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Homestead

I’ve long believed that one of the mainsprings of our own liberty has been the widespread ownership of property among our people and the expectation that anyone’s child, even from the humblest of families, could grow up to own a business or a corporation. Thomas Jefferson dreamed of a land of small farmers, of shop owners, and merchants. Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act that ensured that the great western prairies of America would be the realm of independent, property owning citizens—a mightier guarantee of freedom is difficult to imagine. — Ronald Reagan

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in May, 1862, Agincourt had already existed for nine years; as an incorporated municipality, for five. But it wouldn’t have affected the community in any but the most general, indirect ways. Yes, the legislation might have encouraged Agincourt’s earliest residents—barely unpacked and settled in—to leap-frog even farther westward. It could also have brought others to and through the place on their way to 160-acre parcels of cheap public land. Would we have had Laura Ingalls Wilder without it?

Is there any parallel, do you imagine, between this massive redistribution of wealth from the public coffers and more recent “investment” propositions, investment in ourselves, like eliminating student loan debt, or providing higher education at no cost. By asking the question, I believe there is.

“Homestead” has another more profound meaning, however, inherent in both noun and verb, which links it intimately with the family unit: it is the beginning, the multi-generational wellspring; a talisman infused with power disproportionate to its modest size. We return to tap that energy and leave refurbished, refreshed, ready to engage the World once again.

“Homestead” came immediately to mind when I saw this card. Three rooms at most; probably achieving indoor plumbing late in its service to a family with neither benefit nor need for birth control. Imagine father, mother, a widowed mother-in-law, three kids, and another one on the way. Imagine bathing once a week, chores, preparing meals and consuming them together, after giving thanks. Its walls are saturated with whatever the Christian species of karma could be.

Preservationists couldn’t care less as tractors lay waste to it, clearing the site for something else. But link its humility with the likes of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the battle lines are drawn.

So, whose house was this? Where do they stand in the spectrum of Agincourt history?


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