Thomas Jefferson was hard at work on his farm when a former president of the French National Assembly visited him in 1796. According to letters the duke later wrote, he happened upon Jefferson "in the midst of the harvest, from which the scorching heat of the sun does not prevent his attendance." He was duly impressed not only with Jefferson the political genius but with Jefferson the lifelong farmer, a man consumed with "activity and perseverance in the management of his farms and buildings." Perhaps the two men discussed government and the excesses of the French Revolution, but more likely Jefferson entertained his guest with stories of crop rotations, sheep raising, and his plow design that would later win high honors from the Agricultural Society of Paris. Only a year earlier, Jefferson had written to another potential visitor that he would "talk with you about [farming] from morning till night, and put you on very short allowance as to political ailment."
We most often think of Thomas Jefferson in stately dress, signing the Declaration of Independence or serving as president of the United States. Seldom, if ever, do we think of the farm that provided his income and sustained his spirit in difficult times: "I return to farming with an ardor which I scarcely knew in my youth, and which has got the better entirely of my love of study."
To Jefferson, farmers as a group were "first in utility and ought to be first in respect"; they were "the chosen people of God if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue." Jefferson feared a tyranny not of kings but of the heavy and unrestricted hand of powerful industrialists. Democracy would be best preserved if the new nation's vast and uncharted land would be home to free and equal farmers. A