the Evolution of the Tidewater “New Dominion” Elite Political Culture


The revolutionary war policy system therefore reflected much of the past oligopolistic colonial policy processes, relationships, and institutions that produced and dominated the Fifth Convention. Having said that, however, the old Virginia Royalist oligopoly in 1776 was not its grandfather’s oligopoly arrayed against Spotswood in the 1720’s. Much had changed within the Tidewater elite political culture since then.

The colonies as a whole were in social and even economic change after 1720’s. Two change dynamics among many, I suggest, exerted disproportionate effect on the design of the Revolutionary War Policy System:

(1) Massive and sustained immigration and corresponding internal migration injected entirely new populations and political cultures, not to mention new communities and diversification in economic bases. Much of 1776 Virginia was newly settled, and adjustment by the Tidewater policy system to its new residents, located in western areas isolated and very loosely governed by traditional Virginia colonial institutions. Only in 1776 did an opening manifest itself for these new geographies to express themselves.

and (2) generational change within the older traditional colonial elites when combined with weakness in its prevailing plantation economies that were accelerated by British actions and regulations after 1763 greatly affected the socialization of younger cohorts transforming them into a generation quite different from their parent. First, the values and “reforms” associated with the Enlightenment separated old Royalists from their sons, daughters and mostly their grandchildren. The parents, offspring of offspring directly involved in or in memory of the English Civil War were now long gone, and their pioneering plantations wrung out of the wilderness now established and until the 1740’s affluence generating.

Later generations were more attuned to what was by then a long tradition of colonial self-governance had achieved a rough parity with the King’s royal governor, and were arguably more interested in continuance of the economic and political base which provided them a childhood of affluence. When that affluence was threatened by both weaknesses of tobacco plantation economics and British regulation, that younger generation became open to the Enlightenment’s political innovations and the importance of Virginia self-rule. The rise of new planter elites in Virginia’s Piedmont, people such as Peter Jefferson and others in the Piedmont were relatively late additions to the Tidewater elite, and to some degree competitive with it. The division between these elites was evident in the history of land development companies, which was a key element of pre-Revolution domestic Virginia politics.

the Starting Point: Conventional View of the Royalist-Tidewater/Piedmont Political Culture

This section introduces the reader to how we briefly view political culture in this history by (1) selecting elements of three major commentators on political culture (Daniel Elazar, David Hackett-Fisher, and Colin Woodard) and (2) integrating them into our approach; and applying it to one particular regional political culture: the Tidewater. There are several political cultures which are developed in this history, and the Tidewater is tackled first–even though many of the other regional cultures developed alongside and virtually simultaneous with the Tidewater culture. As such no pretense is made as to this commentary as comprehensive or detailed. As the reader will see, our approach fully embraces the reality that time and experience alters culture.

The essence of this section is how time and experience altered the original 17th century Royalist Tidewater culture, and modified it–fragmenting it in the process–to accommodate the Enlightenment and the drift of America to independence, a democratic republic, and a war of independence. But first inevitable conceptual background that underlies our treatment of political culture. If one does not need such a treatment, please feel free to skip over the next sub-section and go on to the next.

Conceptual Foundation--Logically, the reader is correct in her anticipation that the evolution of the Tidewater political culture continued after the Revolution, and that that evolution further changed the content of the Tidewater culture and further fragmented it across classes and geographies. That will, hopefully, be evident in the future chapters. The central dynamic of a culture’s geographic evolution is the migration of its members, and the central dynamic of a culture’s change in content is socialization, or differences in generational cohorts. For the moment we will put aside another central dynamic, the development and formation of political and economic structures and institutions. That is another critical argument which will be treated on its own when we introduce constitution-writing and the institutionalization of culture.

