John Taylor of Caroline, Defender of the Agrarian Republic

John Taylor was born December 19, 1753 in Caroline county Virginia. He was a great grandson of the first of his line to settle in the colony. When he was three years old his father died and he was raised by an uncle. He served in the Continental Army during the War for Independence. One of the finest farmers in Virginia, he also served in the Legislature on three occasions and was sent by his neighbors three separate times to complete three unexpired terms in the United States Senate. According to historians, they would have sent him for longer stays had Taylor been willing. Like many of the republic’s elder statesmen, Taylor was much happier on his farm than in the capital. He was also a communicate member of the Episcopal Church and served in their councils as well as being one of the chief founders of the Agricultural Societies.

Taylor was well know as an Anti-Federalist, a strong critic of central banks, an antagonist to the Money Power, a supporter of the militia instead of standing armies and a firm believer in the central importance of agriculture to independence and freedom. When facing off against those who sought to make America a manufacturing and export economy, rather than an agrarian one, this was his response…

“Still more hopeless is the promise of the manufacturing mania, “that it will make us independent of foreign nations,” when combined with its other promise of providing a market for agriculture. The promise of a market, as we see in the experience of England, can only be made good, by reducing the agricultural class to a tenth part of the nation, and increasing manufacturers by great manufactural exportations. This reduction can only be accomplished by driving or seducing above nine-tenths of the agricultural class, into other classes, and the increase by a brave and patriotic navy. Discontent and misery will be the fruits of the first operation, and these would constitute the most forlorn hope for success in the second. By exchanging hardy, honest and free husbandmen for the classes necessary to reduce the number of agriculturalists, low enough to raise the prices of their products shall we become more independent of foreign nations? What! Secure our independence by bankers and capitalists? Secure our independence by impoverishing discouraging and annihilating nine-tenths of our sound yeomanry? By turning them into swindlers, and dependents on a master capitalist for daily bread?

The manufacturing mania accuses the agricultural spirit of avarice and want of patriotism, whilst it offers to bribe it by a prospect of better prices, whittles down independence into cargoes of fancy goods, and proposes to metamorphose nine-tenths of the hardy sons of the forest into everything but heroes, for the grand end of gratifying the avarice of a capitalist, monied or paper interest”

John Taylor
Arator, #4

What many don’t know is that Taylor was deeply concerned with what we would now call “sustainable agriculture” and land stewardship. What Wendell Berry, Joel Salatin and others are saying now, John Taylor was saying in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. His greatest work in the area of agriculture was his book Arator, which should be in the library of every agrarian. Arator is book not only about the political aspects of the Money Power’s war against decentralized agrarianism. It is also a book about the folly of American farmer, his destruction of the soil and Taylor’s thoughts on how to reverse the trends. In his essay #2 The Present State of Agriculture, Taylor sounds like today’s leading agrarian voices…

A patient must know that he is sick, before he will take a physick. A collection of a very few facts, to ascertain the ill health of agriculture, is necessary to invigorate our efforts towards a cure. One, apparent to the most superficial observer, is, that our land has diminished in fertility. Arts improve the work of nature–when they injure it, they are not arts but barbarous customs. It is the office of agriculture, as an art, not to impoverish, but to fertilize the soil, and make it more useful than in its natural state. Such is the effect of every species of agriculture, which can aspire to the character of an art. It’s object being to furnish man with articles of the first necessity, whatever defeats that object, is a crime of the first magnitude. Had men the power to obscure or brighten the light of the sun, by obscuring it, they would imitate the morality of diminishing the fertility of the earth. Is not one as criminal as the other? Yes it is a fact, that lands in their natural state, are more valuable, than those which have undergone our habit of agriculture…

It should not surprise us, I suppose, that you will never learn about this great man in school (public or private) or hear him quoted by the so called “conservatives of our day. Taylor was opposed to much of what the establishment type conservatives love (like standing armies and interventionism) and too much a lover of liberty for mainline liberals to stomach. He was a champion of sound agriculture and stewardship, who understood the husbandry-man’s role in preserving a free society. I encourage you to get a hold of some of his writings, especially Arator. Encourage your children read them as well. True agrarianism is our birthright in this country and its time we start reminding folks of this inconvenient truth.

Here is a link for the book Arator


4 thoughts on “John Taylor of Caroline, Defender of the Agrarian Republic

  • May 31, 2012 at 3:50 am
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    I am so glad to see the interest in my ancestor. My father, George H.R. Taylor, told me of our agrarian roots. Yet, I could never fully understand the call of the land that beckons me. Reading John Taylor’s writings, now as an adult, have really helped me to understand what drives me in my work today.
    Caroline Taylor
    Montgomery Countryside Alliance

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  • September 17, 2018 at 11:08 pm
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    Very Cool, I had ancestors just over the line in Spotsylvania named Wallers, 4 major estates and my ties are to the one called Cedar Point. They had a son killed in the Civil War about 20 miles into Caroline. We have a letter telling of taking a wagon over too retrieve his body to bring back and bury on the estate. I have visited the graveyard there and dug Van Scion daffodils from it that were likely planted when he was buried. There’s literally thousands of them in the unkept cemetery now.

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