Monthly Blog - September 2018

U.S. Presidents Who Were Farmers

Ready, Set... Time to Say Please and Thank You Again.

How They Lived the Four Legs of the Table: Honor, Trust, Respect, Love
Part 2/3

A president yields much influence over the nation’s farms and agricultural assets. And the relationship between a president and the nation’s land has roots back to our first president. Deep roots, where the where the keeper of the land and the nation has been known to harvest the hay, plant the crops, milk the cows and manage the herd under-the-big-blue-sky. Maybe there is a gentleman farmer or two in the mix as well.

America is about land, prosperity and amber fields of grain, so it is not surprising that our esteemed list of farmer presidents include a peanut farmer, an orchard farmer, a scholar farmer and a hard-working farmer who read by the firelight, and founded the first United States Department of Agriculture…in honor of and for the people who work the land.

There are sixteen presidents who were farmers. And those same presidents lived the four tenants of manners and civility.

The July/August 2018 Blog featured our first four presidents. Following is the second installment of U.S. Presidents and how they lived Trust, Honor, Respect and Love.

5. William Henry Harrison

The ninth president.

The briefest… we hardly knew you.

William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia, but lived in North Bend, Ohio at his farm. He became president in 1840, leaving his farm for the highest office in the land.

He passed away on April 4, 1841 from pneumonia just 32 days after being sworn in. His body was returned to North Bend for burial.

William Henry Harrison served as a delegate from the Northwest Territory, as territorial governor of Indiana, Indian Commissioner, member of the House of Representatives, U.S. Senator and U.S. President. The documents from Congress indicate that in 1803, Mr. Harrison signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians.  And in 1818, he issued a report pertaining to the organization, arming, and disciplining of the militia.

The Harrison farm is also the birthplace of President Benjamin Harrison.

6. James C. Tyler

The tenth president.

An immense garden, stretching down to the road, filled with honeysuckle and roses.

Walnut Grove, Tyler’s farm in Charles City County, Virginia, actually belonged first to William Henry Harrison before him.

Tyler renamed the property, including a large plantation house, as Sherwood Forest, allegedly because he considered himself to have been “outlawed,” Robin Hood–style, from the Whigs.

Shortly after Tyler’s death in 1862, there were many Union contingents traveling the region. A number of them paid a visit to Sherwood Forest.

The house contained bookshelves and many books, and indications of literary work by its recent occupants. Some books were carried off by the soldiers, and not a few letters from prominent leaders in the Confederacy to the ex-President were discovered and appropriated. The next day the place was protected by a guard. Most of Tyler’s papers were at Sherwood Forest.

The beautiful location of the house was located on rising ground, surrounded by stately trees, with an immense garden stretching down to the road, filled with roses and honeysuckle. The house was found to be deserted.

7. James K. Polk

The eleventh president.

The least known consequential president.

James K. Polk was ten years old when he and his family lumbered across the Appalachian Mountains in a covered wagon from North Carolina to set up a farm on the Tennessee frontier. Despite his rural lifestyle, he was a pretty sickly child, and as an adult wisely chose law over the working in the fields.

Polk was the last strong pre–Civil War president, and he is the earliest of whom there are surviving photographs taken during his term in office. He is noted for his foreign policy successes.
When Mexico rejected American annexation of Texas, Polk led the nation to a sweeping victory in the Mexican-American War, which gave the United States most of its present Southwest area.
He secured passage of the Walker tariff of 1846, which had low rates that pleased his native South, and he established a treasury system that lasted until 1913.

Polk oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first postage stamps in the United States. He promised to serve only one term and did not run for reelection. He died of cholera three months after his term ended.

Scholars have ranked him favorably on the list of greatest presidents for his ability to set an agenda and achieve all of it.

8. Abraham Lincoln

The sixteenth president.

…did not enjoy physical labor, but loved to read.

Lincoln was a frontier farm boy through and through. Born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, he grew up on the western frontier in Kentucky and Indiana.
His father Thomas was not successful as a farmer and often moved around to find odd jobs. By 1830, the Lincoln family settled near Decatur, Illinois. The young Lincoln, determined to gain knowledge, sewed together sheets of paper in an effort to continue his learning.

From a one-room log cabin in Illinois, first on Sinking Springs Farm and then Knob Creek Farm, he ending up transforming the American agricultural system with the founding of the Department of Agriculture, establishment of the Land Grant system, and passing of the Homestead Act.

Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846, Lincoln promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads.

His primary goal was to reunite the nation. His complex moves toward ending slavery centered on the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Lincoln used the U.S. Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and helped push through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant.

His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became an iconic endorsement of the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.
Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.

Six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer.
Lincoln has been consistently ranked both by scholars and the general public as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents.

9. Ulysses S. Grant

The eighteenth president.

A fearless and expert horseman.

