"Agriculture," says an ingenious writer, "is an art—man the artist. The soil is his laboratory; manures and seeds his raw material; animal strength and machinery his power; air, heat, and moisture his agents; and grain, roots, fruits, and forage his products. Agriculture is also a science, teaching the artist the best modes of improving and fitting up his laboratory; instructing him in the properties and economical use of his raw material; teaching him how best to apply his power and profit by his agents, thereby enabling him greatly to abridge his labors and multiply his products." Art teaches the hand to do—science, what and how to do. Art belongs to the individual—science is the concentrated experience of ages and the labor of nations. It is, in short, classified knowledge illustrated in practice and confirmed by experience, and as certain and eternal as truth itself.

The great object of agriculture, as a result, is to develop from the soil as large a quantity and as excellent a quality of useful vegetable, or, indirectly, of animal, products as possible. In order to do this, the farmer should aim to preserve and increase the fertility of the soil; to free it from moisture when superfluous, or add to it when insufficient; to cultivate it thoroughly by the most approved methods, sowing the best seeds according to soils, climate, localities, and markets; to economize labor and expense by using the best implements and power; to select the finest breeds of animals, feeding and sheltering them in the most judicious manner; to secure most perfectly the several harvests, and prepare all farm products for the market in the best manner.

In order to make the farmer most successful, and thus to advance agriculture, the great interest of the republic, he should study chemistry as applied to soils, plants, grains, animals, manures, climates, localities, and tillage. This science, applied to agriculture, teaches him that of the sixty-four simple substances some thirteen go to form vegetation. It cannot be said that any one of these elements is more important, absolutely, than another, except that some of them are scarcer in some soils than in others, and more difficult to procure, and therefore, agriculturally, more valuable. Chemistry, by its powers of analysis, reveals the nature and composition of soils; teaches the proper kind, value, and application of manures; the mode and means of nutrition; and the knowledge of supplying wants and of correcting deficiencies and excesses, wherever noticed, in cultivation. Agriculture is a growth, like the plant it cultivates; and like the mind, also, the more it is developed the more it yields. It can be easily shown that there is no occupation of life where extensive knowledge is more necessary than in the proper cultivation of the soil. There is no occupation so intimately blended with all the branches of the natural sciences; to which geology, chemistry, botany, and entomology are such valuable auxiliaries. Of all human pursuits agriculture is first in order, in necessity, and importance. The best farmer is always the most intelligent man, and a community of knowledge is one of the strongest ties that can bind and bless society. The simple argument, therefore, is this: increased scientific and practical knowledge in any occupation increases man's power in a tenfold ratio; agricultural knowledge, therefore, begets productiveness, and in the same proportion develops the wealth, the prosperity, and the progress of our country. Sir Humphrey Davy once remarked, when speaking of the future influence of agricultural chemistry, that "nothing is impossible to labor aided by science. The objects of the skilful agriculturist are like those of the thoughtful patriot. Men value most what they have gained with effort, and a just confidence in their own powers results from success. They love their country better, because they have seen it improved by their own talents and industry, and they identify with their own interests the existence of those institutions and pursuits which have afforded them security, independence, and the multiplied enjoyments of civilized life." How strongly do these noble words from the father of agricultural chemistry appeal to the judgment and pride of every farmer to excel in his calling!

Another essential condition to agricultural progress, and following naturally the last named, is a more thorough education of the farmer in physical science, in political economy, in taste, and general reading. In fulfilling the condition of a thorough agricultural knowledge, the farmer will have advanced considerably towards an honorable education, and the greatest efficiency and success in his special calling. Still, there is a certain general culture which should characterize every intelligent citizen of a free country, fitting him to think and act wisely and well in all the relations of life. As our government, laws, institutions, and administration spring from the people, and as nine-tenths of our people are tillers of the soil, how important that, as a class, they should have broad and just views of whatever affects the common weal! Though far away from the great centres of political and commercial influence, yet they have the power to make all public servants respect and study their interests, which are eminently those of the whole country. Every farmer, therefore, should aim to be instructed, not only in his special calling, but to know something of general science, of political economy, of taste, and current and general reading.

