Part 1 out of 3
[Prepared by Diane and Don Nafis, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Great Americans of History
A CHARACTER SKETCH
BY EDWARD S. ELLIS, A. M. AUTHOR OF 'The People's Standard History of the
United States," "The Eclectic Primary History of the United States," Etc.
with supplementary essay by
G. MERCER ADAM Late Editor of "Self-Culture" Magazine, Etc., Etc.
WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE TOGETHER WITH ANECDOTES,
CHARACTERISTICS, AND CHRONOLOGY
No golden eagle, warm from the stamping press of the mint, is more sharply
impressed with its image and superscription than was the formative period of
our government by the genius and personality of Thomas Jefferson.
Standing on the threshold of the nineteenth century, no one who attempted to
peer down the shadowy vista, saw more clearly than he the possibilities, the
perils, the pitfalls and the achievements that were within the grasp of the
Nation. None was inspired by purer patriotism. None was more sagacious,
wise and prudent, and none understood his countrymen better.
By birth an aristocrat, by nature he was a democrat. The most learned man
that ever sat in the president's chair, his tastes were the simple ones of a
farmer. Surrounded by the pomp and ceremony of Washington and Adams'
courts, his dress was homely. He despised titles, and preferred severe
plainness of speech and the sober garb of the Quakers.
"What is the date of your birth, Mr. President?" asked an admirer.
"Of what possible concern is that to you?" queried the President in turn.
"We wish to give it fitting celebration."
"For that reason, I decline to enlighten you; nothing could be more
distasteful to me than what you propose, and, when you address me, I shall
be obliged if you will omit the 'Mr.' "
If we can imagine Washington doing so undignified a thing as did President
Lincoln, when he first met our present Secretary of State, (John Sherman)
and compared their respective heights by standing back to back, a sheet of
paper resting on the crowns of Washington and Jefferson would have lain
horizontal and been six feet two inches from the earth, but the one was
magnificent in physique, of massive frame and prodigious strength,—the other
was thin, wiry, bony, active, but with muscles of steel, while both were as
straight as the proverbial Indian arrow.
Jefferson's hair was of sandy color, his cheeks ruddy, his eyes of a light
hazel, his features angular, but glowing with intelligence and neither could
lay any claim to the gift of oratory.
Washington lacked literary ability, while in the hand of Jefferson, the pen
was as masterful as the sword in the clutch of Saladin or Godfrey of
Bouillon. Washington had only a common school education, while Jefferson
was a classical scholar and could express his thoughts in excellent Italian,
Spanish and French, and both were masters of their temper.
Jefferson was an excellent violinist, a skilled mathematician and a profound
scholar. Add to all these his spotless integrity and honor, his
statesmanship, and his well curbed but aggressive patriotism, and he
embodied within himself all the attributes of an ideal president of the
In the colonial times, Virginia was the South and Massachusetts the North.
The other colonies were only appendages. The New York Dutchman dozed over
his beer and pipe, and when the other New England settlements saw the
Narragansetts bearing down upon them with upraised tomahawks, they ran for
cover and yelled to Massachusetts to save them.
Clayborne fired popguns at Lord Baltimore, and the Catholic and Protestant
Marylanders enacted Toleration Acts, and then chased one another over the
border, with some of the fugitives running all the way to the Carolinas,
where the settlers were perspiring over their efforts in installing new
governors and thrusting them out again, in the hope that a half-fledged
statesman would turn up sometime or other in the shuffle.
What a roystering set those Cavaliers were! Fond of horse racing, cock
fighting, gambling and drinking, the soul of hospitality, quick to take
offense, and quicker to forgive,—duellists as brave as Spartans, chivalric,
proud of honor, their province, their blood and their families, they envied
only one being in the world and that was he who could establish his claim to
the possession of a strain from the veins of the dusky daughter of Powhatan
Could such people succeed as pioneers of the wilderness?
Into the snowy wastes of New England plunged the Pilgrims to blaze a path
for civilization in the New World. They were perfect pioneers down to the
minutest detail. Sturdy, grimly resolute, painfully honest, industrious,
patient, moral and seeing God's hand in every affliction, they smothered
their groans while writhing in the pangs of starvation and gasped in husky
whispers: “He doeth all things well; praise to his name!" Such people
could not fail in their work.
And yet of the first ten presidents, New England furnished only the two
Adamses, while Virginia gave to the nation, Washington, Jefferson, Madison,
Monroe and then tapered off with Tyler.
In the War for the Union, the ten most prominent leaders were Grant,
Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, Farragut, Porter, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J. E.
Johnston and Longstreet. Of these, four were the products of Virginia,
while none came from New England, nor did she produce a real, military
leader throughout the civil war, though she poured out treasure like water
and sent as brave soldiers to the field as ever kept step to the drum beat,
while in oratory, statesmanship and humanitarian achievement, her sons have
been leaders from the foundation of the Republic.
Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Albemarle County,Va., April 2,1743.
His father was the owner of thirty slaves and of a wheat and tobacco farm of
nearly two thousand acres. There were ten children, Thomas being the third.
His father was considered the strongest man physically in the county, and
the son grew to be like him in that respect, but the elder died while the
younger was a boy.
Entering William and Mary College, Thomas was shy, but his ability quickly
drew attention to him. He was an irrestrainable student, sometimes studying
twelve and fourteen hours out of the twenty-four. He acquired the strength
to stand this terrific strain by his exercise of body. His father warned
his wife just before his death not to allow their son to neglect this
necessity, but the warning was superfluous. The youth was a keen hunter, a
fine horseman and as fond as Washington of out door sports.
He was seventeen years old when he entered college and was one of the
"gawkiest" students. He was tall, growing fast, raw-boned, with prominent
chin and cheek bones, big hands and feet, sandy-haired and freckled. His
mind broadened and expanded fast under the tutelage of Dr. William Small, a
Scotchman and the professor of mathematics, who made young Jefferson his
companion in his walks, and showed an interest in the talented youth, which
the latter gratefully remembered throughout life.
Jefferson was by choice a farmer and never lost interest in the management
of his estate. One day, while a student at law, he wandered into the
legislature and was thrilled by the glowing speech of Patrick Henry who
replied to an interruption:
“If this be treason, make the most of it."
He became a lawyer in his twenty-fourth year, and was successful from the
first, his practice soon growing to nearly five hundred cases annually,
which yielded an income that would be a godsend to the majority of lawyers
in these days.
Ere long, the mutterings of the coming Revolution drew Jefferson aside into
the service of his country.
At the age of twenty-six (May 11, 1769), he took his seat in the House of
Burgesses, of which Washington was a member. On the threshold of his public
career, he made the resolution which was not once violated during his life,
"never to engage, while in public office, in any kind of enterprise for the
improvement of my fortune, nor to wear any other character than that of a
farmer." Thus, during his career of nearly half a century, he was impartial
in his consideration of questions of public interest.
His first important speech was in favor of the repeal of the law that
compelled a master when he freed his slaves to send them out of the colony.
The measure was overwhelmingly defeated, and its mover denounced as an enemy
of his country.
It was about this time that Jefferson became interested in Mrs. Martha
Wayles Skelton, a childless widow, beautiful and accomplished and a daughter
of John Wayles, a prominent member of the Williamsburg bar. She was under
twenty years of age, when she lost her first husband, rather tall, with
luxuriant auburn hair and an exceedingly graceful manner.
She had many suitors, but showed no haste to lay aside her weeds. The
aspirants indeed were so numerous that she might well hesitate whom to
choose, and more than one was hopeful of winning the prize.
It so happened that one evening, two of the gentlemen called at the same
time at her father's house. They were friends, and were about to pass from
the hall into the drawing-room, when they paused at the sound of music.
Some one was playing a violin with exquisite skill, accompanied by the
harpsicord, and a lady and gentleman were singing.
There was no mistaking the violinist, for there was only one in the
neighborhood capable of so artistic work, while Mrs. Skelton had no superior
as a player upon the harpsicord, the fashionable instrument of those days.
Besides, it was easy to identify the rich, musical voice of Jefferson and
the sweet tones of the young widow.
The gentlemen looked significantly at each other. Their feelings were the
"We are wasting our time," said one; "we may as well go home."
They quietly donned their hats and departed, leaving the ground to him who
had manifestly already pre-empted it.
On New Year's day, 1772, Jefferson and Mrs. Skelton were married and no
union was more happy. His affection was tender and romantic and they were
devoted lovers throughout her life. Her health and wishes were his first
consideration, and he resolved to accept no post or honor that would involve
their separation, while she proved one of the truest wives with which any
man was ever blessed of heaven. The death of his father-in-law doubled
Jefferson's estate, a year after his marriage. His life as a gentleman
farmer was an ideal one, and it is said that as a result of experimentation,
Jefferson domesticated nearly every tree and shub, native and foreign, that
was able to stand the Virginia winters.
Jefferson's commanding ability, however, speedily thrust him into the
stirring incidents that opened the Revolution. In September, 1774, his
"Draught of Instructions" for Virginia's delegation to the congress in
Philadelphia was presented. The convention refused to adopt his radical
views, but they were published in a pamphlet and copies were send to
England, where Edmund Burke had it republished with emendations of his own.
Great Britain viewed the paper as the extreme of insolence and punished the
author by adding his name to the list of proscriptions enrolled in a bill of
Jefferson was present as a member of the convention, which met in the parish
church at Richmond, in March, 1775, to consider the course that Virginia
should take in the impending crisis. It was at that meeting that Patrick
Henry electrified his hearers with the thrilling words:
"Gentlemen may cry, 'Peace, peace!' but there is no peace! The war has
actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our
ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field.
Why stand we here idle? What is it the gentlemen wish? What would they
have? Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of
chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others
may take, but as for me, GIVE ME LIBERTY, Or GIVE ME DEATH!"
Within the following month occurred the battle of Lexington.
Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry were members of the committee
appointed to arrange a plan for preparing Virginia to act her part in the
struggle. When Washington, June, 20, 1775, received his commission as
commander-in-chief of the American army, Jefferson succeeded to the vacancy
thus created, and the next day took his seat in congress.
A few hours later came the news of the battle of Bunker Hill.
Jefferson was an influential member of the body from the first. John Adams
said of him: "he was so prompt, frank, explicit and decisive upon
committees that he soon seized upon every heart." Virginia promptly re-
elected him and the part he took in draughting the Declaration of
Independence is known to every school boy.
His associates on the committee were Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and
Robert R. Livingston. It was by their request that he prepared the document
(see fac-simile, page 49,) done on the second floor of a small building, on
the corner of Market and Seventh Streets. The house and the little desk,
constructed by Jefferson himself, are carefully preserved.