Elite and “masses”–the average American–are important elements in our history. Elites and the general population experience and uphold culture in different ways and degrees (For that matter each individual in a particular culture is his or her own dot on that culture’s continuum of values, beliefs and expectations). That necessarily diffuses the impact of culture on economics and politics. It also alerts the reader that values, beliefs, and expectations, what I call the content of culture is far from monolithic. One does not realistically create a predetermined number of cultural beliefs, values, and expectation and expect each individual or sub-grouping in the culture to mirror them precisely in interpretation, individual’s priority, or even behavior. Nobody follows the Ten Commandments in precisely any order or with equivalent priority, or even defines them identically. In the course of our history, the reader will see that elites tend to dominate the making of Mainstream Economic Development (MED) policy, and that Community Development include wings dominated by elites who seek to assist masses, or by other wings  which develop a activist mass leadership who then seek to mobilize their mass compatriots. The community development not uncommonly take on, or flirt with, a populist movement tilt, which not infrequently is hurled at those pursuing MED policies and strategies. Isn’t that a rip–culture, populism and the MED-CD dichotomy can interact with each other.

That means of course, that political culture is a very ‘soft”, flexible, evolving sets of phenomena whose impact on political and economic behavior (our subject matter) is at best associational and certainly not causal. More usually culture becomes a mental prism in which one filter’s a perceived input or potential action. It also can jell to a degree that it permeates into a lifestyle, a distinctive pattern of socialization, a way of defining inputs and legitimate reactions to it–and very much can shape expectations of future goals and desires. All this is reinforced by the propensity of those who share a culture to migrate together, at least at the same time, and wind up relocating in the same communities, and neighborhoods. Cultures inherently contain a “Big Sort” bias in which the predominance of a culture’s migrants wind up in the same geographies–and not others.

Having said that political cultures can “sort themselves out by geography”, that does not mean that geographies become automatically the preserve of one or another political culture. That is possible, but not commonplace–except of course at a neighborhood of barrios level. Most urban communities contain a welter of political cultures resident at any one point in time. That is truer today, however, than in the time period we are now talking about. Colonial America and the Early Republic were less diversified than our Contemporary communities. Still even colonial period communities were somewhat diversified–some cities, Philadelphia for example, became quite diverse as the nation’s largest immigration portal. In later decades, New York City became the proverbial melting pot. So ED policy-making at the city or county level almost inevitably has to contend with clashing–and cooperating–political cultures.

There is an option to this, however; particular political cultures can be politically–economically repressed, and forced to the margins of policy-making (CD often appears in some form if that happens). That is what happened in Virginia. In the hopefully more normal pattern, cultures clash, cooperate, and hash things outs and all that shapes ED policy by permeating into the policy-making processes and stages of policy-making. At the community-level, the impact of elites in the making of policy, and especially in its implementation, is considerable enhanced. The community elites can then slug it out with the tribunes of the masses.

Needless to say, I hope, is that each community with different configurations of political cultures will forge ED policy through the clash, cooperation, and negotiation of its mobilized political cultures, call it a “name”, and then proceed to implement it–over the watchful eye of the political cultures. A program or ED strategy may well be called by the same name as a slightly, to considerably different policy or strategy in a different community. An ED professional relocated from one community to another can expect to be a world of hurt as they inject themselves into that. Somebody sitting far away, maybe in a classroom, or writing a book or a law will be oblivious to it. After all one neighborhood is identical to all other neighborhoods aren’t they? Cities of the same size are all similar, aren’t they? I think the reader senses my sarcasm.

Accordingly, our migrations differ from those typically described by economists for example. Economists talk about migrations, for example, as generated by search for a job. People go where work can be found. For us it is more complicated. Some groupings go to one place, others to another, usually to find different kinds of jobs–and they do so in the HOPE (an expectation) of finding employment, not the reality of filling a particular open job. When they reach a new location, they tend to cluster around those who are perceived as similar to them. Some members of a group will choose not to move in the first place–and that too will impact the community they did not leave–something which has to be forcibly injected into the economist’s conceptual fabric. It is not unheard of that relocated cultures return at some point in their life to the original location, or have family relationships which continue for a period of time. Indeed, the relocated culture member can send economic support to those in the original location–or vice versa.

