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Co-operation In Farming

The word of hope and cheer for Labor in our days is COOPERATION--that

is, the combination by many of their means and efforts to achieve

results beneficial to them all. It differs radically from Communism,

which proposes that each should receive from the aggregate product of

human labor enough to satisfy his wants, or at least his needs, whether

he shall have contributed to that aggregate much, or little, or nothing

ll. Cooperation insists that each shall receive from the joint

product in proportion to his contributions thereto, whether in capital,

skill, or labor. If one associate has ten children and another none,

Communism would apportion to each according to the size of his family

alone; while Cooperation would give to each what he had earned,

regardless of the number dependent upon him. Thus the two systems are

radical antagonists, and only the grossly ignorant or willfully blind

will confound them.

A young farmer, whose total estate is less than $500, not counting a

priceless wife and child, resolves to migrate from one of the old

States to Kansas, Minnesota, or one of the Territories: he has heard

that he will there find public land whereon he may make a home of a

quarter-section, paying therefor $20 or less for the cost of survey and

of the necessary papers. So he may: but, on reaching the Land of

Promise, whether with or without his family, he finds a very large belt

of still vacant land beyond the settlements already transformed into

private property, and either not for sale at all or held on speculation,

quite out of his reach. The public land which he may take under the

Homestead law lies a full day's journey beyond the border settlements,

to which he must look for Mills, Stores, Schools, and even Highways. If

he persists in squatting, with intent to earn his quarter-section by

settlement and cultivation, he must take a long day's journey across

unbridged streams and sloughs, over unmade roads, to find boards, or

brick, or meal, or glass, or groceries; while he must postpone the

education of his children to an indefinite future day. Gradually, the

region will be settled, and the conveniences of civilization will find

their way to his door, but not till after he will have suffered through

several years for want of them; often compelled to make a journey to get

a plow or yoke mended, a grist of grain ground, or to minister to some

other trivial but inexorable want. He who thus acquires his

quarter-section must fairly earn it, and may be thankful if his children

do not grow up rude, coarse, and illiterate.

But suppose one thousand just such young farmers as he is, with no more

means and no greater efficiency than his, were to set forth together,

resolved to find a suitable location whereon they might all settle on

adjoining quarter-sections, thus appropriating the soil of five or six

embryo townships: who can fail to see that three-fourths of the

obstacles and discouragements which confront the solitary pioneer would

vanish at the outset? Roads, Bridges, Mills,--nay, even Schools and

Churches--would be theirs almost immediately; while mechanics,

merchants, doctors, etc., would fairly overrun their settlement and

solicit their patronage at every road-crossing. Within a year after the

location of their several claims, they would have achieved more progress

and more comfort than in five years under the system of straggling and

isolated settlement which has hitherto prevailed. The change I here

indicate appeals to the common sense and daily experience of our whole

people. It is not necessary, however desirable, that the pioneers should

be giants in wisdom, in integrity, or in piety, to secure its benefits.

A knave or a fool may be deemed an undesirable neighbor; but a dozen

such in the township would not preclude, and could hardly diminish, the

advantages naturally resulting from settlement by Cooperation.

Nor are these confined to pioneers transcending the boundaries of

civilization. I wish I could induce a thousand of our colored men now

precariously subsisting by servile labor in the cities, to strike out

boldly for homes of their own, and for liberty to direct their own

labor, whether they should settle on the frontier in the manner just

outlined, or should buy a tract of cheap land on Long Island, in

New-Jersey, Maryland, or some State further South. I cannot doubt that

the majority of them would work their way up to independence; and this

very much sooner, and after undergoing far less privation, than almost

every pioneer who has plunged alone into the primitive forest or struck

out upon the broad prairie and there made himself a farm.

The insatiable demand for fencing is one of the pioneer's many trials.

Though he has cleared off but three acres of forest during his first

Fall and Winter, he must surround those acres with a stout fence, or all

he grows will be devoured by hungry cattle--his own, if no others.

Whether he adds two or ten acres to his clearing during the next year,

they must in turn be surrounded by a fence; and nothing short of a very

stout one will answer: so he goes on clearing and fencing, usually

burning up a part of his fence whenever he burns over his new clearing;

then building a new one around this, which will have to be sacrificed in

its turn. I believe that many pioneers have devoted as much time to

fencing their fields as to tilling them throughout their first six or

eight years.

It is different with those who settle on broad prairies, but not

essentially better. Each pioneer must fence his patch of tillage with

material which costs him more, and is procured with greater difficulty,

than though he were cutting a hole in the forest. Often, when he thinks

he has fenced sufficiently, the hungry, breachy cattle, who roam the

open prairies around him, judge his handiwork less favorably; and he

wakes some August morning, when feed is poorest outside and most

luxuriant within his inclosure, to find that twenty or thirty cattle

have broken through his defenses and half destroyed his growing crop.

If, instead of this wasteful lack of system, a thousand or even a

hundred farmers would combine to fence several square miles into one

grand inclosure for cultivation, erecting their several habitations

within or without its limits, as to each should be convenient--

apportioning it for cultivation, or owning it in severalty, as they

should see fit--an immense economy would be secured, just when, because

of their poverty, saving is most important. Their stock might range the

open prairie unwatched; and they might all sleep at night in serene

confidence that their corn and cabbages were not in danger of ruthless

destruction. Among the settlers in our great primitive forests, the

system of Cooperative Farming would have to be modified in details,

while it would be in essence the same.

And, once adopted with regard to fencing, other adaptations as obvious

and beneficent would from day to day suggest themselves. Each pioneer

would learn how to advance his own prosperity by combining his efforts

with those of his neighbors. He would perceive that the common wants of

a hundred may be supplied by a combined effort at less than half the

cost of satisfying them when each is provided for alone. He would grow

year by year into a clearer and firmer conviction that short-sighted

selfishness is the germ of half the evils that afflict the human race,

and that the true and sure way to a bounteous satisfaction of the wants

of each is a generous and thoughtful consideration for the needs of all.

* * * * *

And here let me pay my earnest and thankful tribute to Mr. E. V. de

Boissiere, a philanthropic Frenchman, who has purchased 3,300 acres of

mainly rolling prairie-land in Kansas, near Princeton, Franklin County,

and is carefully, cautiously, laying thereon the foundations of a great

cooperative farm, where, in addition to the usual crops, it is expected

that Silk and other exotics will in due time be extensively grown and

transformed into fabrics, and that various manufactures will vie with

Agriculture in affording attractive and profitable employment to a

considerable population. I have not been accustomed to look with favor

on our new States and unpeopled Territories as an arena for such

experiments, since so many of their early settlers are intent on getting

rich by land-speculation--at all events, through the exercise of some

others' muscles than their own--while the opportunities for and

incitements to migration and relocation are so multiform and powerful.

Doubtless, M. de Boissiere will be often tried by stampedes of his

volunteer associates, who, after the novelty of cooperative effort has

worn off, will find life on his domain too tame and humdrum for their

excitable and high-strung natures. I trust, however, that he will

persevere through every discouragement, and triumph over every obstacle;

that the right men for associates will gradually gather about him; that

his enterprise and devotion will at length be crowned by a signal and

inspiring success; and that thousands will be awakened by it to a larger

and nobler conception of the mission of Industry, and the possibilities

of achievement which stud the path of simple, honest, faithful,

persistent Work.