President Thomas Jefferson
under the US Constitution of 1787(1743 - 1826)
The Kentucky resolutions of 1798, in which his abhorrence of those laws was expressed, were originally drawn by him at the request of James Madison and Colonel W. C. Nicholas. "These gentlemen," Jefferson once wrote, "pressed me strongly to sketch resolutions against the constitutionality of those laws." In consequence he drew and delivered them to Colonel Nicholas, who introduced them into the legislature of Kentucky, and kept the secret of their authorship. These resolutions, read in the light of the events of 1798. will not now be disapproved by any person of republican convictions; they remain, and will long remain, one of the most interesting and valuable contributions to the science of free government. It is fortunate that this commentary upon the alien and sedition laws was written by a man so firm and so moderate, who possessed at once the erudition, the wisdom, and the feeling that the subject demanded.
Happily the presidential election of 1800 freed the country from those laws without a convulsion Through the unskillful politics of Hamilton and the adroit management of the New York election by Aaron Burr, Mr. Adamswas defeated for reelection, the electoral vote resulting thus: Jefferson, 73; Burr, 73; Adams, 65; Charles C. Pinckney, 64; Jay, 1. This strange result threw the election into the house of representatives, where the Federalists endeavored to elect Burr to the first office, an unworthy intrigue, which Hamilton honorably opposed. After a period of excitement, which seemed at times fraught with peril to the Union, the election was decided as the people meant it should be: Thomas Jefferson became president of the United States and Aaron Burr vice president.
|Thomas Jefferson letter submitting various executive nominations to the US Senate for their advice and consent|
The inauguration was celebrated throughout the country as a national holiday; soldiers paraded, church-bells rang, orations were delivered, and in some of the newspapers the Declaration of Independence was printed at length. Jefferson's first thought on coming to the presidency was to assuage the violence of party spirit, and he composed his fine inaugural address with that view. He reminded his fellow-citizens that a difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.
"We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form. let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."
He may have had Hamilton in mind in writing this sentence, and, in truth, his inaugural was the briefest and strongest summary he could pen of his argument against Hamilton when both were in Washington's cabinet."Some honest men," said he,
"fear that a republican government cannot be strong -- that this government is not strong enough. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest on earth. I believe it is the only one where every man, at the call of the laws, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern."
Among the first acts of President Jefferson was his pardoning every man who was in durance under the sedition law, which he said he considered to be "a nullity as absolute and palpable as if congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image." To the chief victims of the alien law, such as Kosciuszko and Volney, he addressed friendly, consoling letters. Dr. Priestley, menaced with expulsion under the alien law, he invited to the White House. He wrote a noble letter to the venerable Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts, who had been avoided and insulted during the recent contest. He gave Thomas Paine, outlawed in England and living on sufferance in Paris, a passage home in a national ship. He appointed as his cabinet James Madison, secretary of state: Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury; Henry Dearborn, secretary of war; Robert Smith, secretary of the navy; Gideon Granger, postmaster-general; Levi Lincoln, attorney-general--all of whom were men of liberal education. With his cabinet he lived during the whole of his two terms in perfect harmony, and at the end he declared that if he had to choose again he would select the same individuals. With regard to appointments and removals the new president found himself in an embarrassing position, as all our presidents have done. Most of the offices were held by Federalists, and many of his own partisans expected removals enough to establish an equality. Jefferson resisted the demand. He made a few removals for strong and obvious reasons; but he acted uniformly on the principle that a difference of politics was not a reason for the removal of a competent and faithful subordinate.
|President Jefferson and Secretary of State Signed Ships Papers|
The few removals that he made were either for official misconduct or, to use his own language, "active and bitter opposition to the order of things which the public will has established." Arthur St. Clair the Governor of the Northwest Territory since 1788 was the most notable removal due to the later. He abolished at once the weekly levee at the White House, as well as the system of precedence that had been copied from the court etiquette of Europe. When congress assembled he sent them a message, instead of delivering to them a speech, which had the effect of preventing, as he remarked, "the bloody conflict to which the making an answer would have committed them." he abolished also all the usages that savored of royalty, such as the conveyance of ministers in national vessels, the celebration of his own birthday by a public ball, the appointment of fasts and thanksgiving days, the making of public tours and official visits. He refused to receive, while traveling, any mark of attention that would not have been paid to him as a private citizen, his object being both to republicanize and secularize the government completely. He declined also to use the pardoning power unless the judges who had tried the criminal signed the petition. He refused also to notice in any way the abuse of hostile newspapers, desiring, as he said, to give the world a proof that "an administration which has nothing to conceal from the press has nothing to fear from it."
