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and cathedral schools, so our first American colleges were all the children of the churches. The preachers were in the early days almost the only learned men, and therefore the only teachers. In the case of the rural schools the preacher was both school director and teacher. The institutions for higher education were also founded and controlled by the associations and presbyteries of the different denominations, and the most learned of their clergy became the instructors. Naturally enough, as their founders and teachers were all preachers, these early colleges were devoted almost exclusively to the cultivation of theology, classics and philosophy. Their parson-teachers taught what they held to be the only thing worth learning, and they were right in putting character and culture above everything else. Their methods produced a race of preachers, teachers, lawyers, statesmen, and soldiers scarcely equalled and never surpassed in any country. But a new and rapidly growing country like America needed engineers, chemists, miners, and manufacturers, and an ambitious and intelligent people were not slow to make their wants heard. Some of the physical sciences, notably chemistry and geology, had already made great progress, and had revolutionized some of the arts. The popular writings of great scientific men, notably Liebig's Letters on chemistry, were eagerly read, and people everywhere cherished bright hopes of the benefits to be derived from the application of science to the industries of life, and especially to agriculture. Discovery and invention were already doing much to develop the material resources of the world and to change the occupations of men. Steam was beginning to be used for the purpose of transportation, chemistry was being applied in working iron, in dyeing fabrics, and in many other arts. Great railroads were to be built, but with the exception of the military academy at West Point, there was no school to train the engineers to survey them. Mines of coal and iron were to be opened, but miners had to be imported to open them. Factories needed to be built, but engineers had to be brought over from England or Holland to build them. Iron works and many other important industries were calling loudly for chemists, who had to be obtained from Germany or France. These influences, but more especially the need of scientific knowledge in a rapidly developing country, produced a profound effect on the theories and practice of education; and thus a vigorous demand arose for the sciences and their applications to the arts of life. The old college was not meeting the new demands; but what the new college was to be, and what its methods, no one knew for a long time. Columbia college, in the city of New York, appointed, in 1792, Samuel L. Mitchell “professor of natural history, chemistry and agriculture.” The records of the college do not show what instruction he gave in agricultural science, if any, but Professor Mitchell, so far as we know, was, by title at least, the first professor of agriculture in America. We are told that he prepared a number of essays on manures and other subjects for the New York society for the promotion of agriculture, and that his influence in behalf of the sciences related to agriculture was very evident in the men he trained. Many of them became prominent in science, and some were influential in the movement for agricultural schools. The Philadelphia Society for the promotion of agriculture, of which Washington was an honorary member, appointed a committee on January 21, 1794, “to prepare a plan for establishing the State society for the promotion of agriculture, connecting with it the education of youth in the knowledge of that most important art.” This committee made a report offering several alternative propositions for promoting agricultural education. One suggestion made was “the endowment of professorships to be annexed to the University of Pennsylvania and the College of Carlisle, and other seminaries of learning, for the purpose of teaching the chemical, philosophical and elementary arts of the theory of agriculture.” Another suggestion was to use the common school system of the state to educate the farmer in his business, “the county school masters being made secretaries of the county societies, and the school houses the places of meeting and the repositories of their transactions, models, etc. The legislature may enjoin on these school masters the combination of the subject of agriculture with other parts of education.” This is, so far as we know, the first formal effort made in the United States to present the claims of agricultural education to a legislature and to incorporate instruction in agriculture in the common schools.


The war with England, the expansion of territory, the rapid development of manufacturing and many other causes, contributed to retard the progress of agricultural education for several decades after the beginning of the century. The agitation continued, but little was accomplished until after 1840.

Upon the motion of Elkanah Watson, the Berkshire agricultural society of Massachusetts presented in 1817 a memorial to congress praying for “the establishment of a national board of agriculture in accordance with the original suggestion of President Washington.” The bill reported in the house of representatives was promply defeated by a large vote. It was well known that President Madison was opposed to it on constitutional grounds. Others based their opposition on the indifference of the farmers of the country and the idea that such a board was not needed.

The only striking event in the agricultural history of the country during the next decade was the agitation of silk culture, commonly called the “Morus multicaulis” craze from the variety of the mulberry tree which was introduced everywhere to supply food for the silk worm. Congress responded to the popular demand for information on this subject by ordering the preparation and publication of a manual of silk culture, which was done.

The United States department of agriculture grew finally out of the recommendation of President Washington for a national board of agriculture, but more immediately out of the seed distribution originated in the department of state during the presidency of John Quincy Adams. The patent office was first in the hands of the department of state, and the seeds collected by consuls in various parts of the world were turned over to it, as the scientific branch of the government, for distribution. So it came about that when on the 4th of July, 1836, the patent office was made a separate bureau and Henry L. Ellsworth, a practical farmer of Connecticut, was appointed commissioner, he found it one of his duties to distribute seeds and plants. It was a congenial duty and one for which he was well qualified both by education and experience. During his travels over the country as Indian commissioner, Mr. Ellsworth had been deeply impressed with the agricultural possibilities of the western prairies and also with the great ignorance and destitution of the settlers upon them. He believed that what they needed was better implements and seeds adapted to the climate and soils. So deeply impressed was he with the necessities of these people that, without the authority of congress and outside of business hours, he collected seeds and plants, which he distributed to farmers in all sections of the country, but especially to those in the far west, using the postal franks of members of congress for this purpose. This was the beginning of the seed distribution by the United States government, which has since grown to such colossal proportions. Thus also was born the United States department of agriculture. In his first annual report Mr. Ellsworth begged earnestly for an appropriation to continue and enlarge this distribution of seeds and one was made during the last days of the twenty-fifth congress which provided $1,000 from the patent office fund “for the purpose of collecting and distributing seeds, prosecuting agricultural investigations, and procuring agricultural statistics.” With the exception of the years 1840, 1841 and 1846 congress made a small appropriation for this purpose each year from the patent office fund. The first separate appropriation for agriculture, made in the year 1854, was $35,000, and it has never been less than that sum. An agent was authorized also at this time to “investigate and report upon the habits of insects, injurious and beneficial to vegetation,” and a botanical garden was established. The same year arrangements were made with the Smithsonian institution for collecting meteorological statistics. The present United States department of agriculture was established by an act of congress, approved by President Lincoln on May 15, 1862. This act was chiefly due to the strong plea made by Commissioner of Patents David P. Holloway, of Indiana. It is remarkable that the other great act for the promotion of agriculture in America, known as the land-grant act establishing colleges of agriculture and mechanic arts, was passed by the same congress and approved by President Lincoln on July 2nd of the same year, both in the midst of the terrors of the civil war. The act of May 15, 1862, did not establish an independent department of the government. Its chief officer was styled simply “commissioner of agriculture.” He did not become a member of the cabinet until the 11th of February, 1889, when President Cleveland approved another act of congress making the department of agriculture an executive department. The duties of the department of agriculture were (act of 1862): “To acquire and diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture, in the most general and comprehensive sense of the word, and to procure and propagate among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.” So much of the history of the United States department of agriculture appears necessary to this discussion of agricultural education in the United States. Through its surveys and laboratories, its experiment stations and especially through its numerous and valuable publications it has been the chief agency of agricultural education in America.

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