Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation"

Front Porch Republic's D.W. Sabin reviews a book so subtitled — The Founding Gardeners. An excerpt:
    The book follows the garden-centered lives of primarily Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison but also touches upon such early American scientific innovators as the Plantsman family Bartram from outside Philadelphia along with that other classic polymath, Benjamin Franklin. We see the different personalities of the Framers–an august Washington, the diffident and cantankerous Adams, an omnivorous yet evasive Jefferson and the retiring Madison yet they all converge simpatico while standing in the rich earth of their gardens and farms. All of their correspondence was liberally filled with shared agricultural insight, requests for new seeds and the arts of manure management. Would that our current leaders might manage their manure.

    The America of the Framers was an America firmly grounded within both the productivity and the beauty of our natural world. A couple of tidbits of note from the book are the facts that Washington, in the depths of the war, sent extensive directions by dispatch to his farm manager every Sunday and that one of the more important compromises of the early government came about principally as a result of a visit to Bartram’s nursery when the Philadelphia Convention was deadlocked. Seeing the grandeur of the plants from across the colonies, side by side was an effective reminder to the early legislators that we have more in common than we might like to think and that our differences, when composed harmoniously create a remarkable tableau of formidable distinction.

    The most important produce for me however, was the news that Madison was our first Conservationist. Fifty years before the acclaim of Thoreau or Emerson, James Madison delivered one of the most groundbreaking speeches in American farming and conservation history. In May of 1818, engaged in farming pursuits like the rest of his Cincinnatus former Presidents, Madison delivered an address to the Agricultural society of Albemarle. In it, Madison covered here-to-for generally unknown notions of ecology, plant physiology, nutrient recycling, soil erosion control, soil chemistry and in a word, Conservation. The speech was enthusiastically received at the time and pamphlets detailing it were published both here and in Britain as well as France. This co-author of the Federalist Papers knew that American Liberty was deeply indebted to the long-term health of the land we live upon.

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