REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE FOR THE YEAR 1862
The following essay is the introduction by Isaac Newton (1800-1867), Commissioner of the newly-formed Department of Agriculture, to the very first volume (for 1862) of the Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, a series of books published yearly by the USDA which continue through the present day as the Yearbook of Agriculture. I found this book in excellent condition among the Lindquist Archives and thought it would be worthwhile to scan Mr. Newton's introduction for the web. I have kept the original italics, punctuations and spellings intact (including the long dash). It should be of great historical interest. It is mainly a call in the midst of the Civil War for the science of agriculture to carry on and continue to modernize – also to American farmers to be among the best-educated and well-rounded individuals as would befit their noble calling.
Four interesting illustrations from the volume can be seen by clicking on these images. Also, click here for the closing words to the following essay as they appear in the book.
John Lindquist, Department of Bacteriology, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
Washington, January 1, 1863.
IN compliance with the foregoing law organizing the Department of Agriculture, I have the honor to submit my first annual report. In so doing, I have deemed it not inappropriate to offer some observations on the magnitude of the interests intimately connected with, or growing out of agriculture, the most ancient, the most honorable, and the most indispensable of all the occupations of man, and to give a rapid glance at the improvements which successive ages have wrought in this department of knowledge, and the progress made in our country in later years, as well as the special operations of this department since its organization.
Agriculture in its first inception could scarcely be considered as an art, or even occupation. The ancients, deriving their food chiefly from the spontaneous productions of the soil, styled the earth their mother; but we, in the light of a higher philosophy, are reminded by our own harvest home and finished year, of our obligations to one common Father, who gives "rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." Health has everywhere prevailed; and notwithstanding the temporary transfer of large numbers of our patriotic countrymen from their farms to the ranks of the army and navy, yet the great interests of agriculture in the loyal States have not materially suffered. Abundant crops of the cereals and other grains, of grasses, of roots and fruits, have been garnered. Besides feeding the settled and increasing population of the country and our immense land and naval forces, we have exceeded the exportation of any previous year by over 17,000,000 of bushels of grain.
Agriculture, whether viewed as an art or science, presents a history as marked and important as that of any other great civilizer in the world's progress. In its rudest state men subsist, for the most part, upon the chase, or such roots, fruits, and grains as are easily gathered. In its second stage men follow the pastoral life, wherein as nomadic tribes, inhabiting hilly countries or table-lands, they depend chiefly upon flocks and herds for food, raiment, and locomotion. In Central Asiathat mysterious source of languages, religions, and racesthis condition of agriculture has ever prevailed. Next, increase of population, demand for food, richness of soil, and the spirit of adventure, have forced or attracted men to the now celebrated alluvial plains of the world. Finally, from the great centres of modern population the same migrations of races are taking place as of old; planting new empires in the wilderness, and making a superior agriculturewhether in hilly countries, table-lands, or alluvial plainsthe great and essential art of life.
