August 23, 2012, is the 204th anniversary of the birth of Charles Benedict Calvert. Calvert, a descendant of the first Lord Baltimore, is generally considered the primary force behind the founding of the Maryland Agricultural College, known today as the University of Maryland. For over twenty-five years, Calvert articulated a strong vision of agricultural education throughout the state of Maryland and acted in innumerable ways to make his vision a reality. He and his brother, George H. Calvert, sold the land that formed the core of the College Park campus for $20,000, and lent the college half of the purchase price. He was elected as the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, held the second largest number of subscriptions to charter the college, and chaired a committee to plan the first buildings. He also laid the cornerstone for the “Barracks,” stepped in to serve as president of the college when the first president had to resign, and underwrote college expenses when there was no money to pay salaries.
Calvert also had a very strong vision for the Maryland Agricultural College, which he described in a September 29, 1858, letter to Baltimore businessman J. C. Nicholson nearly one year before the college opened. He tells Nicholson, “We expect to teach everything that is taught in the best Universities and in addition to those branches we shall require every student to learn Scientific and practical agriculture and mechanics which of course will require him to engage at certain hours in all the outdoor operations of the farm and work shops.” In addition to outlining the courses the students will be required to take, Calvert sets very high expectations for the young college: “We desire to have an Institution superior to any other and we shall have such a one if the farmers are only true to themselves and give us sufficient means to erect the buildings and fairly start the Institution.” He also encourages Nicholson to enroll his son in the college, and one year later, when classes begin in October 1859, Jacob E. Nicholson is indeed a member of the MAC’s first entering class.
Calvert left an impression far beyond the campus of the Maryland Agricultural College. He served three terms in the Maryland House of Delegates. His agricultural leadership began with his tenure as president of the Prince George’s County Agricultural Society, then expanded to the state and national level. He was a founding member of the Maryland Agricultural Society and served as its president in its formative years, 1848-1854. Later, he served as a vice president of the United States Agricultural Society. His association with agricultural societies provided a platform from which he could advocate another of his cherished goals—representation of farming interests at the highest level of executive government. Calvert represented the 6th District of Maryland in the 37th Congress from 1861 to 1863. The pinnacle of his service was the passage of a bill to create a separate bureau of agriculture, signed by Abraham Lincoln on May 15, 1862. The bureau was elevated to a cabinet department in 1889. He was also known in Congress as a proponent of slave owners’ property rights. At once a staunch unionist, a beneficiary of the planter’s way of life, and a citizen of a state more divided than any other, his life was a microcosm of the Civil War conflict.
So let’s all wish a very happy birthday to our founder (leave a comment if you’d like!). We hope you will eat a piece of cake in his honor!
P.S. – Look for a Terp on this site and find a special treat!
1. Find out more about Charles Benedict Calvert here.
2. We believe any reason to celebrate is cause for cake – and this is certainly an excellent reason!