How and why did Jefferson change his opinions about manufacturing in Notes on the State of Virginia?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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My argument is that he never really changed his preference for a smallholder democracy over a society based on manufactures in large factories. But events, the Market Revolution in particular, outraced him, and while president, he was forced to undertake some actions that ultimately benefited manufacturing in the long run. Like many of his other opinions, there are some inconsistencies over his long life, and certainly by the end of his life he had accepted the reality of manufacturing. But he maintained that manufacturing, especially spinning and weaving, were best done at the local, even the domestic level, rather than in large factories in cities that, he argued, created a large dependent class of wage laborers that he thought were anathema to democracy. He also opposed the encouragement of manufacturing through government action, in particular high protective tariffs. Please see the link below for some quotations that demonstrate how his views on manufacturing evolved throughout his public life. The quotations are linked to Jefferson's papers, and if you read some of the letters they are taken from, and think about his political positions, you'll find that his views on the subject were, like many of his other views, extremely complex, and can ultimately only be really understood in the context of his own time.

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rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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It was in the chapter "On Manufactures" in Notes on the State of Virginia that Jefferson made some of his most famous remarks about manufacturing and agriculture. He juxtaposed "satanic" mills staffed by the "mobs of great cities" with small, independent farms, where "the chosen people of God" labored happily and productively. On the one hand, Jefferson never really abandoned the notion that the United States should remain fundamentally an agricultural nation, or as he pointedly said in Notes, "let our work-shops remain in Europe!" On the other, his view of the ideal agrarian society described a world that was gone even in his own time. Jefferson himself employed a number of slave children in producing nails in a factory setting at Monticello. Many of his policies while president, especially the Embargo Act, did much to encourage the growth of industry, but he remained a defender of agrarian society for all of his years. In fact, it was inextricably tied to his notion of a small, frugal government with a minimum of involvement in economic affairs. In Jefferson's mind, government power with respect to the economy was associated with granting monopolies to ventures, including manufacturing ventures, that were well-connected.

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nabocollins | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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Thank you very much for your expertise on this. I have such a better understanding of this subject now. :)

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nabocollins | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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Thank you very much for the insight. I am not sure if I have the answer I am looking for yet, although I do have a better understanding of it. So is the reason he changed his opinion because he wanted America to prosper like Europe was?

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