As history is philosophy teaching by example, it would be highly instructive to discuss the condition of influence of agriculture as exhibited in the life of the two great nations of classical antiquity. For want of space, let us select for instruction the one which in magnitude, soils, wealth, power, energy, enterprize, and institutions resembled most our own republic. After a splendid career of prosperity, filling the world with her fame, Rome culminated and declined. No historical proposition is more susceptible of proof than that the great causes of that decline were the laws enacted affecting real estate and the condition, skill, and products of labor. For many years after Rome had grown to greatness, the cultivation of the soil was not only deemed honorable, but was regulated by law, in order that agriculture might yield the largest return to labor, and be, in reality, the great conservator of the empire. Not only were flocks and herds kept for food and raiment, and alluvial lands tilled, but the soils in more unfavorable regions were carefully and skilfully cultivated. At first the allotment of land to each citizen was but six acres. It was not ploughed, but spaded, and the yield was very great. Virgil, Cato, and Columella, Rome's chief agricultural writers, invariably urge the cultivation of small farms, in order that the tillage may be thorough. The subdivision of estates, the limitation of their extent, and the habit of personal attention to farming, were excellent conditions for success. "The Romans," says Frederick Von Schlegel, referring to the last days of the republic, "were a thoroughly agricultural people." Changing this splendid basis of prosperity, permanency, and power, whereby, resting in the soil, Rome pierced the heavens by the force of thought, she grew proud and oppressive; the reins of power slipped from the hands of the middle classes; labor became disreputable; the soil a monopoly, and the masses of the people reckless, unpatriotic and degraded. A few proprietors held the land and owned the labor. The poverty of the many, with its evils of want, of ignorance, and dependence, existed by the side of the excessive wealth and culture of the few. The lands in Italy and in the conquered provinces were apportioned among the families of the great, instead of being given or sold as free homesteads to the poor. By this unequal distribution of property, and by forcing the husbandman into the army and buying up or taking his land, much of the soil was cultivated by servile labor. This monopoly of the land and condition of labor operated unfavorably to agriculture, and thus to the prosperity and permanency of the empire. These two causes were destructive to intelligent, interested, and really productive agriculture. Certain staples, it is true, were raised in vast quantities; but these required little skill, and prevented the cultivation of a variety of crops. Old and exhausted lands were abandoned without any attempt to renew their fertility. The laborer felt no moneyed interest, no personal pride, in the result of his toil, and all generous progress in agriculture was retarded. The voice of history proclaims, in the clearest manner, that free labor and ownership of the soil by the laborer, if possible, are necessary conditions to the highest success in agriculture and national prosperity. Give the laborer no interest, prospective or otherwise, in the soil he tills, and he cannot be otherwise than wasteful and inefficient.
In the earlier days of the empire the maximum limitation of freeholds to 500 acres, in connexion with the old Roman love of agriculture, led to a careful and exact mode of culture. But in the later days of the empire, says Hallam, "the laboring husbandman, a menial slave of some wealthy senator, had not even the qualified interest in the soil which the tenure of villanage afforded to the peasant of feudal ages." At this period, notwithstanding Rome's matchless soil and climate, she was compelled to import food from her conquered provinces. Rome remained free while her middling classes retained a controlling influence; but when the tenure of the soil passed into the hands of the few, the incentives to industry, to order, and to a quiet life were gone. Her young men sought the excitement of the camp, the city, or foreign lands. Cut loose from the ties of home, and maddened by the bad example of the landed aristocracy, the poorer classes lost their old love of country and liberty. The mad prodigality which prevails in the confusion of a shipwreck may serve to explain the progress of luxury amid the misfortunes and terrors of a sinking nation. Some of the landed proprietors, at the period of which we speak, owned estates of such magnitude that, though tilled by slaves, the annual revenue of each amounted to nearly $3,000,000, which was squandered by the nobles in every excess of luxury. "Rivers," says Seneca, "which had divided hostile nations flowed, during this period, through the vast estates of private citizens." Read but the following graphic descriptions from the pen of Ammianus, the Roman, after the lands had been monopolized by the few, and agriculture degraded by servile labor, and say if here was not cause enough for Rome's ruin and warning to America! "A secure and profound peace succeeded the tumults of the republic. Distant nations revered the name of the people and the majesty of the Roman senate. But this native splendor was degraded and sullied by the conduct of those who displayed the rent-rolls of their estates, and provoked the just resentment of every man who recollected that their poor and invincible ancestors were not distinguished one above another. Whenever these rich land owners visited public places they assumed a tone of loud and insolent command towards their equals, and appropriated to their own use the conveniences designed for the Roman people."
"Owing to the degradation of labor," says Gibbon, "the plebeians disdained to work with their hands, and the husbandman, being obliged to abandon his farm during the term of his military service, soon lost his zest for work. The lands of Italy, which had been originally divided among the families of free and indigent proprietors, were insensibly purchased or usurped by the avarice of the nobles. In the age which preceded the fall of the republic it was computed that only 2,000 citizens were possessed of any independent subsistence. When the prodigal, thoughtless commons had imprudently alienated not only the use but the inheritance of powerto wit, their own homesteads and free lifethey sank into a vile and wretched populace!"
