The Contradictions of the Planter Class
The ancestors of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson began their sojourns in America at approximately the same level. The Jeffersons subsequently rose to the heights of wealth and culture while the Lincolns remained in the middle. The reason was that southern planters not only enjoyed the benefits of a slave workforce, they lived under a government that entrusted gentlemen to develop unworked land. Those who gained a place among the gentry received huge grants on the supposition that they would open the land and provide a shelter for smaller planters. Peter Jefferson was one beneficiary of this practice, receiving grants in what became Albemarle County, lands that were inherited by his sons. Jefferson practiced rational agriculture. He corresponded with Arthur Young and read books by English reformers. He fertilized his land and planted clover. And yet Jefferson was bankrupt at his death. He was defeated by the contradictions of the planter class. The necessity of living as a gentleman in order to enjoy the benefits of that standing made it impossible for Jefferson to curtail his standard of living and pay off his debts.
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