Racial orders, congress, and the agricultural welfare state, 1865-1940

Kimberley S. Johnson

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    One of the key questions posed by analysts of modern, twentieth-century agricultural politics is, "How and when did agrarian democracy end and the dominance of agribusiness interests begin?" In this article I argue that the roots of this transformation lie in the origins of the agricultural welfare state and the overlapping of its birth with distinct eras in America's racial orders - those moments in time when political players mobilized coalitions and institutions around racial issues such as slavery, Reconstruction, or the segregated state of the Jim Crow order. As a result of these historical overlaps, the agricultural welfare state was shaped in surprising and not-well-understood ways by America's racial orders. In order to trace these two intertwining aspects of racial governance and agricultural welfare state development, I provide a reinterpretation of the development of the agricultural welfare state from its Civil War origins to its New Deal transformation. I show that, from 1865 to 1964, the confluence of racial orders, partisan alignments, and congressional orders created an agricultural welfare state in which African Americans were variously included and excluded in a pattern of "two-tier" citizenship. The broader racial governance aims of the Jim Crow order also had a significant role in shaping the development of the organizational ethos and administrative structures and practices within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The practice of "two-tier" agricultural citizenship, which initially affected only African American and other minority farmers, was gradually extended to reflect the divide between large commercial farmers and the rural poor (including small farmers). The results from this analysis strengthen our understanding of how the American welfare state has been shaped - in particular, the ways in which racial governance and racial orders are deeply embedded in the American state building process.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)143-161
    Number of pages19
    JournalStudies in American Political Development
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Oct 2011

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Sociology and Political Science


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