16 February, 2009 - President Lincoln's Agricultural Legacy

By now, I would guess, most Americans are well aware of the fact that this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Born February 12, 1809 in Kentucky; he spent part of his childhood in Indiana and then moved to Illinois where he made his mark in the political world, climaxing with his election to the Presidency.Ceremonies have been held across the nation this month to commemorate the 200th anniversary and it is expected millions of people will visit his home, museum, library and tomb in Springfield, IL.

While President Lincoln is remembered primarily for events such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and his untimely death at the hands of an assassin, there is so much more to his Presidency. With my love for history, let me focus on the agricultural legacy of his Presidency because he is responsible for some far-reaching ptograms that helped develop the entire nation.

Beatrice, Nebraska is the home of the National Park Service Homestead National Monumen of America, a display that tells the story of the Homestead Act of 1862. Signed into law by President Lincoln that year, it became effective January 1, 1863, the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation. The program ended in 1986 and during the 123 years of its existence the federal government distributed 270-million acres in 160-acre parcels to individuals in 30 states.

To qualify for ownership, the recipient had to live on the 160 acres for 5 years, farm it and improve it and build a dwelling on it. At the end of the 5 years, he received title to the property and the total cost was $18.00 in administrative costs. Forty percent of those who received homestead land qualified and took title of the property.

But there is more to the Lincoln story and it took place in 3 short months later in 1862. May 15th, he created the U.S. Department of Agriculture, calling it "the people's department". July 1st, he signed the Pacific Railway Act, opening the way for the first transcontinental railroad which eventually carried homesteaders to settle the West. And the next day, July 2nd, he signed the Morrill Act which created the Land-Grant College System, which in my opinion has done more through its research and teaching programs to help feed a hungy world than any other program on the planet.

It truly is an outstanding legacy and all of us involved in agriculture pay tribute to Abe Lincoln on his 200th birthday.

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