The Jeffersonian program of maximizing access to land by discouraging the perpetuation of large land holdings and making it easier for the landless to acquire land was a success in the Midwest, although not in the South and Southwest. However, it failed in its goal of preventing a majority of Americans from joining the wage-earning proletariat in cities. Jefferson and his contemporaries believed that a wage-earning majority could form only if a majority were prevented from becoming small farmers by great landowners. They failed to foresee that labor-saving industrial technology, applied to agriculture, would render most agricultural labor unnecessary.
Some of the workers shed by the modernizing agricultural sector became self-employed business owners, but most became urban wage-earners. As early as 1870, only a minority of Americans — 45 percent — remained self-employed. From 1815 to 1860 the proportion of the United States population that lived in cities grew from 6.1 percent to 20 percent. With increasing urbanization, and the eventual closing of America’s Western frontier, racial and class conflict increased, and economic security eroded.