Such is one of the great lessons of history; and any nation that desires permanent prosperity and power should learn it well, wisely protecting labor and capital, and encouraging the division and cultivation of the soil.
There has been no great and general advance in agriculture in modern times till within the last thirty years. In particular localities, it is true, there was earlier improvement. In the Low Countries roots were cultivated with success, and the Dutch became celebrated for the products of the dairy. In portions of France, Germany, and Spain, the vine was extensively cultivated. But a writer who had observed extensively himself, and had access to the best information, says, in 1828, that the agriculture of continental Europe at that time was not very different from that of Britain during the middle ages.
Great Britain is indebted in a large measure to Lord Bacon for her early attention to progressive agriculture. That great thinker gave to the world inductive philosophy, which teaches man to experiment, to question, and test nature by her great alphabet of soils, gases, elements, and phenomenaa philosophy which is at once positive, progressive, and eternal, making man the "minister and interpreter of nature." It would be highly interesting and instructive to notice at length, were there space, the successive English writers on agriculture, themselves practical farmers, who accepted Bacon's philosophy, from their first publications, early in the 17th century, down to our own day. A gradual but positive improvement appears in their works and in their noble calling. Increased attention was paid to rural pursuits and the other arts, science meanwhile developing the importance of agriculture and foreshadowing its ultimate triumph.
Early in the 18th century Jethro Tull, one of England's earliest and best writers on agriculture, recorded and published his experiments in new modes of culture. Some of his theories were erroneous, but his experiments were invaluable. Farmers are indebted to him for the horse-hoe and for drill husbandry. He also invented, but failed to perfect, the threshing machine, which, by the improvements of our own countrymen in our day, is rendered a most effective auxiliary to the labor of man. Arthur Young, who wrote in the latter part of the 18th century, was another zealous contributor to agricultural progress. He wrote and edited nearly one hundred volumes on subjects more or less directly connected with farming. He travelled extensively, both in England and on the Continent, to observe the modes of culture which prevailed. He made numerous experiments on soils to ascertain the causes of fertility, and thus prepare the way for the more scientific researches of a later period.
Many writers in Scotland, among whom Lord Kames is conspicuous, aimed to awaken a deeper interest in agriculture; but to no one is the farmer more deeply indebted than to Sir John Sinclair. At his suggestion, and under his personal supervision, a statistical account of Scotland was undertaken, embracing a complete agricultural survey of that country. It was completed and published in forty volumes and forms a noble monument to his perseverance and energy of character. It was followed by most important results, for it led to the establishment of the board of agriculture by Mr. Pitt, in 1793. This association brought farmers together, promoted an interchange of thought, made them acquainted with each other's mode of culture, and produced throughout the United Kingdom the stimulus which intelligent, associated effort always produces. More than all, the board was instrumental in employing Sir Humphrey Davy to make those experiments, which are not only an honor to intellect, but which established agricultural chemistry as a department of science, and of inestimable value. He delivered his lectures on this subject in 1802. The fundamental principle which he developed, and demonstrated, was this: That the productions of the soil derive their component elements which, for the most part, are hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen, either from the atmosphere by which they are surrounded, or from the soil in which they grow. He showed that the process of vegetation depends upon the perpetual assimilation of various substances to the organs of the plants, in consequence of the exertion of their living powers and their chemical affinities, stimulated chiefly by moisture, light, and heat. The discoveries in chemical science before Davy's time had, undoubtedly, prepared the way for his triumph, but he is none the less entitled to praise. He first recognized a plant as a living thing, the laws of whose existence were to be studied in order to develop a perfect growth. He showed, by analysis of soils and plants, what properties and conditions would best furnish the elements needed in cultivation. The success of Mr. Coke, afterwards Earl of Leicester, in the cultivation of his estate at Holkham, is a memorable instance of what scientific farming will do. When he succeeded to the estate, in 1776, large parts of it were so sterile that they were let on long leases at about seventy-five cents per acre per annum. Wheat was not grown upon it. One part of the soil was a "blowing sand" and the other a flinty gravel; yet on these strata, aided by the skill, the capital, and the enterprize of the proprietor, the estate became fertilethe pride of the country. In 1816 Mr. Coke estimated the yield of wheat alone at forty to forty-eight bushels per acre. Such were the men who wrought that marvellous change of which Macauley speaks. "At the close of the seventeenth century," says the historian, "agriculture in Great Britain was in a rude and imperfect state. The arable and pasture lands were not supposed to amount to more than half the area of the kingdom. The remainder was believed to consist of moor, forest, and fen. In the course of little more than a century, a fourth part of England had been turned from a wild into a garden." After the introduction of drill husbandry, the total value of agricultural products in the United Kingdom has more than doubled. Fifty years ago, even, there was much land in Great Britain in the condition of some lands in our older States at presenteither left in their wild state or exhausted of fertility. This has been entirely changed. An hundred acres which, under the old system, produced annually, as food for cattle and manures, not more than forty tons, now produces 577 tons.