The paper was warmly debated and revised in congress on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th
of July, 1776. The weather was oppressively hot, and on the last day an
exasperating but providential invasion of the hall by a swarm of flies
hurried the signing of the document. Some days afterward, the committee of
which Jefferson was a member provided as a motto of the new seal, that
perfect legend,—E Pluribus Unum.
The facts connected with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence
must always be of profound interest. The public are inclined to think that
our Magna Charta was accepted and signed with unbounded enthusiasm and that
scarcely any opposition to it appeared, but the contrary was the fact.
While Jefferson was the author of the instrument, John Adams, more than any
one man or half a dozen men brought about its adoption. When the question
was afterward asked him, whether every member of congress cordially approved
it, he replied, "Majorities were constantly against it. For many days the
majority depended on Mr. Hewes of North Carolina. While a member one day
was reading documents to prove that public opinion was in favor of the
measure, Mr. Hewes suddenly started upright, and lifting up both hands to
heaven, as if in a trance, cried out:
'It is done, and I will abide by it.'
I would give more for a perfect painting of the terror and horror of the
faces of the old majority at that moment than for the best piece of
Jefferson has given a synopsis of the arguments for and against the adoption
of the Declaration. It will be remembered that the hope of the colonies or
new States, even after the war had continued for a considerable time, was
not so much independence as to extort justice from Great Britain.
Had this been granted, the separation would have been deferred and when it
came, as come it must, probably would have been peaceable. At the same
time, there was a strenuous, aggressive minority who was insistent from the
first for a complete severance of the ties binding us to the mother country.
The debate in congress showed that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina were not ready to take the irrevocable
step, but it was evident that they were fast approaching that mood, and the
wise leaders tarried in order to take them in their company.
In the vote of July 1, the Pennsylvania and South Carolina delegates still
opposed, while those from New York did the same, contrary to their own
convictions but in obedience to home instructions, which later were changed.
The signs of unanimity became unmistakable on the Second, and two days
later, as every one knows. the adoption of the Declaration took place,
though it was not until the Second of August that all the members, excepting
John Dickinson had signed.
Five years passed before the Articles of Confederation were formally adopted
by the states, by which time it had become clear that they must totally fail
of their purpose, for each state decided for itself whether to respond to
the demands of congress. The poison of nullification thus infused into the
body politic at its birth bore baleful fruit in the years that followed.
On six separate occasions, there were overt acts on the part of the States.
The first occurred in 1798, when Virginia and Kentucky passed nullification
The second was the attempt of New England in 1803 to form a northern
confederacy, comprising five New England States, and New York and New
Jersey. The third was Aaron Burr's wild scheme in the Southwest.
The fourth, the resolution of the New England States to withold cooperation
in the War of 1812.
The fifth, the nullification acts of South Carolina in 1832.
The sixth and last, the effort of eleven states to form the Southern
Confederacy. This brought the burning issue to a head and settled the
question for the ages to come.
It seems incredible in these times that the country submitted for a month to
the intolerable Alien and Sedition acts. Should any congressman propose
their reenactment to-day, he would be looked upon as a crank and be laughed
out of court. They were enacted when Jefferson was Vice President and were
the creation of the brilliant Alexander Hamilton, whose belief was in a
monarchy rather than a republic.
The Sedition act made it a felony punishable with a fine of $5000 and five
years imprisonment for persons to combine in order to impede the operation
of any law of the United States, or to intimidate persons from taking
Federal office, or to commit or advise a riot or insurrection or unlawful
It declared further that the writing or publishing of any scandalous,
malicious or false statement against the president or either house of
congress should be punishable by a fine of $2000 and imprisonment for two
It will be noted that this law precluded all free discussion of an act of
congress, or the conduct of the president.
In other words, it was meant to be the death blow to freedom of speech.
But bad as it was, the Alien act, which congress passed at the same session,
1798, was ten fold worse.
There had been much unrest caused by the intermeddling of foreigners in the
States, and it was now decided that the president might drive out of the
country any alien he chose thus to banish, and to do it without assigning
any reason therefor. It was not necessary even to sue or to bring charges;
if an alien receiving such notice from the president refused to obey, he
could be imprisoned for three years.
President Adams afterward declared that he did not approve of this stern
measure which was the work of Hamilton, and boasted that it was not enforced
by him in a single instance.
Nevertheless, the Sedition act was enforced to a farcical degree.
When President Adams was passing through Newark, N. J., he was saluted by
the firing of cannon. One of the cannoneers, who was strongly opposed to
him, expressed the wish that he might be struck by some of the wadding. For
this remark, he was arrested and compelled to pay a fine of one hundred
Editor Frothingham printed his belief that Hamilton wished to buy the Aurora
for the purpose of suppressing it. For expressing that opinion he was fined
and imprisoned. Thomas Cooper made the remark that in 1797 President Adams
was "hardly in the infancy of political mistakes," and these mild words cost
him $400 and kept him in prison for six months.
It is hard to believe that the following proceedings took place within the
present hundred years in the United States of America, and yet they did.
In the case against Callender, Judge Chase denounced the accused to the
jurors and forbade the marshals to place any one not a Federalist on the
jury. The lawyers who defended Callender were threatened with corporal
In Otsego, N. Y., Judge Peck obtained signers to a petition for the repeal
of the obnoxious acts. For such action he was indicted and taken to New
York city for trial.
That was the sacred right of petition with a vengeance.
Matthew Lyon, while canvassing his district in Vermont for re-election to
congress, charged the president in one of his speeches with "unbounded
thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation and a selfish avarice,"
certainly mild expressions compared with what are heard in these times, but
because of their utterance, Mr. Lyon spent four months in jail and paid a
fine of $1OOO.
When he had served out his term and been re-elected, a strong effort was
made to prevent his taking his seat. It failed and in 1840, his fine was
returned to him with interest.
It can well be understood that the passage and enforcement of such
iniquitous measures caused alarm and indignation throughout the country.
Edward Livingston declared that they would "disgrace Gothic barbarism."
Jefferson's soul was stirred with the profoundest indignation. Under his
inspiration, the Virginia assembly adopted resolutions calling on the state
to nullify within its limits the enforcement of the Sedition act. The Alien
and Sedition laws were declared unconstitutional, and the sister States were
invited to unite in resisting them, "in order to maintain unimpaired the
authorities, rights and liberties reserved to the States respectively or to
These views were not only those of Jefferson, but of Patrick Henry, George
Mason and nearly all leading Virginians.
Kentucky, the child of her loins, seconded the action of Virginia, urged
thereto by Jefferson who moulded her resolutions.
The revolt against the measures was so widespread that the Alien act was
repealed in 1800, and the Sedition act in the following year.
Having been essentially Federal measures, they were buried in the same grave
with the Federal party.
Having rendered these invaluable services, Jefferson resigned his seat in
congress, on account of the illness of his wife and the urgent need of his
presence at home. Moreover, he had been elected a member of the legislature
of his State and was anxious to purge its statute books of a number of
He had hardly entered upon the work, when he was notified of his appointment
as a joint commissioner with Franklin and Deane as representatives of the
United States in France. After reflection, he declined the appointment,
believing his duty at home was more important. That such was the fact was
proven by his success in securing the repeal of the system of entail, thus
allowing all property in the State to be held in fee simple, and by the
abolishment of the connection between church and state. The latter required
years in order to effect complete success, but it was reached at last.
How forceful were many of the expressions he employed during that contest,
such as: "Compulsion makes hypocrites, not converts;" "Truth stands by
itself; error alone needs the support of government."
Jefferson's committee abolished the frightful penalties of the ancient code;
he set on foot the movement for the improvement of public education; he drew
the bill for the establishment of courts of law in the State, and
prescribing their methods and powers; he destroyed the principle of
primogeniture, and brought about the removal of the capital from
Williamsburg to Richmond.
Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry as Governor of the State, at the opening
of the year 1779. The two years were marked by incessant trial and the
severest labor, for the war had reached Virginia soil and the State was
More than once the legislature was obliged to flee before the enemy; Gates
was crushed at Camden; Arnold the traitor scourged Richmond with his
raiders; Monticello itself was captured by cavalry, and Jefferson escaped
only by a hair's breadth. His estate was trampled over, his horses stolen,
his barns burned, his crops destroyed and many of his slaves run off.
He declined a third election,and in the autumn of 1782, to his inconsolable
sorrow, his wife died, leaving three daughters, the youngest a babe.
In the following November, he took his seat in congress at Annapolis, and
during that session he proposed and caused the adoption of our present
system of decimal currency.
In May, 1784, he was again elected plenipotentiary to France to assist
Franklin and Adams in negotiating commercial treaties with foreign nations.
He arrived in Paris in July, and in May, succeeding, became sole
plenipotentiary to the king of France for three years from March 1O, 1785.
Jefferson's residence in France produced a profound impression upon him and
had much to do in crystallizing his ideas of the true form of government.
That country was groveling under the heel of one of the most hideous systems
that the baseness of man ever conceived. Who has not read of the nobleman
who, when his coachman ran over a child and crushed out its life, was only
concerned lest its blood should soil his carriage, or of the poor peasants
who were compelled to beat the bogs all night long, to prevent the frogs
from croaking and thereby disturbing the slumber of their lordly masters?
The condition of no people could be more horrible, than that of the lower
classes in France previous to the uprising, with its excesses that horrified
Jefferson enjoyed the music, the art and the culture of the gay capital, but
could never shake off the oppression caused by the misery of the people.
"They are ground to powder," he said, "by the vices of the form of
government which is one of wolves over sheep, or kites over pigeons."
He took many journeys through the country and made it a practice to enter
the houses of the peasants and talk with them upon their affairs and manner
of living. He often did this, using his eyes at the same time with the
utmost assiduity. All that he learned deepened the sad impression he had
formed, and he saw with unerring prevision the appalling retribution that
was at hand.
But Jefferson was not the officer to forget or neglect his duties to his own
government, during the five years spent in France.
Algiers, one of the pestilent Barbary States, held a number of American
captives which she refused to release except upon the payment of a large
ransom. It had been the custom for years for the powerful Christian nations
to pay those savages to let their ships alone, because it was cheaper to do
so than to maintain a fleet to fight them. Jefferson strove to bring about
a union of several nations with his own, for the purpose of pounding some
sense into the heads of the barbarians and compelling them to behave
One reason why he did not succeed was because our own country had no navy
with which to perform her part in the compact.
