Proposition for the Creation of a School for Sons
[The following paper was presented in 1844 to the Chamber
of Agriculture of the Landes, after being presented to a Catholic
foundation that rejected it for lack of sufficient resources.
From the private collection of Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean.]
I am going to put before you, sirs, the plan of the institution that I am proposing by telling you how the thought came to me. Since I am the owner of an estate, perhaps one of the most suited to major crop rotation in the country, I have tried out this project in the past, but it did not take long for me to realize that it was beyond my powers. As I am of uncertain health, I was constantly being warned that it was possible that I would not be able to continue this work, and I recoiled from any decision that by launching me definitely into this career would have obliged me to burn all my boats. With a certain hesitation I decided to make some preliminary expenditures which were bound to be written off if I had to stop the work and, as you know, in an enterprise that demands faith and strength, you have already lost if you have an eye constantly on retreating.
For a while I had the idea of finding someone to work with me and throwing myself into the very risky business of full-time farming. But I soon realized how risky this resolution was. Our region of sharecropping farms does not provide opportunities for large-scale farming; the only workers you find are the class of inhabitants known as “idlers,” the dregs of the working population, who have been turned off sharecropping farms because of their laziness and bad behavior. It was therefore a question of nothing less than importing managers, workers, equipment, cattle, and seed from afar. How many mistakes might such farming entail, made up as it would be of oddments, without any form of trial and that preliminary testing without which a successful transition from small-scale to large-scale farming cannot be effected.
And then, would this operation have been genuinely useful? For reasons that I will not go into here, it is doubtful whether the managers would have made the interest from their capital that any other form of industry would have yielded and, as for the country, I think that its form of farming devoted to sharecropping would have gained little from the example of a large-scale farm, even supposing that the example had been totally positive.
There was just one avenue open to me. This was to improve the estate using the means it offered me, that is to say by enlightening the sharecroppers and by seeking to attract them to my ideas. I did not even try this. Apart from the huge difficulty of the enterprise and the constant state of conflict into which it would have put me vis-à-vis the smallholders, a conflict which I would be almost sure to lose through open resistance and even more by the force of inertia, I would feel guilty if I forced these good workers to abandon their method of farming. Whatever my total belief in the superiority of crop rotation, I could not keep from myself the fact that, when it comes to attempts directed by the willing but inexperienced and carried out by the ill-intentioned, the immediate results might be extremely dangerous. What right had I to bring possible losses on men incapable of supporting them? I congratulate myself now that I drew back from these various schemes (and if) I now tell the story of my disappointments, it is because I think that in almost all cases they relate to those overardent friends of progress, in too much of a hurry to achieve the promises of science without taking sufficient account of the difficulties that arise from a farming system and a series of habits evolved for a very different set of circumstances. Overcoming obstacles is doubtless proof of strength, but avoiding them in order not to be overcome is proof of wisdom.
What would therefore be most useful, philanthropic, and at the same time most practical would be to act with regard to the class of sharecroppers themselves, that is to say, on the young generation, to educate them, renew them, and raise them through intelligence and dignity to the level of the middle classes of society.
Among the projects that came to my mind, there is one that pleased me, I must admit, more than all the others. It seemed to me to be worthy of occupying the life of a man who did not want to depart from this earth without leaving some trace of his passing and a few honorable memories in the minds of good men. It is the foundation of a school for sharecropping, for a nursery of good sharecroppers with whose help I would in the long run carry out on my estate this farming revolution that people long for so, in a way that would be most advantageous to me and my region. But since it has not been granted to me to make this institution my work, I hasten to set out the plan for it to you, having removed from it the personal aim that I might have had in a former time.
Admission. In order to gain entry to the school for sharecroppers, the candidate has to belong to the class of sharecroppers and to a family of good reputation; to be aged fourteen; to know how to read, write, and do calculations; to have proof of intelligence, activity, and an ordered and open mind at primary school; and to have a good physical constitution. These conditions would be imposed on us in any case by the limited resources that we will probably have at our disposal, which would not allow us to have at our school very young children who are incapable of earning even part of their subsistence and whose early education would require the intervention of an elementary teacher; we should be happy that they are not incompatible and they are even in total harmony with the object of our wishes, which is to train as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible cost a certain number of hard-working, well-instructed, and upright sharecroppers.
