The familiar story of the Civil War tells of a predominately
agricultural South pitted against a rapidly industrializing North.
However, Adam Wesley Dean argues that the Republican Party's
political ideology was fundamentally agrarian. Believing that small
farms owned by families for generations led to a model society,
Republicans supported a northern agricultural ideal in opposition
to southern plantation agriculture, which destroyed the land's
productivity, required constant western expansion, and produced an
elite landed gentry hostile to the Union. Dean shows how agrarian
republicanism shaped the debate over slavery's expansion, spurred
the creation of the Department of Agriculture and the passage of
the Homestead Act, and laid the foundation for the development of
the earliest nature parks.
Spanning the long nineteenth century, Dean's study analyzes the
changing debate over land development as it transitioned from
focusing on the creation of a virtuous and orderly citizenry to
being seen primarily as a "civilizing" mission. By showing
Republicans as men and women with backgrounds in small farming,
Dean unveils new connections between seemingly separate historical
events, linking this era's views of natural and manmade
environments with interpretations of slavery and land policy.