Dependence begets subservience and suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.
(Jefferson in Notes on Virginia, in Writings, Lib. of Am. Ed., p. 289 ff.)
How independent were the planters? How independent was Jefferson? He was reared in affluent dependence. His mother left him thousands of acres and many slaves, and his wife brought him more, yet they also bestowed upon him heavy debts to British and Scottish creditors, who might at any time call his loans. He depended upon their sufferance. His comfortable style of living, his status in the society of planters, and his political base were built upon credit. Furthermore, as a grower of tobacco, he was as dependent as were his cotton-growing colleagues on prices set by the masters of British, Scottish, and Dutch finance. So he was dependent upon credit supplied by others, a market controlled by others, and, of course, the labor of others.
Independence may be defined as freedom to make one's own way and to pursue happiness according to one's own bent. Who had the greatest range of options of that sort in early nineteenth-century America? The best demonstrations of independent yeomanry were not to be found in the planters' domain but, instead, among the subsistence farmers of the Southern hills and pine plains and the interdependent farmers across the Ohio. In the free Northwest, a sophisticated symbiosis was emerging in which the growers of crops were providing foodstuffs and building materials to nearby towns while drawing their manufactured goods from their urban neighbors. This was independence through interdependence. The only truly free and independent yeoman of the South was a subsistence farmer of the hills, and this kind of freedom—however much it may have been touted in theory—came at the price of poverty.
This chapter tells of the two Virginias visible to Thomas Jefferson from a favorite vantage point, upon a “very high point of land” atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though he could not see all the way across the Ohio River, in the