Native son Abraham Lincoln’s 202nd birthday is celebrated this week. Born on a farm here in LaRue County, Lincoln had a significant impact on LaRue County and American Agriculture.
Raised on farms in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, young Lincoln obviously did the farm chores of feeding livestock, planting seeds and weeding that all pioneer farm boys did. Even his famous rail splitting abilities were related to clearing the land for farming.
Yet his most valuable contributions to American agriculture were the implementation of four legislative acts during his administration that would transform farming in the United States.
The first of these was the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in 1862. Lincoln recognized the importance of agriculture to our country, and had expressed the need for this important aspect of American life to have a federal department level. As a result of Lincoln’s foresight the Department has evolved into a department for the farm community as well as all Americans.
The second act was the Homestead Act. This act provided for ownership of 160 acres of the American west to homesteaders who would live on the land for five years and make improvements to it. This led to the development of the western lands and resulting increase in agriculture.
The third act was the establishment of the Morrill Land Grant Act. This act gave federal lands to states for the establishment of state universities for agriculture and mechanics. Kentucky, as well as all states, took advantage of this offer. The University of Kentucky is the 1862 land grant university for Kentucky.
The fourth act was for grants of western land and the construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 it provided much needed transportation of agricultural goods and services across the United States.