your online library and language lab
Contents > Author > Abraham Lincoln > Address to Wisconsin State Agricultural Society 1809- 1865
Previous Next

Abraham Lincoln
Address to Wisconsin State Agricultural Society
printer friendly version
Members of the Agricultural Society and Citizens of Wisconsin:

Agricultural Fairs are becoming an institution of the country;
they are useful in more ways than one; they bring us together,
and thereby make us better acquainted, and better friends than
we otherwise would be. From the first appearance of man upon
the earth, down to very recent times, the words "stranger" and
"enemy" were quite or almost, synonymous. Long after civilized
nations had defined robbery and murder as high crimes, and had
affixed severe punishments to them, when practiced among and
upon their own people respectively, it was deemed no offence,
but even meritorious, to rob, and murder, and enslave strangers,
whether as nations or as individuals. Even yet, this has not totally
disappeared. The man of the highest moral cultivation, in spite of
all which abstract principle can do, likes him whom he does know,
much better than him whom he does not know. To correct the evils,
great and small, which spring from want of sympathy, and from
positive enmity, among strangers, as nations, or as individuals, is
one of the highest functions of civilization. To this end our Agricultural
Fairs contribute in no small degree. They make more pleasant, and
more strong, and more durable, the bond of social and political union
among us. Again, if as Pope declares, "happiness is our being's end
and aim," our Fairs contribute much to that end and aim, as occasions
of recreation -- as holidays. Constituted as man is, he has positive
need of occasional recreation; and whatever can give him this, associated
with virtue and advantage, and free from vice and disadvantage, is
a positive good. Such recreation our Fairs afford. They are a present
pleasure, to be followed by no pain, as a consequence; they are a
present pleasure, making the future more pleasant.

But the chief use of agricultural fairs is to aid in improving the great
calling of agriculture, in all it's departments, and minute divisions --
to make mutual exchange of agricultural discovery, information, and
knowledge; so that, at the end, all may know every thing, which may
have been known to but one, or to but a few, at the beginning -- to
bring together especially all which is supposed to not be generally
known, because of recent discovery, or invention.

And not only to bring together, and to impart all which has been
accidentally discovered or invented upon ordinary motive; but, by
exciting emulation, for premiums, and for the pride and honor of
success -- of triumph, in some sort -- to stimulate that discovery
and invention into extraordinary activity. In this, these Fairs are
kindred to the patent clause in the Constitution of the United
States; and to the department, and practical system, based upon
that clause.

One feature, I believe, of every fair, is a regular address. The
Agricultural Society of the young, prosperous, and soon to be,
great State of Wisconsin, has done me the high honor of selecting
me to make that address upon this occasion -- an honor for which
I make my profound, and grateful acknowledgement.

I presume I am not expected to employ the time assigned me,
in the mere flattery of the farmers, as a class. My opinion of them
is that, in proportion to numbers, they are neither better nor
worse than any other class; and I believe there really are more
attempts at flattering them than any other; the reason of which
I cannot perceive, unless it be that they can cast more votes
than any other. On reflection, I am not quite sure that there is
not cause of suspicion against you, in selecting me, in some
sort a politician, and in no sort a farmer, to address you.

But farmers, being the most numerous class, it follows that
their interest is the largest interest. It also follows that that
interest is most worthy of all to be cherished and cultivated--
that if there be inevitable conflict between that interest and
any other, that other should yield.

Again, I suppose it is not expected of me to impart to you much
specific information on Agriculture. You have no reason to believe,
and do not believe, that I possess it -- if that were what you
seek in this address, any one of your own number, or class,
would be more able to furnish it.

You, perhaps, do expect me to give some general interest to
the occasion; and to make some general suggestions, on practical
matters. I shall attempt nothing more. And in such suggestions
by me, quite likely very little will be new to you, and a large part
of the rest possibly already known to be erroneous.

