150 years of the Department of Agriculture

On May 15, 1862–150 years ago today–President Abraham Lincoln signed into law legislation to establish a Department of Agriculture. The text of the Act can be read on the USDA website. For enthusiasts of history and President Lincoln, there is an entire section here entitled  “Abraham Lincoln and Agriculture.”

In the section “Lincoln’s Agricultural Legacy,” on the USDA site, “In his first annual message to Congress on December 3, 1861, Lincoln said: “Agriculture, confessedly the largest interest of the nation, has not a department nor a bureau, but a clerkship only, assigned to it in the Government. While it is fortunate that this great interest is so independent in its nature as to not have demanded and extorted more from the Government, I respectfully ask Congress to consider whether something more can not be given voluntarily with general advantage…. While I make no suggestions as to details, I venture the opinion that an agricultural and statistical bureau might profitably be organized.”

The website concludes with “Although Lincoln’s primary problem during his presidency was preserving the Union, the agricultural legislation that he signed was to transform American farming.”

Other legislation to follow in 1862 includes the Homestead Act (May 20) and the Morrill Land Grant College Act (July 2), of which Iowa was the first to accept. There is an interesting article about the Morrill Act and Iowa State University on the ISU library website.


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