FARM ECOLOGY IN THE EARLY REPUBLIC
I. Subsistence Versus Market Farming
A. Ecology of inland eastern United States: Upland hills and forests beyond fall line of rivers without easy access to ports or navigable rivers settled in eighteenth century. Forested lands slowly cleared for small settlements; hoofed livestock grazing in woods add manure, but also create impacted soils.
B. Exogenous factors bringing about change from pre-market to market agriculture
1. Population: Population pressure on land stimulates gradual inland migration, 1750-1800, creating agrarian, subsistence-oriented economy. Ninety percent of inhabitants of southern New England (for example) are subsistence-oriented farmers living in inland towns. Sixty-seven percent live in townships (40 square miles) of 1,000-2,000 people. Only 3 out 437 townships have more than 10,000 inhabitants. Average farm covers 100-200 acres. After 1815, population pressure coupled with market revolution and resolution of Indian lands stimulates great migration to Mississippi and Ohio valleys, with clearing of new lands.
2. Rise of Market: Dual economies exist--a staple-exporting seaboard economy combined with inland subsistence-oriented farming communities. Subsistence-oriented farming characterizes inland U.S. in regions beyond fall line of rivers and outside about a 20-mile radius where no roads or water provide transportation to town markets with a non-agricultural populations. Economy is based on use-values; labor is exchanged for food, goods, services, or "cash if required." After 1815 concurrent and mutually stimulated transportation (turnpikes, canals, steamboats and railroads) and market revolutions (ca. 1815-50) create national market system in U.S. interior, bringing about dramatic decreases in shipment time and costs (Example: Shipping goods from Cincinnati to New York took 50 days in 1815 at 30-70 cents per ton-mile. The same trip took 6-8 days via R.R. in 1850 at 2-9 cents per ton-mile.) A profit-oriented money-value economy with production specialization emerges. Market revolution marks the transition between the staple-exporting mercantile economy of the colonial period and the industrial revolution of the mid-nineteenth century.
3. Social Relations: Subsistence farming regions exhibit little social stratification and lack economic specialization. They show greater equality in wealth distribution than do seaboard areas, owing to absence of non-agricultural markets. Farmers, with the exception of ministers, are also doctors, lawyers, innkeepers, fullers, carpenters, tanners, wheelwrights, joiners, cobblers, coopers, and so on. Social stratification is based primarily on age-stratification. Tools are shared and labor is exchanged. Non-agricultural communities that develop in same regions after market revolution exhibit wider range of stratification and specialization patterns.
4. Technologies: Subsistence farming is based on wrought-iron Carey plow and bar-side plows, light-weight harrows, pitchfork, hoe and shovel. Farmers use three-field crop rotation: first year, corn or potatoes; second year, rye, oats, or spring wheat; third year, weed or barley fallow. Manuring and fertilizing and orchard management are neglected. Clear-cutting of timber tracts occurs. Pattern of soil exhaustion and clearing of new fields predominates. Agricultural improvement movement is stimulated by market revolution and population pressures on the land; managerial approach to conservation is introduced. Early example is Pennsylvania Germans: large well-built warm barns and solid fences; well-fed horses and cattle; attention to manuring and fertilizing; selective cutting of trees and protection of stumps for second growth; clearing of all stumps in fields for efficiency in cultivation; and extensive vegetable gardens with turnips, cabbage, salad vegetables, and onions for home and market. Large well-built wagons convey produce to market in Philadelphia. A frugal life-style and efficiently heated homes maximize production and accumulation of wealth.
5. Attitudes: Crèvecoeur in Pennsylvania and New York (1782) and Jefferson in Virginia (1787) idealize the subsistence farmer as the backbone of the democratic agrarian-based economy but with little consciousness of the long-term costs to soil and other resources in creation of democratic egalitarianism. Anonymous author of American Husbandry criticizes subsistence agricultural practices from perspective of European agricultural improvement techniques for increased market production. Benjamin Rush praises the practices of German market farmers in southeastern Pennsylvania. Post market-revolution commentators such as Calvin Colton (1844) eulogize the "self-made man" and "his" ability to accumulate wealth and profit through hard work, industry, and merit, achieved through the "inexhaustible wealth" of the country's seemingly limitless abundance of natural resources.
1. What is the ideal of the American farmer as set out by Thomas Jefferson and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur? How do they contrast the European and the American? What is the social and political significance of the subsistence farmer in America? Was the farming occupation accessible to everyone?
2. To what extent does Crèvecoeur believe "the American character" has been formed by the American environment? What did it mean to be an American in the eighteenth century? What criticisms might be made of Crèvecoeur's environmental determinism? What, if any, personality traits can be said to characterize Americans today?
3. Compare the farming practices of New Englanders as described by the author of American Husbandry (1775) with those of the Pennsylvania Germans depicted by Benjamin Rush (1789). Which practices by New England farmers criticized by the American Husbandry author might be associated with subsistence farming? Which Pennsylvania practices praised by Rush might be evidence of market-oriented farms? In what ways do these practices reflect or fall short of Jefferson's and Crèvcoeur's agrarian ideal?
4. What were the transportation and market revolutions and how are they exemplified in the documents by John James Audubon and Calvin Colton?
5. Drawing on the essays by William Cronon, Carolyn Merchant, and John Boles, compare American Indian, African-American, and European-American subsistence. What contributions to the American diet were made by each of these racial groups?
6. Compare and contrast the arguments of William Cronon and Carolyn Merchant on market versus subsistence farming. What assumptions underlie each of these two different interpretations?
7. What differences in gender roles are revealed in the documents and essays? Were the sexes equal or unequal? In what ways?