Culture in this sense transcends economics and alerts our economic development reader that our economic development strategies and programs might be sensitive to the individual cultural dynamics present in our geography. It also allows us to understand why things may work (or be accepted) in another geographies, but not as well in ours. Culture then can affect program design–but wait until you see how it can affect the “making” of economic development strategy and policy which is a principal objective of this history.

Virginia’s Original Tidewater Culture–David Hackett-Fischer. Hackett-Fischer combines these moving parts rather well, and accordingly I have used him as the foundation for my approach. He starts with migrations in a particular period of time–observing there were four large migrations from Britain during the colonial period. One of them carried the Tidewater political culture on its back–and almost without realizing it the seeds of future political cultures, the former indentured servant–and later American black slave culture. The core of the original American Tidewater culture was English Royalist elites in refugee status fleeing to Virginia to escape the victorious Puritan (Yankee) political culture. They fled to Virginia which had been established by a melody of outcasts, adventurers, opportunists and god knows what nearly fifty years previously.

The Royalist migration was not America’s First Big Sort. Lots of Big Sorts occurred before the 1650’s when the Royalist came over–the Puritans in Massachusetts for example. But all came in the form of families, mixed male and female, and most of the male were second sons looking to make their fortune and escaping both the Puritans and the strictures of English primogeniture. They shared the same religion, the Anglican or Church of England (which they made the colony’s established religion)–which was the in the late medieval and early modern eras the root of how one defined one’s self politically and socially. Once established in America, Royalists families intermarried, and traveled back to their English-resident families–and intermarried there as happenstance occurred. They often returned to England for formal education and professional training–or not. But they all set up the equivalent of the English manors of yore, in which their English residents still lived, and they created their own imitation of English society in America. They are the infamous “Cavaliers” with which many historical works make reference. They are the fine folk that the opening lines of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” describe.

The Royalists took it over, established an economic base of export tobacco plantations with an imported low-cost workforce and settled the coastal Tidewater regions of today’s Virginia and Maryland. Almost all these Royalists came from English counties around London and Bristol, were from wealthy elite families, and came to America with some monetary resources and the support of the rebellious Royal governor who set them up with free land grants, and favorable ED policies. To plant and harvest the tobacco the government subsidized the importation of indentured servants in huge numbers, later to be replaced by black slaves from West Indies and Africa. About one in five were Royalist Tidewater elites, and the rest, well, were the rest. It is from this Virginia First Sort by the Royalists that the core of the conventional or traditional definition of the Tidewater political culture is usually based. Although, it is the most dated, and carries the label of “traditionalistic” Daniel J. Elazar [1] is both robust and captures the fundamental elements of this Royalist Tidewater political culture.

Elazar asserts the Tidewater culture is ambivalent concerning the emerging (pre-capitalist) economic system, and holds a paternalist (sort of character-based moral code with nobilisse oblige trappings) and elitist–hegemonic–conceptions of an emerging representative democracy. This squares nicely with the development of the House of Burgesses and the appointive Royal Council as Virginia’s upper chamber. It also reflects Virginia’s slowness in developing non-agricultural entrepreneurship and diversification of its agricultural economic base–but not its rejection of those sectors and potential evolution. Tidewater, even its Royalist core, is not anti-capitalist per se. Rather Elazar correctly observes that Tidewater conservatism is tied to preserving a way-of-life, a way of life based on an agricultural-manor/plantation with low wage workforce economy, an economic system dominated by that landed aristocracy.

[Traditionalistic Tidewater culture] reflects an older precommercial attitude that accepts a substantially hierarchical society as part of the ordered nature of things, authorizing and expecting those at the top of the social structure to take a special and dominant role in government … with government as an actor with a positive role in the community, but it tries to limit that role to securing the continued maintenance of the existing social order. To do so it functions to confine real political power to a relatively small and self-perpetuating group drawn from an established elite who often ‘inherit’ their right to govern through family ties or social position [2].