My first suggestion is an inquiry as to the effect of greater
thoroughness in all the departments of Agriculture than now
prevails in the North-West -- perhaps I might say in America.
To speak entirely within bounds, it is known that fifty bushels
of wheat, or one hundred bushels of Indian corn can be
produced from an acre. Less than a year ago I saw it stated
that a man, by extraordinary care and labor, had produced of
wheat, what was equal to two hundred bushels from an acre.
But take fifty of wheat, and one hundred of corn, to be the
possibility, and compare with it the actual crops of the country.
Many years ago I saw it stated in a Patent Office Report that
eighteen bushels was the average crop throughout the wheat
growing region of the United States; and this year an intelligent
farmer of Illinois, assured me that he did not believe the land
harvested in that State this season, had yielded more than an
average of eight bushels to the acre. The brag crop I heard of
in our vicinity was two thousand bushels from ninety acres.
Many crops were thrashed, producing no more than three
bushels to the acre; much was cut, and then abandoned as
not worth threshing; and much was abandoned as not worth
cutting. As to Indian corn, and indeed, most other crops, the
case has not been much better. For the last four years I do not
believe the ground planted with corn in Illinois, has produced an
average of twenty bushels to the acre. It is true, that heretofore
we have had better crops, with no better cultivators; but I
believe it is also true that the soil has never been pushed up
to one-half of its capacity.

What would be the effect upon the farming interest, to push the
soil up to something near its full capacity? Unquestionably it will
take more labor to produce fifty bushels from an acre, than it will
to produce ten bushes from the same acre. But will it take more
labor to produce fifty bushes from one acre, than from five?
Unquestionably, thorough cultivation will require more labor to
the acre; but will it require more to the bushel? If it should require
just as much to the bushel, there are some probable, and several
certain, advantages in favor of the thorough practice. It is probable
it would develope those unknown causes, or develope unknown
cures for those causes, which of late years have cut down our crops
below their former average. It is almost certain, I think, that in the
deeper plowing, analysis of soils, experiments with manures, and
varieties of seeds, observance of seasons, and the like, these cases
[causes?] would be found. It is certain that thorough cultivation
would spare half or more than half, the cost of land, simply because
the same product would be got from half, or from less than half the
quantity of land. This proposition is self-evident, and can be made
no plainer by repetitions or illustrations. The cost of land is a great
item, even in new countries; and constantly grows greater and
greater, in comparison with other items, as the country grows older.

It also would spare a large proportion of the making and maintaining
of inclosures -- the same, whether these inclosures should be
hedges, ditches, or fences. This again, is a heavy item -- heavy at
first, and heavy in its continual demand for repairs. I remember once
being greatly astonished by an apparently authentic exhibition of
the proportion the cost of inclosures bears to all the other expenses
of the farmer; though I can not remember exactly what that
proportion was. Any farmer, if he will, can ascertain it in his own
case, for himself.

Again, a great amount of "locomotion" is spared by thorough
cultivation. Take fifty bushes of wheat, ready for the harvest,
standing upon a single acre, and it can be harvested in any of
the known ways, with less than half the labor which would be
required if it were spread over five acres. This would be true, if
cut by the old hand sickle; true, to a greater extent if by the scythe
and cradle; and to a still greater extend, if by the machines now
in use. These machines are chiefly valuable, as a means of substituting
animal power for the power of men in this branch of farm work. In the
highest degree of perfection yet reached in applying the horse power
to harvesting, fully nine-tenths of the power is expended by the animal
in carrying himself and dragging the machine over the field, leaving
certainly not more than one-tenth to be applied directly to the only
end of the whole operation -- the gathering in the grain, and clipping
of the straw. When grain is very thin on the ground, it is always more
or less intermingled with weeds, chess and the like, and a large part
of the power is expended in cutting these. It is plain that when the
crop is very thick upon the ground, the larger proportion of the power
is directly applied to gathering in and cutting it; and the smaller, to
that which is totally useless as an end. And what I have said of
harvesting is true, in a greater or less degree of mowing, plowing,
gathering in of crops generally, and, indeed, of almost all farm work.

The effect of thorough cultivation upon the farmer's own mind,
and, in reaction through his mind, back upon his business, is
perhaps quite equal to any other of its effects. Every man is proud
of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do
well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice
as much of it with less fatigue. The latter performs a little imperfectly,
looks at it in disgust, turns from it, and imagines himself exceedingly
tired. The little he has done, comes to nothing, for want of finishing.

