In 1798 Joseph Lancaster, himself a Friend, opened his first school for the education of the poor; and the cause of unsectarian religious education found in the Quakers steady support.
The schools are unsectarian in character and mainly democratic in government: the aim is to draw out what is best in men and to induce them to act for the help of their fellows.
In all his ideas he was dominated by an intense belief in the future and influence of the Englishspeaking people, in their democratic government and alliance for the purpose of peace and the abolition of war, and in the progress of education on unsectarian lines.
But the long liberal ascendancy closed the ranks of the CatholicCalvinist coalition, and united them against the neutral schools, and in 1889 they were able to pass a law enabling not only the unsectarian public schools, but all private schools organized by societies and bodies recognized by the law to receive subventions from the state.
A law was passed, despite violent protests from the Liberals, which enacted that the communes might maintain the private Catholic schools established since 1879 and suppress unsectarian schools at their pleasure.
They might retain at least one unsectarian or adopt one Catholic school, where 25 heads of families demanded it.
The state subsidized all the communal schools, Catholic and unsectarian alike.
Under this law in all districts under clerical control the unsectarian schools were abolished.
A measure which virtually made primary education free, compulsory and unsectarian came into operation.
Among the important institutions of learning which have no official connexion with the state are Bowdoin College (opened in 1802), at Brunswick; Colby College (Baptist, opened in 1818), at Waterville; and Bates College (originally Free Baptist but now unsectarian; opened in 1863), at Lewiston.