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Agrarianism, a complex set of ideas that celebrates the moral, spiritual, and political superiority of men who cultivate the soil, was a central cultural theme of early American society, and it has heavily influenced American understandings of manhood. For agrarian thinkers, farming provided a basis for manly virtue and egalitarian ideals of republicanism and democratic citizenship. The agrarian ideal was personified in the image of the male yeoman-citizen, a land-owning farmer who embodied the republican ideal of economic independence and public-minded democratic participation.

Imported to early America from Great Britain and France, agrarian ideas were evident as early as the eighteenth century. Benjamin Franklin, for example, believed that rural people—particularly male farmers—embodied the values of thrift, hard work, and self-reliance. Similarly, J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur, ...

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