A few of the acts of Mr. Jefferson's administration, which includes a great part of the history of the United States for eight years, stand out boldly and brilliantly. That navy which had been created by the previous administration against France, Jefferson at once reduced by putting all but six of its vessels out of commission. He dispatched four of the remaining six to the Mediterranean to overawe the Barbary pirates, who had been preying upon American commerce for twenty years; and Decatur and his heroic comrades executed their task with a gallantry and success which the American people have not forgotten. The purchase of Louisiana was a happy result, of the president's tact and promptitude in availing himself of a golden chance. Bonaparte, in pursuit of his early policy of undoing the work of the seven-years' war, had acquired the vast unknown territory west of the Mississippi, then vaguely called Louisiana. This policy he had avowed, and he was preparing an expedition to hold New Orleans and settle the adjacent country. At the same time, the people of Kentucky, who, through the obstinate folly of the Spanish governor, were practically denied access to the ocean, were inflamed with discontent. At this juncture, in the spring of 1803, hostilities were renewed between France and England, which compelled Bonaparte to abandon the expedition which was ready to sail, and he determined to raise money by selling Louisiana to the United States. At the happiest possible moment for a successful negotiation, Mr. Jefferson's special envoy, James Monroe, arrived in Paris, charged with full powers, and alive to the new and pressing importance of the transfer, and a few hours of friendly parleying sufficed to secure to the United States this superb domain, one of the most valuable on the face of the globe.Bonaparte demanded fifty millions of francs. Marbois, his negotiator, asked a hundred millions, but dropped to sixty, with the condition that the United States should assume all just claims upon the territory. Thus, for the trivial sum of little more than $15,000,000, the United States secured the most important acquisition of territory that was ever made by purchase. Both parties were satisfied with the bargain. "This accession," said the first consul, "strengthens forever the power of the United States, and I have just given to England a maritime rival that will sooner or later humble her pride."
The popularity of the administration soon became such that the opposition was reduced to insignificance, and the president was re-elected by a greatly increased majority. In the house of representatives the Federalists shrank at length to a little band of twenty-seven, and in the senate to five. Jefferson seriously feared that there would not be sufficient opposition to furnish the close and ceaseless criticism that the public good required. His second term was less peaceful and less fortunate. During the long contest between Bonaparteand the allied powers the infractions of neutral rights were so frequent and so exasperating that perhaps Jefferson alone, aided by his fine temper and detestation of war, could have kept the infant republic out of the brawl. When the English ship "Leopard," within hearing of Old Point Comfort, poured broadsides into the American frigate "Chesapeake," all unprepared and unsuspecting, killing three men and wounding eighteen, parties ceased to exist in the United States, and every voice that was audible clamored for bloody reprisals. "I had only to open my hand," wrote Jefferson once, "and let havoc loose." There was a period in 1807 when he expected war both with Spain and Great Britain, and his confidential correspondence with Madison shows that he meant to make the contest self-compensating, he meditated a scheme for removing the Spanish flag to a more comfortable distance by the annexation of Florida, Mexico, and Cuba, and thus obtaining late redress for twenty-five years of intrigue and injury. A partial reparation by Great Britain postponed the contest. Yet the offences were repeated; " no American ship was safe from violation, and no American sailor from impressment. This state of things induced Jefferson to recommend congress to suspend commercial intercourse with the belligerents, his object being "to introduce between nations another umpire than arms."The embargo of 1807, which continued to the end of his second term, imposed upon the commercial states a test too severe for human nature patiently to endure. It was frequently violate& and did not accomplish the object proposed. To the end of his life, Jefferson was of opinion that, if the whole people had risen to the height of his endeavor, if the merchants had strictly observed the embargo, and the educated class given it a cordial support, it would have saved the country the war of 1812, and extorted, what that war did not give us, a formal and explicit concession of neutral rights.
On 4 March, 1809, after a nearly continuous public service of forty-four years, Jefferson retired to private life, so seriously impoverished that he was not sure of being allowed to leave Washington without arrest by his creditors. The embargo, by preventing the exportation of tobacco, had reduced his private income two thirds, and, in the peculiar circumstances of Washington, his official salary was insufficient. "Since I have become sensible of this deficit," he wrote, " I have been under an agony of mortification." A timely loan from Richmond bank relieved him temporarily from his distress, but he remained to the end of his days more or less embarrassed in his circumstances. Leaving the presidency in the hands of James Madison, with whom he was in the most complete sympathy and with whom he continued to be in active correspondence, he was still a power in the nation. Madison and Monroe were his neighbors and friends, and both of them administered the government on principles that he cordially approved. As has been frequently remarked, they were three men and one system.
