chapter  12
11 Pages

The American Way of Life: Ideal and Reality

Another heroic figure is that of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, previously Minister in Paris and Secretary of State under Washington. Like his great predecessor, Jefferson was a Virginia planter. He inherited 1,900 Virginian acres, and maintained an establishment of 34 persons and 83 slaves. Again like Washington, he was in the forefront of practical agricultural improvement; but in addition to this, being of a philosophic temperament, he enlarged his sympathies into ideal notions, and wrote, 'Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. . . . I should wish [our states] to practice neither commerce nor navigation, but to be with respect to Europe precisely on the footing of China. We should thus avoid wars, and all our citizens would be husbandmen. ' 3 Why should this be desirable? Because the dream of the husbandman is not profit bu t freedom. T h e opposite of all this Jefferson found in Europe, which he disliked; there he found the grossly unequal division of property, married to absolutist government-'governments of kites over pigeons. '4 But men, to this 18th century mind, were not pigeons; 'men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master. Could the contrary of this be proved, I should conclude, either that there is no God, or that he is a malevolent being. '5 T h u s Jefferson was the ardent advocate of agricultural occupations as fostering equality and responsibility, and therefore freedom. These ideas, as President, he was obliged to compromise in action, finding that he lived in a dangerous world in which it was political folly for a nation to be poor-that is, to be simply agricultural; but these concessions are not remembered, and the influential figure is the Jefferson of Monticello-his home ('Mr. Jefferson is the first American who has consulted the fine arts to know how he should shelter himself from the weather'),6 a half-domed, spacious, Italianate building which he had himself designed, where he appeared a cultured man even in a cultured century,

THE AMERICAN EСОNOMY 1860 -1940 'a musician, skilled in drawing, a geometrician, an astronomer, a natural philosopher, legislator, and statesman.'6