France, with that idiotic blindness which ruled her in those fearful days,
maintained a protective system which prevented America from sending cheap
food to starving people, nor was Jefferson able to effect more than a slight
change in the pernicious law. One thing done by him made him popular with
the masses. His "Notes on Virginia" was published both in French and
English. Like everything that emanated from his master hand, it was well
conceived and full of information. In addition, it glowed with republican
sentiment and delighted the people. He was in Paris when his State
legislature enacted the act for which he had so strenuously worked,
establishing the freedom of religion. He had numerous copies of it printed
in French and distributed. It struck another popular chord and received the
ardent praise of the advanced Liberals.
Jefferson was too deeply interested in educational work to forget it among
any surroundings. All new discoveries, inventions and scientific books were
brought to the knowledge of the colleges in the United States, and he
collected a vast quantity of seeds, roots and nuts for transplanting in
It need hardly be said that his loved Monticello was not forgotten, and, as
stated elswhere, he grew about everything of that nature that would stand
the rigor of the Virginia winters. No office or honor could take away
Jefferson's pride as a cultivator of the soil.
Returning to Virginia on leave of absence, in the autumn of 1789, he was
welcomed with official honors and the cordial respect of his fellow
citizens. On the same day he learned of his appointment by Washington as
his Secretary of State.
He would have preferred to return to his former post, but yielded to the
wishes of the first president, and, arriving in New York in March, 1790,
entered at once upon the duties of his office.
In the cabinet Jefferson immediately collided with the brilliant Alexander
Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury.
The two could no more agree than oil and water.
Jefferson was an intense republican-democrat, and was shocked and disgusted
to find himself in an atmosphere of distrust of a republican system of
government, with an unmistakable leaning toward monarchical methods. This
feeling prevailed not only in society, but showed itself among the political
Jefferson's political creed may be summed up in his own words:
"The will of the majority is the natural law of every society and the only
sure guardian of the rights of man; though this may err, yet its errors are
honest, solitary and short-lived. We are safe with that, even in its
deviations, for it soon returns again to the right way."
Hamilton believed in a strong, centralized government, and on nearly every
measure that came before the cabinet, these intellectual giants wrangled.
Their quarrels were so sharp that Washington was often distressed. He
respected both too deeply to be willing to lose either, but it required all
his tact and mastering influence to hold them in check. Each found the other
so intolerable, that he wished to resign that he might be freed from meeting
Hamilton abhorred the French revolution, with its terrifying excesses, and
Jefferson declared that no horror equalled that of France's old system of
Finally Jefferson could stand it no longer and withdrew from the cabinet
January 1, 1794.
An equally potent cause for his resignation was the meagreness of his salary
of $3500. It was wholly insufficient and his estate was going to ruin. He
yearned to return to his beloved pursuit, that of a farmer.
The request by Washington to act as special envoy to Spain did not tempt
him, but he allowed his name to be put forward as a candidate for the
presidency in 1796. John Adams received 71 votes and Jefferson 68, which in
accordance with the law at that time made him vice-president.
President Adams ignored him in all political matters, and Jefferson found
the chair of presiding officer of the senate congenial. He presided with
dignity and great acceptability, and his "Manual of Parliamentary Practice"
is still the accepted authority in nearly all of our deliberative bodies.
The presidential election of 1800 will always retain its place among the
most memorable in our history.
The Federalists had controlled the national government for twelve years, or
ever since its organization, and they were determined to prevent the
elevation of Jefferson, the founder of the new Republican party. The
Federal nominees were John Adams for president and Charles Cotesworth
Pinckney for vice-president, while the Republican vote was divided between
Jefferson and Aaron Burr.
A favorite warning on the part of those who see their ideas threatened with
overthrow is that our country is "trembling on the verge of revolution."
How many times in the past twenty-five, ten and five years have ranting men
and women proclaimed from the housetops that we were "on the verge of
revolution?" According to these wild pessimists the revolution is always at
hand, but somehow or other it fails to arrive. The probabilities are that
it has been permanently side-tracked.
During the campaign of 1800, Hamilton sounded the trumpet of alarm, when he
declared in response to a toast:
"If Mr. Pinckney is not elected, a revolution will be the consequence, and
within four years I will lose my head or be the leader of a triumphant
The Federalist clergy joined in denouncing Jefferson on the ground that he
was an atheist. The Federalists said what they chose, but when the
Republicans grew too careless they were fined and imprisoned under the
The exciting canvas established one fact: there was no man in the United
States so devotedly loved and so fiercely hated as Thomas Jefferson. New
York had twelve electoral votes, and because of the Alien and Sedition laws
she witheld them from Adams and cast them upon the Republican side.
It may not be generally known that it was because of this fact that New York
gained its name of the "Empire State."
The presidential vote was: Jefferson, 73; Burr, 73; John Adams, 65; C. C.
Pinckney, 64; Jay, 1. There being a tie between the leading candidates, the
election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which assembled on
the 11th of February, 1801, to make choice between Burr and Jefferson.
It is to the credit of Hamilton that, knowing the debased character of Burr,
he used his utmost influence against him.
A great snow storm descended upon the little town of Washington and the
excitement became intense. On the first ballot, eight States voted for
Jefferson and six for Burr, while Maryland and Vermont were equally divided.
All the Federalists voted for Burr with the single exception of Huger of
South Carolina, not because of any love for Burr, but because he did not
hate him as much as he did Jefferson.
Mr. Nicholson of Maryland was too ill to leave his bed. Without his vote,
his State would have been given to Burr, but with it, the result in Maryland
would be a tie.
It was a time when illness had to give way to the stern necessity of the
case, and the invalid was wrapped up and brought on his bed through the
driving snow storm and placed in one of the committee rooms of the house,
with his wife at his side, administering medicines and stimulants night and
day. On each vote the ballot box was brought to the bed side and his feeble
hand deposited the powerful bit of paper.
Day after day, the balloting went on until thirty-five ballots had been
By that time, it was clear that no break could be made in the Jefferson
columns and it was impossible to elect Burr. When the thirty-sixth ballot
was cast, the Federalists of Maryland, Delaware and South Carolina threw
blanks and the Federalists of Vermont stayed away, leaving their Republican
brothers to vote those States for Jefferson. By this slender chance did the
republic escape a calamity, and secure the election of Jefferson for
president with Burr for vice-president.
The inauguration of the third president was made a national holiday
throughout the country. The church bells were rung, the military paraded,
joyous orations were delivered,and many of the newspapers printed in full
the Declaration of Independence.
The closeness of the election resulted in a change in the electoral law by
which the president and vice-president must of necessity belong to the same
Jefferson had every reason to feel proud of his triumph, but one of the
finest traits of his character was his magnanimity.
The irascible Adams made an exhibition of himself on the 4th of March, when
in a fit of rage, he rose before day-light and set out in his coach for
Massachusetts, refusing to wait and take part in the inauguration of his
successor. With the mellowness of growing years, he realized the silliness
of the act, and he and Jefferson became fully reconciled and kept up an
affectionate correspondence to the end of their lives.
Jefferson did all he could to soothe the violent party feeling that had been
roused during the election. This spirit ran like a golden thread through
his first excellently conceived inaugural. He reminded his fellow citizens
that while they differed in opinion, there was no difference in principle,
and put forth the following happy thought:
"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."
There can be little doubt that he had Hamilton in mind when he answered, as
follows, in his own forceful way the radical views of that gifted statesman.
"Some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong, that
this government is not strong enough. I believe this, on the contrary, is
the strongest government 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."
It was characteristic of Jefferson's nobility that one of his first efforts
was to undo, so far as he could, the mischief effected by the detested
Sedition law. Every man who was in durance because of its operation was
pardoned, and he looked upon the law as "a nullity as obsolete and palpable,
as if congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image."
He addressed friendly and affectionate letters to Kosciusko and others, and
invited them to be his guests at the White House. Samuel Adams of
Massachusetts had been shamefully abused during the canvas, but he felt
fully compensated by the touching letter from the president. Thomas Paine
was suffering almost the pangs of starvation in Paris, and Jefferson paid
his passage home. Everywhere that it was possible for Jefferson to extend
the helping hand he did so with a delicacy and a tact, that won him
multitudes of friends and stamped him as one of nature's noblemen.
The new president selected an able cabinet, consisting of 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. This household
proved a veritable "happy family," all working together in harmony
throughout the two terms, and Jefferson declared that if he had his work to
do over again, he would select the same advisers without exception.
Although the policy,"to the victors belong the spoils," had not been
formulated at that time, its spirit quickened the body politic. Jefferson's
supporters expected him to turn out a part at least of the Federalists, who
held nearly all the offices, but he refused, on the principle that a
competent and honest office holder should not be removed because of his
political opinions. When he, therefore, made a removal, it was as a rule,
for other and sufficient reasons.
But he did not hesitate to show his dislike of the ceremony that prevailed
around him. He stopped the weekly levee at the White House, and the system
of precedence in force at the present time; also the appointment of fast and
thanksgiving days. He dressed with severe simplicity and would not permit
any attention to be paid him as president which would be refused him as a
private citizen. In some respects, it must be conceded that this remarkable
man carried his views to an extreme point.
The story, however, that he rode his horse alone to the capitol, and, tying
him to the fence, entered the building, unattended, lacks confirmation.
Jefferson was re-elected in 1804, by a vote of 162 to 14 for Pinckney, who
carried only two States out of the seventeen.
The administrations of Jefferson were marked not only by many important
national events, but were accompanied by great changes in the people
themselves. Before and for some years after the Revolution, the majority
were content to leave the task of thinking, speaking and acting to the
representatives, first of the crown and then to their influential neighbors.
The property qualification abridged the right to vote, but the active,
hustling nature of the Americans now began to assert itself. The universal
custom of wearing wigs and queues was given up and men cut their own hair
short and insisted that every free man should have the right to vote.
Jefferson was the founder and head of the new order of things, and of the
republican party, soon to take the name of democratic, which controlled all
the country with the exception of New England.
Our commerce increased enormously, for the leading nations of Europe were
warring with one another; money came in fast and most of the national debt
Louisiana with an area exceeding all the rest of the United States, was
bought from France in 1803, for $15,000,000, and from the territory were
afterward carved the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas,
Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, Oklahoma, the Indian Territory and most of
the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming.
