This column isn’t about today’s political climate and agriculture. Instead let’s focus on the political impact farmers have had on this nation as we celebrate Independence Day, specifically our Presidents. How many of this nation’s leaders were farmers? What history and myth surrounds their backgrounds? Maybe more than you think aside from the more obvious ones.
Most of us are familiar with George Washington and Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. Washington is credited with introducing the mule to these shores and his estate eventually totaled 8,000 acres. And along with his land holdings he also operated the largest distillery in America. Jefferson, in addition to traditional farming of the time also improved the moldboard plow and refused to patent the idea. Jefferson was an early adopter of crop rotations to help production and is credited by some with introducing soybeans but as a forage. He is also linked with experimenting with crops from all over the world including upland rice and olive trees.
Other presidents who were either raised on farms or ranches or who did so later in life include John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush. For some it was the environment in which they were raised. For same it was a lifelong passion and connection with the land.
When reading the thoughts and ideas that came together during the founding of this country, the writing of the Constitution, and the early formative years of the Republic there were many occasions when the agriculture and a farm upbringing were cited as keys to the way a successful democracy should function.
Even today when candidates for President speak about what the country should be and what it stands for, candidates almost unanimously invoke rural America and agriculture. To finish today’s column, let’s consider a few presidential quotes regarding agriculture.
George Washington: “I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares”
Thomas Jefferson: “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most wedded to its liberty and interests, by the most lasting bonds.”
Dwight Eisenhower: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
John Kennedy: “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”
Happy Independence Day.