First, then, in regard to those sciences which are the handmaids of agriculture—what a field of study! These are meteorology and electricity, explaining atmospheric phenomena, upon the changes of which nearly all the operations of farming depend; hydraulics, suggesting plans for the recovery of swamps and submerged lands; botany and vegetable physiology, teaching the relations between natural plants and their soils, in order to establish artificial soils and the highest cultivation; exhibiting, also, the structure of the different orders of cultivated plants, and explaining their nature, and the use of the healthy, and the injurious effects of diseased secretions of plants; geology, explaining the formation of the earth's crust in reference to drainage, and the effects of subsoils on the growth of trees and plants; mechanics, teaching the principles of machinery; anatomy and animal physiology, explaining the structure and functions of animal economy, with a view to perfect development and the prevention of disease; and many other cognate branches, a knowledge of which tends to make man the master of nature. The farmer should also be educated in political economy and those kindred studies which aim to make him a thoughtful and intelligent citizen. Being the vast majority in numbers and wealth, and sustaining the wheels of finance, of trade, manufactures, and commerce, the agriculturist has too much at stake to be behind any in education and influence. Finally, the farmer should breathe that general atmosphere of thought, which, coming to us from distant ages and across the sea, is fanned by pulpit, press, and printed book. Our fathers endured many hardships and privations; but the young farmer of to-day possesses a wealth of advantages for general culture enjoyed by no other people. In some portions of our country these advantages are being improved, and the yield of cultivated mind, like that of the earth, is, indeed, wonderful; but as there is no royal road to agriculture, neither is there to knowledge. The latter must be acquired by long mental husbandry, but, like that of the soil, it yields many solid pleasures during the period of hardest toil, while old age is full of health, wealth, ripeness, and joy, like the rich harvest of autumn. There are, really, but two great sources of national wealth—the soil and the mind of a nation. Where do we find the most prosperous individuals, communities, and nations? Where the mind and the soil are most cultivated. If, then, the cultivation of these adds wealth, power, and prosperity to a nation, the lack of either, where it might abound, is so much waste of national capital. Why is it, let me ask, that the annual earnings and products of Massachusetts—a State unfavored in soil and climate—exceed, per capita, not only those of every other State in our Union, but of the world? Why is it that the labor of a single man in Massachusetts is equal, in profit, as has been conclusively shown by the census, to the labor of five men in South Carolina? It is because her people believe, most thoroughly, that "knowledge is power," and that it is the highest wisdom of political economy to invest largely in schools, colleges, books, a free press, and the highest culture of the individual, to the end that labor may be more productive because more skilled and better directed. But this culture of the mind in science, taste, and general reading, should be based on a higher consideration than that of mere moneyed profit. It should be sought for its own sake, and the pleasures which it brings. The farmer should have taste to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful in nature and in art; taste to adorn his home and his lawns with shrubbery, flowers, and works of art; taste to admire the ripening fruits, the glowing landscape, the processes of nature, and the living groups of animals which he has reared—more attractive to the eye than any painting, though drawn by the genius of Landseer.

Let the farmer, therefore, as a cultivated man, magnify his occupation. In all ages wise, learned, and good men have gladly turned away from the employments of public life to the pleasures, the consolations, and the quietude of rural pursuits. Without citing the men of other countries and ages, who can forget how eagerly Washington laid aside his robes of office and sought the repose of Mount Vernon; how gladly Clay returned to the shades of Ashland after the excitement and honors of congressional life; and how Webster hastened from the cares of state to his herds and fields, and the sight and sounds of the ocean, all endeared to him by the sweet memories of rural life? Men who have chosen to follow other avocations of life, and who pursue them with success, still long for the pleasures and employments of the farm. All their plans of life have a kind of natural culmination in the determination to retire into the country and share with the farmer the healthful and dignified occupation of husbandry.

I have dwelt thus at length on the history of agriculture, and on the conditions of agricultural progress in the United States, in order to show that a great national department of agriculture, enjoying the sympathy and co-operation of the government, of agricultural societies and publications, and of individual farmers, will most rapidly and certainly develop and strengthen these conditions, and thus augment the wealth, the prosperity, the permanency, and the glory of the republic. I hardly deem it necessary to attempt to convince our intelligent countrymen of the vast importance of such a department, inasmuch as whatever improves the condition and the character of the farmer feeds the life-springs of national character, wealth, and power. What agricultural societies and publications have done for single counties and States, this department should do for the whole country, but with a liberality, wisdom, and catholicity commensurate with the resources of the nation, the importance of agriculture, and the co-operation of individuals both at home and abroad.

