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THE PROBLEM OF AMERICAN LAND-HOLDING:

À LECTURE
Delivered at the Organization of the American Agricultural Association,

December, 1879.

BY

HON. GEORGE B. LORING

OF MASSACHUSETTS.

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GENTLEMEN :—The organization of a National Agricultural Society at this time is a matter of deep interest to all who are directly or indirectly engaged in pursuing and developing the great occupation on which a large portion of our people depend for subsistence, and on whose judicious management rests much of the prosperity of our varied national industry. It is entitled, moreover, to thoughtful and favorable consideration on account of the opportunity it offers for mutual understanding and good-will between the various States and sections of our country. And I have consented to encourage by formal address this effort, from a desire to point out to the land-owners and land-cultivators of the United States the true character of their calling and the spirit which should animate it everywhere, as distinguished from the farming of every other people on the earth.

In doing this I shall not discuss those practical questions over which so much investigation has been conducted by agricultural inquirers and explorers for so many years-questions which have been settled and unsettled repeatedly by debaters and writers, and have been decided at last by the practical workers. It cannot be expected that I should enter upon a disquisition on the best modes of farming, the best crops to raise and how to raise them, the best cattle to keep and how to keep them. I think it is well to recognize the fact that the farmers of this country know something about their business already, and that the manner in which prosperous agriculture has been thus far conducted by themselves and their fathers indicates a degree of knowledge which is entitled to respect and consideration. I do not recognize the necessity of teaching a farmer who has been successful with his dairy and has known a good cow from a bad one, the best cattle for his farm. I have no desire to prove to the prosperous growers of vegetables in this section, that they ought to turn their attention to raising corn even in a latitude of short and doubtful seasons and that they can raise it for 30 cents a bushel regardless of the value of the land on which it is raised, the cost of manure used in raising, and the expense of the labor employed in managing the land and the crop I should be very reluctant to impress upon the practical farmers of this assembly who have learned by their own experience and that of their fathers, that herdsgrass, red-top and clover are the three staple grasses for conversion into hay, the best for seeding, the best for protecting each other, the best for curing into the most nutritious and marketable hay. I should be very reluctant, I say, to impress upon them that they had better abandon these well-known and well-proved varieties, and resort to unknown and untried varieties, not one of which has yet been adopted as a foundation for the hay crop.

I should hesitate about endeavoring to prove to you that a clover-crop is a better fertilizer than barn-yard manure, on which you have been in the habit of relying. I

have no desire to tell the farmers of this country, who have been all their lives engaged in cutting and curing hay, how to harvest this important crop, when I meet in every populous region loads of their hay bound to a neighboring market, whose fragrance charms the traveler on our highways and whose quality stands approved both by judicious purchasers and hungry animals. Why should I try to teach you the best time to sow grass seed, and to plant potatoes, and to sow your grain, and harvest your mangold and swedes, and the best way to apply your manure, when your own experience has taught you all this long ago? Questions like these I am willing to refer to an intelligent body of farmers who have generally exercised good judgment in the management of their business, and to realize that they already know that plan of farming best suited to the land they cultivate. I am aware that the farmer cannot afford to devote season after season to trying experiments suggested by some restless theorist, or by some ambitious teacher who thinks that all change is progress, and that no law can be learned by practice, and who feels that he must say something in order to earn his salary. I am also aware that a well-devised, definite, prosperous plan is of the highest importance to him who proposes to live by tilling the soil, and I have noticed that he who simplifies this plan most readily and pursues it most steadily, undiverted by promises and unconfused by theories, never captivated and misled by the idea that there is a short and easy road to successful farming, more than there is to great learning, is the one who arrives at that prosperity which we all desire. I am quite unwilling to discuss practical questions merely for the sake of discussion-knowing well that while I stand still to debate, the weeds will grow apace.

And so, referring the anxious student of agriculture to the successful corn-growers, and grass-growers, and grain-growers, and root-growers and fruit-growers, and dairymanagers, and cattle-feeders for information upon the various topics in which each one has manifested skill, and warning him that they who talk the most oftentimes produce the least, I leave you to the knowledge which the best of you have acquired by practice, and call your attention to a matter of fundamental importance to you all -a question upon the solution of which in a satisfactory manner depends the very existence of agriculture as an industry to be cherished and developed by a free, enlightened, educated, and ambitious people.

We are told that the great mass of mankind live by tilling the soil, in every civilized country on earth ; but while this fact is constantly impressed upon our minds we are not so definitely informed with regard to the manner in which they live, their social condition, their civil relations, their domestic economy. The condition of those employed in manufactures and the mechanic arts varies, we are aware, as the place in which they are organized in various countries varies—prosperity, thrift, intelligence, being secured to some, poverty and ignorance being visited on others. And judging by the various conditions of associated man, in the many countries in which society is organized, we can infer that the agricultural population of our country differs from the agricultural population of another as their domestic conditions, their modes of education, their social and civil obligations and duties differ. The tenant-farmers of Great Britain, the peasantry of Russia, the farmers of Germany, the small land-holders of France, the agricultural citizens of the United States, all represent one industryand yet how widely they differ in everything which goes to make up man's condition as an intelligent being and as a member of some form of state and society! So true and striking is this that I am sometimes inclined to think that the moral, intellectual and social condition of the agricultural population of a country is more indicative of its real civilization and of its advancement in all the arts and cultivation of life, than are its churches and schoolhouses, its systems of education and religion!

