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University of Wisconsin


June 21 to July 30

346 Courses. 190 Instructors. Graduate and undergraduate work in all departments leading to all academic degrees. Letters and Science (including Medicine), Engineering, Law, and Agriculture (including Home Economics).

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Volume VI. Number 5.


$2.00 a year. 20 cents a copy.

The Agrarian History of the United States as a
Subject for Research


During the greater part of the history of the United States agriculture has been the leading occupation of our people. Notwithstanding the tremendous strides made by manufactures in recent decades, more workers are still found in agriculture than in any other industry, and one-half of our population yet dwells in rural districts. The business record of the past year, moreover, has once more demonstrated how dependent our prosperity is upon this primal industry. If it be true, now, that the occupations of a people and their response to physical environment in the pursuit of these occupations largely mold society and shape politics, then it is also true, in view of the above facts, that an adequate history of our nation (as, indeed, of any nation) must deal extensively and familiarly with the facts of agrarian history.

The term "agrarian history agrarian history" seems preferable to "agricultural history" because the latter to many minds has rather narrow signification. Agrarian history means more than the development of the technique of agriculture, though that has in it an important place; it includes also wide study of laws and politics; transportation, markets, and correlated manufactures; education and religion; social movements and ideals; types of society-all of these studied sympathetically in their relation to agriculture as focal and measurably determinative rather than as merely subsidiary and tangential. Such a conception, however, emphasizes a systematic, conscious method of approach rather than entrance upon an entirely new field, for many of the facts of our agrarian history have been considered in other connections. But this method involves also investigations on new lines, the acquisition of much new data, and the re-estimation of old.

In attempting to point out reasons why historians should take greater interest in this phase of our history, one must not fail to give cordial recognition to valuable work already done or under way. Incidental and often illuminating allusions appear in most historical compositions, and these are the more elaborate in the more recent productions. Indispensable to our agrarian history is the work of our honored pioneers in the history of the west; careful treatment of the correlation and distinctions of these two broad fields would of itself require a separate paper. Naturally, economists or those of our historians who have acquired the point of view of the economists have produced works in which agrarian

history is most markedly integral. Agricultural economists, in particular, have felt acutely the necessity of research in this subject as one of the bases for their work, and some of them are participating zealously in the elaborate series of investigations which have been carried on by the Department of Economics and Sociology of the Carnegie Institution. A number of these investigations have reached the manuscript stage. Of undertakings by historians, special mention should be made of a book in preparation by Professor Albert H. Sanford, entitled, The Story of American Agriculture."


While the work already done on our agrarian history in the aggregate is of great value, nevertheless, it can be considered scarcely more than a beginnning. The scantiness of the literature on the subject may be inferred from a perusal of the titles in the widesearching "Guide to American History." Lacunae due to inadequate information exist in even our most comprehensive historical writings. Information, moreover, is often derived from untested sources, much of the real work of investigation having been done by amateurs. Serious misstatements occur in the production of reputable authors, and in others valuable material is marred in presentation by deplorable uncouthness of style.1 There is clear need for competent and trained historians to scan and synthesize work already done, press vigorously lines of research still undeveloped, and to form the whole into an available body of sound information. Adequate treatment of our agrarian history, indeed, will require a long process of development and the systematic co-operation of many workers.

Combined and extensive exertions are the more needed because of the character of the sources. Discussion of specific sources would, however, demand a lengthy paper. We can only point out here that, while material in general is abundant (especially in the latter periods), it is yet somewhat recondite; and the problem of its use is not so much that of building up results from scanty data as of tracing out sound conclusions from a labyrinth of facts.

The reasons for entering upon investigations of this character may properly be demanded; our age is practical, and historical production must be use

1 It may not be unseemly to remark that citations in support of the above statements are at hand.

ful (of course in no narrow sense) or else ultimately the axe will be laid to the roots. Too much precious labor in historical research has been without aim, mere dilettanteism, while subjects of commanding worth have been little regarded. Once a subject for investigation has been selected, detachment from the present assuredly is of the utmost importance. But in choosing a subject for a thesis or a book, in planning a course of study or entering a field of investigation, we should ask ourselves squarely, "Just what use is it? What, precisely, do I seek to accomplish?"

