this textbook about 10 years ago. Thankfully the website is still up: textbookleague.org/113hak.htm textbookleague.org/121hakm.htm
    – Avery
    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:48

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