Sullivan pushed for tax-financed public schools in indiana in 1847
After his graduation from college, Algernon Sydney returned home to read law with his father, in preparation for following the same career. But in 1847, at the age of twenty, he took time off to get involved in public service. The year before, educational reformer Caleb Mills had begun a campaign to establish tax-financed public schools in Indiana. It was an uphill struggle – Americans have always been averse to taxes – but Algernon Sydney was determined to take part. For months he toured the state making speeches in favor of Mills’s proposals. It was excellent training for a young lawyer and he learned how to make persuasive arguments, counter opposition, and allay doubts. But he also found himself both naturally talented and well educated for public speaking in a period when outstanding orators were as popular as rock stars are today. His efforts may have had a positive impact. In 1848 a majority of Indiana voters supported the concept of tax-supported education, setting in motion a process that would eventually result in a statewide system.
A Political Shift and a Fortunate Meeting
As Algernon Sydney’s legal practice continued to thrive, he began to take a more active role in politics. Like his father, he was originally a Whig, but that party fell apart as the country became increasingly divided over slavery. Some former Whigs joined the new Republican Party, devoted to opposing the extension of slavery into new states such as Kansas. But Algernon Sydney was instinctively a moderate and a conciliator, and his Southern sympathies ran deep. He felt that the Republicans were “too sectional” – they exclusively represented Northern views, and aroused nothing but antagonism in the South. He decided that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, under leaders like Stephen A. Douglas, would better serve the interests of the country as a whole. In 1855, he lent his oratorical gifts to the Democratic campaign for Ohio governor, but Republican Salmon P. Chase, later Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice, prevailed. The election was yet another step in the “irrepressible conflict” leading to the Civil War.
Also during 1855, a prominent Cincinnati merchant named Griffin Taylor received a visit by one of his in-laws from Virginia. George Washington Hammond was accompanied from Winchester by his eighteen-year-old daughter, who had recently finished school. Her name was Mary Mildred.