At the age of fourteen, a child is able to take part in all farming work; he is close to the age at which he can turn his hand to the plough and I do not see why one would reclassify a special school so as to overload it with the care of imparting the general primary education which our legislation has provided for. None of you, sirs, could fail to be interested in the efforts that have been made in various locations to preserve children from vagrancy. Like you, I admire these noble attempts. Who is able to read without emotion the account of his visit to the Hofwill that Mr. Feutrier has included in Les Annales de Roville. However, the aim we have set ourselves is essentially different.
In the philanthropic institutions to which I refer, the need has been felt to admit only children who are six years old. If they were older, they would introduce the seeds of immorality and evil tendencies into the schools. People preferred to have them institutionalized a few years longer rather than to expose young smallholders to the contagion of vice and insubordination. However, I repeat, the aim of Hofwill, Petit-Bourg, and Mettray differs from ours. It is directed exclusively to vagrants, beggars, and that precocious corruption which threatens society. We, on the other hand, are looking for exceptional natures, children gifted with naturally happy dispositions, which have been developed through the care of their families and community teachers. We are therefore able and are even obliged to postpone the age of admission, a fortunate circumstance that enables us to count on the actual work of these young people to contribute to the cost of their board and lodging.
Work at the School. If, after studying and discussing this project, the society believes it could implement it, I would be able to place at its disposal a conveniently situated sharecropping farm of twenty hectares of cultivable land and land that could be given over progressively to cultivation. The society will judge whether the school would continue to give me one-third of the produce or whether it would not be more appropriate to set an estimated rental price.
It is not yet time to talk about the system of cultivation that should be followed. I will say just a word while waiting to go into more detail if the occasion warrants this. I would like the cultivable land to be planted with mulberry bushes in wide rows. The number of these rows will permit the adoption of any form of rotation considered suitable and the submission of the estate, so to speak, to market gardening. In this way, the school would satisfy three essential conditions: 1. it would give the young pupils the experience of raising a great variety of plants, 2. it would supply manpower in proportion to the overall number of hands by definition at the disposal of the manager, 3. it would bring into the region market gardening, which fits in so well with the small acreage of our sharecropping farms and is, moreover, the only system that, through the abundance of its produce, enables competition between small- and large-scale farming enterprises.
The same divisions would be adopted in the second sector of the rural economy, the raising of stock. The production of milk and wool and the raising of calves and beef cattle would be carried out simultaneously. The results of all these operations, either in the fields or in the barns, would have to be carefully recorded in strict accounts. I do not know, sirs, whether I am exaggerating the usefulness of accounts, but I am one of those who think that no operation that is at all complicated can do without them. I dare to point out that there is no farmer, even among those who keep their accounts with the greatest care but who do not use the double entry system, who can establish with accuracy the cost price of his wheat, fodder, milk, fertilizer, and how much his working day or hour produces, what his teams and vehicles, plowing or hoeing cost, and still less if this or that harvest or occupation is more lucrative than another. There is also in accounting “a very vigorous, moralizing principle.” A farmer who keeps his books knows exactly what each of his practices is worth or costs him. His books tell him in irrefutable figures and repeat this to him each time he opens them. Is it to be believed that a sharecropper would attend markets so much if he were obliged to note as a loss each hour of the time he wastes, according to a strict evaluation?
There is another reason that makes the use of accounting indispensable. Crop rotation certainly greatly complicates the relationships between sharecroppers and their owners; as long as it is only a question of sharing the sheaves and heads of corn on the spot, it is not essential to know their cost accurately. But when rye and corn are no longer the only and perhaps not the largest sources of income, when the master’s capital and the work of the smallholder become intimately associated in the production of fodder, milk, butter, meat, and wool, only strict accounting can show the most appropriate agreements and make it easy to carry them out. Perhaps it will be thought that in this respect sharecropping seems to be incompatible with advanced cultivation. I admit that I consider their combination as necessarily leading to much more direct cooperation on the part of owners, and this certainly will be no bad thing. However, if the difficulties become too great, tenant farming would seem here to be a resource the adoption of which our school might even greatly facilitate.