Prior to the commencement of the present century, there was but little agricultural progress in the United States. The first settlers had many and great difficulties to encounter in clearing the land, in bringing it under cultivation, and in defending themselves against the Indians. Besides, the French and revolutionary wars very much interfered with the peaceful pursuits of agriculture. Nor could the people, after the peace of 1783, burdened with debt, without money to pay their taxes, with no manufactures, and no foreign demand for breadstuffs, be expected to make much progress in tilling the soil. Washington was unquestionably one of the most enlightened and successful farmers of his day. His correspondence with Sir John Sinclair, and his constant supervision of his estate, even during the stormy period of the revolution, and amidst the pressing cares and anxieties of the presidency, afford conclusive evidence that he was first in the arts of peace as he was "first in war and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
But notwithstanding our early difficulties in planting an empire in the wilderness, our wars, our want of a market, our vast territory, sparse population, cheap land, and ruinous system of exhausting a virgin soil, yet great and manifold progress has been made in agriculture. The cast-iron plough, first patented in New Jersey in 1797, has undergone various modifications, until it has, reached a high degree of perfection. The spade, the hoe, the hay fork, and the other common implements, tools, and vehicles of husbandry, are lighter, of better material and temper, and more adapted to the use of the farmer. A large number of our farmers now use mowers for cutting their grasses, and the vast wheat fields of the west and northwest could not be harvested without the use of the reaper, nor the wheat separated from the straw, and the corn from the cob, without threshing and shelling machines. So great is the demand for farm labor, so great the spirit of enterprise which urges our young men and adopted citizens to become freeholders, and so sure, so near, and so vast the market, that without mechanical appliances, and the use of horse and steam power in the cultivation of the soil, our vast fields of grain could not be harvested and made ready for food and shipment. At present the United States are somewhat behind England in substituting steam for human muscle; but many years cannot elapse ere steam will be made by our enterprising farmers to plough and plant, to dig, haul, and grind, and to pump, saw, and thresh, and thus allow them to devote more attention to those branches of agriculture requiring special study, time, and taste. In all portions of our country, but particularly in the older States, a great improvement is noticed in tillage. Lands are being extensively under-drained, deep and subsoil ploughing practiced, and great care and considerable skill exercised in the preparation and application of manures. In the use of improved agricultural implements a great change has everywhere taken place. It is common to see the best plough, rollers, cultivators, reapers, threshers, fanners, hay and cotton presses, sugar mills, horse and steam powers, and a thousand other labor saving machines, the results of skill and science.
This imperfect sketch of agricultural improvement in England and the United States is given in order to show that progress has not been the result of mere routine farming, but of practically applied scienceof classified knowledge. The great channels, for the most part, through which this knowledge has been widely and authoritatively diffused, are agricultural societies and publications. Wherever they have been established, either in England, on the Continent, or in America, the spirit of inquiry and emulation is awakened, prejudices are removed, and the results of a wide and varied experience, both of individuals and associations, in every branch of agriculture, are classified and published for the benefit of every farmer.
