By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — President Abraham Lincoln helped break the Illinois prairie and survey and settle land around the New Salem area. Those taking time to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum have a chance to learn more about his life and impact on agriculture.
The museum shares details about Lincoln’s boyhood, as well as his presidency. While in office, he signed the Morrill Act, which enabled the new Western states – including Illinois – to establish colleges for their citizens to receive advanced education.
Dave Blanchette, of the museum, explained, “The act gave every state that had remained in the Union a grant of 30,000 acres of public land for every member of its Congressional delegation. The states sold this land and used the proceeds to establish colleges in engineering, agriculture and military science.
“More than 70 land grant colleges, as they came to be known, were established under the original Morrill Act, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”
One of the items in the museum’s Treasures Gallery is an original letter written by Lincoln during his presidential run in 1860, to his cousin, John Hanks (also a distant relative of actor Tom Hanks). This letter is titled “Breaking the Prairie” because Lincoln wrote of helping a relative plow some land when the extended family moved to Illinois in 1830: “I helped him at breaking prairie, with a joint team of his and ours, which in turn, broke some on the new place we were improving.”
A second item is a Paul Manship sculpture of Lincoln created in 1932 that shows the young man’s two main pursuits: chopping wood for home and farm, and reading. This sculpture is found outside the cabin that illustrates his boyhood years.
While he may not be remembered for his agricultural endeavors, Lincoln is known for his wit and way with words. It was when sharing remarks on the need for scientific gains in agriculture, and education for farm producers, at the 1859 Wisconsin State Fair that listeners had a chance to hear about how deeply he wanted to instill education and more research in the agricultural community.
An original 1859 volume printed his speech for the first time, and it too is part of the Presidential Museum exhibit.
Probably the most important step Lincoln took for those in ag was to create the USDA. The department was established in 1862, and Blanchette said, “Acting on his lifelong beliefs, Lincoln created the first separate federal government agency to specifically deal with agriculture.
“This copy of their first annual report in 1862 is part of the exhibit. It was donated to the Presidential Library and Museum in 2000 by farm broadcaster Max Armstrong.” (Armstrong has made many contributions of his own over the years to agriculture and the antique tractor hobby.)
To learn more, visit www.surveyingmuseum.org and www.presidentlincoln.org