Graduating from the School. Let us now move forward in thought, sirs, to the time at which your establishment will start to provide people for agriculture. Four pupils, now become men, will leave the school. Six years of study and practice have made them familiar with the most advanced farming methods. Accounting has made the most varied combinations easier for them and they are able to work in line with the views of enlightened owners. One will take up a sharecropping farm with his family. Others, while waiting for one to become available, may join together in association and take up a joint operation. They themselves will need young colleagues and will thus disseminate the education they have received. Will this not be so many subsidiaries for the mother school? From neighbor to neighbor, it will be easy for the most advanced owners, those who do not retreat in the face of progress, to propel their estates to the highest degree of perfection. The region will see the rise of a race of men combining knowledge with experience. We will no longer have to deplore the unbridgeable distance that now appears to separate the thinking class from the active class. Work, enlightenment, land, and capital will all combine and advance, and our society itself will be strengthened by an element, which it must be agreed it rather lacks, I mean the contribution of men who do things.
I will not hide, sirs, that an institution like this seems to me to go deeply into the depths of the major problems that we have to solve. I think that it meets more closely the needs of the region than what we call experimental farms, model farms, or farming institutes, and if we look at these closely we will be convinced that these expensive establishments are genuine vicious circles. Some may give us good lessons and others good examples, but what good are these lessons and examples to us, who are unable to apply them ourselves, or to our sharecroppers, who can benefit from neither?
On the other hand the project that I have the honor of submitting to you may in practice introduce four sharecropping farms each year into the orbit of crop rotation. Each of these in turn will train new adepts in the class of sharecroppers itself. Practical example and dissemination are in line and go hand in hand, and it seems to me that our school will perhaps require fifty years of existence to accomplish this major farming and social revolution in our region which, without it, would not appear to be possible in a hundred years.
I must now tell you of the difficulties which this project may encounter.
The Master. The first and by far the greatest lies in the choice of a master. What eminent qualities are not required for functions like these? The person called upon to assume them has to have a wide-ranging practical and theoretical farming education, his moral stature must be irreproachable, and he must have the gift of training and directing young minds. He must like children and give them only good lessons and examples and must submit himself to sharing their lives, studies, and work. No, we will not be asking him to cooperate as a mercenary but to undertake a task of total selflessness, sublime charity, devotion, and sacrifice.
These considerations led me to contact the Foundation of Saint-Antoine to find out whether we might count on the cooperation of one or more brothers from this order. Perhaps you know, sirs, that it is very similar to the Order of the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine. The difference between them is that the Christian Brothers devote themselves to general primary education while the foundation is devoted to imparting a farming education to orphans and vagrants. The reply I received and which I submit to the society does not give us hope for the cooperation I had counted on.
May I be allowed to say that the venerable priest who manages the Foundation of Saint-Antoine does not perhaps appreciate the stature of the institution I am proposing when he considers it a powerful instrument for production? “While it is desirable to practice good farming methods,” he said, “and prepare a generation that is intelligent and capable through a greater development of farming products, it is also good to make some effort to cure the plague of beggary and eliminate the seeds of vagrancy that are so detrimental to the peace of society.”
Please God, how could I ever undermine the usefulness and merit of such work!
The agronomist Mathieu de Dombasle had created a model farm with a school in the village of Roville, in the département of La Meurthe. The farm published an agricultural journal, Les Annales de Roville. Hofwill (in Switzerland), as well as the French villages of Petit-Bourg and Mettray, mentioned below, also had agricultural schools.
What Bastiat himself did not appreciate, as we know from other documents, is that the foundation did not feel able to do both jobs: the salvation of the dropouts and the training of the most gifted.
Bastiat’s original French for “political manifestos” is professions de foi, which is literally translated as “professions of faith.” We have chosen instead to translate professions de foi as “political manifestos,” which better conveys his true intention in these pieces, namely, the expression of his beliefs and political program to his electors if he were to be elected.