The upper Missouri River and the Columbia River country to the Pacific Ocean
were explored in 1804-6, by Lewis and Clarke, the first party of white men
to cross the continent north of Mexico. Ohio was admitted to the Union in
1802. Fulton's steamboat, the Clermont made her maiden trip from New York
to Albany in 1807. The first boatload of anthracite coal was shipped to
Philadelphia, and it was a long time before the people knew what to do with
The Tripolitan Pirates were snuffed out (1801-1805). The blight of the
Embargo Act settled upon our commerce in 1807, in which year the opening
gun of the War of 1812 was fired when the Leopard outraged the Chesapeake.
The Embargo Act was a grievous mistake of Jefferson, though its purpose was
commendable. Under the plea of securing our ships against capture, its real
object was to deprive England and France of the commodities which could be
secured only in the United States. This measure might have been endurable
for an agricultural people, but it could not be borne by a commercial and
manufacturing one, like New England, whose goods must find their market
abroad. Under the Embargo Act, the New England ships were rotting and
crumbling to pieces at her wharves. It was not long before she became
restless. The measure was first endorsed by the Massachusetts legislature,
but the next session denounced it.
Early in 1809, congress passed an act allowing the use of the army and navy
to enforce the embargo and make seizures.
The Boston papers printed the act in mourning and, meetings were called to
memorialize the legislature. That body took strong ground, justifying the
course of Great Britain, demanding of congress that it should repeal the
embargo and declare war against France. Moreover, the enforcement act was
declared "not legally binding," and resistance to it was urged.
This was as clear a case of nullification as that of South Carolina in 1832.
Connecticut was as hot-headed as Massachusetts.
John Quincy Adams has stated that at that time the "Essex Junto" agreed upon
a New England convention to consider the expediency of secession. Adams
denounced the plotters so violently that the Massachusetts legislature
censured him by vote, upon which he resigned his seat in the United States
The Embargo Act was passed by congress, December 22, 1807, at the instance
of Jefferson, and repealed February 28, 1809, being succeeded by the Non-
Intercourse Act, which forbade French and British vessels to enter American
ports. It was mainly due to Jefferson's consummate tact that war with Great
Britain was averted after the Leopard and Chesapeake affair, and he always
maintained that had his views been honestly carried out by the entire
nation, we should have obtained all we afterward fought for, without the
firing of a hostile gun.
When on March 4, 1809, Jefferson withdrew forever from public life, he was
in danger of being arrested in Washington for debt. He was in great
distress, but a Richmond bank helped him for a time with a loan. He
returned to Monticello, where he lived with his only surviving daughter
Martha, her husband and numerous children, and with the children of his
daughter Maria, who had died in 1804.
He devoted hard labor and many years to the perfection of the common school
system in Virginia, and was so pleased with his establishment of the college
at Charlottesville, out of which grew the University of Virginia, that he
had engraved on his tombstone, "Father of the University of Virginia," and
was prouder of the fact than of being the author of the Declaration of
Meanwhile, his lavish hospitality carried him lower and lower into poverty.
There was a continual procession of curious visitors to Monticello, and old
women poked their umbrellas through the window panes to get a better view of
the grand old man. Congress in 1814, paid him $23,000 for his library which
was not half its value. Some time afterward a neighbor obtained his name as
security on a note for $20,000 and left him to pay it all.
In the last year of his life, when almost on the verge of want, $16,500 was
sent to him as a present from friends in New York, Philadelphia and
Baltimore, more than one-half being raised by Mayor Hone of New York.
Jefferson was moved to tears, and in expressing his gratitude said, he was
thankful that not a penny had been wrung from taxpayers.
In the serene sunset of life, the "Sage of Monticello" peacefully passed
away on the afternoon of July 4, 1826, and a few hours later, John Adams, at
his home in Quincy, Mass., breathed his last. A reverent hush fell upon the
country, at the thought of these two great men, one the author of the
Declaration of Independence and the other the man who brought about its
adoption, dying on the fiftieth anniversary of its signing, and many saw a
sacred significance in the fact.
Horace Greeley in referring to the co-incidence, said there was as much
probability of a bushel of type flung into the street arranging themselves
so as to print the Declaration of Independence, as there was of Jefferson
and Adams expiring on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of that
instrument; and yet one alternative of the contingency happened and the
other never can happen.
Jefferson's liberal views have caused him to be charged with infidelity.
He profoundly respected the moral character of Christ, but did not believe
in divine redemption through Christ's work. His dearest aim was to bring
down the aristocracy and elevate the masses.
He regarded slavery as a great moral and political evil, and in referring to
it said: "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just."
No more humane slave owner ever lived, and his servants regarded him with
almost idolatrous affection, while his love of justice, his hospitality, his
fairness to all and his winning personality disarmed enmity and gave him
many of his truest and warmest friends from among his political opponents.
A peculiar fact connected with Jefferson is the difference among his
portraits. This is due to the varying periods at which they were made. As
we have stated, he was raw-boned, freckled and ungainly in his youth, but
showed a marked improvement in middle life. When he became old, many
esteemed him good looking, though it can hardly be claimed that he was
When Jefferson was eighty years old, Daniel Webster wrote the following
description of the venerable "Sage of Monticello:"
"Never in my life 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, 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 the 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."
This sketch may well be closed with Jefferson's own words regarding life and
"Perfect happiness, I believe, was never intended by the Deity to be the lot
of one of his creatures in this world; but that He has very much put it in
our power the nearness of our approach to it, is what I have steadfastly
The most fortunate of us, in our journey through life, frequently meet with
calamities and misfortunes, which may greatly afflict us; and to fortify our
minds against the attacks of these calamities and misfortunes should be one
of the principal studies and endeavors of our lives.
The only method of doing this is to assume a perfect resignation to the
Divine will, to consider that whatever does happen must happen, and that by
our uneasiness we cannot prevent the blow before it does fall, but we may
add to its force after it has fallen.
These considerations, and others such as these, may enable us in some
measure to surmount the difficulties thrown in our way, to bear up with a
tolerable degree of patience under this burden of life, and to proceed with
a pious and unshaken resignation till we arrive at our journey's end, when
we may deliver up our trust into the hands of Him who gave it, and receive
such reward as to Him shall seem proportionate to our merits."
By G. Mercer Adam
JEFFERSON, when he penned the famous Declaration of Independence, which
broke all hope of reconciliation with the motherland and showed England what
the deeply-wronged Colonies of the New World unitedly desired and would in
the last resort fight for, had then just passed his thirty-third birthday.
Who was the man, and what were his upbringings and status in the then young
community, that inspired the writing of this great historic document— a
document that on its adoption gave these United States an ever-memorable
national birthday, and seven years later, by the Peace of Versailles, wrung
from Britain recognition of the independence of the country and ushered it
into the great sisterhood of Nations? To his contemporaries and a later
political age, Jefferson, in spite of his culture and the aristocratic
strain in his blood, is known as the advocate of popular sovereignty and the
champion of democracy in matters governmental, as United States minister to
France between the years 1784-89, as Secretary of State under Washington,
and as U. S. President from 1801 to 1809. By education and bent of mind, he
was, however, an idealist in politics, a thinker and writer, rather than a
debater and speaker, and one who in his private letters, State papers, and
public documents did much to throw light, in his era, on the origin and
development of American political thought. A man of fine education and of
noble, elevated character, he earned distinction among his fellows, and
though opposed politically by many prominent statesmen of the day, who, like
Washington, Hamilton, and Adams, were in favor of a strong centralized
government, while Jefferson, in the interests of the masses, feared
encroachments on State and individual liberty, he was nevertheless paid the
respect, consideration, and regard of his generation, as his services have
earned the gratitude and his memory the endearing commendation of posterity.
The illustrous statesman was born April 13, 1743, at “Shadwell," his
father's home in the hill country of central Virginia, about 150 miles from
Williamsburg, once the capital of the State, and the seat of William and
Mary college, where Jefferson received his higher education. His father,
Peter Jefferson, was a planter, owning an estate of about 2,000 acres,
cultivated, as was usual in Virginia, by slave labor. His mother was a Miss
Randolph, and well connected; to her the future President owed his
aristocratic blood and refined tastes, and with good looks a fine, manly
presence. By her, Thomas, who was the third of nine children, was in his
childhood's days gently nurtured, though himself fond of outdoor life and
invigorating physical exercise. His father died when his son was but
fourteen, and to him he bequeathed the Roanoke River estate, afterwards
rebuilt and christened “Monticello." His studies at the time were pursued
under a fairly good classical scholar; and on passing to college he there
made diligent use of his time in the study of history, literature, the
sciences, and mathematics.
When he left college Jefferson took up the study of law under the direction
of George Wythe, afterwards Chancellor, then a rising professional man of
high attainments, to whom the youth seems to have been greatly indebted as
mentor and warm, abiding friend. He was also fortunate in the acquaintance
he was able to make among many of the best people of Virginia, including
some historic names, such as Patrick Henry, Edmund Randolph, and Francis
Fauquier, the lieutenant-governor of the province, a gentleman with strong
French proclivities, and a devoted student of the destructive writings of
Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot, that had much to do in bringing on the
French Revolution. By his father's death, he acquired a modest income,
besides his little estate, and the former he added to by his legal practice
when, in 1767, he obtained his diploma as a lawyer. In 1769, he became a
member of the House of Burgesses along with Washington and other prominent
Virginians, and with the exception of brief intervals he served with
distinction until the outbreak of the Revolution. In 1772, he married a
young widow in good circumstances, and this enabled him to add alike to his
income and to his patrimony. About the time of the meeting of the Colonial
Convention, called in 1775, to choose delegates for the Continental Congress
at Philadelphia, at which Patrick Henry was present, the youthful Jefferson,
now known as an able political writer, wrote his “Summary View of the Rights
of British America"—a trenchant protest against English taxation of the
Colonies, which had considerable influence in creating public feeling
favorable to American Independence.
The effect of this notable utterance was, later on, vastly increased by the
draft he prepared of the Declaration of Independence, the latter immortal
document being somewhat of a transcript of views set forth by Jefferson in
his former paper, as well as of ideas expressed by the English philosopher,
John Locke, in his “Theory of Government," and by Rosseau, in his “Discourse
on the Origin of Inequality Among Men;" though the circumstances of the
Colonies at this time were of course different; while to England and the
European nations the Declaration was a startling revelation of the attitude
now assumed by the great leaders of the movement for separation as well as
for freedom and independence. In the passing of this great national charter
John Adams, as all know, was of much service to Jefferson in the debate over
it in committee, as well as in the subsequent ratification of it by the
House. Franklin was also of assistance in its revision in draft form; and
most happy was the result, not only in the ultimate passing of the great
historic document, but in its affirmation of the intelligent stand taken by
the Colonies against England and her monarch, and in its pointed definition
of the theory of democratic government on which the new fabric of popular
rule in the New World was founded and raised.