The man who produces a good full crop will scarcely ever let any
part of it go to waste. He will keep up the enclosure about it, and
allow neither man nor beast to trespass upon it. He will gather it
in due season and store it in perfect security. Thus he labors with
satisfaction, and saves himself the whole fruit of his labor. The
other, starting with no purpose for a full crop, labors less, and
with less satisfaction; allows his fences to fall, and cattle to trespass;
gathers not in due season, or not at all. Thus the labor he has
performed, is wasted away, little by little, till in the end, he derives
scarcely anything from it.

The ambition for broad acres leads to poor farming, even with men
of energy. I scarcely ever knew a mammoth farm to sustain itself;
much less to return a profit upon the outlay. I have more than
once known a man to spend a respectable fortune upon one; fail
and leave it; and then some man of more modest aims, get a
small fraction of the ground, and make a good living upon it.
Mammoth farms are like tools or weapons, which are too heavy
to be handled. Ere long they are thrown aside, at a great loss.

The successful application of steam power, to farm work is a
desideratum -- especially a Steam Plow. It is not enough, that a
machine operated by steam, will really plow. To be successful, it
must, all things considered, plow better than can be done with
animal power. It must do all the work as well, and cheaper; or
more rapidly, so as to get through more perfectly in season; or
in some way afford an advantage over plowing with animals,
else it is no success. I have never seen a machine intended for
a Steam Plow. Much praise, and admiration, are bestowed upon
some of them; and they may be, for aught I know, already
successful; but I have not perceived the demonstration of it. I
have thought a good deal, in an abstract way, about a Steam
Plow. That one which shall be so contrived as to apply the larger
proportion of its power to the cutting and turning the soil, and
the smallest, to the moving itself over the field, will be the best
one. A very small stationary engine would draw a large gang of
plows through the ground from a short distance to itself; but
when it is not stationary, but has to move along like a horse,
dragging the plows after it, it must have additional power to
carry itself; and the difficulty grows by what is intended to
overcome it; for what adds power also adds size, and weight
to the machine, thus increasing again, the demand for power.
Suppose you should construct the machine so as to cut a
succession of short furrows, say a rod in length, transversely to
the course the machine is locomoting, something like the shuttle
in weaving. In such case the whole machine would move North
only the width of a furrow, while in length, the furrow would be
a rod from East to West. In such case, a very large proportion
of the power, would be applied to the actual plowing. But in this,
too, there would be a difficulty, which would be the getting of the
plow into, and out of, the ground, at the ends of all these short
furrows.

I believe, however, ingenious men will, if they have not already,
overcome the difficulty I have suggested. But there is still another,
about which I am less sanguine. It is the supply of fuel, and
especially of water, to make steam. Such supply is clearly practicable,
but can the expense of it be borne? Steamboats live upon the
water, and find their fuel at stated places. Steam mills, and other
stationary steam machinery, have their stationary supplies of fuel
and water. Railroad locomotives have their regular wood and water
station. But the steam plow is less fortunate. It does not live upon
the water; and if it be once at a water station, it will work away
from it, and when it gets away can not return, without leaving its
work, at a great expense of its time and strength. It will occur that
a wagon and horse team might be employed to supply it with fuel
and water; but this, too, is expensive; and the question recurs,
"can the expense be borne?" When this is added to all other
expenses, will not the plowing cost more than in the old way?

It is to be hoped that the steam plow will be finally successful,
and if it shall be, "thorough cultivation" -- putting the soil to the
top of its capacity -- producing the largest crop possible from a
given quantity of ground -- will be most favorable to it. Doing a
large amount of work upon a small quantity of ground, it will be,
as nearly as possible, stationary while working, and as free as
possible from locomotion; thus expending its strength as much
as possible upon its work, and as little as possible in travelling.
Our thanks, and something more substantial than thanks, are
due to every man engaged in the effort to produce a successful
steam plow. Even the unsuccessful will bring something to light,
which, in the hands of others, will contribute to the final success.
I have not pointed out difficulties, in order to discourage, but in
order that being seen, they may be the more readily overcome.

