Abbildungen der Seite

pense with the blessing of God. Man may plough, man may plant; but man cannot give the increase. The great indispensable machinery of agriculture must ever be the “ Mécanique Céleste," that sublime and stupendous system of suns and spheres and rolling orbs, moving on in serene and solemn majesty above us, and —

“For ever singing, as they shine,
The hand that made us is Divine."

And now, Mr. President and gentlemen, I am here for no rhetorical display. I shall attempt nothing of the poetry or romance of agriculture. But I desire to invite your attention to a few plain and practical considerations, which have struck me as not unimportant or uninteresting in themselves, and as not inappropriate to an occasion of this sort.

Few things have been more noticeable, and few things, I am sure, more gratifying to us all, than the increased interest which has been lately manifested in many parts of the Union, and more especially in our own Commonwealth, in the honored cause for which you are associated. We have all witnessed with no ordinary satisfaction the efforts which have been made, and which have been so successfully made, to awaken the public mind to a deeper sense of the importance and dignity of agricultural pursuits. We have all rejoiced to find some of our ablest and most accomplished minds devoting themselves to subjects connected with the cultivation of land, the improvement of stock, the scientific analysis of soils and of plants, and the preservation and propagation of fruit-trees and forest-trees. The best wishes and the best hopes of us all have attended the local and the national conventions which have been held on the subject during the past year; and we have hailed with peculiar pleasure the establishment and organization of a Board of Agriculture, under the auspices of our own Commonwealth.

I think we shall acknowledge, however, that it is of the highest importance, at such a moment, that we should have some correct and exact ideas as to what is to be done, and as to what can be accomplished, in this behalf; that we should take a careful survey of the actual condition of American agriculture and of the real wants of the American farmer; so that we may propose to ourselves some definite, practical, and practicable ends, and so that our efforts may terminate in something better than vague promises, exaggerated estimates, and false expectations. We have been accustomed, of late years, to hear from some quarters of the country, and from some parts of the community, language of this sort :- Agriculture is a neglected interest. Government does nothing for it. Legislators, State and National, can find time and can find inducements for promoting and for protecting every other employment and occupation of the people. They can do every thing for commerce. They can do every thing for the fisheries. They can do every thing for manufactures and the mechanic arts. But the farmers can find nobody to do or to say any thing in their behalf.

Now, I will not stop to inquire directly how far this language is reasonable or just, either towards our State or National Governments. Nor will I do more than suggest, in this connection, that, if there has been any wrong of this kind, whether of omission or of commission, the redress has always been within the reach of the injured parties; the farmers having always been a great majority in the nation at large, embracing, it is estimated,

more than three-fourths of the population,” and having thus had it always in their power to control the action of the Government at any time, through the simple agency of the elective franchise.

But taking it for granted, for a moment, that the allegation has been well laid, that the grievance has been real, that an interposition has at last been successfully made, and that the farmers are henceforth about to have their own way in the affairs of the country, I am disposed to ask some such questions as these:- What can Government do for American agriculture ? What can it do for the interests and welfare of the farmers ? What could it ever have done? What has it done or left undone hitherto ?

I do not state these questions as distinct propositions, to be distinctly and formally treated in the order in which they have been stated, like the heads of an old-fashioned sermon, but as, presenting the details of a general inquiry which I desire to institute, and, as far as possible, within the reasonable limits of such a discourse, to answer.


And here, at the outset, let me remark, that it is not altogether easy or practicable to treat the agricultural interests of the United States as a single idea, and to include them all as the subject of a common discussion. When we speak of British agriculture or of European agriculture, we have in our minds a homogeneous subject. But the vast territorial extent of our country, and its varied soils and climates and productions, prevent altogether that perfect unity and identity of interest which are found among the tillers of the earth in other lands. The planting interests of the Southern States present, I need not say, a totally different subject of discussion from the farming interests of the Northern and Western States. The character of the labor by which the great crops of the South are raised, and the purposes to which they are applied, make them an obvious exception to the general subject of American agriculture, or, at any rate, so distinct a branch of it as requires a distinct and separate consideration.

I intend, then, in these remarks, to confine myself to the agriculture which is carried on by the hands of freemen, and which is generally occupied in the production of food.

