Page images
[blocks in formation]


NICHOLAS MURRAY BUTLER Professor of Philosophy and Education in Columbia University, New York





President of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee




The earliest farmers in America had to contend with innumerable and great obstacles; with the wildness of nature, the attacks of Indians and wild beasts upon their stock, the difficulty of obtaining farming implements and seeds, and with conditions of climate and soil, very different from those of the old countries whence they derived all their methods. The colonial farmer was compelled to use the crudest methods. He cut down, heaped and burned the small trees and undergrowth, and belted the large ones. He scratched the surface a little with a home-made plow, and cultivated his corn and tobacco with a wooden hoe. He harvested the crop that nature gave him in a careless manner and used it wastefully. He cultivated the same field until it was worn out, when he cleared another and moved his family near to it. So long as land was so abundant, no attention was paid to the conservation of fertility of the soil. America was such a vast and fertile country that it took the people over a century to find out that there was any limit to its productiveness. These conditions were quite sufficient to explain the slow progress made in agriculture during the first century or more after the settlement of America.

It was not until the close of the eighteenth century that the attention of practical men commenced to be directed to the discoveries of science, and hopes were excited that immediate benefits would accrue from them to agriculture as they had to the other arts. Lavoisier's discoveries and teachings had aroused the hope that chemistry could do a great deal to promote the advancement of farming. Americans commenced to appreciate their disadvantages as compared with British and continental farmers, and to seek better implements and methods for their work. The newlyawakened interest in agriculture was marked first by the formation of agricultural societies. George Washington was one of the best technically educated men in America in his day, and was especially interested in everything pertaining to agriculture. His various state papers show that he not only knew the needs of the country, but that he fully realized that schools for the education of the people and societies for the distribution of knowledge were necessary for the safety of the republic. A few extracts will recall his strong opinions on this subject. In his first annual message to congress (Jan. 8, 1790) he expressed the hope that the “advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures, by all proper means, will not, I trust, need recommendation," and adds, “Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in the opinion that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. * * Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries already established, or by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients, will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.” Notice how agriculture and a national university for the promotion of science and arts were always associated in Washington's mind. He mentions the advancement of agriculture and the establishment of a national university in the same connection in his first message. He discusses them together in many of his writings during eight years, and finally in his eighth annual message he says, “It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare agriculture is of primary importance. portion as nations advance in population and other circumstances of maturity, this truth becomes more apparent, and renders the cultivation of the soil more and more an object of public patronage. Institutions for promoting it grow up, supported by the public purse; and to what object can it be dedicated with greater propriety? Among the means which

1 employed to this end,

In pro

none have been attended with greater success than the establishment of boards (composed of proper characters) charged with collecting and diffusing information, and enabled by premiums and small pecuniary aids to encourage and assist a spirit of discovery and improvement. This species of establishment contributes doubly to the increase of improvement by stimulating to enterprise and experiment, and by drawing to a common center the results everywhere of individual skill and observation, and spreading them thence over the whole nation. Experience accordingly has shown that they are very cheap instruments of immense national benefits.”

“I have heretofore proposed to the consideration of congress the expediency of establishing a national university and also a military academy. The desirableness of both these institutions has so constantly increased with every new view I have taken of the subject that I cannot omit the opportunity of once for all calling your attention to them.” With marvelous foresight Washington urged the necessity for scientific research and education in America, and he planned at the same time for institutions to discover and collect knowledge, and societies to disseminate it. He saw also that agriculture was to be the chief industry in the country, and that it would need the assistance of science. Thus he appears to have associated plans for the advancement of agriculture with those for a national university.

Congress promptly established the military academy, and some years later the naval academy and the department of agriculture. But it has not yet established the national university, which was the chief agency in Washington's mind for the development of all the sciences and arts of peace.

THE FIRST AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES AND FAIRS Where did Washington get this conception of the work of boards of agriculture? The first society for the promotion of agriculture in the United States was organized at Philadelphia on March 1, 1785; and on the 4th of July

« PreviousContinue »