To make this “system” work, what has come to be called “deference” by those outside this elite core of families and high social status individuals is required. Citizen participation is minimal, and is expected to be congruent with the policies and interests as defined by the elite. The blurring of government and private interest is expected in this arrangement, but character and morals provide an ethical, although unwritten and unspecific, system intended to check elite dysfunction and corruption. The “proper-behaving” elite self-checks its use of government so that while it may result in the elite’s personal benefit, is done so with aspirations and intentions that promote “a public good”. Land development, for example, would fit into this nexus. In addition, Elazar also injects another feature of this culture which also “limits” the socio-political elites: factionalization. The politics, what we call policy-making, in this culture tends to develop competing or at least rival factions, often based on “who benefits” from public action or personal feuds.

Colin Woodard [3] adds a vitally necessary dimension to this Royalist political culture–an understanding of those external to it, those outside the established social-political aristocracy: hardscrabble economic opportunists that tricked into Virginia during the forty years previous to the installation of the Royalist elite, and the subsequent low-wage workforce that followed (indentured servants and black slaves). These groupings are essential to my perspective on political culture which stresses the impact of the interaction between clashing, competing and cooperative political cultures on the making of policy. Woodward, while not rejecting deference absolutely notes the Royalist elites, through its dominance in policy-making/implementation was able to secure the “conformity” of these groupings to its wishes and to the prevailing economic base which was the source of their wealth, status and power.

In the seventeenth century, the English country gentlemen were in effect kings of their [isolated rural plantation-community] domains.  … they directed the lives and labors of the tenant farmers and day laborers who lived in the villages associated with their manors. As justices of the peace they presided over the local courts, while their sons, nephews, and younger brothers often serves as parsons in the village churches, which belonged of course to the [state] official Church of England …

Power in the Tidewater had become hereditary. The leading families intermarried in both America and England … The Virginia Royal Council served as the colony’s Senate, supreme court, and executive cabinet, and it controlled the distribution of land … At the county level, gentlemen controlled the distribution of justice and charity in their roles as justices of the peace, and could hire and fire pastors at will from their seats on the church vestry…

Lower status people almost never challenged their betters for fear of savage retribution, as gentlemen could have lesser persons whipped for minor offenses … [Court cases] were resolved by gentlemen judges who believed that issues should be decided by their own sense of justice rather than by precedents written in law books [with which BTW they were likely to be unfamiliar as no legal training was required]. .. Even before the spread of full-fledged slavery, Tidewater’s hierarchy was maintained by the threat of violence [4].

The Royalist “Traditional” Political Culture, in short, rested on forms of sub-state governance and policy-making/implementation that were best characterized as broadly undemocratic, with strong tinges of autocratic and even dictatorial modes of compliance–and almost complete dominance over the economic sectors and the agricultural nexus. The “state” or colony commonwealth, however, was overwhelmingly dominated by the Royalist oligopoly, a lower house democratically elected by a franchise which required sufficient wealth to own property, and whose office holders were required to be of even greater wealth, and an upper house chosen by it–or in colonial times by Royal Governor.

Finally, neither Elazar nor Woodard come to grips with the demonstrable fact that the Tidewater oligopoly confronted after 1720 a seemingly inexhaustible tide of immigrant migrations into its western periphery. These ethnic immigrants possessed their own cultures, economics, and policy/political aspirations. Those minorities, as were Woodard’s, were largely excluded from the Tidewater policy system by the elite’ almost dictatorial control over the prime unit of sub-state governance, the county that resulted from the elite’s dominance over the ownership of the land, and the modes of land sales and distribution to the newcomers. In that land ownership, a precondition for the election franchise, was more open in these newly-settled western counties, and the newcomers significantly introduced a more diversified economic base through yeoman agriculture, the imperfect dominance of local elites potentially allowed a political opposition to emerge required that the lower house oligopoly’s power by preserved through an extreme malapportionment of county representation and its rejection of one-man-one vote.

