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An Agrarian RepublicFarming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era$
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Adam Wesley Dean

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781469619910

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469619910.001.0001

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Land-Development Politics and the American Civil War

Land-Development Politics and the American Civil War

(p.71) Three Land-Development Politics and the American Civil War
An Agrarian Republic

Adam Wesley Dean

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter deals directly with the Civil War, exploring the secession crisis in California, wartime federal policy, and the beliefs of Union soldiers. Each of these episodes shows how Republican opposition to slavery was based, in part, on a vision of proper land use. Republican criticism of slavery’s land-use practices influenced Union support in California during 1861. According to contemporaries, California was in the process of transitioning from a rough-and-tumble frontier to a more settled agricultural society. Union loyalists argued that the state’s agricultural potential could be compromised if California sided with the South and slavery. In Congress, Republicans made similar claims that slavery destroyed the land. Only free people could build ideal farming communities. When southern Democrats left for secession, Republicans saw a golden opportunity to promote small farms and agricultural permanence in the West. Ignorant of environmental realities in the region making small farms difficult to maintain, they insisted that the West could become “civilized” and loyal if settled by yeomen. Congress passed the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Act, and the Land Grant College Act. It also created the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Viewing small farmers as a natural barrier to the extension of slavery, many Republicans pushed for these four laws as a means to keep slavery from moving westward. They feared that the conflict would end with slavery largely intact.

Keywords:   Civil War, secession crisis, Republicans, anti-slavery, Union soldiers, land use, Homestead Act, Pacific Railroad Act, Land Grant College Act, US Department of Agriculture

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