And in reference to American agriculture, as thus understood, I begin by asserting that Government can do little or nothing for its protection, in the sense in which the term “protection” is employed in such connections, by any direct means; and that, even were what is called “ the Protecting System," the established policy of the country, it would be impossible to apply it to any considerable extent, directly and immediately, to agriculture.

The protection of agriculture is an idea plainly applicable to countries in which food cannot be produced in sufficient quantities to meet the wants of the population, or in which it cannot be produced at all, except at a higher cost than that at which it could be procured from other sources of supply. It supposes a competition, actual, or at least possible, in our own markets with the products of our own fields. It is a protection against something, and that something is obviously foreign importation.

Great Britain may be in a condition to protect her agriculture. And she did so in earnest, and most effectively, for a long series of years, by a systematic arrangement of prohibitory duties or

[ocr errors]

sliding scales. She may now find it more consistent with her general welfare, - more for her advantage, in view of her manufacturing and commercial interests, - more for the improvement of her whole condition, to relax or abandon this system for a time, or altogether. But this is a question with her of policy, and not of power. Nobody doubts that the state of British agriculture, the relation of production to population, the proportion of supply to demand, render it susceptible of this sort of governmental protection. And so it may be, and so it is, with other countries of the Old World, and perhaps of the New.

But what could prohibitory duties or sliding scales, applied to agricultural productions, accomplish for the American farmer? Is there any scarcity of food among us, inviting supplies from abroad? Can food be raised in other regions, and imported into our country, at lower rates than those at which we can raise it for ourselves? Do any foreign products of the soil enter into injurious competition with our own products in the American market? There may be a little flax-seed, a little coarse wool, or a few hides, brought here from South America or the East Indies; and now and then, during the prevalence of a mysterious blight, our provincial neighbors may supply us with a few potatoes, or even with a little wheat. But these are exceptional cases, entirely capable of explanation, if they were important enough to justify the consumption of time which such an explanation would involve.

The great peculiarity in the condition of the United States is, I need not say, its immense and immeasurable agricultural

Our boundless extent of fertile land, and the hardly more than nominal price at which it may be purchased, have settled the question for a thousand years, if not for ever, that, unless in some extraordinary emergency of famine or of civil war, our farmers will have the undisputed control of our own markets, without the aid of prohibitory duties or protective tariffs. It may be said to be with our lands, as it certainly is with our liberties: the condition of both may be described by the striking couplet of Dryden:


“Our only grievance is excess of ease, Freedom our pain, and plenty our disease.”

Other Governments can do much more for political liberty than our Government can do, because there is so much more of this sort in other countries left to be done. We have a noble system of independence and freedom, already established and secured to us by the toil and treasure and blood of our fathers. We of this generation may say, in the language of that memorable dialogue between the chief captain at Jerusalem and the glorious Apostle: “ With a great sum obtained they this freedom ; but we were free-born.” The most, therefore, that any American Government can do now is to maintain, uphold, and administer, according to the true spirit and intent of those who acquired it, the ample patrimony of freedom which has been bequeathed to us. God grant that there may never be wanting to us rulers capable of doing so!

And now, my friends, Nature-I should rather say a kind Providence - has done for our agricultural condition very much what the wisdom and valor of our fathers have effected for our political condition. It has given us a vast extent of virgin soil, susceptible of every variety of culture, and capable of yielding food for countless millions beyond our present population. It is ours to occupy, to enjoy, to improve and preserve it; and no protective systems are necessary to secure a market for as much of its produce as we, and our children, and our children's children for a hundred generations, can eat.

Government can thus do nothing, nothing whatever, in the way of direct and immediate protection to American agriculture. And when it is said, therefore, that our legislators can protect commerce, can protect manufactures, can find time to look after all the interests of the merchant, the mechanic, the artisan, the navigator, and the fisherman, but can find no time to look after the interests of the farmer,-- let it not be forgotten that such protection as may be afforded to commerce and manufactures, through the aid of a revenue system, is, from the nature of things, impracticable and impossible for agriculture. Let it not be forgotten, that, as to the great mass of human food which our soil supplies, we have a natural and perpetual monopoly in our own markets for as much as we can in any way furnish mouths to consume or money to pay for. In a word, the ability to consume, pecuniary or physi

« ZurückWeiter »