The great question now occupying the minds of those interested in the welfare of civilized man as a member of society, is-How can the comfort, prosperity and intelligence of the agricultural population be best subserved and promoted ? England discusses the welfare of the tenant-farmer. Russia considers the condition of the recently-emancipated serf. France is interested in the prosperity of an unambitious, industrious, frugal body of small land-holders and cultivators. The American goes further and enquires : “How can an American farmer, occupying a farm of usual dimensions here, discharge his duty to the State as a voter and taxpayer, and gratify his desires with regard to the education of his family, the comfort and culture of his home and the informing of his own mind and the gratification of his tastes, from the income which he can derive from the cultivation of the land ?" And this is the American Problem of to-day.

That the prosperity of agriculture has kept pace with the increasing prosperity of every other industry in our land is manifest. The activity of the great grain-growing sections of our country has been great for more reasons than one; and the demand for the products of the pasture and the stall has been most encouraging to those who supply the provision market at home and abroad. It may be that the encouragement of local and special crops has not been as great—and that the farmer is called upon to consider how he can secure a suitable reward for the labor which he applies to the careful and systematic tillage of the soil to supply local markets with what they res quire, and for the care which he bestows on the orchard and the dairy. And yet I think personal effort is well rewarded, and that the small farmer in favored localities will find even from slow and reduced markets a compensation nearly as great as he obtained when his personal expenses were greater and the wages of labor much larger than they now are. I am aware that great disco ragement has fallen upon this class of farmers in whose hands rests that system of agriculture which must prevail as our country increases in population. And yet the condition of the farmer here is looked upon as so satisfactory in every point of view, that the lesson taught by us is engaging the minds of some of the most thoughtful statesmen and publicists of the old world.

It has been discovered that the American system of land-holding, for instance, is the foundation of great popular content, and accompanied as it is by great social and civil opportunities, surrounded as it is by the free institutions of our land, attended as it is by the school-house and the meeting-house, and by the constant call to public service which leaves but few exempt among us, it constitutes the foundation on which rests great mental activity, great dignity of character, great enterprise and ambition.

To the practical work of the agricultural community here, widespread disaster, moreover, is almost unknown. The local damage of a drought or a flood is not, indeed, unusual, but the extent of our territory is such, the diversities of our soil and climate are so great, that the disasters seem to be circumscribed and accidental, while the prosperity is widespread and constant. With landed possessions which are obliged to bear the burthens of heavy taxation, with the wages of labor vastly greater than in any of the countries of Europe, with the personal requirements of the farmer and his family increased by social obligations, and the natural demands of a free and responsible people, we have been able to compete in the grain markets of the world with those who in som instances are furnished with land free of rent and taxation, and whose necessities are so small and whose duties are so low, that the former seem intolerable and the latter seem insignificant and trivial. The skill of the American farmer, supplied as he is with the most ingenious and graceful and effective machinery, has become an object of admiration and imitation.

The well-organized home of the American farmer is looked upon as a model. The place filled in the community by the American farmer is considered so important and honorable, that other nations inquire how it has been attained. The crops of the American farmer are looked upon as so sure that all anxiety with regard to the supply, of food for people less favored has passed away.

Besides feeding nearly fifty millions of people the agriculture of our country has: supplied our commerce with a very large proportion of our exports to foreign countries. Of the aggregate amount of our exports for eleven months, ending May 31, 1879, valued at $635,042,078—the agricultural industry furnished about $535,813,179. The value of the cattle exported during that period was $2,897,846 ; of corn, $43,610441 ; of wheat, $90,700,598; of flour, $23,000,854 ; of cotton, $173,629,022 ; of beef, $7,120,000; of cheese, $11,737,728; of lard, $28,068,490; of pork, $4,620,000; of grass-seed, $2,000,000; of tobacco, $23,440,000.

The effect of this contribution to our export trade is incalculable ; and it has done so much towards restoring us to that financial stability and prosperity and honor of which, as a people, we ought to be proud, and for which every prosperous man oughtto be grateful—that I turn with unusual pride and satisfaction to the record which American agriculture has made for itself during the last year.