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An urgent reason for research into the agrarian history of the United States is that such history is needed to point the way for right methods of future advance in matters of rural statesmanship. Take, for example, the establishment of an efficient system of rural credit. Any attempt to imitate closely successful systems practised in Europe probably would fail, because those systems are built upon one of the oldest and most enduring institutions in the history of the human race-the village system of agricultural organization; whereas, one of the most astounding facts in the agrarian history of the United States is that this institution, although it was early introduced and has left persistent survivals in some localities, failed in the presence of vast lands and new crops to obtaiu a hold upon agricultural customs. While this change weakened habits of association and cooperation, it was of immense advantage in facilitating the adoption of agricultural machinery, and had, besides, other important effects. Again, take the matter of land tenure. Our permanent land system is just now entering upon its formative period. We have usually applied the term land system to those policies and that series of acts in accordance with which titles to public lands have been alienated to individuals. Extremely important these, and they press for research; that they constitute an integral part of our agrarian history it is needless to point .out. But there are ahead of us questions of land tenure, tenancy, size of farms, landlordism and like matters, of a complexity and import such as we have never experienced in the epoch of free lands; and our answers to these will constitute our permanent land system. These problems go to the heart of our country's life, and I am sure that in dealing with them no statesman is competent who has not a broad knowledge of agrarian history.


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Moreover, there is demand for such history. The farming class is coming to dignity and self-consciousness; and classes, like individuals, when they attain position look around for genealogies. A paradox has appeared in the recent development of agriculture in this country-the less important it becomes proportionately, the more important it becomes intrinsically. A revolution has occurred. Whereas, formerly men who wanted large opportunities sought them in the openings of urban life, now long-sighted men frequently turn to agriculture either directly or in affiliated professions. Thousands of cultured men are being employed in the new agriculture. Agricultural colleges have gained immensely in numbers

of students and in prestige during the past decade, and the rate of advancement is likely to be greatly accelerated in the future under the stimulus of the system outlined in the Smith-Lever Bill. The early demand for instruction in productive technique is being broadened into comprehensive aspiration towards what may be called agricultural statesmanship.2 In accordance with this ideal, courses are being developed in rural sociology and agricultural economics, and, in a number of institutions, in agrarian history. Moreover, the extension of the teaching of agriculture to secondary schools will increase the desire for this sort of history. The only way rightly to satisfy these rising demands is through the well-directed efforts of earnest historical scholarship.

A third reason for prosecuting research in agrarian history is that the subject is worth while in itself as a distinctive part of American history, and should contribute vitally to that comprehensive understanding of our history which we are all endeavoring to bring about. Few movements in our history, I dare say by way of example, have been more unique and important than the application of machinery to agriculture. Clearly, we have led all nations in this great revolution-a revolution fundamentally affiliated with the growth of American democracy and affecting in its ramifications the welfare of the whole modern world. An immense field here awaits the historian. Consider also the remarkable increase in the volume of our agricultural products since the Civil War-a development likewise of large significance not only in our own history but in that of European countries. Again, can there be cited in the whole history of world agriculture any one series of phenomena so astounding, dramatic, and far-reaching as those connected with the raising of cotton in the United States between 1784 and 1884? Agrarian development furnishes, in fact, an indispensable background for the history of more than one political movement and for the biography of many a statesman. It reveals new and engaging aspects of men already prominent in history, and brings into focus new characters. Men like Jesse Buel and John Johnson and Peter Gideon may not unworthily come into the ken of students of American history. Furthermore, facts now unknown, it may be surmised, will emerge in the course of investigation, and others will be broadened in significance.

In bringing this paper to conclusion, may I venture to set forth what may be the necessary qualifi cations for him who is to investigate and present agrarian history?

He should be a real historian. This demands, of course, technical training, wide and exact scholarship, and mastery of choice and polished expression. But it demands more than these. It demands also the passion for historical research, the gift of insight, and the power of creative imagination. The true

2 I notice that the term has already been employed by Dr. T. N. Carver. Others also, perhaps, have used it, but it does not appear widely current.

