Thomas Jefferson is well known as the author of the Declaration of Independence and as the third President of the United States, and he also had significant impacts on the education of Americans. In early colonial American, there was not a public education system, and only wealthy families could afford access to the private education systems of the time. Of the many Bills which Jefferson would author, he believed his most important one was the Bill on the diffusion of knowledge for all citizens, which would later lay the foundation for the Act of 1796 to establish public education in America. Jefferson believed education would be the best protection for citizens against tyranny. He also promoted the idea of a national university. After his presidency, Jefferson again turned to his love for education by founding the University of Virginia in 1819.
Horace Mann is remembered for his substantial contribution to public education reform. He started out his professional career in Massachusetts as a politician in the state legislature, but once his efforts turned to the creation of the state Board of Education in 1837, he became its secretary. Mann believed schools should be free to all, not obligated by religion, and taught by professional staff; he was inspired by the Prussian school system, during his travels abroad, in their centralized state-directed model for educational instruction. Understanding any radical changes would be dismissed by the community leaders of the time, Mann drove small changes, such as books for libraries, schools to train teachers, and asking local districts to fund school costs. Although schools remained within local control, Mann’s principles for educational reform would eventually be successful and even led to compulsory education, although this was not his intent.