The world is agreed that labor is the source from which human
wants are mainly supplied. There is no dispute upon this point.
From this point, however, men immediately diverge. Much
disputation is maintained as to the best way of applying and
controlling the labor element. By some it is assumed that labor
is available only in connection with capital -- that nobody labors,
unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow, by the use of
that capital, induces him to do it. Having assumed this, they
proceed to consider whether it is best that capital shall hire
laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent;
or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having
proceeded so far they naturally conclude that all laborers are
necessarily either hired laborers, or slaves. They further assume
that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fatally fixed in that
condition for life; and thence again that his condition is as bad
as, or worse than that of a slave. This is the "mud-sill" theory.

But another class of reasoners hold the opinion that there is
no such relation between capital and labor, as assumed; and
that there is no such thing as a freeman being fatally fixed for
life, in the condition of a hired laborer, that both these assumptions
are false, and all inferences from them groundless. They hold that
labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital
is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not
first existed -- that labor can exist without capital, but that
capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold
that labor is the superior -- greatly the superior -- of capital.

They do not deny that there is, and probably always will be, a
relation between labor and capital. The error, as they hold, is
in assuming that the whole labor of the world exists within that
relation. A few men own capital; and that few avoid labor
themselves, and with their capital, hire, or buy, another few
to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class --
neither work for others, nor have others working for them.
Even in all our slave States, except South Carolina, a majority
of the whole people of all colors, are neither slaves nor masters.
In these Free States, a large majority are neither hirers or hired.
Men, with their families -- wives, sons and daughters -- work
for themselves, on their farms, in their houses and in their
shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking
no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hirelings or slaves
on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of
persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, labor with
their own hands, and also buy slaves or hire freemen to labor
for them; but this is only a mixed, and not a distinct class. No
principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed
class. Again, as has already been said, the opponents of the
"mud-sill" theory insist that there is not, of necessity, any
such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition
for life. There is demonstration for saying this. Many independent
men, in this assembly, doubtless a few years ago were hired
laborers. And their case is almost if not quite the general rule.

The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages
awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for
himself; then labors on his own account another while, and
at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say
its advocates, is free labor -- the just and generous, and
prosperous system, which opens the way for all -- gives hope
to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition
to all. If any continue through life in the condition of the hired
laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either
a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or
singular misfortune. I have said this much about the elements
of labor generally, as introductory to the consideration of a
new phase which that element is in process of assuming. The
old general rule was that educated people did not perform
manual labor. They managed to eat their bread, leaving the
toil of producing it to the uneducated. This was not an
insupportable evil to the working bees, so long as the class
of drones remained very small. But now, especially in these
free States, nearly all are educated -- quite too nearly all, to
leave the labor of the uneducated, in any wise adequate to
the support of the whole. It follows from this that henceforth
educated people must labor. Otherwise, education itself
would become a positive and intolerable evil. No country
can sustain, in idleness, more than a small per centage of
its numbers. The great majority must labor at something
productive. From these premises the problem springs, "How
can labor and education be the most satisfactory combined?"

By the "mud-sill" theory it is assumed that labor and education
are incompatible; and any practical combination of them
impossible. According to that theory, a blind horse upon a
tread-mill, is a perfect illustration of what a laborer should be
-- all the better for being blind, that he could not tread out of
place, or kick understandingly. According to that theory, the
education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious,
and dangerous. In fact, it is, in some sort, deemed a misfortune
that laborers should have heads at all. Those same heads are
regarded as explosive materials, only to be safely kept in damp
places, as far as possible from that peculiar sort of fire which
ignites them. A Yankee who could invent strong handed man
without a head would receive the everlasting gratitude of the
"mud-sill" advocates.

But Free Labor says "no!" Free Labor argues that, as the
Author of man makes every individual with one head and one
pair of hands, it was probably intended that heads and hands
should cooperate as friends; and that that particular head,
should direct and control that particular pair of hands. As
each man has one mouth to be fed, and one pair of hands
to furnish food, it was probably intended that that particular
pair of hands should feed that particular mouth -- that each
head is the natural guardian, director, and protector of the
hands and mouth inseparably connected with it; and that
being so, every head should be cultivated, and improved,
by whatever will add to its capacity for performing its charge.
In one word Free Labor insists on universal education.