This unusual and extraordinary prosperity is due undoubtedly to many causes, both natural and artificial; the natural causes being our diversity of soil and climate, the variety of our crops, and the economy with which new and fertile lands can be cultivated ; the artificial causes being the advantages of local and general markets, and the relations established between the farmer and the soil he cultivates by the independent ownership of land, under the laws of our country. To this last cause I attribute much of that elasticity and energy which the American farmers manifest in occupying new lands, and in the cultivation of crops adapted to the markets they can reach. It were not easy to tell the strength and stimulus which comes through the ownership of the soil, to him who occupies it, has fixed his home upon it, and looks to it for his means of subsistence. It is to the division and sub-division of the land, almost as much as to their devotion to the institutions of learning and religion, and their determination to secure all social and civil rights, that our fathers owe their success in establishing free government on this continent. They had the Anglo-Saxon love of land, but, above all this, they had the Anglo-Saxon's love of individual independence ; and landed monopolies, entail and primogeniture were especially odious to them. They established, in the earliest colonial days, a system of land-holding, so simple, so exact, so easily managed, that it has become the example which all republican governments follow. They established a public registry of deeds, and provided for an easy and recorded transfer of landed estates from hand to hand-as easy as the transfer of personal property.

The State which they founded became not only the home of civil and religious freedom, but of small landed proprietors also. When they struck for freedom, they struck for the sacred rights of their own homes, which had become scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land, and were the nurseries of a hardy, independent, sturdy race of Puritans in religion and Roundheads in politics. They were, indeed, the lords of the soil, and were as unconquerable in their defense of their little farms as the great landed proprietors of their old homes were in protecting their immense estates from invasion or popular revolution. The feudal tenure of England really never gained a foothold here. But the commercial tenure which took its place gave every prosperous member of the community an opportunity to establish his own little kingdom, and to dispose of or change it at his pleasure.

The temptation to secure land under these circumstances became irresistible The mechanic labored to secure his homestead, the merchant was never satisfied until he had purchased a farm with the surplus profits of his commercial adventure. The professional men of the day—the lawyer, the clergyman, the physician-all owned and cultivated their lands, which they were proud to occupy. And with this American system, as it has been called, went a multitude of civil rights and privileges and opportunities which were never lost sight of by those who made up and supported and

organized the community. The occupants and owners of these farms were the pillars of the church; they filled the town offices; they took their places in the legislature and made laws for the Commonwealth ; they took part in the town meeting with its stormy debate and its free ballot; they aspired to high office and exercised the right of beating and being beaten at the polls. The schoolhouse, the library, the lectureroom, they erected for their mental culture, the church for their moral and religious elevation.

They founded a system of state and society here which required of them and requires of us also a liberal expenditure, both for public and private necessities and luxuries. In a community founded as they founded theirs, taxes must necessarily be somewhat heavy ; personal expenses must be somewhat large; the adornments of home must be provided for ; the public entertainments will be enjoyed ; the children must be well clad, provided with books, and supplied with a good education. And this is the American system of land-holding, with all its duties, privileges, and opportunities -a system which the statesmen of the old world study with profound interest and great care. It may be attended by a great deal of careless and unprofitable and unskillful farming, as every other system is,—but it produces great results and is the foundation of great public and private prosperity.

Our attention is often called to an analogous system of land-holding established in France by the Code Napoleon more than three-quarters of a century ago. But, engrafted as this system has been on a people unused to it and ignorant of its effect upon the political economy of the state, it has not secured those popular advantages which, in our own country, led the eminent French philosopher, De Tocqueville, to attribute to it the stability and vital force of our institutions-a lesson learned here, and not in France. In accurate and economical farming, we may perhaps learn a lesson · from France. In her area of 207,480 squaro miles, not larger than the largest State in the Union, her production of local and staple crops is enormous.

Her wheat crop equals our own. Her cattle and horses almost reach our number, and her sheep outnumber ours. With a thrifty population, among whom wealth is quite generally diffused, her resources in war and in peace are unbounded ; and her national vitality is the admiration of the civilized world.

That much of this agricultural prosperity is due to the fact that the people devote their energies to the cultivation of small farms, there can be no doubt. But it should be remembered that the state of society which goes with this system in France differs so entirely from our own that she furnishes no such example of popular intelligence and personal independence as is found in the United States. There the home known to the American farmer is not found. The American farm-house is almost unknown. The peasantry gather for the night into crowded towns away from their lands, and go forth by day to till their few outlying acres. The demands of the State

upon

them are not large. They are seldom overtaxed, except in time of war. They are tempted by none of the honors or emoluments of public service. They aspire to no civil distinction, and, even while organized as a Republic, they are warmed into no personal ambition, and as a social organization furnish no example which their own philosopher and publicist can commend as a guide to the civilized world.

It is true they are citizens of a Republic, and are owners of the soil on which they live; but it is a Republic without the traditions of freedom, a soil divided among them by violence before they had reached the point of citizenship. And I think the most that can be said of their civil organization is that their approach to republican government has been largely through their system of land-holding, more largely than through any lessons taught them by their social and political reformers.

But it is in England that this question of land-holding is most earnestly and carefully discussed at the present day ; and it is there that its solution involves the most

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