In the autumn of 1776, Jefferson resigned his seat in Congress, or rather
declined re-election to the Third Continental Congress, and retired for a
time to his Virginia home. He also, at this period, declined appointment to
France on the mission on which Franklin had set out; nevertheless, we
presently find him a member of the legislature of his own State, taking part
in passing measures in which he was particularly interested. Many of these
measures are indicative of the breadth of mind and large, tolerant views for
which Jefferson was noted, viz.: the repeal in Virginia of the laws of
entail; the abolition of primogeniture and the substitution of equal
partition of inheritance; the affirmation of the rights of conscience and
the relief of the people from taxation for the support of a religion not
their own; and the introduction of a general system of education, so that
the people, as the author of these beneficent acts himself expressed it,
“would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to
exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government." Other measures
included the abolition of capital punishment, save for murder and treason,
and an embargo placed on the importation of slaves, though Jefferson failed
in his larger design of freeing all slaves, as he desired, hoping that this
would be done throughout the entire country, while also beneficently
extending to them white aid and protection.
In 1779, Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry in the governorship of Virginia.
This was the period when the English were prosecuting their campaigns in the
South, checked by General Nathaniel Greene—when South Carolina was being
overrun by Cornwallis, and Virginia itself was invaded by expeditions from
New York under Philips and Arnold. As Jefferson had no military abilities,
indeed, was a recluse rather than a man of action, the administration of his
native Province, while able and efficient, was lacking in the notable
incident which the then crisis of affairs would naturally call forth. Even
his own Virginia homestead was at this time raided by the English cavalry
officer, Colonel Tarleton, and much of his property was either desolated or
stolen. This occasioned bitter resentment against the English in
Jefferson's mind; while the serious illness and early death of his loved
wife, which occurred just then, led him to surrender office and return for a
time to the seclusion of his home.
Meanwhile, thrice was the offer made to the fast-budding statesman to
proceed to France as ambassador; and only on the post being pressed upon him
for the fourth time did he accept its duties and responsibilities and set
out, accompanied by a daughter whom he wished to have educated abroad, for
Paris in the summer of 1784.
In the post now vacated by Franklin, Jefferson remained for five years,
until the meeting of the French Estates-General and the outbreak of the
Revolution against absolute monarchy and the theory of the State in France
upon which it rested. With French society, Jefferson, even more than his
predecessor, was greatly enamored, and was on intimate terms with the
savants of the era, including those who by their writings had precipitated
the French Revolution, with all its excesses and horrors. The latter, it is
true, filled Jefferson with dismay on his return to America, though dear to
him were the principles which the apostles of revolution advocated and the
wellbeing of the people, in spite of the anarchy that ensued. What
diplomatic business was called for during his holding the post of minister,
Jefferson efficiently conducted, and with the courtesy as well as sagacity
which marked all his relations as a publicist and man of the world. Unlike
John Adams, who with Franklin had been his predecessor as American envoy to
France, he was on good terms with the French minister, Count Vergennes;
while he shut his eyes, which Adams could not do, to the lack of
disinterestedness in French friendliness toward the Colonies and remembered
only the practical and timely service the nation had rendered to his
country. Jefferson added to his services at this era by his efforts to
suppress piracy in the Mediterranean, on the part of corsairs belonging to
the Barbary States, which he further checked, later on, by the bombardment
of Tripoli and the punishment administered to Algiers during the Tripolitan
war (1801-05), for her piratical attacks on neutral commerce.
After traveling considerably through Europe and informing himself as to the
character and condition of the people in the several countries visited,
Jefferson returned to America just at the time when Washington was elected
to the Presidency. In his absence, the Federal Convention had met at
Philadelphia, the Constitution of the United States had been adopted and
ratified, and the government had been organized with its executive
departments, then limited to five, viz.: The State Department, the Treasury,
the War Department, the Department of Justice, and the Post-office. The
Judiciary had also been organized and the Supreme Court founded. With these
organizations of the machinery of government came presently the founding of
parties, especially the rise of the Republican or Democratic party, as it
was subsequently called, in opposition to the Federalist party, then led by
Hamilton, Jay, and Morris. At this juncture, on the return of Jefferson
from the French mission, and after a visit to his home in Virginia,
Washington offered him the post of Secretary of State, which he accepted,
and entered upon the duties of that office in New York in March, 1791. His
chief colleague in the Cabinet, soon now to become his political opponent,
was Alexander Hamilton, who had charge of the finances, as head of the
Treasury department. Between these two men, as chiefs of the principal
departments of government, President Washington had an anxious time of it in
keeping the peace, for each was insistently arrayed against the other, not
only in their respective attitudes toward England and in the policy of the
administration in the then threatening war with France, but also as to the
powers the National Government should be entrusted with in relation to the
legislatures of the separate states. What Jefferson specially feared, with
his firmly held views as to the independence of public opinion, and
especially his hatred of monarchy and all its ways, was that the
conservative and aristocratic influences of the envirnoment [sic] of New
York, hardly as yet escaped from the era of royal and Tory dominion and
submission to the English Crown, might fashion the newly federated nation
upon English models and give it a complexion far removed, socially as well
as politically, from Republican simplicity, coupled with a disposition to
aggress upon and dictate to the individual states of the Union, to their
nullification and practical effacement.
For this apparent tendency, Jefferson specially blamed Hamilton, since his
tastes as well as his sympathies were known to be aristocratic, as indeed
were Washington's, in his fondness for courtly dignity and the trappings and
ceremonies of high office. But his antagonism to Hamilton was specially
called forth by the latter's creation of a National Bank, with its tendency
to aggrandize power and coerce or control votes at the expense of the
separate States. He further was opposed to the great financier and
aristocrat for his leanings toward England and against France, in the war
that had then broken out between these nations, and for his sharp criticism
of the draft of the message to Congress on the relations of France and
England, which Jefferson had penned, and which was afterwards to influence
Washington in issuing the Neutrality Proclamation of 1793. In this attitude
toward Hamilton and the administration, of which both men were members,
Jefferson was neither selfish nor scheming, but, on the contrary, was
discreet and patriotic, as well as just and high-minded. "What he desired
supremely," as has been well stated by a writer, "was the triumph of
democratic principles, since he saw in this triumph the welfare of the
country—the interests of the many against the ascendancy of the few—the real
reign of the people, instead of the reign of an aristocracy of money or
birth." In this opposition to his chief and able colleague, and feeling
strongly on the matters which constantly brought him into collision with the
centralizing designs of the President and the preponderating influence in
the Cabinet hostile to his views, Jefferson resigned his post in December,
1793, and retired for a time to his estate at Monticello.
Jefferson always relished the period of his brief retirements to his
Virginia home, where he could enjoy his library, entertain his friends, and
overlook his estates. There, too, he took a lively interest in popular and
higher education, varied by outlooks on the National situation, not always
pleasing to him, as in the case of Jay's treaty with England (1794-95),
which shortly afterwards proved fatal to that statesman's candidature for
the Presidential office. Meanwhile, the contentions and rivalries of the
political parties grew apace; and in 1797, just before the retirement of
Washington at the close of his second administration, the struggle between
Democrats and Federalists became focussed on the prize of the Presidency—the
“Father of his Country" having declined to stand for a third term. The
candidates, we need hardly say, were John Adams, who had been Vice President
in Washington's administration, and Thomas Jefferson, the former being the
standard-bearer of the Federalists, and the latter the candidate of the
anti-Federal Republicans. The contest ended by Adams securing the
Presidency by three votes (71 to 68) over Jefferson, who thus, acording to
the usage of the time, became Vice-President.
The Adams' Administration, though checkered by divided counsels and by the
machinations of party, was on the whole beneficial to the country. It had,
however, to face new complications with France, then under the Directory.
These complications arose, in part, from soreness over the passing of the
Jay treaty with England, and in part because America could not be bled for
money through its envoys, at the bidding of unscrupulous members of the
Directory. The situation was for a time so grave as to incite to war
preparations in the United States, and to threatened naval demonstrations
against France. Nor were matters improved by the enforcement of the Alien
and Sedition Acts (1798), directed against those deemed dangerous to the
peace and safety of the country, or who, like the more violent members of
the Press, published libels on the Government. The storm which these
obnoxious Acts evoked led to their speedy repeal, though not before
Jefferson and Madison had denounced them as fetters on the freedom of public
speech and infringements of the rights of the people. They were moreover
resented as not being in harmony with the Constitution, as a compact to
which the individual States of the Union were parties, and which Jefferson
especially deemed to be in jeopardy from Federalist legislation.
The result of these agitations of the period, and of breaches, which had now
come about, between the Adams and Hamilton wings of the Federalist party,
showed itself in the Presidential campaign of 1800. Washington, by this
time, had passed from earthly scenes, and the coming nineteenth century was
to bring such changes and developments in the young nation as few then
foresaw or even dreamed of. At this era, when the Adams Administration was
about to close, Jefferson, in spite of his known liberal, democratic views,
was one of the most popular of political leaders, save with the Federalists,
now dwindling in numbers and influence. He it was who was put forward on
the Republican side for the Presidency, while Adams, still favored by the
Federalists and himself desiring a second term of office, became the
Federalist candidate. Associated with the latter in the contest was Charles
C. Pinckney, of South Carolina, who was named for the Vice-Presidency; while
the Republican candidate for the minor post was Aaron Burr, an able but
unscrupulous politician of New York. When the electoral votes were counted,
Jefferson and Burr, it was found, had each received seventy-three votes;
while Adams secured sixty-five and Pinckney sixty-four votes. The tie
between Jefferson and Burr caused the election to be thrown into the House
of Representatives, where the Federalists were still strong, and who, in
their dislike of Jefferson, reckoned on finally giving the Presidency to
Burr. To this, Hamilton, however, magnanimously objected, and in the end
Jefferson secured the Presidential prize, while to Burr fell the Vice-
For the next eight years, until the coming of Madison's Administration,
Jefferson was at the helm of national affairs, assisted by an able Cabinet,
the chief members of which were James Madison, Secretary of State, and the
Swiss financier, Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury. Aaron Burr, as
we have recorded, was Vice-President, though the relations of Jefferson with
him were far from cordial, owing to his political intrigues, which led the
President ultimately to eschew him and distrust his character. Jefferson's
attitude toward the man was later on shown to be well iustified, as the
result of Burr's hateful quarrel with Alexander Hamilton, and his mortally
wounding that eminent statesman in a duel, which doomed him to political and
social ostracism. It was still further intensified by Burr's treasonable
attempt to seduce the West out of the Union and to found with it and Mexico
a rival Republic, with the looked-for aid of Britain. These unscrupulous
acts occurred in Jefferson's second term; and, failing in his conspiracy,
Burr deservedly brought upon himself national obloquy, as well as
prosecution for treason, though nothing came of the latter.
