Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jefferson's Take on North/South Differences

Jefferson is a figure that has received his fair share of historical scholarship. Like Lincoln, he has his own memorial in Washington, his face on Mount Rushmore, and both have numbers of admirers and detractors. Jefferson's alleged relationship with slave Sally Hemmings has tainted his image with some Americans, both his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and his purchase of the Louisiana territory, will probably always keep him near the top when ranking Americans of influence.

Jefferson was a cosmopolitan man. He was a student of almost everything; literature, architecture, agriculture, invention, and politics. His Democratic-Republican political thinking opposed that of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist ideal. Jefferson preferred an America of small farmers and states' rights, while Hamilton looked toward an industrial and manufacturing nation with a strong central government. Their opposing views provide an example of many differences between Northerners and Southerners on the eve of the Civil War.

Much like John Richard Dennett (previous post) found out on his tour of the South after the Civil War, Jefferson saw differences between the people of the sections many years before Dennett. In a letter to a Frenchman in 1785 Jefferson drew a vivid picture of the opposing natures of Northerners and Southerners.

In this letter Jefferson said that Southerners were fiery, voluptuary, indolent, unsteady, generous, candid, zealous for their own liberties but trampling on others, and without attachment or pretensions to any religion but that of the heart. Jefferson saw Northerners as cool, sober, laborious, persevering, interested, chicaning, jealous of their own liberties and just to those of others, and superstitious and hypocritical in their religion. The only similarity Jefferson listed between the two was their "independent" natures. He said also, "These characteristics grow weaker and weaker by gradation from North to South and South to North, insomuch that an observing traveler, without the aid of the quadrant may always know his latitude by the character of the people among whom he finds himself.

It is interesting to see that the differences that let to the nation fighting against itself were apparent only a few years after winning their independence from England.

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