While Elazar seems content in ascribing a monolithic solidarity (achieved through deference) to the Tidewater (and other) political cultures, the simple reality is that it is possible, in time likely, that those outside the social elite will form their own political culture(s). Instead of a state-commonwealth saturated by one culture, my reality is that one culture had established a hegemonic dominance of policy, politics, economy, and social status over several repressed political cultures. The methods by which these cultures were repressed were an important element in the hegemonic cultural dominance, and that itself exerted some impact on the quality, effectiveness, and democratic integrity of their processes–and what is critical, crucial, fundamental to our history is they hugely affected the making of economic development policy and frustrating its ability to generate economic growth and commercial dominance over its extra-state regional hinterland.

Finally, in its due time, the Virginia Tidewater generated its own migration into first North Carolina, subsequently into Tennessee, and then Kentucky (and later into other states), the Virginia Tidewater governance model and its political culture was seriously challenged. The new states were compelled to accommodate demands of its formerly repressed political cultures, and newly arrived immigrant cultures. They developed adaptations and variations on the Virginia model of governance–and their own state political cultures. Moreover the migration exodus of Virginia’s overwhelmingly politically isolated and quasi-repressed masses impacted Virginia itself, stagnating its economy, draining it of its workforce and innovation, and producing a state and local policy system nexus without sufficient majorities to reform and modernize itself economically or politically. The irony in all this is that while Virginia economically declined, and its culture became increasingly out-of-step with an emerging American democracy a Virginia dynasty exerted massive impact on the formation of the Early Republic and its Constitution, and then for thirty-five straight years (with one four year exception) dominated the American Congress and Presidency.

How this incredible dichotomy came to be requires a further examination of how generational change and political-economic events caused a reshaping of the Traditional Royalist Tidewater political culture. That reshaping fragmented the monolithic Royalist culture outlined by Elazar and expanded that culture to accommodate the demands and realities of a rising and insurgent repressed and immigrant migrant political cultures which were generated during the drift to American Independence, the Revolutionary War, and the establishment of a new republican-democratic Revolutionary War policy system in a newly independent (from Britain) commonwealth.


Wrap-Up and Segue Way

The children of these troubled and fragmented elites, creatures of the Enlightenment and victims of their father’s newly acquired affluence, acquired an intellectual independence from Dad, and a lifestyle and world perspective vastly different than their pioneering, Indian-fighting, entrepreneurial grandparents and parents. Remarkably the affluence, challenged though it might be in the 1750’s, of the Virginia oligopoly had produced a successor generation of a different mind frame than theirs.

The Fifth Convention included western delegates, although few in number, a hardcore pure Tidewater conservative royalist hard core, and a younger–more Piedmont planter oligopoly (with age ranges similar to Washington and Jefferson (about ten years apart)– whose view of the world was remarkably egalitarian (less hierarchical and paternalistic) and considerably more “Whig”  than their elders and Tidewater compatriots. This gap between generations was seriously enhanced by a sizable Loyalist element which resisted Whiggism, identified more with the traditions of royalist court politics, and remained loyal to monarchy. Loyalist beliefs, to the extent they were held by conservative Fifth Convention were muted–most Loyalists were either taking flight or in active opposition to the democrat republican elements. Leaving aside slavery for the moment, the critical philosophic difference among the Fifth Convention was not democratic elections–because all colonial elites in each colony relied on elections to populate their only representative body, the colonial legislature–but who ought to vote in those elections. The answer to that question reflected the political thought of the activist Fifth Convention Tidewater/Piedmont elites; that political thought, which incorporated its version of Enlightenment philosophy was described by David Hackett Fischer.



Reconciliation of Liberty and Republican Democracy-Equality: the Fragmentation of the Tidewater Political Culture in the Revolutionary Era [5] 

Religious toleration in the voting franchise had already made significant inroads in Virginia’s colonial policy system, so the key unresolved policy system driver was the requirement of own property to be eligible to vote. It was the property franchise which disenfranchised the property less-masses and new western migrants from the old colonial system. That was the key factor in the oligopolistic plantation hegemony. The question was whether the revolutionary war populist/migrant momentum could transform that policy system to one more friendly to the masses.

