Transformed from myth into a revolutionary ideology that expressed a political culture based on a unique American approach to republicanism and democracy, farmers – from the ‘tillers of the earth’ in Crèvecoeur’s Letters to the ‘chosen people of God’ of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia1 – were the inspiration and the heart of the American agrarian project. In the exceptional geographic conditions, and in response to the opportunities offered by an international market in which higher prices were paid for agricultural products, agrarian ideology also represented a set of values, in the name of which the incomparability of American nature legitimized the idea of the primacy of laws of nature over governments, setting nature against hierarchical societies. The economy, meanwhile, was seen as a natural order that required minimum intervention from governments.2 ‘The whole landed interest is republican’, Jefferson wrote to Filippo Mazzei, denouncing the Federalists as the ‘Anglican monarchical aristocratical party’,3 while Benjamin Franklin defined agriculture as ‘the most honorable, because the most independent, of all professions’.4 The revolutionary ideal of a race of landowners turned republicanism and agrarianism into values that were profoundly American and established the agrarian project as an anti-British economic model.5 Indeed, for Jefferson’s Republicans the fight against Britain signified not only a political separation, but also rejection of its economic system.6 The farmer, the republican patriot par excellence, came to

1 ‘Those who labour 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’ (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 164-5).