Thomas Jefferson’s Agrarian Ideology for America

In Thomas Jefferson’s book, Note on the State of Virginia, he argued for the United Stated to be founded on an agrarian ideology. In the excerpt we read for class today, Jefferson called for an American economy built on agriculture and to “let the work-shops” remain in Europe” (Jefferson, 18). He recognized the need for some domestic industry, but believed the vast land of America could be utilized by farming. Alexander Hamilton’s views contradicted Jefferson’s and his views on manufacturing and industry prevailed; consequently, America has progressed into a state of manufacturing rather than an agrarian state. This trend has become increasingly evident over time. Today, less than 2% of Americans farm. “Even though everyone still eats, taking part in the practice of growing food has less direct influence on people’s lives than at any point in our history (Hagenstein et al 3). Thus, we see the prevailing view of Alexander Hamilton as having profound impacts on the American economy and the global environment.

Thomas Jefferson adamantly advocated for the founding of this country to be based on agriarian ideals. Agrarianism supports working on land in ways that can last (Freyfogle xvii) due to its focus on the interconnectedness of life (Freyfogle xix). Agrarians are sustainable and understand that humans need the Earth, land, and animals for our very subsistence. In the agrarian mindset, the health of humans is dependent in the long run on the well being of the larger land community (Freyfogle xix). Clearly, agrarian views dissent greatly from the views of the majority of modern people, especially those living in urban or suburban settings in the United States. Agrarians “believe that those who buy products are implicated morally in their production, just as those who discard waste items are morally involved in their final end… Producers and sellers, too, are morally responsible for their work, and in ways the market cannot absolve or cleanse when their products are sold” (Freyfogle xx). Of course, one cannot live in a place without altering it, however, agrarians are about harmonizing their relationship and effect on nature, not exploiting it. From these readings, I came to be constantly asking myself the same question, “If Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian ideology prevailed, would we still be in the current state of environmental degradation we are currently in?

To reflect on these readings, I must say that I do believe that had Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian America prevailed over a state of manufacturing, we may not have gotten to the point of being one of the global leaders in global degradation. As we discussed last class, manufacturing and industry has lead to the creation of massive cities and consequently, an immense disconnect between people and the natural world. I also believe this disconnect is a key reason for the current state of the world. Proximity is important here. For instance, if I go fishing, I am much more likely to care about the health of fish and rivers. If I farm, I am also very likely to care about the land as that is my very subsistence. Conversely, if I live in a city, say New York City, and the closest I can get to nature, for the most park, is Central Park. I am distanced from the natural world and considerably less directly impacted by the environmental degradation. Therefore, I do believe if America had become a more agrarian state in its earliest days, a greater connection to nature and the land may have been founding principle this country was based on. We may never know for certain, but thinking about what could have been is quite an interesting thought.

Works Cited

Freyfogle, Eric T. The New Agrarianism: Land, Culture, and the Community of Life. Washington, DC: Island, 2001. Print.
Hagenstein, Edwin C., Sara M. Gregg, and Brian Donahue. American Georgics: Writings on Farming, Culture, and the Land. New Haven: Yale UP, 2011. Print.
Jefferson, Thomas, and Frank Shuffelton. Notes on the State of Virginia. New York, NY: Penguin, 1999. Print.