Zoltán Vajda, Associate Professor of American Studies, Department of American Studies, University of Szeged, does research and teaches courses on American history. His main academic interests and teaching encompass early American intellectual and cultural history, antebellum Southern history, Thomas Jefferson and his times, John C. Calhoun, and US political thought. His current research focuses on the significance of sentimentalism in early US political thinking as well as the issue of poverty and political economy in the early Republic. He serves on the editorial board of Aetas, a historical journal in Hungarian and Americana, an e-journal of American Studies published by the University of Szeged. His recent publications include “Thomas Jefferson on Indigence in Spanish America: The Power of the Republican Ideal” in Acta Hispanica, Hungría, Supplementum (2020), and “Thomas Jefferson on Class and the European Perspective” in National and Transnational Challenges to the American Imaginary (2018). His monograph in Hungarian A szeretet köztársasága—A szentimentalizmus hatása az Amerikai Egyesült Államok korai időszakának politikai gondolkodásában [The Republic of Affection: The Impact of Sentimentalism on Political Thought in the Early History of the United States] was published by Debrecen University Press in 2017.
Vajda, Z. “From Poverty to Assimilation: Thomas Jefferson on Native Americans As Indigent People”. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, June 2022, doi:10.30608/HJEAS/2022/28/1/6.
Thomas Jefferson has long been noted for his vested academic interest in Native Americans, whom he considered to be a doomed, yet, through assimilation, a redeemable race—who in his view were people living in poverty; an aspect of Jefferson’s vision of the indigenous peoples of North America which has so far been ignored. This essay therefore claims that Jefferson’s general concern with them was also fueled by his understanding of Native Americans as people whose way of life relegated them into the condition of indigence by definition—a state Jefferson wished to alleviate. Drawing on Jefferson’s ideas of political economy, combined with a perspective provided by early American poverty studies, I argue that his republican ideal of free-holding male household heads was also a key to his conception of Native American poverty as well as to his solution to it. In his view, gender roles and practices within the Native communities prevented male heads from adapting to the Euro-American ideals. In Jefferson’s eyes, women’s contribution to basic activities of sustenance, thus, rendered their spouses incapable of providing for their families by the Euro-American standard of the gender division of labor. He regarded them as indigents because of their actual mode of sustenance, but a desirable shift to white ways, Jefferson implied, held the promise for them to get out of destitution. (ZV)