Notwithstanding the relation which the mass of farmers in England and on the Continent hold to the soil, enjoying neither ownership nor hope of wealth, yet these societies and publications have awakened a genuine, wide-spread enthusiasm and desire for further information. They have been the means of rousing American farmers, especially, to the importance of artificial manures, to the necessity of under-drainage, to the most successful modes of culture, and to the best farm implements and machinery. It is an auspicious indication of the progress made in agriculture in our country that already a thousand associations exist in the various States, and that most of our farmers read one or more agricultural papers.
But, however encouraging these noble aids to intelligent and successful farming may be, yet the surest evidence of our progress is furnished by the Preliminary Report of the Census Bureau for 1860. The facts there published have been carefully collected, and the comparisons or results which they afford are exceedingly important.
The total value of agricultural implements manufactured in the United States for 1860, not including, of course, those made on the farm, was $17,802,514 being an advance of 160 per cent. on the amount manufactured in 1850. Among these implements are some of the highest importance to the farmer.
The threshing machine referred to before has been brought to a high degree of perfection, there having been issued, during the last fifty years, nearly three hundred patents for improvements. Being moved by horse or steam power, and furnished at a moderate cost, they are now in extensive use, greatly abridging the amount of manual labor, and enabling the wheat-growers to prepare their crops seasonably for the market.
In grain the census report gives the following results:
Wheat.The quantity grown in 1859 was 171,183,381 bushels, being an advance, in ten years, of seventy per cent.; yet during the decade the ravages of the wheat midge in some of the older States have been very extensive. It is stated, however, that the midge is disappearing where, formerly, most destructive, and that wheat-growing will be resumed in many localities where, for a time, it was almost abandoned.
Indian corn.The quantity grown in 1859 was 830,451,707 bushels, being an increase of over forty per cent. Drill planting, the horse-hoe, and improved corn-shellers, have greatly reduced the amount of manual labor necessary to the production of this crop, while the increased facilities for transportation to market have enhanced its value.
Dairy products.The butter produced in 1859 was 460,509,854 poundsan increase of forty-six per cent. The amount of cheese made, and the amount of milk and cream furnished to cities and towns, presents the same increase.
Cotton.In the beginning of the present century the annual exportation was less than 5,000 bales; in 1859 production had increased to 5,198,077 bales. What is to be the future yield of this great staple time alone can reveal.
The value of animals slaughtered in 1859 was $212,871,653 an increase of nearly 100 per cent. We have no tables to show the increase of imported stock. There is evidence, however, that various improved breeds of cattle and sheep have been largely introduced into the United States during the last decade, and that better cattle and sheep of finer wool and heavier fleeces are now becoming common throughout the country. Sheep we have imported from France and Germany, and while the quality of the wool has been maintained we have increased the quantity.
When the census of 1860 is published in full the inexorable logic of its statistics will astonish the world, and prove to every intelligent mind that agriculture is the grand element of our progress in wealth, stability, and power. All the new States, during the early periods of their settlement, have rapidly advanced in population and agricultural wealth. This has, of course, been owing chiefly to the rapid influx of residents from the older States and Europe, and to the fact that large tracts of land have been rapidly brought under cultivation. Let Minnesota, during the last decade, be selected as a specimen of progress.
In 1850 the number of acres of ploughed land was 1,900; in 1860, 433,267. In 1850 the number of bushels of wheat raised was 1,401; in 1860, 5,001,432. This rapid agricultural development in ten years is not only an encouraging agency of future progress, but a most remarkable fact of American history.
Various other facts, which cannot now be stated in detail, strengthen the conclusion that American agriculture, especially during the last ten years, has made great progress. Farms throughout the country are more thoroughly cleared of stumps and stones, fences are neater and more durable, farm-houses are more conveniently and tastefully built and adorned, barns are constructed with more reference to the comfort of stock, to the housing of produce, and to the preparation and preservation of manures. A more ready access to markets is afforded by good roads, railways, and canals, improved implements are in general use, while a salubrious climate, a prolific soil, a broad and quiet land, and a beneficent Providence have crowned with abundant success the labors of the husbandman.
