Abraham Lincoln and AgricultureAbraham Lincoln
True to his roots as a frontier farm boy, President Abraham Lincoln signed agricultural legislation that expanded and transformed American farming, including such significant reforms as the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Homestead Act, and the establishment of the Land Grant agricultural university system. Read more about Lincoln's agricultural legacy.
In a three month span in 1862, Lincoln signed into law three important pieces of legislation that would have a profound and lasting impact on U.S. agriculture and society.
An Act to Establish a Department of Agriculture - Established the Department's basic mission "to acquire and diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of the word."
Homestead Act - Stimulated Western migration by offering qualified individuals 160 acres of public land for settlement and cultivation.
Morrill Land Grant College Act - Provided public lands to U.S. states and territories for the establishment of colleges specializing in agricultural research and instruction.
In addition to these acts directly related to agriculture, Lincoln was also responsible for legislation that related indirectly to agriculture.
Pacific Railway Act - Provided Federal government support for the building of the first transcontinental railroad, which was completed on May 10, 1869.
Emancipation Proclamation - Proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states then in rebellion (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas).
Lincoln's Views on Agriculture
In Lincoln's own words:
Lincoln's Milwaukee Speech
This speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society on September 30, 1859 is Lincoln's only extended public address on agriculture. He highlighted the national importance of agriculture as well as the need for innovation and labor reforms.
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Agriculture. (PDF | 11MB) Edwards, Everett Eugene and U.S. Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Washington, D.C., United States Department of Agriculture, 1937. NAL call no. 1.9 Ec7Wa.
A collection of observations on agriculture by Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, collected for the 75th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lincoln's section begins on page 77 and includes his Milwaukee speech, excerpts from his first and second annual messages to Congress, and the agricultural laws of 1862: Act Establishing the Department of Agriculture, Homestead Act, and the Land Grant College [Morrill] Act.
In the words of others:
"Lincoln's Attitude Toward Farm Problems". (PDF | 1.3MB) Edwards, Everett Eugene. 1931. 4 pages. Given as a radio talk, then published in Agricultural Library Notes, Volume 6, Number 2, February 1931, and revised into this statement. NAL Special Collections, Everett Eugene Edwards Papers. NAL call no. 1.9 Ec752Li.
Describes Lincoln's childhood in pioneer farming to provide some context for his later statements and opinions about agriculture that culminated in his approval of the three 1862 agricultural acts. Numerous references provided.
Lincoln’s view of agriculture--1859 (with some projections by Hopkins--1909) : an address read before the University of Illinois Assembly, Morrow Hall, Lincoln week, 1909 (PDF | 1MB). Hopkins, Cyril G. Urbana, Ill., 1909. NAL call no. 30.4 H772.
Hopkins quotes extensively from Lincoln's Milwaukee speech and expresses his concerns over the present state of U.S. agriculture and practices that are leading to land ruin.
"Lincoln and Agriculture." Ross, Earle D. Agricultural History, vol. 3(2): pages 51-66, 1929. NAL call no. 30.98 Ag8.
Ross describes Lincoln's early exposure to aspects of agriculture and how the political climate in the early 1860s influenced the development and early days of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the passage of the Homestead and Morrill Acts. The numerous references throughout may be of use to the historical researcher. Radio talk presented by O.C. Stine of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics on 12 February 1930. Describes Lincoln's early life as an influence on his willingness to listen to farmers' interests when he was a politician, first in Illinois and then as President.
Lincoln's Early Life
Born in Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln grew up mostly in Indiana, then moved to Illinois. In his adult life, he married and had four children, was a captain in the Black Hawk War, spent eight years in the Illinois legislature, and acted as an Illinois circuit court lawyer before being elected President in 1861. Find out more about Lincoln's life.
Portraits of Lincoln
It is no trouble to imagine what Abraham Lincoln looked like--a wealth of pictures and drawings of Lincoln exist. Institutions like the Library of Congress maintain collections of images of Lincoln and his family, his homes, and items related to his life and death.
Lincoln as President
Lincoln is best known for being the 16th President of the U.S. (1861-1865), when he guided the nation through the Civil War, and the assassination that prematurely ended his second term as President. Learn more about Lincoln's presidency.
Agriculture in Lincoln's Time
From the country's founding, farming and farm culture have shaped the image of the U.S. as a nation of hardworking, independent, creative people. In the 21st century the U.S. continues to be a leading agricultural producer, but the nature and scope of American farming have changed considerably since Lincoln's time when almost half the population worked in agriculture.
Lincoln and the National Agricultural Library
In 1863, the first annual report of the new Department of Agriculture recommended the creation of an agricultural library to support the Department's mission of collecting and distributing agricultural information to the American people. This vision was fulfilled by the establishment of the National Agricultural Library. Lincoln's role in the creation of USDA is commemorated in the Abraham Lincoln Building which houses the Library today.