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.