“In 1840 U.S. census takers…recorded 9 percent of adult whites as illiterate….
“In New England no state had less than 98 percent literacy, which equaled [world leaders] Scotland and Sweden.
“The state with the highest white illiteracy was North Carolina: 28 percent. The public school system called for in the state constitution of 1776 had never been implemented. However, in 1839 the Whigs gained control of the legislature and put through a long-delayed law authorizing common schools in counties that consented. As a result white illiteracy fell to 11 percent over the next 20 years.”
–From “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848” (2007) by Daniel Walker Howe