Protesting farmers celebrated Abraham Lincoln's birthday yesterday by driving 250 tractors to the base of the Lincoln Memorial and declaring the tractors would remain there until President Carter agrees to meet with spokesmen for the group.
Hundreds of farmers, who lined the snow-covered steps of the Memorial while "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" blasted from speakers atop a tractor, heard American Agriculture leaders call on Carter to stop preaching about human rights abroad until he pays attention to the human rights of American farmers.
White House spokesman Mark Henderson said later that no such meeting is scheduled and referred a reporter to a Feb. 5 statement by press secretary Jody Powell in which Powell said the White House had received no request for a session with Carter.
"This memorial was built in the name of a farmer," proclaimed national wagonmaster Gerald McCathern, pointing up at the monument. "We're going to stay here (in Washington) until the snow stops and the songbirds go to singing."
U.S. Park Police officials said they were caught off guard by the decision to leave the tractors around the memorial. "We're not in any reasonable position to do anything about it," said Deputy Chief Hugh Groves.
Groves said he would allow the tractors to remain there overnight, but would not say what efforts would be made to remove them today.
In a separate development, reports that a group of Charles County, Md., farmers had offered to repair extensive damage to the Mall caused by the farm protesters brought a positive response from a government official.
National Park Service spokesman George Berklacy, noting that the reported offer had not reached him yet, said the Park Service would accept it if the offer were made directly. Estimates of the cost of repairs have reached as high as $2 million.
As a precedent, Berklacy said that a group of Amish farmers had repaired the Mall free following a Vietnam demonstration in 1972.
District Del. Walter E. Fauntroy speaking from the Memorial steps, thanked the assembled farmers "on behalf of the people of the District of Columbia" for "opening out eyes" to the real cause for higher food prices -- the "middlemen" and the "big conglomerates."
Many farmers said they were stepping up demonstrations in the city in preparation for their testimony before the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday and Thursday.
A noon "POW March" is planned for today as a protest against the barricade of city buses and trucks used to hem the farmers in on the Mall since last week.
Many of the farmers yesterday were wearing buttons protesting the barricade. "I was held a P.O.W. in the Wash., D.C., Mall Tractorcade 1979," said one button depicting the Capitol and a number of tractors encurcled by buses and trucks.
Another button showed the Capitol's dome with "P.O.W." emblazoned across it in red letters and the words "American Agriculture Movement" written around the edge.
Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department building on Independence Avenue, which was opened to the farmers after hours last week, was closed at 6 p.m. yesterday to anyone without a building identification card.
A Federal Protective Agency spokesman said the measure was taken because of unauthorized use of telephones by the farmers and because of isolated instances of vandalism.
Several department employes found themselves temporarily locked inside the South Building last night after 6 p.m. and had to exit through an underground passage to the North Administration Building.
At yesterday's rally, dozens of farmers posed before the statue of Loncoln and had their pictures taken for friends and family back home. Others huddled in the Memorial's bookstore or restrooms trying to get warm.