The objects of a great national department of agriculture were well stated by Judge Buell over twenty years ago, and they are chiefly these:

1.  Collecting, arranging, publishing, and disseminating, for the benefit of the nation, statistical and other useful information in regard to agriculture in its widest acceptation, embracing, not only the usual cultivation of the soil, but orcharding, plain and ornamental gardening, rural embellishment, the veterinary art, and household economy. In this connexion the department should aim to teach or recommend authoritatively, by concentrating the ripest agricultural experience and scholarship, the best methods of culture, the choicest plants, vegetables, and fruits, the most valuable grains, grasses, and animals, domestic and otherwise, and the most improved implements of husbandry.

2.  Collecting, from different parts of our own and foreign lands, such valuable animals, cereals, seeds, plants, slips, and cuttings as may be obtained by exchange, purchase, or gift, with information as to their modes of propagation, culture, preservation, and preparation for market, and distributing the same throughout the country. Through our postal franking privilege at home, and our foreign ministers, consuls, merchants, missionaries, travellers, and the officers of our naval and merchant fleet, the government enjoys unusual facilities for carrying out this object.

3.  Answering the inquiries of farmers and others on all matters relating to agriculture, at the same time stimulating inquiry, inviting discussion, and rewarding research by publishing agricultural statistics of the various States and sections of States in order to guard against the excess or diminution of given products, thereby saving much time, labor, and capital to farmers. And as this department has been created and is sustained for their benefit, they are earnestly invited to correspond with it in order that a proper selection of subjects may be afforded for publication.

4.  Testing, by experiment, the value of different agricultural implements and their adaptation to the, purposes intended, as well as testing the value of cereals, seeds, and plants, and their adaptation to our soil and climate, before transmitting them to our farmers. In order to carry out this object the department should have under its control a model farm.

5.  Analysis, by means of a chemical laboratory, of various soils, grains, fruits, plants, vegetables, and manures, and publishing the results for the guidance and benefit of agriculturists.

6.  Establishing a professorship of botany and entomology. It is well known that insects are annually destroying a vast amount of the products of our soil, and that their ravages appear to be on the increase. If the damage done to our wheat crop alone could be prevented, millions of money would be saved to the country.

7.  Establishing an agricultural library and museum. In this library the most valuable works would gradually accumulate by exchange, gift, and purchase, forming a rich mine of knowledge. The museum would embrace models of all the most approved implements of husbandry; specimens of soils, rocks, &c.; samples of the various productions of the garden, field, and forest; varieties of grain in straw, and in sample, now generally cultivated or recently introduced into the country, with explanations respecting their soils, climates, weight, yield per acre, and their value as food. Here should be arranged specimens of the component parts of soils, manures, and all the products of agriculture, showing especially the values of different kinds of food. On the walls of this museum should hang the portraits of animals of the most celebrated breeds, and under its roof should be gathered whatever would tend to attract and instruct persons of the highest taste and education.

In regard to the actual condition, workings, and plans of the department, as at present constituted, a few remarks are submitted.

The Department of Agriculture entered into operation on the 1st of July, 1862. The sum expended under its direction, for all purposes, to the 1st of January, 1863, amounts to $34,342.27, leaving an unexpended balance of the appropriation (act of March 1, 1862, chapter 34) for agricultural purposes, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1863, of $25,657.73. I have asked Congress for an appropriation of $130,000 to meet the expenses of this department for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1864, which is deemed a low estimate. That amount has been approved of and passed by the House of Representatives with almost unanimous consent, and I cannot but believe that it will meet with the concurrence of the Senate of the United States.

Up to January 1, 1863, there have been distributed to members of Congress and other persons throughout the Union 306,304 packages of seeds and cereals, and a much larger number will be sent out between this and the 1st of April next. A large quantity of cotton and choice tobacco seeds, not included in the above enumeration, besides cuttings, bulbs, and plants, have been widely distributed.