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historian has kinship with the artist and the poet. I question, therefore, whether the work of the average agricultural economist is likely to be permanently effective in the field of history. Of course one can run no hard and fast lines; but it seems to me that the present activity of agricultural economists in agrarian history is due perhaps more to felt need for the facts, to special financing, and to neglect of the field by historians rather than to natural inclination or technical qualification.

But, on the other hand, the historian must understand and sympathize with the life which he seeks 1 to portray. "Agrarian history, as such," writes Professor Henry C. Taylor, "while it should be while it should be written by one with historical training, requires that


one's point of view be economic and agricultural rather than political." He who studies agrarian history, therefore, must be on familiar terms with agricultural life and with the technique of agriculture. He must know vitally his agricultural economics and rural sociology and the problems connected therewith. He must have some conception of the statesmanship of agriculture. Fortunately many students in history have been reared on the farm, and such can take on easily the point of view required. Moreover, as departments of agricultural economics develop in our large universities, it would seem most proper that a graduate student having a major in history might choose agricultural economics as a minor.3

The New York Constitutional Convention


New York state is now revising its constitution. A convention met on April 6, organized with Mr. Elihu Root as president, and adjourned to meet again on April 26, after the legislature shall have adjourned and vacated the capital building where the sessions of the convention are to be held. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance to the evolution of state government in this country of this convention in New York. The leading state of the country is taking stock of its political capital for the first time in about twenty years; it will be bombarded by influences of every description from every direction; we seem to be in the midst of a great political eddy, between a period of rapid change and possibly one of more conservative progress or possibly of reaction. What New York does will not only in a measure picture the present state of public opinion in the East at least, but will also doubtless influence very largely the evolution of political ideas in the immediate future all over the country.

It has been more than twenty years since New York adopted its present constitution in 1894, which provided that the question of holding a constitutional convention should be presented to the people at least once in twenty years, but the present convention is being held a little before the normal process would have brought it about. For the last few years there has been a good deal of unrest over the question of judicial decisions, the organization of the executive department of the government, and the relation of the cities to the state, as well as over a good many other things including suffrage for women and reforms much more radical than this one. The impatience in some quarters gave impetus to action by the Democratic party in control of the state last year to advance the holding of the constitutional convention; and last spring a special election was held to determine whether the constitution should be revised. Only a few people went to the polls, and the question was decided in the affirmative by a few votes. There was not a little criticism of the election. The

Citizens' Union went into court with an effort to set aside the results on the ground of dishonesty in certain districts, and some people were convicted of fraud and sent to prison. But the decision stood, and in November the delegates were elected.

By one of the strange turns in political affairs a convention that was provided mainly by Democrats and demanded largely by persons of very progressive tendencies will turn out to be wholly under the control of Republicans and gentlemen about as conservative as the state could pick out in a long journey. New York has fifty-one senatorial districts; each of these elected to the convention three delegates; and there were elected fifteen delegates-at-large. Of this total of 168 members, all the delegates-at-large are Republicans; and only fifty-two members of the whole convention are Democrats. There are no members of the Progressive party listed as such. Mr. Root, who will doubtless lead the deliberations of the convention, has made several addresses on the subject of the constitution and its revision, almost invariably taking the position that the members of the convention should be praised and honored equally as much for what they leave out of the fundamental law as for what they put into it. He will doubtless give all of his great ability to preventing any changes being made, which, as he would say, do not proceed immediately out of our present organization by logical growth. He will doubtless oppose anything that means a break with the present system. On the other hand, another delegate-at-large, Mr. Henry L. Stimson, former secretary of war, and candidate for governor of New York, an intimate friend of Mr. Roosevelt, is a sane progressive of the best type. He not many months ago published in the Independent" an article which represents the very best advanced political thought. His advocacy of a sane

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3 This article is a revision of a paper read before the joint meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association and the American Historical Association at Chicago, December 30, 1914.

relation between the governor and the legislature; of an appointive judiciary; and of an intelligent budgetary practice leaves little for the student of government to desire. If the convention is held away from experimenting with new-fangled notions by Mr. Root and guided into some few constructive steps by Mr. Stimson, it will justify its sessions and render an enormous service to mankind. The Democratic members are saying with whimsical phliosophy that they expect to enjoy watching their friends of the Republican party revise the constitution. There are men among them, however, who will, without doubt, do yeoman service for the best results that the convention will turn out.