At its most basic level the dynamic-force that had to be dealt with in the new revolutionary era republican democracy was the landless masses, the majority of the population without property–a large portion of which typically was referred to as “the Mob”. Virginia was not alone in trying to figure out how to deal with these folk; every state had to make its own arrangement with a grouping so large that it constituted a majority, sometimes as in Virginia an overwhelming majority of the state’s potentially eligible electorate. Control over land ownership was how the aristocracy was able to stabilize its impact over county policy systems–which was the heart of its hegemony. That is why plantation owners had formed land development companies so they could not only make money in the sale of land to an end-user, but could to a degree manage the outlines of that geographies future policy system. They were after all seeking not only to overcome the weakness of tobacco and an export plantation economy, but were also interested in passing a way-of-life on to their progeny. Not an easy task to be sure, but the key was property and who owned it. In any event, it was property and its ownership that had to be redefined to accommodate a republican form of government if the Tidewater political culture was to evolve and persist in that new world.

We are back to the “Mob” and the elements that seized control over Pennsylvania’s constitution-writing. It was the Mob that pushed the drift from resistance to British tyranny, to demand for independence, and to war. In many states-colonies middle-class merchant/professional, or in Virginia the plantation elites had entered into the “drift” in large measure to achieve their own interests, but also to ensure the anomic, emotion-laden actions of the Mob did not yank them into confrontations they were not yet ready for–and to ensure their radicalism did not get out of hand and develop into anarchy–or the future class war and great terror of the French Revolution. It was easily apparent to the elites that activist and more thoughtful elements of the Mob had their own aspirations, and their definition of representative democracy involved them as the “sovereign” people. Confronting the dynamics, chaos, and change that arose during the drift to the Revolutionary War and Independence, the Tidewater elite and its traditional Royalist-Tidewater culture broke down into overlapping generational and geographic versions.

The older and more traditional plantation elites and political activists tended to retain more of the old Tidewater culture. That elite dominated the leadership of the Fifth Convention–they were what Hackett-Fisher called the “Williamsburg” faction. Stripped of Loyalists who could not embrace independence, certainly not war with the King, these were the more conservative. Their concern was what we would call preservation of the old order, way of life and the institutions it required (including slavery and plantation economies), but willing to embrace republican democracy constrained by the rule of law as they understood it Property was the core of their way of life and agricultural economy that provided them their link to the past and their hope for the future. Land, agriculture, and the preservation of a moral and more republican  civil polity. It is this grouping we will see the core of those who successfully transferred the core of the colonial policy system into the revolutionary war policy system

In contrast was the Northern Neck (Fairfaxs, Washington, Marshalls, Carters and Lees) who emphasized moral character, dedication to service who were, in a Burkean sense, required to lead a new modern society and economy–an economy not tied absolutely to agriculture but open to commerce, finance, and manufacturing. More economic, entrepreneurial than social in their inclinations, they too centered on property ownership, as necessary for a stable society, but also as the way to extend republicanism and liberty to larger groups of individuals who proved themselves able and willing to become property owners. In their mind economic opportunity to acquire property was the way to grow the republic economically, socially and politically. From this grouping will come the core of Virginia’s future Federalists–and for us, the one of the elemental drivers of Mainstream Economic Development.

