Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase

By Roger G. Kennedy | Go to book overview

4

Independence

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

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Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Chronology xiii
  • Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause *
  • Part One - The Land and Mr. Jefferson 1
  • 1 - Choices and Consequences 5
  • 2 - Washington, Jefferson, Three Worthies,and Plantation Migrancy 17
  • 3 - The Way Not Taken 26
  • 4 - Independence 43
  • 5 - Powers of the Earth 60
  • 6 - Jefferson's Opportunities and the Land 73
  • Part Two - The Invisible Empire and the Land 85
  • 7 - Colonial-Imperialism 87
  • 8 - Textile Colonial-Imperialism 97
  • Part Three - Resistance to the Plantation System 115
  • 9 - McGillivray 119
  • 10 - Resisters, Assisters, and Lost Causes 129
  • 11 - The Firm Steps Forward 144
  • 12 - Jeffersonian Strategy and Jeffersonian Agents 152
  • Part Four - Agents of the Master Organism: Assistants to the Plantation System 169
  • 13 - Fulwar Skipwith in Context 173
  • 14 - Destiny by Intention 193
  • 15 - Louisiana and Another Class of Virginians 205
  • 16 - The Virginians of Louisiana Decide the Future of the Land 217
  • Epilogue 235
  • Appendix 245
  • Notes 262
  • Bibliographic Note 307
  • Bibliography 312
  • Index 336
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