I have so far stated the opposite theories of "Mud-Sill" and
"Free Labor" without declaring any preference of my own
between them. On an occasion like this I ought not to declare
any. I suppose, however, I shall not be mistaken, in assuming
as a fact, that the people of Wisconsin prefer free labor, with
its natural companion, education.

This leads to the further reflection, that no other human occupation
opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination
of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture. I know of nothing
so pleasant to the mind, as the discovery of anything which is at
once new and valuable -- nothing which so lightens and sweetens
toil, as the hopeful pursuit of such discovery. And how vast, and
how varied a field is agriculture, for such discovery. The mind,
already trained to thought, in the country school, or higher school,
cannot fail to find there an exhaustless source of profitable
enjoyment. Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two,
where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure. And
not grass alone; but soils, seeds, and seasons -- hedges, ditches,
and fences, draining, droughts, and irrigation -- plowing, hoeing,
and harrowing -- reaping, mowing, and threshing -- saving crops,
pests of crops, diseases of crops, and what will prevent or cure
them -- implements, utensils, and machines, their relative merits,
and [how] to improve them -- hogs, horses, and cattle -- sheep,
goats, and poultry -- trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers --
the thousand things of which these are specimens -- each a
world of study within itself.

In all this, book-learning is available. A capacity, and taste, for
reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered
by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already
solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility,
for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones. The rudiments
of science, are available, and highly valuable. Some knowledge
of Botany assists in dealing with the vegetable world -- with all
growing crops. Chemistry assists in the analysis of soils,
selection, and application of manures, and in numerous other
ways. The mechanical branches of Natural Philosophy, are ready
help in almost everything; but especially in reference to
implements and machinery.

The thought recurs that education -- cultivated thought -- can
best be combined with agricultural labor, or any labor, on the
principle of thorough work -- that careless, half performed,
slovenly work, makes no place for such combination. And thorough
work, again, renders sufficient, the smallest quantity of ground
to each man. And this again, conforms to what must occur in a
world less inclined to wars, and more devoted to the arts of
peace, than heretofore. Population must increase rapidly --
more rapidly than in former times -- and ere long the most
valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable
subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose
every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of
oppression of any of its forms. Such community will be alike
independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.

But, according to your programme, the awarding of premiums
awaits the closing of this address. Considering the deep
interest necessarily pertaining to that performance, it would
be no wonder if I am already heard with some impatience. I
will detain you but a moment longer. Some of you will be
successful, and such will need but little philosophy to take them
home in cheerful spirits; others will be disappointed, and will be
in a less happy mood. To such, let it be said, "Lay it not too
much to heart." Let them adopt the maxim, "Better luck next
time;" and then, by renewed exertion, make that better luck
for themselves.

And by the successful, and the unsuccessful, let it be remembered,
that while occasions like the present, bring their sober and
durable benefits, the exultations and mortifictions of them, are
but temporary; that the victor shall soon be the vanquished, if
he relax in his exertion; and that the vanquished this year, may
be victor the next, in spite of all competition.

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to
invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should
be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They
presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away."
How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride!
-- how consoling in the depths of affliction! "And this, too, shall
pass away." And yet let us hope it is not quite true. Let us
hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world,
beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world
within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political
prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward
and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not
pass away.


(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859)
 

Previous Next

17921757 visitors
· 8908 texts · 2350 recordings · 957 authors · 194 readers

· Home · Index · Audio Clips · Links · Feedback · About Us · Contact Us ·


Copyright © RepeatAfterUs.com. All Rights Reserved.



Warning: Unknown: Your script possibly relies on a session side-effect which existed until PHP 4.2.3. Please be advised that the session extension does not consider global variables as a source of data, unless register_globals is enabled. You can disable this functionality and this warning by setting session.bug_compat_42 or session.bug_compat_warn to off, respectively in Unknown on line 0