A vast amount of labor has been performed in the department since its organization, and its business operations have increased and are daily increasing beyond my most sanguine expectations. Information from every available source, both at home and abroad, has been laboriously sought for, and is now being obtained, which, in due time, when properly classified, will be disseminated, like the seeds, cereals, and plants, gratuitously. The mighty and growing west, especially, has been foremost in this generous rivalry of agricultural exchange, both of products and knowledge.

While the farmer and planter are thus encouraged in their experiments, this department becomes a means of communication with the governments and peoples of all lands. It aims to provide samples of whatever American seeds, plants, &c., may be best suited to foreign climates and soils. It strengthens our friendly relations abroad and at the same time uses its official power and influence to obtain whatever may advance the agricultural interests of our own country.

The third section of the act referred to above, stipulates that the Commissioner of Agriculture "shall receive and have charge of all property of the agricultural division of the Patent Office in the Department of the Interior, including the fixtures and property of the propagating garden, &c." I regret to have to state that, up to this time, no official transfer in compliance with said act has been made to this department; nor has any official report or statement been submitted to me, (although the attention of the Secretary of the Interior was called to the subject early in July last,) setting forth the true condition of the affairs of the said Agricultural Division on the 30th of June, 1862. Fortunately the chemist to the department was in possession of an extensive scientific library and apparatus which he kindly placed at my disposal at the commencement of my duties as Commissioner. The season had so far advanced, however, that but few tests could be made. The chemist has, nevertheless, analyzed some twenty-two varieties of grapes, and is at present engaged in the examination of ten or twelve varieties of American wine; also sorghum, from eight or ten different localities, in order to determine the relative value of the sirup and its capabilities for producing sugar and molasses when compared with sugar cane. The department expects samples of the sorghum from all the States where it is grown, and also from the different sections of each, with samples of the soils from which each specimen of sorghum was produced, in order to determine what composition of soil will produce the best sugar or the largest quantity of sirup. The simple facts in regard to the introduction of the sorghum into the United States afford the strongest argument in favor of testing the value of other foreign products. This plant was first introduced in 1835, through the agency of the Agricultural Bureau of the Patent Office. The yield of sirup, in 1862, in the western States has exceeded 40,000,000 of gallons, an amount in cash value more than sufficient to compensate the government an hundred fold for every dollar ever expended in this bureau. Another interesting fact in regard to the sorghum is, that from its fibre two mills in Illinois are already manufacturing a good article of paper.

As soon as arrangements now being made in the laboratory are completed, the chemist will enter into the analysis of the various grasses and grains of the United States, in order to learn which will produce the greatest amount of fat, flesh, muscle and bone; also of soils, manures, and the constituents of plants, with special reference to restoring fertility to exhausted farms.

The culture of cotton has lately attracted much attention in the free States—especially in Illinois—owing to the rebellion and the consequent scarcity of the staple. Last summer, as a matter of experiment, 500 to 1,000 pounds of cotton were raised per acre by many farmers of Illinois. This department will take early and active measures to induce farmers in Kentucky, Missouri, Southern Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas—all of which States will undoubtedly produce cotton—to turn their attention to the culture of this important staple.

Special interest is felt by the department in the propagation and culture of the ailanthus silk worm of China. This insect has been successfully bred in this country during the last season. It will live and grow and spin its silk in the open air in most of the States of the Union, feeding upon the leaves of the ailanthus, hitherto regarded among us as a worthless, if not a noxious, tree. The worm has recently been introduced into France, and has excited an extraordinary interest. The silk of this worm lasts twice as long as that of the mulberry worm, and can be washed like linen. Indeed, in China the garments made from it are often worn by the second generation.

The attention of the department has been particularly directed, by an act of Congress, to the mode of preparing flax and hemp as a substitute for cotton. Persons engaged in experimenting on these fibres feel sanguine of success. The department has already been put in possession of some fine specimens of the flax-cotton, as well as several samples of fabrics woven from the thread of that material. The investigation will be continued.

The introduction and naturalization of the alpacca should also receive the attention of the government. Although found under the equator, it lives and thrives in the highest inhabited districts of the Andes, where the cold is more severe than in most parts of our country. The animal is hardy, and can subsist on the coarsest and scantiest food, where common sheep would die. While its flesh is excellent, its fleeces are fine, and used for many purposes, to which our Saxon or merino wools, owing to the shortness of their staple, and the difficulty of making them perfectly white, are inapplicable. The British government has expended large sums of money in introducing, (and successfully,) the alpacca to Australia, and our government should follow at once the same wise policy.

