During the month of February, we celebrate our presidents and the legacies they left behind. One of our most celebrated presidents is Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States. While Lincoln is well known for leading the country during the Civil War, his Emancipation Proclamation, and his Gettysburg Address, few people realize he left a substantial impact on the landscape of American agriculture, as well.
Shortly after his first term in office began, President Lincoln soon realized the enormous challenge that feeding and clothing the Union Army (now embroiled in a bitter war with the Confederate States of America) would be. He asked American farmers to cultivate all their land in order to support the country’s fighting men. In 1862, that meant providing for over 600,000 Union soldiers.
America’s farmers answered the call. Each month during the war, farmers provided 48,750 bushels of beans, 8.5 million pounds of potatoes, 130,000 barrels of flour, and 24.2 million pounds of fresh beef. That’s just one month’s worth of supplies! In gratitude for the support of farmers and their hard work, Lincoln decided to provide them with extra support, and on May 15, 1862, he established the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Created to assist farmers that were contributing to the war effort, the USDA at that time helped test farm equipment and procured the best seeds for planting. Today, the USDA continues its work of supporting farmers and ranchers by promoting trade, ensuring food safety, and protecting our country’s natural resources.
In addition to creating the USDA, President Lincoln repeatedly pushed for legislation that would accelerate agricultural research and education. Federal acts during his tenure include the Homestead Act (critical to westward expansion), the Pacific Railway Act (provided faster transportation for farmers and their products), and the Morrill Act (created land-grant universities).