Having reached this agricultural vantage ground by honest toil, guided by the lights of experience and science, it is an interesting question, to every American, What are the conditions of a still grander progress and prosperity?
The essential conditions, it seems to me, arepeace; a continued and increasing demand for agricultural products, both at home and abroad; an increased respect for labor; a more thorough knowledge and practice of agriculture as an art and science; and, finally, a more thorough education of our farmers in the physical sciences, in political economy, in taste, and general reading. Let us consider, briefly, these conditions. A state of war, whether civil or foreign, always reduces the productive industry of a country, and disturbs nearly all the great interests of society. Thus far, it is true, agriculture in the loyal States has been but little embarrassed by the march of armies and the devastations of battle; but this immunity cannot always be enjoyed should the war continue. We must return, therefore, to our normal condition, which is peace, if agriculture is to prosper.
With all its wide-spread evils, the rebellion offers, nevertheless, some compensations, and these will plainly appear should the government finally triumph. In order to preserve the unity of our soil and nation, a noble patriotism has withdrawn, for the time being, a large number of citizens from the peaceful employments of agriculture. Some sleeping on blood-stained fields of glory, or beneath the sea, will never more return to the farms which they have tilled; others will come home with broken health, while the many with strong frames will remain, or return to the regions where the storm of war has passed, to make them again blossom as the rose, and to rear new homes for themselves and their children.
The transfer of labor is one of the results of war in every age. In our own case the gain will be considerable, as free labor, smaller homesteads, a greater variety of products, and higher skill and energy in agriculture will take the place of the old system. There must be for a time, in many portions of our country, a scarcity of labor. Men enough, however, for the ordinary requirements of agriculture will be found in every community until labor flows in from Europe, equalizing, somewhat, the demand and supply. Besides, the increased value and labor, and the great demand for breadstuffs at home and abroad, will bring more extensively into use the drill, the horse-hoe, the mower, reaper, thresher, and other labor-saving machines, driven either by steam or horsepower.
If our present unhappy war soon terminates, and the knowledge of our homestead law and increased demand for labor is disseminated throughout Europe, the tide of emigration must speedily set toward America with increased power. Without any special stimulant there has been, hitherto, a steady and large increase in this class of our population. In the decade ending 1840 the number of passengers of foreign birth who arrived in this country was 552,000; in that ending 1850 the number was 2,707,624. The proportion of males to females for the three decades was as 60 to 39. Almost one-half of the whole number was between fifteen and thirty years of age. Of this total of 4,817,924 immigrants, 2,044,678 nearly all the males were classed in the official returns as farmers, laborers, and mechanics. I believe this vast influx of labor will continue as heretofore, stimulated by the character of our institutions, the fertility and cheapness of our lands, the demand and remuneration of labor, the increased facilities for immigration, and the noble homestead law, which at once goes into effect. "Every acre of our fertile soil," says a great political economist, "is a mine which only waits the contact of labor to yield its treasures, and every acre is opened to that fruitful contact by the homestead act. When the opportunity, thus afforded to industry, shall be understood by the working millions of Europe, it cannot be doubted that great numbers will seek American homes in order to avail themselves of the great advantages tendered to their acceptance by American law. Every working man who comes betters the condition of the country as well as his own. He adds in many ways, seen and unseen, to its wealth, its intelligence, and its power." It is difficult to estimate the contribution which immigration, properly encouraged by legislation and administration, will make to the revenue, and therefore to the prosperity of the Union, under the guarantee and inspiration of this magnificent law.
