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LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
DIVISION OF PUBLICATIONS,
Washington, D. C., January 2, 1907. DEAR SIR: A frequent demand for information regarding the origin and development of the Department of Agriculture led to the compilation of the accompanying historical sketch. The compiler, Mr. C. H. Greathouse, of this Division, was instructed to follow as closely as possible, in the selection of subjects mentioned, the annual reports of the several Commissioners and Secretaries, prominence being given to those features of the work of the several administrations which the administrators themselves seem to have regarded as specially worthy of attention.
This historical sketch has been supplemented by a statement of the origin and duties of the several bureaus, divisions, and offices of the Department, in which the several chiefs have concurred, by citations from the several laws under which the Department has attained its present stage of development, and by a statement of appropriations and disbursements for the Department of Agriculture, 1839–1906, inclusive, which was furnished by the Division of Accounts and Disbursements.
The original edition of this bulletin was issued in 1898. It has now been revised and brought up to date, and I recommend its republication without change in the number of the bulletin. Respectfully,
GEO. Wm. HILL,
Chief. Hon. JAMES WILSON,
Page. Main building of the United States Department of Agriculture Frontispiece. PLATE I. Design for Department building as proposed by Mr. Le Duc...... 16 II. Justin S. Morrill and William H. Hatch..
Henry L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents, 1836–1845.
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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE.
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT.
EARLY GOVERNMENTAL AID OF AGRICULTURE IN AMERICA.
The Department of Agriculture had its origin in the farsighted wisdom of Washington and the practical activity of Franklin. The former as President suggested the organization of a branch of the National Government to care for the interests of farmers, and the latter, when the agent of Pennsylvania in England, sent home silkworm eggs and mulberry cuttings to start silk growing. When the representatives of the new United States Government went to foreign lands after the Revolution, they followed Franklin's example. The number and value of their contributions increased till Hon. Henry L. Ellsworth, of Connecticut, in 1839, induced Congress to make a trial of a small appropriation for the distribution of the seeds, cuttings, etc., thus collected, and for the publication of agricultural statistics. The experiment was successful, and the work of the Department has since had a steady growth.
Governmental aid to agriculture, however, antedated the time of Washington and Franklin, though it was desultory and uncertain. James I, in 1622, encouraged the breeding of silkworms in Virginia; in 1642 the general court of Massachusetts offered premiums for sheep raising, and in 1657 the Virginia legislature, passed an act to stimulate the raising of hops. In 1732 a parcel of government ground in Georgia was allotted for growing mulberry trees in aid of silk culture, and in the ten years preceding 1743 Parliament granted $600,000 to promote the cultivation of indigo and other crops in Georgia. In 1748 Parliament put a premium on silk culture in the colonies, and in 1766 the South Carolina assembly voted £1,000 for the establishment of a silk filature in Charleston. In 1775 the South Carolina and Virginia legislatures were taking steps to encourage the sheep industry, but the Revolution came on, and all special efforts in behalf of agriculture were lost sight of.
After American independence had been won and peace was firmly established, strong friendships grew up between public-spirited Englishmen and Americans. When the British board of agriculture was established in 1793, its chief promoter, Sir John Sinclair, had his friend and correspondent, President Washington, made an honorary member. To a suggestion that a similar board ought to form part of the American Government Washington was favorable, but in his reply to Sir John, in a letter of July 20, 1794, showed his clear understanding of the order of growth of public institutions. He said: “It will be some time, I fear, before an agricultural society with Congressional aids will be established in this country; we must walk, as other countries have done, before we can run. Smaller societies must prepare the way for greater, but with the lights before us I hope we shall not be so slow in maturation as other nations have been.”
WASHINGTON'S VIEWS AS TO A BOARD OF AGRICULTURE.
In order to bring the matter before the public, Washington, in his last message to Congress, on December 7, 1796, made the following statement of his views: “In proportion as nations advance in population the cultivation of the soil becomes more and more an object of public patronage. Institutions grow up supported by the public purse.
Among the means which have been employed to this end none have been attended with greater success than the establishment of boards composed of public characters charged with collecting and diffusing information, and enabled by premiums and small pecuniary aid to encourage and assist a spirit of discovery and improvement. “This species of establishment contributes doubly to the increase of improvements by stimulating to enterprise and experiment and by drawing to a common center the results everywhere of individual skill and observation and spreading them thence over the whole nation."
RECEPTION OF WASHINGTON'S SUGGESTION.
This suggestion was seconded by Col. Timothy Pickering, Secretary of State, and was favorably received by public men generally. The response of the Senate, drawn by Senator Read, of South Carolina, was as follows: "The necessity of accelerating the establishment of certain useful manufactures by the intervention of legislative aid and protection and the encouragement due to the creation of boards (composed of intelligent individuals) to patronize the primary pursuits of society are subjects which will readily engage our most serious attention."
The House of Representatives referred the subject to a committee, which reported on January 11, 1797, recommending the creation of such a society as indicated. It was to meet annually, and Congressmen, Federal judges, the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, and