Some two years after Jefferson's assumption of office, Ohio was admitted as
a State into the Union. The next year (1803) saw, however, an enormous
extension of the national domain, thanks to the President's far-seeing, if
at the time unconstitutional, policy. This was the purchase from France, at
the cost of $15,000,000, of Louisiana, a vast territory lying between the
Mississippi, the Rocky Mountains, and the Rio Grande, which had been
originally settled by the French, and by their government ceded in 1763 to
Spain as a set-off for Florida, while the French King at the same time ceded
his other possessions on this continent to England. In 1800, Napoleon had
forced Spain to re-cede Louisiana to France, as the price of the First
Consul's uncertain goodwill and other intangible or elusive favors. At this
period, France desired to occupy the country, or at least to form a great
seaport at New Orleans, the entrepot of the Mississippi, that might be of
use to her against English warships in the region of the West Indies. When
news of the transfer of Louisiana to France reached this side of the water,
Jefferson was greatly exercised over it, and had notions of off-setting it
by some joint action with Great Britain. His inducement to this unwonted
course, considering his hatred of England and love for France, was his
knowledge of the fact that French occupation of Louisiana meant the closing
of the Mississippi to American commerce.
The purchase of Louisiana, which at one stroke more than doubled the
existing area of the nation, was at first hotly opposed, especially by the
Federalists. It was deemed by them an unwarrantable stretch of the
Constitution on Jefferson's part, both in negotiating for it as a then
foreign possession without authority from Congress, and in pledging the
country's resources in its acquisition. The President was, however,
sustained in his act, not only by the Senate, which ratified the purchase,
but by the hearty approval and acclaim of the people. Happily at this time
the nation was ready for the acquisition and in good shape financially to
pay for it, since the country was prospering, and its finances, thanks to
the President's policy of economy and retrenchment, were adequate to assume
the burden involved in the purchase. The national debt at this period was
being materially reduced, and with its reduction came, of course, the saving
on the interest charge; while the national income and credit were
encouragingly rising. Though the economical condition of the United States
was thus favorable at this era, the state of trade, hampered by the policy
of commercial restriction against foreign commerce, then prevailing, was not
as satisfactory as the shippers of the East and the commercial classes
desired. The reason of this was the unsettled relations of the United
States with foreign countries, and especially with England, whose policy had
been and still was to thwart the New World republic and harass its commerce
and trade. To this England was incited by the bitter memories of the
Revolutionary war and her opposition to rivalry as mistress of the seas.
Hence followed, on the part of the United States, the non-Importation Act,
the Embargo Act of 1807-08, and other retaliatory measures of Jefferson's
administration, coupled with reprisals at sea and other expedients to offset
British empressment of American sailors and the right of search, so
ruthlessly and annoyingly put in force against the newborn nation and her
maritime people. The English people themselves, or a large proportion of
them at least, were as strongly opposed to these aggressions of their
government as were Americans, and while their voice effected little in the
way of amelioration, it brought the two peoples once more distinctly nearer
to the resort to war. Meanwhile, the Embargo Act had become so irritating
to our own people that the Jefferson administration was compelled to repeal
it, though saving its face, for the time being, by the enforcement of the
non-intercourse law, which imposed stringent restrictions upon British and
French ships entering American harbors.
Such are the principal features of the Jefferson administration and the more
important questions with which it had to deal. Among other matters which we
have not noted were the organization of the United States Courts; the
removal of the seat of government from Philadelphia to Washington; the party
complexion of Jefferson's appointments to the civil service, in spite of his
expressed design to be non-partisan in the selection to office; and the
naming of men for the foreign embassies, such as James Monroe as
plenipotentiary to France, assisted at the French Court by Robert R.
Livingstone, and at the Spanish Court by Charles C. Pinckney. Other matters
to which Jefferson gave interested attention include the dispatch of the
explorers, Lewis and Clarke, to report on the features of the Far Western
country, then in reality a wilderness, and to reclaim the vast unknown
region for civilization. The details of this notable expedition up the
Missouri to its source, then on through the Indian country across the
Rockies to the Pacific, need not detain us, since the story is familiar to
all. With the Louisiana purchase, it opened up great tracts of the
continent, later on to become habitable and settled areas, and make a great
and important addition to the public domain. In the appointment of the
expedition and the interest taken in it, Jefferson showed his intelligent
appreciation of what was to become of high value to the country, and ere
long result in a land of beautiful homes to future generations of its hardy
At the close of his second term in the Presidential chair (1809) Jefferson
retired once more, and finally, to “Monticello," after over forty years of
almost continuous public service. His career in this high office was
entirely worthy of the man, being that of an honorable and public-spirited,
as well as an able and patriotic, statesman. If not so astute and sagacious
as some who have held the presidency, especially in failing to see where his
political principles, if carried out to their logical conclusions, would
lead, his conscientiousness and liberality of mind prevented him from
falling gravely into error or making any very fatal mistakes. Though far
from orthodox,—indeed, a freethinker he may be termed, in matters of
religious belief, his personal life was most exemplary, and his relations
with his fellowmen were ever just, honorable, and upright. He had no gifts
as a speaker, but was endowed highly as a writer and thinker; and,
generally, was a man of broad intelligence, unusual culture for his time,
and possessed a most alert and enlightened mind. His interest in education
and the liberal arts was great, and with his consideration for the deserving
poor and those in class servitude, was indulged in at no inconsiderable cost
to his pocket. His hospitality was almost a reproach to him, as his
impoverished estates and diminished fortunes in the latter part of his life
attest. His faith in democracy as a form of government was unbounded, as
was his loyalty to that beneficent political creed summed up in the motto—
“Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." “As a president," writes the lecturer,
Dr. John Lord, “he is not to be compared with Washington for dignity, for
wisdom, for consistency, or executive ability. Yet, on the whole, he has
left a great name for giving shape to the institutions of his country, and
for intense patriotism."
"Jefferson's manners," records the same entertaining writer, "were simple,
his dress was plain, he was accessible to everybody, he was boundless in his
hospitalities, he cared little for money, his opinions were liberal and
progressive, he avoided quarrels, he had but few prejudices, he was kind and
generous to the poor and unfortunate, he exalted agricultural life, he hated
artificial splendor, and all shams and lies. In his morals he was
irreproachable, unlike Hamilton and Burr; he never made himself ridiculous,
like John Adams, by egotism, vanity, and jealousy; he was the most domestic
of men, worshipped by his family and admired by his guests; always ready to
communicate knowledge, strong in his convictions, perpetually writing his
sincere sentiments and beliefs in letters to his friends,—as upright and
honest a man as ever filled a public station, and finally retiring to
private life with the respect of the whole nation, over which he continued
to exercise influence after he had parted with power. And when he found
himself poor and embarrassed in consequence of his unwise hospitality, he
sold his library, the best in the country, to pay his debts, as well as the
most valuable part of his estate, yet keeping up his cheerfulness and
serenity of temper, and rejoicing in the general prosperity,—which was
produced by the ever-expanding energies and resources of a great country,
rather than by the political theories which he advocated with so much
In Jefferson's own mind, just what was the essence of his political gospel
we ascertain from a succinct yet comprehensive passage in his able First
Inaugural Address. In that address President Jefferson sets forth
instructively what he terms the essential principles of government, and
those upon which, as he conceives, his own administration was founded and by
which it was guided. The governing principles it affirms are:—
"Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion,
religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all
nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the state
governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for
our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican
tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole
constitutional vigor, as the sheet-anchor of our peace at home and safety
abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people; a mild and
safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution, where
peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of
the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but
to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well-
disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of
war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the
military authority — economy in the public expenditure, that labor may be
lightly burdened; the honest payment of our debts, and sacred preservation
of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its
handmaiden; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at
the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and
freedom of person, under the protection of the Habeas Corpus; and trial by
juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation
which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution
and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have
been devoted to their attainment; they should be the creed of our political
faith; the text of civic instruction; the touchstone by which to try the
services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of
error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and regain the road
which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."
Jefferson had completed his sixty-sixth year when he relinquished the
presidency to his friend and pupil, James Madison, and retired to his loved
Virginia home. There he lived on for seventeen years, enjoying the esteem
and respect of the nation, and taking active interest in his favorite
schemes on behalf of education in his native state and his helpful work in
founding the college which was afterwards expanded into the University of
Virginia. His interest in national affairs, up to the last, remained keen
and fervid, as the vast collection of his published correspondence show, as
well as his many visiting contemporaries attest. In the winter of 1825-6,
his health began to fail, and in the following spring he made his will and
prepared for posterity the original draft of his great historic achievement
as a writer and patriot—the Declaration of Independence. As the year (1826)
wore on, he expressed a wish to live until the fiftieth anniversary of the
nation's independence, a wish that, as in the case of his distinguished
contemporary, John Adams, was granted by the favor of Heaven, and he died on
the 4th of July, mourned by the whole country. In numberless quarters,
funeral honors were paid to his memory, the more memorable orations being
that of Daniel Webster, delivered in Boston. To his tomb still come
annually many reverent worshippers; while, among the historic shrines of the
nation, his home at Monticello attracts ever-increasing hosts of loving and
THOMAS JEFFERSON'S FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS—1801.
Friends and fellow-citizens:—Called upon to undertake the duties of the
first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of
that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assmbled, to express my
grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look
toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my
talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments
which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly
inspire. A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing
all the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in
commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly to
destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye when I contemplate these
transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of
this beloved country committed to the issue and the auspices of this day, I
shrink from the contemplation and humble myself before the magnitude of the
undertaking. Utterly, indeed, should I despair, did not the presence of
many whom I here see, remind me that in the other high authorities provided
by our Constitution, I shall find resources of wisdom, of virtue, and of
zeal on which to rely under all difficulties. To you then, gentlemen, who
are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those
associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and
support, which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are
all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.
During the contest of opinions through which we have passed, the animation
of discussions and exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose
on strangers unused to think freely, and to speak and to write as they
think. But this being now decided by the voice of the nation, enounced
according to the rules of the constitution, all will, of course, arrange
themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the
common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle that, though
the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be
rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights,
which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.
Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind; let us
restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which
liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things. Let us reflect that,
having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind
so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a
political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and
During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonized
spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost
liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach
even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and
feared by some, and should divide opinion as to measures of safety. But
every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have
called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all
republicans; we are all federalists. If there be any among us who 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.
I know, indeed, that some honest men have feared that a republican
government cannot be strong; that this government is not strong enough. But
would not the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment,
abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic
and visionary fear that this government, the world's best hope, may by
possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this,
on the contrary, the strongest government on earth. I believe it is the
only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard
of the law; would meet invasions of public order as his own personal
Sometimes, it is said, that man cannot be trusted with the government of
himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we
found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this
question. Let us, then, pursue with courage and confidence our own federal
and republican principle, our attachment to union and representative
Kindly separated by nature, and a wide ocean, from the exterminating havoc
of one quarter of the globe, too high-minded to endure the degradation of
the others; possessing a chosen country with room enough for all to the
hundredth and thousandth generation; entertaining a dull sense of our equal
right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisition of our own
industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not
from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them, enlightened by a
benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all
of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratutude and the love of
man, acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its
dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and in
his greater happiness hereafter. With all these blessings, what more is
necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more,
fellow-citizens: a wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from
injuring one another shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own
pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of
labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this
is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.
About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend
everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what
I deem the essential principles of this government, and consequently those
which ought to shape its administration. I will compress them in the
narrowest limits they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all
its limitations: Equal and exact justice to all men of whatever state or
persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship
with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State
governments in all their rights as the most competent administrations for
our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican
tendencies; the preservation of the general government, in its whole
constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety
abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and
safe corrective of abuses, which are lopped by the sword of revolution,
where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the
decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which
there is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of
despotism; a well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for
the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of
the civil over the military authority; economy in public expense that labor
may be lightly burdened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred
preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of
commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of
all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion, freedom of
the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus;
and trial by juries impartially selected.
These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and
guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation: the wisdom
of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their
attainment; they should be the creed of our political faith, the text of
civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we
trust; and should we wander from them in error or alarm, let us hasten to
retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace,
liberty, and safety.
I repair then, fellow-citizens, to the post which you have assigned me.
With experience enough in subordinate stations to know the difficulties of
this, the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall
to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation
and the favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high
confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character,
whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his
country's love, and had destined for him the fairest page in the volume of
faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and
effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong
through defect of judgment; when right, I shall often be thought wrong by
those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask
your indulgence for my errors, which will never be intentional; and your
support against the errors of others, who may contemn what they would not,
if seen in all its parts.
The approbation implied by your suffrage is a great consolation to me for
the past; and my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion of
those who have bestowed it in advance to conciliate that of others by doing
them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and
freedom of all. Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will, I
advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you
become sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make. And may
that infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our
councils to what is best and give them a favorable issue for your peace and
THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE
BY ISIDORE A. ZACHARIAS.
From "Self-Culture" Magazine for Jan., 1896 by kind permission of the
publishers The Werner Co., Akron, O.
No surer or more lasting cause conduced to the political, financial, and
national development of this country, no unforeseen or long-sought measure
received more universal approbation and revealed to all its great
importance, than did the Louisiana purchase. Its acquisition marks a
political revolution,—a bloodless and tearless revolution. It gave
incomputable energy to the centralization of our Government. By removing
the danger of foreign interference and relieving the burden of arming
against hostile forces, it opened a field for the spread and growth of
American institutions. It enlarged the field of freedom's action to work
out the task of civilization on a basis of substantial and inspiring
magnitude. It extended the jurisdiction of the United States to take in the
mighty Mississippi. It gave an impetus to exploration and adventure, to
investment and enterprise, and fed the infantile nation with a security born
The expeditions of La Salle furnished the basis of the original French
claims to the vast region called by France in the New World Louisiana.
Settlement was begun in 1699. French explorers secured the St. Lawrence and
Mississippi rivers, the two main entrances to the heart of America. They
sought to connect Canada and Louisiana by a chain of armed towns and
fortified posts, which were sparsely though gradually erected. In 1722 New
Orleans was made the capital of the French possessions in the Southwest.
France hoped to build in this colony a kingdom rich and lucrative, and this
hope the early conditions, the stretch of fertile and easily traversable
country, stimulated. The French and Indian wars came on. The English
forces, aided by American colonists of English descent, captured the French
forts, destroyed their towns, and took dominion of their territory. The
Seven Years' War, ending in America in the capture of Quebec by the immortal
Wolfe, completed the downfall of French-America. The treaty of Paris ceded
to Spain the territory of Louisiana.
The Government at Madrid now assumed control of the region; settlers became
more numerous, the planting of sugar was begun, the province flourished.
While Spain in 1782-83 occupied both sides of the Mississippi from 31 north
latitude to its mouth, the United States and Great Britian declared in the
Treaty of Paris that the navigation of that river from its source to its
outlet should be free to both nations. Spain denied that such provisions
were binding on her. She sought to levy a duty on merchandise transported
on the river. She denied the right of our citizens to use the Mississippi
as a highway, and complications ensued. The Americans claimed the free
navigation of the river and the use of New Orleans for a place of deposit as
a matter of right. However, the unfriendly policy of Spain continued for
some years. In 1795 the Spanish Government became involved in a war with
France. Weakened by loss of forces and fearing hostilities from this
country, Spain consented to sign a treaty of friendship, boundaries and
navigation with our envoy, Thomas Pinckney. Its most important article was
to this effect, that "His Catholic Majesty likewise agrees that the
navigation of the said river (Mississippi), in its whole breadth, from its
source to the ocean, shall be free only to his subjects and to the subjects
of the United States."
On October 1,1800, by the secret treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain gave back to
France that province of Louisiana which in 1762 France had given her. The
consideration for its retrocession was an assurance by France that the Duke
of Palma, son-in-law of the King of Spain, should be raised to the dignity
of King and have his territory enlarged by the addition of Tuscany. Rumors
of this treaty reached America in the spring of 1801, though its exact terms
were not known until the latter part of that year. Immediately upon the
reception of this information, our Government and its citizens were aroused.
The United States found herself hemmed in between the two professional
belligerents of Europe—a perilous position for the young power. The
excitement increased when, in October, 1802, the Spanish Intendant declared
that New Orleans could no longer be used as a place of deposit. Nor was any
other place designated for such purpose, although in the reaty [sic] of 1795
it was stipulated that in the event of a withdrawal of the right to use New
Orleans, some other point would be named. It was now a subject of extreme
importance to the Republic into whose control the highway of traffic should
pass. President Jefferson called the attention of Congress to this
retrocession. He anticipated the French designs. He justly feared that
Napoleon Bonaparte would seek to renew the old colonial glories of France,
and the warlike genius and ambitious spirit of the "First Consul" augmented
this fear. Word came in November, 1802, of an expedition being fitted out
under French command to take possession of Louisiana, all protests of our
Minister to the transfer having proved futile. Our nation then realized
fully the peril of the situation. Congress directed the Governors of the
States to call out 80,000 militia, if necessary, and it appropriated
$2,000,000 for the purchase of the Island of New Orleans and the adjacent
Early in January, 1803, the President decided to hasten matters by sending
James Monroe to France, to be associated with Robert R. Livingston, our
minister to that country, as commissioners for the purchase of New Orleans
and the Floridas. Livingston had been previously working on the same line,
but without success. Instructions were given them that if France was
obstinate about selling the desired territory, to open negotiations with the
British Government, with a view to preventing France from taking possession
of Louisiana. European complications, however, worked in favor of this
country more than did our own efforts. Ere Monroe arrived at his
destination disputes arose between England and France concerning the Island
of Malta. The clouds of war began to gather. Napoleon discerned that
England's powerful navy would constantly menace and probably capture New
Orleans, if it were possessed by him, and fearing a frustration of his
designs of conquest by too remote accessions, Napoleon, at this juncture,
made overtures for a sale to the United States not only of the Island of New
Orleans but of the whole area of the province. The money demanded would be
helpful to France, and the wily Frenchman probably saw in such a transfer an
opportunity of embroiling the Government at Washington in boundary disputes
with the British and Spanish soverigns. These considerations served to
precipitate French action.
Marbois, who had the confidence of Napoleon, and who had been in the
diplomatic service in America, was now at the head of the French Treasury.
He was put forward to negotiate with our representatives with respect to the
proposed sale. On April 1O, 1803, news came from London that the peace of
Amiens was at an end; war impended. Bonaparte at once sent for Marbois and
ordered him to push the negotiations with Livingston, without awaiting the
arrival of Monroe, of whose appointment the "First Consul" was aware.
Monroe reached Paris on the 12th of April, and the negotiations, already
well under way, progressed rapidly. A treaty and two conventions were
signed by Barbe-Marbois for the French, and by Livingston and Monroe for the
United States, on April 30th, less than three weeks after the commission had
begun its work. The price agreed upon for the cession of Louisiana was
75,000,000 francs, and for the satisfying of French spoliation claims due to
Americans was estimated at $3,750,000. The treaty was ratified by Bonaparte
in May, 1803, and by the United States Senate in the following October. The
cession of the territory was contained in one paper, another fixed the
amount to be paid and the mode of payment, a third arranged the method of
settling the claims due to Americans.
The treaty did not attempt a precise description or boundary of the
territory ceded. In the treaty of San Ildefonso general terms only are
used. It speaks of Louisiana as of "the same extent that it now has in the
hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it
should be after the treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and the
other States." The treaty with the United States describes the land as "the
said territory, with all its rights and appurtenances, as fully and in the
same manner as have been acquired by the French Republic, in virtue of the
above-mentioned treaty concluded with his Catholic Majesty."
The Court at Madrid was astounded when it heard of the cession to the United
States. Florida was left hemmed in and an easy prey in the first
hostilities. Spain filed a protest against the transfer, claiming that by
express provision of the articles of cession to her, France was prohibited
from alienating it without Spanish consent. The protest being ignored,
Spain began a course of unfriendly proceedings against the United States.
Hostile acts on her part were continued to such an extent that a declaration
of war on the part of this country would have been justified. We relied
upon the French to protect our title. At length, without any measures of
force, the cavilling of Spain ceased and she acquiesced in the transfer.
Upon being confronted with the proposition of sale by Marbois, our Ministers
were dazzled. They recognized the vast importance of an acceptance, yet
felt their want of authority. With a political prescience and broad
patriotism they overstepped all authority and concluded the treaty for the
purchase of this magnificent domain. Authorized to purchase a small island
and a coaling-place, they contracted for an empire. The treaty of
settlement was looked upon by our representatives as a stroke of state.
