Blog 8

It is no secret that the recession that hit America after the Revolution was devastating to the infant country. The most immediate effect of the war was the devastation to property. While the revolutionaries won the war, the everyday citizens were left to pick up the pieces of their once put together lives. The long-term effect on the American economy was a poor credit situation. Countries were not willing to offer credit to the American government. Further, banks often refused to offer credit to citizens. This led to Americans not being able to grow a business, thus creating a death spiral of losing money.

In his book, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, author Woody Holton writes of the tensions that brewed post-war. There was a farmer revolt, Shay’s Rebellion, against the Massachusetts government. The farmers were angered by the perceived high taxes and poor monetary policy. Holton describes a man named Noah Webster, who exemplified a lot of the anger at the time.[1] After the rebellion, Webster published that he no longer believed in the republican style of government. At the time, he preferred to revert back to a monarchy, where citizens would only be subject to the issues of one man, as opposed to an entire government. Even though Webster would later reexamine his statements and revise them in support of republicanism, he nonetheless portrayed the anger of many Americans who found it difficult to make a living. [2]

This inability to make money was not just seen in the common people. James Madison also encountered problems in his life with regards to making money. Holton describes the tribulations Madison encountered before he would come to be known as Father of the Constitution. At the advice of George Washington, James Madison bought 900 acres with James Monroe in the Mohawk Valley[3].

Image result for mohawk valley

Mohawk Valley, New York.

Shortly after this purchase, they found that the only thing the precluded them from making a fortune was the inability to turn a small profit. The biggest cause of this was a simple fact of “well-to-do Americans’ growing reluctance to lend money to their fellow citizens”[4] Madison knew that this was a problem for many Americans. When writing in Federalist, Madison reasoned that confidence needed to be injected into the public. “Ambitious men like Madison” would receive money that they could then use to make money that would then go to support the general wellbeing of the country.[5] Madison wrote to my character Thomas Jefferson about these issues. He concluded that Jefferson would find an easier time making money in France, where he was serving as an American Ambassador, than back home.

 

In fact, while Jefferson was in France, he experienced quite the opposite life than most Americans at the time. Jefferson calls his time i
n Paris “‘arguably the most memorable of his life. Paris – with its music, its

Image result for furniture france monticello

Alcove bed. Jefferson came to like this design when he came back from France. 

architecture, its savants and salons, its learning and enlightenment, not to mention its elegant social life…”[6] Jefferson frequented countless art exhibits, famous French buildings, and enjoyed many French plays in elegant theaters. To give even more context to Jefferson’s lavish living in France, he spent time “shopping for a lifetime.” He purchased furniture, cutlery, fine china, and other lavish gifts for himself. When he traveled back to America, he had a total of eighty-six crates shipped over from France.[7]

 

While Jefferson was living large in France, his plantation back in Virginia, along with many others in the state would have found themselves less profitable. Many plantation owners found their slaves to be less profitable. This was because during the war many slaves declared their freedom during the chaos of the war. Some just ran away, while others seized upon the opportunity of British emancipation.[8] To add more peril to plantations, after the war, Britain declared they would no longer trade with Americans. Holton argues that it was worse to be excluded from trade with the British than to be under British imperialism. In 1783, Britain announced that American ships would no longer be allowed to trade with islands in the Caribbean like Jamaica and Barbados.[9] Lack of trading coupled with the loss of slaves, it was not hard to assume Virginian plantations were undoubtedly suffering. It was clear that American’s were struggling to cope with post-colonial life.

In terms of Jefferson’s financial well-being throughout his life, Jefferson accumulated vast amounts of debt. Per the official Monticello website, Jefferson died with a debt that amounted to one to two million dollars, in modern terms. He inherited a large amount of debt from the death of his father-in-law. As previously described, plantation farming was not all that profitable for Jefferson. Along with his vast spending in France, Jefferson constantly lived beyond his financial capabilities. He routinely splurged on architecture projects, and fine wine.[10]

[1] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. New York: Hill and Wang, n.d. Print.

[2] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

[3] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

[4] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

[5] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

[6] “Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.” Paris | Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

[7] “Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.” Paris | Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

[8] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

[9] Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

[10] “Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.” Debt | Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

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