Curtis Dahlgren
COMMON SENSE: In spite of, not the result of, "education"
By Curtis Dahlgren
June 25, 2016

"Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of, education." – Victor Hugo

"Such as have reason, understanding, or common sense, will, and ought to make use of it in those things that concern themselves and their posterity, and suspect the words of such as are interested in deceiving or persuading them not to see with their own eyes." – Al Sidney

"Wisdom is the power to see behind a tree." – old Indian chief

"Common sense is the widest understanding possible of the relationship of common things and our relationship to them." – William Dempster Hoard (1836-1918)

SO SAID A FARMER. This is June Dairy month and this is a book review of Hoard's biography for the benefit of anyone who has never heard of this great man."W.D." – as he's usually known around these parts (headquarters of his still-existing publishing enterprise) had no formal education beyond the age of fourteen, and was an unapologetic farmer by trade (as were several of our Presidents). "The Life of William Dempster Hoard" is the name of the book, and what a life!

Promoted as a prospective gubernatorial candidate by the Milwaukee Sentinel. Elected governor of Wisconsin in 1888. Only served one term because of his promotion of English-as-first-language in all schools in Wisconsin. Founded a local weekly newspaper, now a daily. Founded the Hoard's Dairyman magazine, also still in circulation. Almost single-handedly sold modern husbandry methods, including the introduction of alfalfa to the northern states. Appointed to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents (1907). Turned down the job of Secretary of Agriculture. Was the most frequently-heard and well-received speaker on farming at forums and conventions across this country and Canada. Unanimously chosen as Wisconsin's Most Distinguished Citizen in 1915. Lived to see English-first be accepted as "common sense." First man to have a monument erected to his memory for service to agriculture (on the campus of the University of Wisconsin).

"Hoard's opponents [in the 1880s and 90s], seeking to kill his popularity with ridicule, coined the expression, 'The Cow Candidate,' giving it much publicity. But this term of supposed derision acted as a boomerang, for all over the state the young men of the party took it up and there was never a meeting at which Hoard was present but that there was a full chorus of cow bells." – Geo. Rankin, biographer

In that by-gone era, offices sought the person, not the person the office. The Sentinel editor chose to "nominate" Hoard for governor without consulting him, or the Party. As Rankin put it:

"Rublee had grown weary of the high-handed methods of the old Republican 'ring,' and he was scanning the political horizon to see if he could not discover a likely gubernatorial candidate, one, preferably, who had never been associated with the political life of the state."

" . . After Hoard made his decision to become a candidate for Governor, he and his friends got together and worked out a plan of campaign along lines that had never been employed before and which, in the final reckoning, completely outgeneraled the 'old-line' Republicans who opposed him. . . Hoard had always been a thorn in the flesh of the 'Old Guard.' They accepted him because they had to accept him, but they were not in sympathy with him or his purposes. . .

"The only aristocracy he recognized was the aristocracy of intellect. He had no patience with those who constantly boast of their ancestry; he said they reminded him of the potato plant, the best part of which is under the ground' . . "

Hoard was very jealous of the relation of farming to education and the rating the occupation was given compared to the "genteel" professions. And he provides the perfect example of the self-educated person versus the "graduate" of today's K-12 schools and beyond. A comment by Rankin:

"Men have often speculated as to what Hoard would have been had he had the advantages of a college education . . Dean H.L. Russell of the Wisconsin College of Agriculture once [said]: 'Might it not have spoiled him in many ways? Might it not have destroyed that imaginative quality and philosophic insight which is so often a native talent and which so frequently is dulled and rendered commonplace by the rut into which the mind may sink when it is made to follow an outlined curriculum?' . . .

"Hoard claimed that the present educational system is built from the top downward instead of from the bottom up. . The little 'red schoolhouse' or the 'people's college,' as he called it, must receive first and every consideration from those in charge of our educational work . . . He discounted the thin veneer of scholastic training that is sometimes mistaken for culture. He held that many college graduates are merely drugged with small doses of intellectual laudanum and that, until such time as its influence wears off, they are unable to adjust themselves to the ordinary duties and responsibilities of life . . [and] though self-instructed, he was in no wise superficial, merely bespattered with erudition, but one of the most scholarly men of his time."