Ulysses S. Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was reportedly a miserable farmer. In between military campaigns, farming was just one of the things he tried his hand at, along with real estate and leather goods. While hating the tannery, he chose work on his father’s farm.

Grant developed an unusual ability to work with and control horses. As a general he rode the strongest and most challenging horse available, and was sometimes injured in riding.
He was nominated to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. As he later recalled it, “a military life had no charms for me”.  He was lax in his studies, but he achieved above-average grades in mathematics and geology. Quiet by nature, he established a few intimate friends.

Grant developed a reputation as a fearless and expert horseman, setting an equestrian high-jump record that stood for almost 25 years.

As Commanding General, Grant worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

10. Theodore Roosevelt

The twenty sixth president.

Energetic and mischievously inquisitive, with a lifelong interest in zoology.

Mr. Roosevelt was often referred to by his initials, TR. He was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist and historian.

A sickly child whose asthma was debilitating and nearly fatal, Roosevelt regained his vigor, and embraced a strenuous life. He integrated his exuberant personality, vast range of interests, and world-famous achievements into a “cowboy” persona defined by its exultant masculinity. Home-schooled, he became a lifelong naturalist at an early age. Roosevelt attended Harvard College, where he studied biology, boxed, and developed an interest in naval affairs.

Following the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day in 1884, Roosevelt took a reprieve from politics to operate a cattle ranch in the Dakotas as a cowboy. When his herds died in a blizzard, he lost everything. He returned to run unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 1886.

The assassination of William McKinley in September 1901 meant that at age forty-two he found himself President of the United States, the youngest in history.

An avid outdoorsman, hunter and conservationist, he oversaw the expansion of the nation’s wildlife policy, and established a myriad of new national parks, forests, and monuments. It was Teddy Roosevelt’s commitment to cattle ranching that took him from scrawny East Coaster to the big, burly Rough Rider type we remember him as today.

In foreign policy, Roosevelt concentrated on the Americas, where he began construction of the Panama Canal; while his incumbency saw no wars, a significant naval expansion sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour, projecting the Navy’s dominance as a blue-water fleet, firming his policy to “speak softly and carry a big stick”. His efforts in negotiations ending the Russo-Japanese War won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize, the first of only four Presidents so honored to date.

While the front runner for the Republican nomination in 1920, his health was collapsing and he died in early 1919. Roosevelt has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.  His face adorns Mount Rushmore alongside those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
His deep attachment to the land spurred his later commitment to work in conservation and national parks. “It is certainly a most healthy life,” he wrote. “How a man does sleep, and how he enjoys the coarse fare!”

11. Harry Truman

The thirty third president.

Author and conservationist

John Truman, Harry’s dad, was a farmer and livestock dealer. The family lived in Lamar until Harry was ten months old, when they moved to a farm near Harrisonville, Missouri. The family next moved to Belton, and in 1887 to his grandparents’ 600-acre (240-ha) farm in Grandview. When Truman was six, his parents moved to Independence, so he could attend the Presbyterian Church Sunday School. Truman did not attend a traditional school until he was eight years old.

As a boy, Truman was interested in music, reading, and history, all encouraged by his mother, with whom he was very close. As president, he solicited political as well as personal advice from her. He got up at five every morning to practice the piano, which he studied twice a week until he was fifteen. Truman worked as a page at the 1900 Democratic National Convention at Convention Hall in Kansas City.  His father had many friends who were active in the Democratic Party and helped young Harry to gain his first political position.

After graduating from Independence High School (now William Chrisman High School) in 1901, Truman worked as a timekeeper on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, sleeping in hobo camps near the rail lines. He worked at a series of clerical jobs, and was employed briefly in the mailroom of the Kansas City Star.

He returned to the Grandview farm in 1906, where he lived for eleven years until entering the army in 1917.  He milked cows, fed livestock, and allegedly could “stir up as good a batch of biscuits as any woman.”

During this period, he courted Bess Wallace and proposed to her in 1911. She turned him down. Truman said that before he proposed again, he wanted to be earning more money than a farmer did.

At the war’s conclusion, Truman returned to Independence, where he married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919. The couple had one child.

In 1926, Truman was elected as the presiding judge for the county court (similar to a county commission) with the support, and was re-elected in 1930. Truman helped coordinate the “Ten Year Plan”, which transformed Jackson County and the Kansas City skyline with new public works projects, including an extensive series of roads and construction of a newly-designed County Court building. Also in 1926, he became president of the National Old Trails Road Association (NOTRA). He oversaw the dedication in the late 1920s of a series of 12 Madonna of the Trail monuments honoring pioneer women, which were installed along the trail.

Shortly after taking the oath of office of President of the United States, Truman said to reporters:

“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”

Coming in October: the next farmer presidents and how they lived the four tenants of manners/civility.


Remember: Share your goodness, far and wide, as much as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, with as much respect as you can.

Ready, Set…Time to Say Please and Thank You again.