Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 65 Sage of Monticello

THE longer Jefferson was away from the Presidency the more he managed to convince himself that the policy of the Embargo had been correct and that, had it been in operation only a few weeks more. England must inevitably have yielded. Its repealer, which he declared had come about through the arts of the Federalists, had been the "most fatal event" since the establishment of independence. Its loss, he prophesied, would eventually be felt by the "authors of the mischief"; but in the meantime it Would ruin the "innocent agricultor." Only an immediate return to the Embargo could save the country.1

To avoid such ruin, jefferson sought ways and means to improve the lot of the agriculturist. He had imported ar great expense some Merino sheep and, as we have seen, the first reports had been discouraging. But gradually the quality of 'the wool improved and he had the profound satisfaction of knowing that he had been able to make an important contribution to the American economy. As his flock increased, he generously handed out the progeny to his neighbors on an ever-widening scale, hoping that eventually Virginia would be blanketed with the fleecy animals and a great new industry opened to the struggling farmer.

Unfortunately, some of the farmers to whom he gave young Merinos free or who managed to receive them from other sources, were not as public-spirited as himself. They in turn sold the sheep for fabulous sums and, what infuriated Jefferson, received public praise for their profitable ventures.

"I have been so disgusted with the scandalous extortions lately practiced in the sale of these animals," he wrote indignantly to Madison, "and with the description of patriotism and praise to the sellers, as if the thousands Of dollars apiece they have not been ashamed to receive were not reward enough, that I am disposed to consider as right, whatever is the reverse of what they have done. Since fortune has put the occasion upon us, is it not recumbent upon us so to dispense this benefit to the farmers of our country, as to put to shame those who, forgetting their own wealth and the honest simplicity of the farmers, have thought them fit objects of the shaving art, and to excite, by a better example, the condemnation due to theirs? No sentiment is more acknowledged in the family of Agriculturists than that the few who can afford it should incur the risk and expense of all new improvements, and give the benefit freely to the many of more restricted circumstances,"2

This was noblesse-oblige in the purest and finest aristocratic sense; and

-902-

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