The Jeffersonian Ideal
The main philosophy that was dominant in America at the time of the Great Depression was that of the Jeffersonian agrarian. This viewpoint is often considered to be the way of the “old” America, which had a largely agriculturally based economy.
“The creation of the United States of America coincided with a time when European intellectuals were reassessing the place of agriculture in society. The concept of farming (and the farmer) was taking on a new, elevated status in the minds of the day. This notion of the noble cultivator became a part of the foundation of the new democracy. The Garden would be tilled by free citizens, possessing all the virtues bestowed by the Creator upon the husbandman.
“The yeoman became a feature in American politics very early…The Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, believed in the primacy of local government and a mainly agrarian national economy, based on small independent farmers” (Perspectives 1).
Agrarianism sets the farmer at a key place in society, becoming the moral backbone of the nation and has since transformed into the idea that the common person in America holds and governs the moral power in the nation. The farmers, which was a much more common profession during the period and without large manufacturers, became the main base on which the economy became founded and they therefore became the main suppliers of raw materials, mainly natural fibers like flax, wool and, especially, cotton.
There was several other reasons for Jefferson’s focus on agrarianism, mainly the desire to never be dependent on another country for business and economic strength.
“While we have land to labor then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a workbench, or twirling a distaff. Carpenters, masons, smiths, are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our work-shops remain in Europe. It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles. The loss by the transportation of commodities across the Atlantic will be made up in happiness and permanence of government. The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution” (Voelker Agrarian para. 4).
Jefferson saw that there are a huge potential in the vastness of America’s agricultural resources and felt that, if they focused more on manufacturing, then they would be dependent on another country to supply the raw materials for the plants. Agrarianism was a move to secure America’s independence from Europe and from the large corporations that would use the land, which they had no connection to, and would destabilize the country.
The Joad Family and many others in Steinbeck’s book are the agrarian people of Jefferson’s vision, they are not highly
educated (though he was not against the idea of educating the masses), but they are the ones who are close to the land, who know the land and give back to it as they do several times in the book when they send their coffee grounds “back to the earth”. Jefferson’s agrarian vision also taught about communal good and about the importance of coming together to work towards a common good and the government camp which they come to where everything is worked out and run by those who live in the camp is a perfect example of what Jefferson was envisioning for the country, even the fact that the government set up the camp plays to the agrarian ideal. And they also illustrate the Jeffersonian hatred for urban centers because anywhere they go that nears the city or anywhere near the metropolitan areas, they are shunned and ostracized, like Jefferson’s ideals often were when they were spoken aloud in the cities.
-Voelker, David, J. Thomas Jefferson Articulates the Agrarian Ideology. Historytools.org. 2006. Retrieved 24 Nov. 2012. Online.
-Perspectives on how land has shaped the American character. 2003. Retrieved 24 Nov. 2012. Online.