And one of the most effective and "radical" Americans in all of our two-plus centuries. The Madison Democrat said: "Yes! Let there be a monument to W.D. Hoard, and let it be erected in honor of the most distinctively American character since Abraham Lincoln . . . It took [World War I] to bring clearly before the people of Wisconsin and the nation that a common language is necessary and imperative to our country's welfare . . Those who opposed his election as governor for the second term, on the ground that he demanded English be taught in all the schools, we are now old, have in late years come to him individually, in committees, and in groups to humbly apologize. Such are the rewards that come to men who stand for the right, regardless of public opinion and temporary gain.

"He appreciated fully the meaning of being an American citizen, for he understood the price that has been paid for the opportunity; the struggle of humanity to secure liberty; the tyranny of kings; and he believed in the rights of the masses and not in the privileges of the classes. When he saw men playing with this rich heritage . . he rose with all his power against them. He suffered political defeat rather than yield to any course that interfered with the making of true American citizenship."

In conclusion, there must be a few lessons in all this, somewhere, for the 'Old Guard,' for the establishment and its conventional "wisdom," and for the rest of us. Amen?

P.S. I wish I had space for all the commentary published upon the death of "W.D." (when he died the nation's press carried his life story), but maybe a few examples will suffice:

"In the fullness of time, having completed his mission on earth, at the end of a perfect day, he has gone quietly to sleep to awaken again in the home of the soul, the summer land of song somewhere in the boundless realm of eternity. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." – B.B. Clarke, publisher American Thresherman

"It is conceivable that no university instructor, no matter what his attainments in his specialty, could have done what Gov. Hoard did. Continuously a farmer, his writings and his addresses were the expressions of intelligent concern for the farmers. He talked to them as one of themselves, not as a missionary from an alien sphere . . [but] The salvation of the nation, the peace of the world, depends absolutely on the production of food." – New York Sun

"If the man who makes two blades of grass grow where only one grew before is a benefactor of the race; if the man who showed farmers how to keep two productive cows as easily as one non-productive cow deserves high rank among mankind, then the death of Wm. D. Hoard will bring regret to multitudes." – PittsburghDispatch

"Soldier, statesman, journalist, educator, farmer – advisedly we give to the last word the climatic place – William Dempster Hoard served the people and the state with patriotism, ability, and high purpose . . In his lifelong labor as an editor and publisher, Gov. Hoard was the unselfish, practical idealist . . . While other men of large popular following and political prestige have place Wisconsin on the map by hurdling from one public office to another, Gov. Hoard labored unselfishly, patiently, and undauntedly with word, pen, and deed . . What he has done for agriculture in this state and especially for its dairy interests, is a twice told tale. No eulogy, no monument can ever do justice to the debt the state of Wisconsin owes to him in this field." -Milwaukee Free Press

"The point we would make is that this man, raised under humble conditions, self-taught to study and think, made himself a master in his line through steady loyalty to a great idea and faith in the intelligence and higher feeling of the plain, common people. We are not sure that in these days of organized science and college domination of farm education a man could do just what Hoard did, but he did it . . " – the Rural New Yorker

"There have been a few men such as William Dempster Hoard, whose lives and what followed served abundantly to disprove that 'The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.'" – the Country Gentleman

"There is a great lesson for every one of us in the life of Hoard. Many talents were given him and he gave them back to his fellowmen with large interest. . . Hoard is gone and there is no one man to take his place in the dairy industry, for it was a place of the kind that cannot be passed, but must be earned." – theDairy Record, St. Paul

PPS: I should leave it that. I think you can figure out why I chose this topic, and the lessons for us, nearly 100 years after these obituaries were written: What do you want in your obituary?

Besides that, though, the farm I will soon be living on was once part of the Hoard family farm, and it still borders "the Hoard's Dairyman Farm."

Hope I can live up to it or I'll never live it down.

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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