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When the convention reassembles at the end of April it will be pretty well ready for work, and it has allowed itself only about a month in which to receive new proposals. No new overtures will be received after June 1 except by unanimous consent. There is no doubt that enough recommendations will be sent to them before that time to keep them busy throughout the summer. The probable length of the session is variously estimated at from four to seven months, though some would like to make it much shorter. Associations, clubs, and unions of all sorts are busily at work preparing amendments for submission as soon as the convention is ready to receive them. Its work will be organized under the usual committee system, a committee being given charge of each great field of discussion such as the government of cities; the courts; the organization of the administrative departments; taxation; suffrage, etc., etc. It is reported that there will be no floor leader, but that the work of each committee will be taken up in order and the chairman of each committee will be the floor leader during the time the work of his committee is under consideration.

A recent poll of the members of the convention by the "New York Times "finds that at least threefifths of them think there is need of some reform of the judiciary. "About half of them advocate pro

vision for home rule for cities. One-third of them mention the short ballot as of prime importance. A considerable proportion are in favor of the following changes: Creation of a state budgetary law, giving some appointive power to the governor, reorganizing the system of state administrative departments, strengthening state conservation of resources, and making judges of the higher courts appointive officers. More than one-third of the letters specifically assert that the writers do not consider much change needed in the present constitution, which has served the state for twenty years.

"Subjects in which a few of the delegates express interest are: Reduction of the legislature's size, biennial legislative sessions, larger pay for legislators, reduction in the number of counties, tax reform, longer legislative terms, reform in the state finances, direct primaries, more definite impeachment laws, restraining of perpetual franchises, abolition of indictment by grand juries, and provision for verdicts by nine jurors in civil cases. Only four members say they favor woman suffrage."

It may be profitable to take up for a brief review the three or four items which seem to be most in need of immediate attention in the interest of more efficient government.

For New York state, where more than half the people of the state live in one city, and where there are many other cities of considerable importance, the problem of adjusting the relation of the city government to that of the state is of prime importance and has long needed attention. As in most other American states, it has been the practice of the legislature in New York to interfere ad libitum in the conduct of the affairs of the City of New York and of other cities, particularly in the field of finance, though by no means exclusively there. So long as it is the assumption that the city has only those powers which are expressly delegated to it by the legislature, this practice is almost sure to go on. Even if the constitution denies the power to the legislature to pass local bills, there will nevertheless be passed bills which, while general in form, are local in fact. Therefore, those who are making an effort to reform the relation between state and city government in New York are proposing an amendment which shifts the ground completely. They provide that the city shall have complete control over all its own government and property insofar as its control is not specifically limited by act of the legislature. This limitation must be in the form of a general law applicable to all cities in the state, the cities being no longer classified for legislative action. The assumption is that a matter which must be dealt with by a local law is one upon which the city can act more intelligently than can the state. This municipal home rule would carry with it charter-making by the city and practically complete autonomy in matters of local concern. One of the aspects of this question, over which the greatest difference of opinion will doubtless develop, is that of the control of education, which has generally been looked upon as a state function. If this is looked upon as a state function, and the state legislature makes local and special laws in performing it, then the advocates of complete home rule maintain that the local control of the budget is at an end. The whole question of the government of the City of New York is, however, attracting so much attention under its present admirable administration that reform in this field centers largely about the city, and the legislature will be asked by the constitutional convention to vote twenty or more thousand dollars to provide a survey of the city government for use in its deliberations.

Only a few months ago appeared a complete survey, with many graphic presentations, of the state government, its organs and functions, edited by the State Department of Efficiency and Economy and the Bureau of Municipal Research. This description will give an admirable foundation on which to build an argument that the executive and administrative departments of the state need revision in the direction of concentrating power and responsibility. The Short Ballot Association and organizations that agree with their program, as do most careful students

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