On retiring to Monticello in 1809, Jefferson was sixty-six years of age, and had seventeen years to live. His daughter Martha and her husband resided with him, they and their numerous brood of children, six daughters and five sons, to whom was now added Francis Eppes, the son of his daughter Maria, who had died in 1804. Surrounded thus by children and grandchildren, he spent the leisure of his declining years in endeavoring to establish in Virginia a system of education to embrace all the children of his native state. In this he was most zealously and ably assisted by his friend, Joseph C. Cabell, a member of the Virginia senate. What he planned in the study, Cabell supported in the legislature; and then in turn Jefferson would advocate Cabell's bill by one of his ingenious and exhaustive letters, which would go the rounds of the Virginia press. The correspondence of these two. patriots on the subject of education in Virginia was afterward published in an octavo of 528 pages, a noble monument to the character of both. Jefferson appealed to every motive, including self-interest, urging his scheme upon the voter as a "provision for his family to the remotest posterity." He did not live long enough to see his system of common schools established in Virginia, but the university, which was to crown that system, a darling dream of his heart for forty years, he beheld in successful operation.
His friend Cabell, with infinite difficulty, induced the legislature to expend $300,000 in the work of construction, and to appropriate $15,000 a year toward the support of the institution. Jefferson personally superintended every detail of the construction. He engaged workmen, bought bricks, and selected the trees to be felled for timber. In March, 1825, the institution was opened with forty students, a number which was increased to 177 at the beginning of the second year. The institution has continued its beneficent work to the present day, and still bears the imprint of Jefferson's mind. It has no president, except that one of the professors is elected chairman of the faculty. The university bestows no rewards and no honors, and attendance upon all religious services is voluntary. His intention was to hold every student to his responsibility as a man and a citizen, and to permit him to enjoy all the liberty of other citizens in the same community. Toward the close of his life Jefferson became distressingly embarrassed in his circumstances. In 1814 he sold his library to congress for $23,000--about one fourth of its value. A few years afterward he endorsed a twenty-thousand-dollar note for a friend and neighbor whom he could not refuse, and who soon became bankrupt. This loss, which added $1,200 a year to his expenses, completed his ruin, and he was in danger of being compelled to surrender Monticello and seek shelter for his last days in another abode.
"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia."
He died solvent, for the sale of his estate discharged his debts to the uttermost farthing His daughter and her children lost their home and had no means of support. Their circumstances becoming known, the legislature of South Carolina and Virginia each voted her a gift of $10,000, which gave peace and dignity to the remainder of her life. She died in 1836, aged sixty-three, leaving numerous descendants.
The writings of Thomas Jefferson were published by order of congress in 1853, under the editorial supervision of Henry A. Washington (9 vols., 8vo). This publication, which leaves much to be desired by the student of American history, includes his autobiography, treatises, essays, selections from his correspondence, official reports, messages, and addresses. The most extensive biography of Jefferson is that of Henry S. Randall (3 vols., New York, 1858). See also the excellent work of Professor George Tucker, of the University of Virginia. "The Life of Thomas Jefferson" (2 vols., Philadelphia and London, 1837); "The Life of Thomas Jefferson," by James Parton (Boston, 1874); and "Thomas Jefferson," by John T. Morse, Jr., "American Statesmen" series (Boston, 1883). A work of singular interest is "The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson," by his great-granddaughter, Sarah N. Randolph (New York, 1871). Jefferson's "Manual of Parliamentary Practice" has been repeatedly republished; the Washington edition of 1871 is among the most recent. Consult also the "Memoirs, Correspondence, and Miscellanies of Thomas Jefferson," by Thomas J. Randolph (4 vols., Boston. 1830). The lovers of detail must not overlook "Jefferson at Monticello," compiled by Reverend Hamilton W. Pierson, D. D., of Kentucky, from conversations with Edmund Bacon, who was for twenty years Jefferson's steward and overseer. The correspondence between Jefferson and Cabell upon education in Virginia is very rare. An impression of Jefferson's seal, shown in the illustration on page 420, is now in the possession of George Bancroft.
