By Des Keller, The Progressive Farmer
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of The Progressive Farmer magazine by Leonidas Lafayette Polk in Raleigh, N.C. Naturally we think that's reason enough to hold Polk in high regard. Starting one of the country's premier agricultural publications in 1886, however, takes up only a portion of his resumé.
Though he grew up in a farming family, Polk was drawn to journalism and founded newspapers in Anson County, N.C., and Raleigh before starting The Progressive Farmer. He used these platforms to lobby for fair economic treatment for farmers. He was North Carolina's first commissioner of agriculture, and helped found North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical College (now North Carolina State University) and Baptist Female University (now Meredith College).
Polk rose to the rank of colonel in the Civil War and was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Despite his prominence as a journalist and politician after the war, the Polk family was never wealthy. Colonel Polk was driven by the cause to help farm families—with relentless travel and lobbying. It was on a train from Raleigh to Washington, D.C., that he began to hemorrhage from what is believed to have been a bladder ailment. He died en route in 1892, at just 55 years of age.
At the time of his death, the populist People's party he helped found, was on the verge of naming him their candidate for president of the United States. Not long before he died, he spoke in Kansas to a crowd estimated at 20,000. A newspaper commentator said: "Polk is the greatest orator I ever heard, and I want to see him president."
Go to http://www.dtn.com/ag/pfanniversary/polk.cfm to read the rest of this story and to find links to additional stories and images of Polk, farming, and The Progressive Farmer magazine.