When the negotiations were consummated and the treaties signed and
delivered, Mr. Livingston said: "We have lived long, and this is the
fairest work of our lives. The treaty we have just signed will transform a
vast wilderness into a flourishing country. From this day the United States
becomes a first-class power. The articles we have signed will produce no
tears, but ages of happiness for countless human beings." Time has verified
these expressions. At the same period, the motives and sentiment of
Bonaparte were bodied forth in the sentence: "I have given to England a
maritime rival that will sooner or later humble her pride."
The acquisition was received with merited and general applause. Few
objections were made. The only strenuous opposition arose from some
Federalists, who could see no good in any act of the Jeffersonian
administration, however meritorious it might be. Out of the territory thus
acquired have been carved Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska,
Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and the largest portion of
Minnesota, Wyoming, and Colorado. They now form the central section of the
United States, and are the homes of millions and the sources of countless
It is possible here to notice but briefly the vast and permanent political
and economical consequences to the United States of this purchase. The
party which performed this service came into power as the maintainer of
voluntary union. The soul of the strict construction party was Thomas
Jefferson. Inclined to French ideas, he had been for several years previous
to the founding of our Constitution imbibing their extreme doctrines. No
sooner did he return than he discerned, with the keen glance of genius, what
passed Hamilton and Adams unobserved, the key to the popular fancy. He knew
precisely where the strength of the Federalists lay, and by what means alone
that strength could be overpowered.
Coming into office as the champion of "State-rights and strict
construction," it was beyond his power to give theoretical affirmance to
this transcendent act of his agents. His own words reveal his anomalous
situation: "The Constitution has made no provision for our holding foreign
territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations into our Union. The
executive, in seizing the fugitive occurrence which so much advances the
good of their country, have done an act beyond the Constitution. The
Legislature, in casting behind metaphysical subleties and risking themselves
like faithful servants, must ratify and pay for it, and throw themselves on
their country for doing for them unauthorized what we know they would have
done for themselves had they been in a position to do it." "Doing for them
unauthorized what we know they would have done for themselves" was the
policy of the Federalists, and the very ground upon which Mr. Jefferson had
denounced their policy and defeated them. The purchase was, in fact, quite
within those implied powers of the Constitution which had always been
contended for by the Federalists, and such leaders as Hamilton and Morris
acknowledged this. Under the strict construction theory, not only could
there be no authority for such an acquisition of territory without the
consent of the several States denominated "part of the original compact,"
but the manifest and necessary consequences of this accession, in its
effects upon the Union and upon the balance of power within the Government,
were overwhelming to such an extent as to amount almost to a revolution.
This event may be looked upon as a revolution in the direction of
unification and the impairment of the powers of the several States, brought
about by the very party which had undertaken to oppose such tendencies. The
territory gained stretches over a million square miles equal in area to the
territory previously comprised in the Union, and twice as large as that
actually occupied by the original thirteen States. Compared with this
innovation, the plans of the Federalists for strengthening the Central
Government were inconsiderable. A new nation was engrafted on the old, and
neither the people of the several States nor their immediate representatives
were questioned; but by a treaty the President and the Senate changed the
whole structure of the territory and modified the relations of the States.
Thenceforth, the Louisiana purchase stood as a repudiation by their own
champions of the strict construction fallacies. Thenceforth, the welfare of
the country stands above party allegiance. The right to make purchases was
thereafter, by general acquiescence of all political parties, within the
powers of the Federal Government. Indeed, it became manifest that implied
as well as expressed powers accrued to the National Government.
The territory of Louisiana proved a fruitful soil for the spread of slavery,
nor was it less productive of struggles and strife over the admission of
States carved therefrom. The Civil War has pacified the jarring elements
and left to be realized now the beneficent results of the empire gained.
With Louisiana the United States gained control of the entire country
watered by the Mississippi and its effluents. With the settlement of the
western country, the Mississippi river assumed its normal function in the
national development, forming out of that region the backbone of the Union.
The Atlantic and Pacific States can never destroy the Union while the
Central States remain loyal. Thus do we see the basis of our governmental
existence removed from the narrow strip along the Atlantic to the far larger
central basin; binding by natural ligaments a union far less secure on mere
constitutional or artificial connections. Thus have the intentions of its
projectors been fulfilled, the peace of our nation secured, a spirit of
confidence in our institutions diffused, and enterprise and prosperity
advanced. The purchase was an exercise of patriotism unrestrained and
unbiased by considerations unconnected with the public good. It curbed the
impulse of State jealousies, secured to the Union unwonted prestige, and
discovered the latent force and broad possibilities of our national system.
ANECDOTES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF JEFFERSON.
JEFFERSON'S BRIDAL JOURNEY.
Jefferson and his young bride, after the marriage ceremony, set out for
their Monticello home. The road thither was a rough mountain track, upon
which lay the snow to a depth of two feet.
At sunset they reached the house of one of their neighbors eight miles
distant from Monticello. They arrived at their destination late at night
thoroughly chilled with the cold.
They found the fires all out, not a light burning, not a morsel of food in
the larder, and not a creature in the house. The servants had all gone to
their cabins for the night, not expecting their master and mistress.
But the young couple, all the world to each other, made merry of this sorry
welcome to a bride and bridegroom, and laughed heartily over it.
WOULD MAKE NO PROMISES FOR THE PRESIDENCY.
While the Presidential election was taking place in the House of
Representatives, amid scenes of great excitement, strife and intrigue, which
was to decide whether Jefferson or Burr should be the chief magistrate of
the nation, Jefferson was stopped one day, as he was coming out of the
Senate chamber, by Gouverneur Morris, a prominent leader of the Federalists.
Mr. Morris said, "I wish to have an earnest talk with you, Mr. Jefferson, on
the alarming situation of things."
"I am very glad," said Jefferson, "to talk matters over with you."
"As you well know," said Mr. Morris, "I have been strenuously opposing you,
as have also the large minority of the States."
"To be frank with you," he continued, "we are very much afraid of you."
"First—That you will turn all the Federalists out of office.
"Second—That you will put down the navy.
"Third—That you will wipe off the public debt
"Now, if you will declare, or authorize your friends to declare that you
will not take these steps, your election will be made sure."
Mr. Jefferson replied, "Gouverneur Morris, I naturally want to be President,
and yet I cannot make any terms to obtain the position.
"I shall never go into the office by capitulation. I cannot have my hands
tied by any conditions which would hinder me from pursuing the measures
which I deem best for the public good.
"I must be perfectly free. The world can judge my future course by that
which I have hitherto followed.
"I am thankful to you for your interest, but I cannot make the slightest
THE MOULD-BOARD OF LEAST RESISTANCE.
Mr. A. J. Stansbury says: "I heard John Randolph (who hated Jefferson) once
describe, in his own biting, caustic manner, the delight expressed by him in
a new model for the mould-board of a plough.
"It was called 'the mould-board of least resistance;' and the inventor had
gone into a very profound mathematical demonstration, to prove that it
deserved its name.
"Jefferson listened and was convinced; and deeming it a great discovery,
recommended it, with zeal, to all his agricultural friends.
"The Virginia planters, accordingly (who thought every thing of their great
man as a natural philosopher), agreed, many of them, to take this new
'mould-board of least resistance.'
"It was accordingly cast,and forwarded to their farms; when lo! on trial, no
ordinary team could draw it through the soil."
JEFFERSON AS AN INVENTOR.
"He sometimes figured as an inventor himself, and on that subject let me
relate to you an anecdote which vividly portrays the character of his mind.
You know that he had perched his country seat on a mountain height,
commanding a magnificent prospect, but exposed to the sweep of wintry winds,
and not very convenient of access.
"Not far from Monticello, and within the bounds of his estate, was a
solitary and lofty hill, so situated as to be exposed to the blast of two
currents of wind, coming up through valleys on different sides of it.
"Mr. Jefferson thought this would be an admirable position for a wind-mill;
and having recently invented a model for a saw-mill to be moved by vertical
sails, he sent for an engineer and submitted it to his judgment.
"The man of professional science examined his plan, and listened with
profound attention and deference to Mr. Jefferson's explanations of it, and
to his eloquent illustration of the advantages it would secure.
"He very attentively heard him through, but made no comment upon the plan.
" 'What do you think of my idea?' said Mr. Jefferson.
" 'I think it is a most ingenious one,' was the reply, 'and decidedly the
best plan for a saw-mill I have ever seen.'
"Jefferson was delighted, and forthwith entered into a written agreement for
the erection of such a mill on the neighboring height.
"The work went bravely on; the inventor very frequently mounting his horse,
and riding over to see how it proceeded.
"When the frame was up, and the building approached its completion, the
engineer rode over to Monticello to obtain a supply of money, and to get
some directions about the saws.
"Jefferson kept him to dinner; and when the cloth was removed and wine sat
upon the table, he turned to his guest, and with an air of much
" 'And so, Mr.——, you like my mill.'
" 'I do, sir, indeed, very much; it is certainly one of the greatest
improvements in the construction of saw mills I ever witnessed.'
" 'You think the sails are so hung that it cannot fail to work?'
" 'Certainly; it must work, it cannot help it.'
" 'And there's always a wind upon that hill; if it does not come up one
valley, it is sure to come up the other; and the hill is so high and steep
that there is nothing to interrupt the full sweep of the wind, come which
way it will. You think, then, on the whole, that the thing cannot fail of
" 'I should think so, sir, but for one thing.'
" 'Ah! What's that?'
" 'I have been wondering in my own mind, how you are to get up your saw-
"Jefferson threw up his hands and eyes: 'I never thought of that!'
"The mill was abandoned, of course."
JEFFERSON AND THE JOCKEY.
"Jefferson's favorite exercise was riding. He was a judge of a horse, and
rode a very good one.
"One day, during his presidential term, he was riding somewhere in the
neighborhood of Washington, when there came up a cross road, a well-known
jockey and dealer in horse-flesh, whose name we will call Jones.
"He did not know the President, but his professional eye was caught, in a
moment, by the noble steed he rode.
"Coming up with an impudent boldness characteristic of the man, he accosted
the rider, and forthwith began talking in the slang of his trade, about the
horse, his points, his age, and his value, and expressed a readiness to
"Mr. Jefferson gave him brief replies, and civilly declined all offers of
"The fellow offered boot, and pressed and increased his bids, as the closer
he looked at the stranger's steed, the better he liked him.
"All his offers were refused with a coolness that nettled him.