The Case against the Family Farm: Ambition, Nationalism, and Antilocalism in the Early American Republic

Lecture Description

The family farm–small, self-sufficient, and hard-working–holds a special place in the American imagination. It also figured prominently in early American political thought, most especially in Thomas Jefferson’s famous description of farmers as the “chosen people of God.” But the family farm also came under direct and explicit criticism in the early republican age, not so much from any major political figures as from a broad array of liberal pastors, school reformers, and family theorists. They argued that American society should cultivate “ambition,” or the desire to escape the narrow bounds of farm and family and seek fame (not just fortune) in the wider world. This lecture explores this process by using little-known sources from mostly New English village boosters and school teachers, along with the diaries, letters, and autobiographies of those who grew up debating their own ambitions.

CATEGORIES

Agricultural Revolutionary and Early National

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