The paparer somnferum, or true opium poppy, can, no doubt, be successfully and profitably cultivated in some parts of the United States. It is notorious that no drug is so generally adulterated as opium when received from abroad. As in the case of wines, a native cultivation would supply a pure article, and certainly such a result would be desirable, when the object is a medicinal agent so important and invaluable.

The Department of Agriculture cannot, of course, carry out the general or particular objects indicated in this report, unless it receives, in a liberal measure, the aid of the government and the co-operation of the friends of progressive agriculture. Without entering upon an elaborate discussion, let the vast interest which the department proposes to foster and develop be the high argument in its favor. However much I have shown, indirectly, from history and statistics, the importance of agriculture, I now urge it, directly, as the great element of national unity and prosperity.

Agricultural pursuits tend to moderate and tranquillize the false ambition of nations, to heal sectional animosities, and afford a noble arena for honorable rivalry. The acquisition of comparatively slow, but sure, wealth, drawn from and reinvested in the soil, develops health of body, independence and simplicity of life, and love of country; while the rapid accumulation of wealth, not by production, but by trade and speculation, is unnatural and unhealthful. It attracts men to cities and tempts to wild investments. It too often unsettles moral principle, and substitutes selfishness for patriotism. Men of the country, living in calm content, and forming almost the entire wealth and population of the Union, constitute the truly conservative element in our politics. The men of the city, living in the midst of excitements, political, social, monetary, and moral, too often feed those baneful causes of national ruin, to wit: speculation, luxury, effeminacy, political corruption, and personal ambition. Never was truer or more comprehensive line of poetry penned than that which declares that "God made the country—man made the town." Next after moral and intellectual forces, home and foreign commerce, manufactures, lines of intercommunication and agriculture, form the great arch of our national prosperity—agriculture being the keystone as well as the foundation of all. Agriculture furnishes the food of the nation, the raw materials of manufactures, and the cargoes of domestic and foreign commerce. It is the cause and the evidence of true civilization; for, when tillage begins barbarism ends, and the various arts commence. When agriculture prospers, all other interests prosper. When this fails, depression, panic, ruin, ensue. The surplus of agriculture not only allows the farmer to pay his debts and accumulate wealth, but also does the same for the nation. To increase this surplus, therefore, to develop and bring out the vast resources of our soil, and thus create new additional capital, should be the great object of the Department of Agriculture and of legislation. Wise governments, with limited, available territory, so shape their political economy as to reap the advantages of agricultural nations. Thus the United States, agriculturally, form a part of England's prosperity. It has come to pass that her capitalists, her operatives, and her poor, are in nearer sympathy with, and more dependent upon, our broad acres than are our own people. Food, therefore, and next raiment, is the great central interest, around which all other interests revolve. "Grain," says Adam Smith, "is the regulating commodity by which all other commodities are finally measured and determined;" and on this account grain-growing nations will ever command the precious metals and the respect, if not the fear, of mankind.

The United States are, and must always remain, an agricultural nation. For this the soil, the climate, the institutions of the country, and the age of the world, have peculiarly fitted them, and it is the duty of the government to take all possible measures to secure to the agriculturists of America the fullest benefits of its ample resources.

It is hard to realize, and yet as true as Holy Writ, that some who shall read, to-day, these lines, will live to see one hundred millions of freemen dwelling in this dear land of ours. With peace and union restored, based on equity and freedom; with all the conditions of agricultural and mental progress fulfilled; with iron bands stretching from the pines of Maine to the Golden Gate; with the hum of factories on ten thousand streams, and swift-winged commerce flying to distant lands, what pen can sketch the possibility of this young giant of the west?

Old Rome, with all her elements of decay constantly at work, lasted nearly one thousand years, and carried her culture, civilization, and aims to a wondrous pitch of glory. May we not hope and devoutly pray that, taking warning from history and the signs of the times, our republic may so learn lessons of wisdom, that, eradicating all destructive tendencies, she will fortify herself against decay, and become, what Rome was not—eternal?


Commissioner of Agriculture.


President of the United States of America.

Page last modified on 11/11/01 at 6:15 PM, CST.
John Lindquist, Department of Bacteriology,
University of Wisconsin – Madison.