The second condition, on which depends our agricultural progress, is the continued and increased demand for our products, both at home and abroad. If our country increases in population in the ratio of the last decade, 100,000,000 of inhabitants will be under American law in the year 1900. Besides supplying this rapidly-growing population, Europe and portions of South America will continue to be our customers. Some of the great southern staples, it is true, are temporarily withheld from Europe; but, unless the war continues long enough to create new fields of culture elsewhere, the demand will continue as of old. The statistics of our commerce, even in a time of war, prove that corn is king, and that it can always be made, as it is now, the great conservator of peace between England and the United States. The parliamentary returns of Great Britain for the calendar year 1861 exhibit the following important fact in regard to the amount, in bushels, of breadstuffs imported for that year:
Wheat and flour, 86,552,097 bushels; of which the United States furnished 38,361,675 bushels, or forty-four per cent.
Indian corn, 20,360,004 bushels; of which the United States furnished 11,705,034 bushels, or fifty-seven per cent.
Total, 106,912,101 bushels, or forty-eight per cent.
The New York trade tables show that the United States exported to Great Britain and the continent, for the year ending September 1, 1861, wheat, flour, and Indian corn, 42,524,816 bushels; for the year ending September 1, 1862, wheat, flour, and Indian corn, 52,112,225 bushels. Finally, the report of the British board of trade, for the ten months ending October 31, 1862, shows that Great Britain received from the United States during that time produce amounting to $87,412,325, against $8l,728,035 in 1861. This vast amount has been imported while all the southern ports have been blockaded, showing that we furnish, even in a time of war, about one-half of all the food imported into Great Britain, and that the amount is steadily increasing.
The third condition on which depends our agricultural progress is, increased respect for labor. In many portions of the United States this condition is amply fulfilled, and the healthful results are plainly seen in finely cultivated farms, in improved homes, in education, thrift, and all the pursuits of an honest, intelligent, and respected industry.
The two prominent causes which have tended to degrade labor in the United States are, first, the many avenues to wealth, respectability, and position open to young men, independent of manual labor; and, secondly, the condition of a large portion of our laboring population. A great point will be gained for agricultural purposes when farmers shall cherish not only a high respect for their employment themselves, but instil their convictions into the minds of their children. It is not only a great mistake but a great misfortune that young men should feel dissatisfied with the comparatively slow gains of agriculture, or that they should regard the farmer's life as one of tameness and drudgery. They notice the rapid growth of the property of the merchant, the trader, or the professional man, and see him in situations of apparent comfort and ease, limiting, however, their observations to the few who are successful, and not noticing the many who fail of ultimate success. Independent of the unrest, the disappointed ambition, the wear and tear, and mean rewards of public life, it is said that of one thousand merchants who had kept an account at one of the Boston banks, only six died rich. The number of successful merchants in New York is even less than this. On the other hand, the farmer, if not absolutely rich, is, at least, independent. He has a home which his labor and his taste have adorned; he has broad acres, not held by lease, as in many countries, but as a freehold. In the Old World land is generally divided into large estates, and owned by few proprietors. In England, for instance, the number of acres is 32,342,400; the number of proprietors about 44,000; in Scotland, 19,738,930 acres and 4,000 proprietors. Such is not the case in our country. No law of entail or primogeniture fosters the accumulation of large estates. It is one of the blessings of the American farmer that he owns in fee simple the land which he cultivates. He has not to stoop and cringe and stand in awe in the presence of those whom he calls masters. He has no masterno favors to beg of man. He has a sturdy independence of character, adorned, perhaps, by culture and refinement. He belongs to a class of citizens who hold in their hands five-sixths of the wealth of the country and its entire political power; and the hands which have wrought this wealth are able to defend the Constitution which makes us one people.
In speaking of the other influence which tends to degrade labor in the United States I do not propose to discuss the vexed question of the relation between capital and labor, but to state a fact as patent as any other on the surface of American society. Slavery always and everywhere degrades labor. This degradation is positive at the south, while its reflex influence is felt throughout the north, in spite of the teaching of the press, the pulpit, the platform, and the example of millions of honest, noble, hard-working men. Had labor been respected at the southhad the soil, divided into moderate farms, been owned by those who tilled it, as at the westno rebellion would have been desirable or possible. In Brazil the same influences are at work as in our own country. Servile labor has so degraded agricultural industry that a plough was unknown there thirty years ago, and an empire capable of feeding all Europe has never been able to raise food sufficient for its own 7,000,000 of inhabitants, but depends for its breadstuffs upon the United States and the neighboring republics. Though the greatest inducements have been held out by the government, immigrants, owing to the condition of labor, have hitherto been slow in settling in Brazil. Those who have gone, however, are forcing, by superior skill, intelligence, and public sentiment, slave labor towards the equator, and winning the victory which free labor ever gains.
