America celebrates President’s Day on the third Monday of February every year, in honor of the Feb. 22, 1732, birthday of George Washington, the first president and Revolutionary War leader. Some states and local governments use the day to also recognize Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, 1809. Both Presidents were also farmers. In fact, Lincoln used his “farm boy” background as a selling point on the campaign trail. It’s probably no surprise that many of our nation’s leaders, especially the early ones, have also been farmers considering that agriculture has been an essential part of the country’s economy since before it was even founded. In honor of President’s day, which falls on February 21 this year, we thought we’d take a deeper look at all the farmer Presidents we’ve had over the years and some of their contributions to American agriculture:
George Washington – The Father of the Country was known as our first head of state and a brilliant general who won the Revolutionary War. However, Washington viewed himself as a farmer first, and oversaw a vast plantation at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Washington initially grew tobacco as the major cash crop but quickly realized he could earn more profit by growing wheat in 1766. Washington also kept up with the latest agronomy news and undertook experiments in farming, believing it was the duty of wealthy farmers to take the risk of failure and share the information with those who could not afford it.
John Adams – Contributing author of the United States Declaration of Independence, first Vice President of the United States, and second President of the United States, John Adams’s farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, was called Peacefield. He and his wife, Abigail, owned 40 acres of orchards and farmland, and passed the land down to sixth president and son, John Quincy Adams.
Thomas Jefferson – American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson owned a sprawling plantation estate in Virginia, the picturesque Monticello, which is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jefferson maintained several types of gardens, including a “laboratory” garden that he used to feed his family and experimented with 330 varieties of more than 70 species of vegetables from around the world. Jefferson also had a vineyard which grew a collection of old- and new-world grapes.
James Monroe – The country’s fifth president inherited his farm “Oak Hill” from his uncle in 1808, which was also the year in which he made his first, unsuccessful bid for the presidency. It has been a working farm since 1724, and is still a privately owned residence and farm. Monroe retired to Oak Hill in 1825 after two presidential terms.
William Henry Harrison – The country’s 9th and shortest-serving president, Harrison was essentially retired to his farm in North Bend, Ohio until he took office in 1840. Harrison died just 31 days after his inauguration in 1841 from pneumonia.
James C. Tyler – The tenth president’s farm in Virginia was originally called “Walnut Grove.” The main plantation house, built in 1730, was the home of President John Tyler (1790–1862) for the last twenty years of his life. Tyler renamed the property “Sherwood Forest,” allegedly because he considered himself to have been “outlawed,” Robin Hood–style, from the Whigs.
Abraham Lincoln – Our 16th president was born on the “Sinking Spring” farm owned by his father in the Kentucky backcountry, later moving to what became Indiana. In a speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Lincoln said of farming, “No other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture.” As president, he transformed the American agricultural system with the founding of the Department of Agriculture, establishment of the Land Grant system, and passing of the Homestead Act.
Theodore Roosevelt – What began as a hunting trip for buffalo out West in 1883 turned into a lifelong passion for cattle ranching for the 26th president. Over the course of his life, he poured much of his fortune into cattle ranching, even losing almost all of his herd during one harsh winter. His deep attachment to the land spurred his later commitment to work in conservation and national parks. His enthusiasm for cowboy life also spurred him to form the Rough Riders, the notable cavalry unit that brought Roosevelt national recognition during the Spanish-American War.
Harry Truman – Fed up with city life, future 33rd president Harry Truman quit his bank job at age 22 to move back to his family farm in Grandview, Missouri in 1906. He spent the next 11 years farming corn, milking cows, and generally building the character he credited for gaining his political position.
Lyndon Johnson – While serving as America’s 36th president in the White House in Washington D.C., Lyndon Johnson’s attention was never far from his cattle ranch in Stonewall, Texas. He reportedly made daily check-in calls to his “LBJ Ranch” during his presidency. Johnson was actually born on the ranch, which he inherited from his uncle. While not serving as president, he also lived at the ranch and later, would also die and be buried there.
Jimmy Carter – Jimmy Carter, the 39th President, grew up on his parents’ peanut farm outside of Plains, Georgia. By the time he took over the family business, he wasn’t growing peanuts anymore, but rather mostly selling seed peanuts and operating a peanut warehousing business. He put the business into a blind trust to avoid any conflicts of interest during his presidency and later sold it after his term ended.
George W. Bush – Like LBJ, George W. had an affinity for ranch life. He purchased Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 1999, a year before he became president, though not much in the way of “ranching” activity happens on the property. The almost 1,600-acre property was known as the “Western White House” during his presidency. At the close of the Bush presidency, the Bushes purchased a home in Dallas, which now serves as their main residence. They still spend holidays and weekends at the ranch.