Agricultural lands were awarded to Brown as a result of the Morrill Act passed by Congress in July 1862, giving land scrip to states and territories which established a college or department of agriculture and the mechanic arts, at which some students would be educated at the rate of $100 a year to the extent of the annual income from the sale of the lands. In January 1863 the Rhode Island legislature accepted the grant of 120,000 acres (thirty thousand for each senator and representative from the state) and transferred the land scrip to Brown University. In return, the Corporation agreed to provide instruction in agricultural and mechanical arts and to see to the sale of the land. In the summer of 1863 President Sears and Horace T. Love 1836 inspected the land, which was located in Kansas. The Corporation allowed only a small amount of money for the expenses involved in locating the land, paying taxes on it, and selling it, and the committee in charge of the matter of the agricultural lands found it easier to sell the land to Mr. Love for $50,000, payable without interest over five years. This expedient turned out to be a bad bargain when the value of the land increased.
The method of granting the state scholarships decreed that the legislators should nominate one candidate from each town in an order determined by lot, and the Commissioners (who were the members of the General Assembly) should “select the candidates as far as may be from the several towns in the ratio of their representation in the House of Representatives, and from that class of persons who otherwise would not have the means of providing themselves with the like benefits.”
Since the first payment on the sale of the land was due in 1866 and the deadline for establishing the agricultural department was July 1867, Professor George Ide Chace, president ad interim after the resignation of Barnas Sears, arranged a program of courses from the existing curriculum, which was printed in the annual catalogue. Two of the appointed state beneficiaries arrived in 1869. By 1873 there were 25 students receiving the scholarships, six of them in the senior class. In 1871 the state legislature had come to the conclusion that the instruction which the University was able to provide did not satisfy the requirements of the Morrill Act. At this point President Caswell, without funds to hire an instructor in agricultural subjects, prevailed upon John Whipple Potter Jenks, curator of the museum of natural history, to devise and teach a course of twenty lectures on agricultural topics. This Jenks did, not willingly and not very well. He reported in 1873 that he had delivered “a brief course of lectures to those members of the senior class who, late in the year, obtained agricultural scholarships.... For the purpose of illustration, one day, after the close of the course, was devoted to an examination of the farm of G. F. Wilson Esq., in East Providence; and another to dissections of neat stock, in the extensive slaughter-house of Mr. Comstock. Thus practical lectures on agriculture have been inaugurated in the Institution.” In 1881 the junior class in general zoology visited the East Providence farm of William H. Hopkins to learn about raising cattle.
In addition to the problem of providing adequate agricultural instruction, there was also a problem connected with the State’s method of nominating the beneficiaries of the scholarships, which favored students from urban areas and did not produce any future farmers. When the Hatch Act of 1887 was passed, appropriating $15,000 annually for agricultural activities in the colleges, an amendment, influenced by the organization of farmers known as the Grange, stated that the money need not be applied to the existing land grant colleges, but could be used for agricultural experiment stations not connected with the colleges. The General Assembly of Rhode Island, having become increasingly critical of Brown’s agricultural endeavors, chose to establish a new agricultural school in Kingston, which opened with 33 students on September 23, 1890. On September 3, President Andrews, pointing out that the agricultural fund did not provide any profit for Brown, recommended that the University return its funds to the State. On the same day the newspapers announced the passage of the second Morrill Act, which would increase the support of the land grant colleges by amounts increasing in a ten year period from $15,000 to $25,000 annually. In the controversy over whether Brown or the agricultural experiment station should profit by the Morrill Act, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown. Brown promptly rescinded the offer to return the fund, in its own interests and, according to Andrews, “because, the University, holding in trust the original grant, could not consistently divest itself of such trust, lest, should it do so, the State might be left with no institution legally capable of securing for it the advantages of the new fund.” A committee appointed by the trustees proposed to the General Assembly, that, in order to secure the funds, Brown would adopt the agricultural school in Kingston as a branch of the University, would support a Winter School of Agriculture in Providence offering fifty lectures to the public free of charge, and would give sixty new scholarships to Rhode Island students.
On May 19, 1892 the General Assembly converted the agricultural school in Kingston into Rhode Island College for the Agricultural and Mechanic Arts and awarded it the funds from the second Morrill Act. Brown obtained an injunction to stop payment. The state Supreme Court transferred the case, as a matter of federal law, to the U. S. District Court, which ruled in favor of the college in Kingston. Brown appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court, but, when no action was taken, asked the State Judiciary Committee to arrange a settlement. In its January 1894 session the General Assembly approved an agreement in which Brown would repay the $50,000 received from the sale of the land in Kansas and assume the expense of educating the present holders of the state scholarships, and in return would receive $40,000 in compensation for the education of earlier state scholars and would be relieved of the responsibility for agricultural education assumed in connection with the Morrill Act of 1863.