Abstract: Agricultural Reform and State Activism in Antebellum Virginia and South Carolina

John Majewski

Abstract

Beginning in the 1820s, southerners such as Edmund Ruffin and Whitemarsh Seabrook began a long campaign to reform southern agriculture. The agricultural reformers, not coincidentally, aggressively defended slavery, southern rights, and secession. For these men, agricultural reform was a means of giving southerners the economic and political muscle needed to protect slavery. To carry out their agenda, agricultural reformers sought to enlist the aid of state governments. They believed that state governments should pay for experimental farms; that state governments should pay for agricultural professorships; that state governments should pay for agricultural and geological surveys; that state governments should pay for apprenticeship programs to train farmers and overseers; and that state governments should pay for agricultural journals and societies to disseminate new knowledge. Although a variety of political and economic factors ultimately foiled the movement's ambitious legislative agenda, the agricultural reformers nevertheless highlight how southern extremism and state activism often went hand in hand.