Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
The Farmer’s Future
By Horace Greeley (1811–1872)
[Address at the Fayette Co., Ind., Fair, 8 September, 1858.]

I PLACE at the head of all, the need of an adequate conception by farmers of the nature and the worth of their vocation. In taking this position, I put aside as impertinent, or trivial, or chaffy, all mere windy talk of the dignity, honor, and happiness of the farmer’s calling. When I hear any one dilate in this vein, I want to look him square in the eye and ask, “Sir, do you know a farmer who acts and lives as though he believed one word of this? Do you know one who chooses the brightest, ablest, best instructed among his four or five sons, and says to him, ‘Let the rest do as they please, I want you to succeed me in the old homestead, and be the best farmer in the country’?” Do you know one who really believes that his son who is to be a farmer requires as liberal and as thorough an education as his brothers who are to be respectively lawyer, doctor, and divine? Do you know one who is to-day personally tilling the soil, who, if he were enabled to choose for his only and darling son just what career he preferred above all others, would make him a farmer? If you do know such a farmer—and I confess I do not—then I say you know one who will not be offended at anything I shall say implying that agriculture is not now the liberal and liberalizing vocation it should and yet must be. Whenever the great mass of our farmers shall have come fully to realize that there is scope and reward in their own pursuit for all the knowledge and all the wisdom with which their sons can be imbued—rare geniuses as we know many of them are—then we shall have achieved the first great step toward making agriculture that first of vocations which it rightfully should be. But to-day it is the current though unavowed belief of the majority—and of farmers even more than of others—that any education is good enough for a husbandman, and that any blockhead who knows enough to come in when it rains is qualified to manage a farm.
  The need of our agriculture next in order is a correction of the common error, that farming is an affair of muscle only; and that the best farmer is he who delves and grubs from daylight to dark, and from the first of January to the last of December. You will not, I am sure, interpret me as undervaluing industry, diligence, force; certainly, you will not believe me to commend that style of farming which leaves time for loitering away sunny hours in bar-rooms, and for attending every auction, horse-race, shooting-match, or monkey show that may infest the township. I know right well that he who would succeed in any pursuit must carefully husband his time, making every hour count. What I maintain is, that, while every hour has its duties, they are not all muscular; and that the farmer who would wisely and surely thrive must have time for mental improvement as well as for physical exertion. I know there are farmers who decline to take regularly any newspaper, even one devoted to agriculture, because they say they can’t afford it, or have no time to read it. I say no farmer can afford to do without one. To attempt it is a blunder and a loss; if he has children growing up around him, it is moreover a grievous wrong. If every hard-working farmer, who says he cannot read in summer, because it is a hurrying season, were to set apart two hours of each day for reading and reflection, he would not only be a wiser and happier man than if he gave every hour to mere labor,—he would live in greater comfort and acquire more property. To dig is easily learned; but to learn how, where, and when to dig most effectively is the achievement of a lifetime. There is no greater and yet no more common mistake than that which confounds incessant, exhausting muscular effort with the highest efficiency in farming. I know men who have toiled early and late, summer and winter, with resolute energy and ample strength, through their forty years of manhood, yet failed to secure a competence, not because they have been specially unfortunate, as they are apt to suppose, but because they lacked the knowledge and skill, the wisdom and science, that would have enabled them to make their exertions tell most effectively. They have been life-long workers; but they have not known how to work to the greatest advantage. Each of them has planted and sowed enough to shield him from want for the remainder of his days; but when the time came for reaping and gathering into barns, his crops were deficient. One year, too much rain; the next year, too little; now an untimely frost, and then the ravage of insects, have baffled his exertions and blasted his hopes, and left him in the down-hill of life still toiling for a hand-to-mouth subsistence. I think the observation of almost any of you will have furnished parallels in this respect for my own.  2

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