While there are a great number of quotes available for citation, ranging from Washington to Mason, Richard Henry Lee a prominent Virginia Founding Father, born the same year as Washington supports the generational take away of Virginia’s 1730-1745 elite plantation cohort.  “Lee trusted patriotic men ‘of Independent Circumstances … “candid, temperate and sensible; these alone could serve the cause of a ‘Regulated Liberty’, free both of the ‘fury of a Mob’ and the ‘art, cunning and industry of wicked, vicious, and avaricious men. … In the mid-1770’s Lee urged that a rapid transition from extra-legal revolutionary government [the Five Conferences] to established regular institutions was essential for the repression of ‘popular commotions’ and ‘anarchy and so for the preservation of society“. “In the western Piedmont [however] where a plural society of diverse ethnic groups was developing” plantation owners had to deal with migratory ethnic populations, with agriculturalists who were yeoman, not plantation agriculturalists, who were strongly individualistic and autonomous–i.e. independent. Almost non-existent in Tidewater and Northern Neck, these groupings were no longer congruent with a purely-manor-based agriculture and its way of life. “These men were comfortable with diversity. Madison celebrated it as a positive good in the Federalist No. 10 … they were also happy with a high degree of decentralization and popular participation” [6].

In these new agriculturalists lie the hope for a new vibrant American Republic. They too, without realizing it were economic entrepreneurs like their Northern Neck compatriots. Yeoman agriculture and the ownership of family land plots–the essence of homesteading and agricultural economic development strategy that would dominate a great deal of the 19th century–they did not repudiate manufacturing but were uncomfortable at best with new-fanged finance and the mechanics of trade and commerce. Moreover, small scale urbanism was a pillar of their way of life and the new Republic. They hated large sizable cities that contained the uncivilized dregs of humanity. Equality and diversity had its limits–a stable order was essential. That yeoman agriculture would no doubt in its time render dysfunctional and obsolete the plantation way of life–and the stain of slavery and the evils of the old manor economy and politics.  While they started out as Federalists, that marriage broke up very quickly. They are, of course, our future Democrat-Republicans–in fact they created that Tribe, and their members led it, the Virginia Dynasty, from 1800 to 1824. But as republican and “radical” as they were, they were not pure egalitarians.

Equality, however, in Jefferson’s mind was joined at the hip with the notion of independence of means that could sustain rational individual action. Gordon Wood put it more elegantly:

Equality was related to independence. Indeed, Jefferson’s original draft for the Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created free and independent”. Men were equal in that  no one of them should be dependent on the will of another, and property made this independence possible. Americans in 1776, therefore concluded that they were naturally fit for republicanism precisely because they were ‘a people of property; almost every man is a freeholder’ [7].

Desperately poor, landless, mobile could not control their own affairs. Their vote was not rational in the sense Jefferson thought it had to be. Landless and property less were not bound to the policy system, but rather to find their own way under desperate  conditions that made them dependent on those with greater wealth and resources. Without independence, secured only by property–land in 1770’s–voters could be bought and manipulated. Property less mob was politically unstable. This link of equality with independence, and independence with property ownership, was infused by the then-current British politics. It reflected the “Whig” value-system. Whigs in England were former Royalists who were “landed” and in Virginia most plantation owners were disposed to that line of thinking. What distinguished the Washington-Jefferson revolutionary war generation was that Enlightenment thought became more egalitarian, and less hierarchical, it had a greater respect for the individual and basic individual rights that transcended societal-economic hierarchies. Democracy, liberty, and individual freedom could be extended, and should be extended, to others than the Royalist manor-elite–to those who were truly “autonomous individuals, securely in command of self, and is [necessarily] alive and flourishing [8].



[1] Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: a View from the States (2nd ED) (Thomas Y Crowell Company, 1972), pp. 99-102

[2] Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: a View from the States, p. 99

[3] Colin Woodard, American Nations (Viking Press, 2011), pp. 44-49

[4] Colin Woodard, American Nations, pp. 51-54

[5] This section is drawn mostly from David Hackett-Fisher and James C. Kelly, Bound Awaypp. 129-134.

[6]  David Hackett-Fisher and James C. Kelly, Bound Away, p. 132

[7] Gordon S. Wood, the Radicalism of the American Revolution (Vintage Books, 1991), pp. 234

[8] David Hackett-Fischer, Albion’s Seed, pp. 416-8, quote, p. 418