Labor, for a fair remuneration, whether of the brain or hand, should be the glory of America; besides, there is true dignity in labor, especially in cultivating the soil. The object which the farmer has in view is to subdue the earth; to eradicate its briars and thorns, and to plant in their stead what is useful and beautiful to man. It is to fulfil the original appointment of the Creator, that man "shall eat bread in the sweat of his face." "Labor," says a noble worker, "has been made by Providence the law of man's condition. It is the price at which whatever is valuable in life must be earned. Whatever, therefore, degrades labor as the business of life, or renders it distasteful or dishonorable, does violence to our social laws no less than to a wise economy." All improvementall progress of the race in civilizationhas been the result of intelligent labor. It has built our cities, dug our canals, constructed our railways, developed our mines, built our steamers and ships, given life and energy to the industrial arts, and, above all, is feeding and clothing our people and providing for their happiness. "The nation," says Dr. Sam. Johnson, "that can furnish food and raiment, those universal commodities, may have her ships welcomed at a thousand ports, or sit at home and receive the tribute of foreign countries, enjoy their arts, or treasure up their gold." Let labor, therefore, be crowned with honorthat labor, especially, which contributes so much to the welfare of man, and allows him to approach nearest, through Nature, to Nature's God.
The fourth condition on which depends our agricultural progress is a more thorough knowledge and practice of agriculture as a science and as an art; and by this is meant a knowledge of the principlesthe whys and the whereforeswhich lie at the foundation of successful farming, and of the practical application of those principles, combining skill, economy, and all the appliances of art. The great difficulty with the American farmer has been, and still is, that he has been nurtured and educated in the habit of cultivating a primitive soil. The labor and expense attending the accumulation and application of manures, with the necessity of unlearning old habits and theories, have made him tempt nature to the verge of exhaustion, and degrade a noble profession to one of mere routine. While Americans are ever disposed to boast of their inventive skill and teachable disposition, the elder nations, which we affect to despise, offer us some valuable lessons in agriculture. The Chinese, by minute and careful culture, by rotation of crops, and by the use of every possible kind of manure, have made their lands yield undiminished products for thousands of years. The northern provinces of China produce two annual crops, and towards the south five are usually obtained every two years. This prodigious yield has continued for ages, and yet the soil is rich and productive, teeming with nearly four hundred millions of human beings. The spade is extensively used; every inch of ground is thoroughly tilled; the hills are terraced, and the soil irrigated wherever possible. Agriculture is everywhere honored and encouraged. The Emperor himself goes annually to the field and turns the first vernal furrow. If China or Japan were to follow our methods of tillage, famine and death would soon sweep millions into their graves.
There is still in our country, strange to say, a large amount of what may be styled routine farming. The soil is tilled, the same seed sown, and the crops succeed each other year after year. In some cases, when the soil is inexhaustible, this may be the best method of farming for the present owners; besides, the example of father to son is invaluable, provided that example be good. Practical knowledge is certainly superior to mere theory; but to persist in the same succession of crops, in replanting the same and often the poorest seed, in pursuing the same methods of culture, in rearing the same common breeds of stock, in using the same poor implements of husbandry, is to deny the value of the aggregate experience of men of similar pursuits, and to ignore the progress of the age in science and the useful arts. It should be the aim of every young farmer to do not only as well as his father, but to do his best; "to make two blades of grass grow where but one grew before."
Page last modified on 11/11/01 at 6:15 PM, CST.
John Lindquist, Department of Bacteriology,
University of Wisconsin – Madison.