1789 - 1920 Gentleman farmers v. Westward expansion

Thomas Jefferson was the original champion of the 'gentleman farmer'

       In the early 19th century, it was a common assumption among members of America's ruling class that societies followed an inevitable sequence of development, from hunting and gathering to herding, then came the agricultural arts, and finally manufacturing.

1880s Gentleman Farmers

Homesteaders on the plains in the 1880s.

        To the planners of the American Republic, the third state was the happiest.  Hard working farmers provided the ideal citizenry, at once anchored to and supported by their property. After all, land ownership by the lower classes was unheard of in Europe, so this was a new development in western societies.  They also believed that if America went past the third stage it would face many of the same problems that plagued Europe - a small elite addicted to luxury and a large population of landless dependent people who served their needs.

         Thus, America's hope lay in westward expansion, in the extended opportunities for the growing population to acquire property and for the nation to remain at the happy and virtuous stage of agriculture.  In America, said Jefferson, we have an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman...those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.

Gentleman Farmers On Te Plains

  The daughters of a homesteading family on the Great Plains in the 1890s.

         As time went on, the business of expansion and land distribution entailed unanticipated complications and hazards not envisioned by Jefferson or any of the other founders.  By the time of the Removal Era, in the 1830s-  just forty years after the nation's founding - it was becoming increasingly clear that the anointed national values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" could only be acquired by white citizens who were willing to deny these same aspirations to other races of men.

         Between 1789 and 1834, Congress passed 375 laws pertaining to the sale of public domain: adjusting the size of lots for sale; shifting the price per acre; altering requirements for cash payments; and granting rights of preemption in specific regions.  Land distribution could not keep up with demand.  Settlers of the West took the view that land was theirs for the taking, and the rules and regulations of the government did not change the natural rights of the citizens.  Thus, a nation of laws which was legally bound and responsible for protecting lands owned by Indian people found itself trapped between the fierce desires of its citizens and the solemn duties it was sworn to obey.