By promoting an agrarian culture as opposed to the feudal system that was still prevalent at the time, Thomas Jefferson helped establish an agriculturalist society in the United States. Jefferson believed that a career in agriculture provided a secure source of income and a calm lifestyle. His belief is evidenced in his quote to George Washington, where he said, “The wealthy acquired by speculation and plunder, is fugacious in its nature, and fills society with the spirit of gambling. The moderate and sure income of husbandry begets permanent improvement, a quiet life, and orderly conduct, both private and public.”
In the quote, Jefferson shows his disdain for a merchant culture whose primary goal was to make money and, as he says, speculate and plunder. Due to his beliefs, Jefferson hoped to reverse the trend of aiding manufacturing businesses and establishing a centralized government that had taken place under the Washington and Adams presidencies, and hoped to eliminate the practice of capitalism and provide aid to those who lived an agrarian lifestyle. During his presidency, Jefferson worked to do so by calling for an end to the National Bank and federal taxation system, hoping to replace it with an agrarian culture dominated by bartering.
The United States promoted agriculture through its various land settlement acts prior to 1900. One of the most important was the Homestead Act of 1862. This act made it possible for citizens to receive land at little to no cost. It was an attempt to expand agriculture in the country, and also to promote a culture where farmers owned their own farms, not one where plantation owners obtained large farms worked by slaves. As a result, many poor citizens who had previously been unable to afford land were able to start farms. In the New South, many freed slaves took advantage of the act, and many succeeded due to the fact that they had years of farming experience.
Another law that was passed to advance agriculture was the Southern Homestead Act of 1866. As land was too expensive in the south for many citizens to purchase, practices such as sharecropping became prevalent. The government sought to rectify the situation by providing land at a low cost, although the act’s efficacy was only moderate due to the fact that the land was still too expensive for many to afford. Ultimately, the United States hoped to provide farmers access to affordable land and promote agriculture with the passage of several land settlement policies.
One of the most important measures ever taken to promote agriculture in the United States was the passage of the Morrill Act, which established land-grant colleges. Whereas before farming techniques were passed from generation to generation, it was now possible to attend school to learn how to properly farm. Not only did the education help improve the quality of farming in the country, but it also provided access to those who did not grow up in a farming family.
Another important bill was the Hatch Act. This bill strengthened the Morrill Act by providing land-grant colleges with funding to experiment with different farming methods. Prior to the act, it was hard for farmers to do much experimenting, because one mistake could mean the end of the entire season’s harvest. However, by allowing for colleges to experiment, farmers could develop better techniques without having to risk losing their income for the season.
Lastly, the Smith-Lever Act allowed for land-grant colleges to teach farmers not attending school the latest farming techniques at home. This helped keep all generations up to date on the latest in farming advances. In all, the three acts provided funding to educate farmers and develop better farming techniques, ultimately strengthening agriculture in the United States.
Although the government and agro-ecological resources played an important role in the development of agriculture in the United States, it is impossible to overlook the influence humans had in its development. Women, in particular, played an important role. Although many falsely believe that men were the only ones who contributed to the development of agriculture, women were also significantly involved. Not only did women help in the development of farming strategies, tending to animals, and caring for the crops, but they were also expected to care for the family and tend to the home. The belief that women should also maintain the home and care for the family shifted a disproportionate amount of the household duties onto the wife.
Even though they were unwilling participants, slaves also contributed greatly to agriculture in the country. Without slaves, it would have been nearly impossible for large plantation owners to hire enough help to maintain the farm. As a result, there would have been fewer crops produced and agriculture would not have taken off as rapidly as it did. This is evidenced by the fact that the southern economy was dominated by plantation agriculture because there was an abundance of free labor, whereas the economy in the northern United States was mostly a manufacturing economy because slavery was not as prevalent. Slavery was a terrible culture that promoted racial superiority and violence, but it also helped advance agriculture in the United States.
In conclusion, human resources were just as important in the promotion of an agrarian lifestyle in the United States as were government and ecological resources. Both women and slaves contributed just as much as white males did to the daily maintenance of the farm, providing countless hours of hard work that ultimately allowed farms to produce more crops that were of better quality than what had been previously available. Their hard work and dedication helped to establish farming as one of the most important economic industries in the country.
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