Whether to the Haven or the Maelstrom?: The Rise and Development of Agrarian Reform Doctrine in Antebellum America
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Hay, Robert P.
The early years of the American Republic should have been heady days for agrarians. Three of the first four presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, proudly recognized themselves as farmers as well as founders of the new nation. These pastoral leaders presided over a coastal country peopled by farmers and dominated by a rural infrastructure. The first census taken in 1790 revealed that ninety percent of the population participated in a rural economy; commerce and manufacturing lagged so far behind that no industrial statistics were collected. To the enlightened intelligencia of Europe, America seemed a realization of their rural utopia, one carved out of the wilderness. The political aspirations of "country thought" philosopher James Harrington and the agrarian grandeur voiced in the poetry of the Lake Poets could both find a home in America's rural landscape. Physiocratic philosophers, who had sanctioned agriculture as the economic foundation to a successful nation-state, saw America as the first experiment in rural republicanism. America had its own champions of rural living, not least of whom was Thomas Jefferson, who offered in his Notes on the State of Virginia a mixture of scientific observations on life in his quarter of the New World and pastoral ecstasy over living in close proximity to nature...