Sunday, February 11, 2007

Abe Lincoln and Agriculture

February 12 is Abraham Lincoln's 198th birthday, as the nation celebrates, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at Lincoln's role in agriculture. He is of course most commonly associated with the saving of the union and the civil war, but he did much more. But he was a farm boy having grown up on the family farm as they moved from Kentucky, Indiana and finally Illinois.

Lincoln signed four significant pieces of legislation that impacted American agriculture and of which are still the basis for today's modern agriculture that will be outlined below. These were of importance to him and part of his goals when nominated by the Republican Party in 1860 for the Presidential nomination.

It's interesting to me that these 4 items are still very important pieces of the countryside (USDA, higher education, private land ownership and transportation).

The first of the measures to become law
established the Department of Agriculture
. In his first annual message to
Congress on December 3, 1861, Lincoln said: "Agriculture, confessedly the
largest interest of the nation, has not a department nor a bureau, but a
clerkship only, assigned to it in the Government. While it is fortunate that
this great interest is so independent in its nature as to not have demanded and
extorted more from the Government, I respectfully ask Congress to consider
whether something more can not be given voluntarily with general advantage....
While I make no suggestions as to details, I venture the opinion that an
agricultural and statistical bureau might profitably be organized." Instead of a
bureau, Congress established a Department to be headed by a Commissioner. The
act was so broadly conceived that it has remained the basic authority for the
Department to the present time.
The Homestead
, approved by the President on May 20, 1862, provided for giving 160
acres of the public domain to any American or prospective citizen who was the
head of a family or over 21 years of age. Title to the land was issued after the
settler had resided on it for five years and made improvements on it. The
settler could also gain title by residing on the claim for six months, improving
the land, and paying $1.25 per acre. The Homestead Act did not achieve all that
its proponents had hoped, but it stood as a symbol of American democracy and
opportunity to native-born and immigrant alike.
The act granting western land
and making payments for the construction of the Union Pacific-Central Pacific
railroad was signed by Lincoln on July 1, 1862. The two sections of the railroad
joined at Promontory Point, near Ogden, Utah, on May 10 , 1869. This completed a
rail connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific and opened new areas of the
West to settlement.
The Morrill
Land Grant College Act
, donating public land to the States for colleges of
agriculture and the mechanical arts, became law on July 2, 1862. Every State
accepted the terms of the act and established one or more such institutions.

Here are some other links regarding Lincoln and Agriculture:

Speech to the Wisconson Agricultural Society - the only speech specifically about agriculture
Lincoln imposes science in Agriculture

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