The portraits of Jefferson, which were as numerous in his own time as those of a reigning monarch usually are, may well baffle the inquirer who would know the express image of his face and person They differ greatly from one another, as in truth he changed remarkably in appearance as he advanced in life, being in youth raw-boned, freckled, and somewhat ungainly, in early manhood better looking, and in later life becoming almost handsome--in friendly eyes. The portrait by Rembrandt Peale, taken in 1803, which now hangs in the library of the New York historical society, is perhaps the most pleasing of the later pictures of him now accessible. The portrait by Matthew Brown, painted for John Adams in 1786, and engraved for this work, has the merit of presenting him in the prime of his years. Daniel Webster's minute description of his countenance and figure at fourscore was not accepted by Mr. Jefferson's grandchildren as conveying the true impression of the man. " Never in my life," wrote one of them, "did I see his countenance distorted by a single bad passion or unworthy feeling. I have seen the expression of suffering, bodily and mental, of grief, pain, sadness, just indignation, disappointment, disagreeable surprise, and displeasure, but never of anger, impatience, peevishness, discontent, to say nothing of worse or more ignoble emotions. To the contrary, it was impossible to look on his face without being struck with its benevolent, intelligent, cheerful, and placid expression. It was at once intellectual, good, kind. and pleasant, whilst his tall, spare figure spoke of health, activity, and that helpfulness, that power and will, 'never to trouble another for what he could do himself, 'which marked his character."
--His wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, born in Charles City county, Virginia, 19 October, 1748; died at Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia, 6 September, 1782, was the daughter of John Wayles, a wealthy lawyer, from whom she inherited a large property. Her first husband, Bathurst Skelton, died before she was twenty years of age, and Mr. Jefferson was one of her many suitors. She is described as very beautiful, a little above middle height, auburn-haired, and of a dignified carriage. She was well educated for her (lay, and a constant reader. Previous to her second marriage, while her mind seemed still undecided as to which of her many lovers would be accepted, two of them met accidentally in the hall of her father's house. They were about to enter the drawing-room when the sound of music caught their ear. The voices of Jefferson and Mrs. Skelton, accompanied by her harpsichord and his violin, were recognized, and the disconcerted lovers, after exchanging a glance, took their hats and departed.
She married Mr. Jefferson in 1772. He retained a romantic devotion for her throughout his life, and because of her failing health refused foreign appointments in 1776, and again in 1781, having promised that he would accept no public office that would involve their separation. For four months previous to her death he was never out of calling, and he was insensible for several hours after that event. Two of their children died in infancy, Martha, Mary, and Lucy Elizabeth surviving, the latter dying in early girlhood.
MARTHA Jefferson, daughter born at Monticello in September, 1772; died in Albemarle county, Virginia, 27 September, 1836, after the death of her mother accompanied her father to Europe in 1784 and remained several years in a convent, until her desire to adopt a religious life induced her father to remove her from the school. In the autumn of the same year (1789) she married her cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph, afterward governor of Virginia, and, being engrossed with the cares of her large family, passed only a portion of her time in the White House, which she visited with her husband and children in 1802, with her sister in 1803, and during, the winter of 1805-'6. After the retirement of Mr. Jefferson she devoted much of her life to his declining years. He describes her as the "cherished companion of his youth and the nurse of his old age," and shortly before his death remarked that the "last pang of life was parting with her."
After the business reverses and the death of her father and husband, she contemplated establishing a school, but was relieved from the necessity by a donation of 810,000 each from South Carolina and Virginia. She left a large family of sons and daughters, whom she carefully educated. The portrait on this page represents Mrs. Randolph. There is no known portrait of Mrs. Jefferson.
Her sister, MARY Jefferson , born at Monticello, 1 August, 1778; died in Albemarle county, Virginia, 17 April, 1804, was also educated in the convent at Panthemont, France, and is described, in a letter of Mrs. John Quincy Adams, "as one of the most beautiful and remarkable children she had ever known." She married her cousin, John Wayles Epps, early in life, but was prevented by delicate health from the enjoyment of social life. She spent the second winter of Mr. Jefferson's first term with her sister as mistress of the White House. She left two children, one of whom, Francis, survived. --Jefferson's last surviving granddaughter, Mrs. Septima Randolph Meikleham, died in Washington, D.C., on 16 September, 1887. See "Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson," by his great-granddaughter, Sarah N. Randolph (New York, 1871).
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