Were Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, the mother-daughter team who crafted the popular Little House on the Prairie books, eager to distort pioneer life to advance an anti-FDR libertarian agenda?
So alleges author Christine Woodside in a tendentious article for the Boston Globe, citing “strategic commissions and omissions” deployed to produce a “testament to the possibilities of self-sufficiency rather than its limitations.”
No testament to the limitations, eh? Sounds nefarious.
One alleged omission pertains to the 1862 Homestead Act, without which the pioneers supposedly could not have pioneered. The books insidiously pay scant attention to this “federal largesse.”
First, what “largesse”? The Act merely permitted what people have a right to do anyway (setting aside cases of prior Indian settlement): make an un-owned piece of land one’s property by mixing one’s labor with it. Such land was certainly not owned by right by government. Second, Megan McArdle reports that contra Woodside’s claim that the Prairie books “barely mention” the relevance of the Homestead Act, “there are many lengthy passages explaining the Homestead Act, and how it works, including the granting of the land to the family by the government.”
Woodside is the type of writer who regards eloquent passion for liberty as “strident” (her adjective for Lane’s Discovery of Freedom), and the self-reliance involved in hardscrabble survival as part of an American “myth.” So many dubious assertions, so little time. Fortunately, McArdle has done much of the pioneering work in this area for us.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.