History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/I:12


Chapter 12: PersonalitiesEdit

When the session of Congress closed, May 3, the Administration was left to administer a system greatly reduced in proportions. In Jefferson's own words, he had "put the ship on her republican tack," where she was to show by the beauty of her motion the skill of her builders. Nothing remained, with respect to internal politics, but to restore harmony by winning recalcitrant New England, a task which he confidently hoped to accomplish within the course of the year. "If we are permitted," he wrote,[1] in October, 1801, "to go on so gradually in the removals called for by the Republicans, as not to shock or revolt our well-meaning citizens who are coming over to us in a steady stream, we shall completely consolidate the nation in a short time,—excepting always the royalists and priests." So hopeful was he of immediate success, that he wrote to his French correspondent, Dupont de Nemours,[2] in January, 1802: "I am satisfied that within one year from this time, were an election to take place between two candidates, merely Republican and Federal, where no personal opposition existed against either, the Federal candidate would not get the vote of a single elector in the United States." To revolutionize New England, he concentrated Executive influence, and checked party spirit. He began by placing two Massachusetts men in his Cabinet; before long he appointed as Postmaster-General an active Connecticut politician, Gideon Granger. The Postmaster-General was not then a member of the Cabinet, but his patronage was not the less important. Granger and Lincoln carried on a sapper's duty of undermining and weakening the Federalists' defences, while the Republican party refrained from acts that could rouse alarm.

Although in cooler moments Jefferson was less sanguine, he still so far miscalculated the division between himself and New England, that when the spring elections showed less increase than he expected in the Republican vote, he could not explain the cause of his error. "I had hoped," he wrote,[3] in April, 1802, "that the proceedings of this session of Congress would have rallied the great body of citizens at once to one opinion; but the inveteracy of their quondam leaders has been able, by intermingling the grossest lies and misrepresentations, to check the effect in some small degree until they shall be exposed." Nevertheless, he flattered himself that the work was practically done.[4] "In Rhode Island the late election gives us two to one through the whole State. Vermont is decidedly with us. It is said and believed that New Hampshire has got a majority of Republicans now in its Legislature, and wanted a few hundreds only of turning out their Federal governor. He goes assuredly the next trial. Connecticut is supposed to have gained for us about fifteen or twenty per cent since the last election; but the exact issue is not yet known here, nor is it certainly known how we shall stand in the House of Representatives of Massachusetts; in the Senate there we have lost ground. The candid Federalists acknowledge that their party can never more raise its head." This was all true; he had won also in national politics a triumph that warranted confidence. "Our majority in the House of Representatives has been about two to one; in the Senate, eighteen to fifteen. After another election it will be of two to one in the Senate, and it would not be for the public good to have it greater. A respectable minority is useful as censors; the present one is not respectable, being the bitterest remains of the cup of Federalism rendered desperate and furious by despair."

Jefferson resembled all rulers in one peculiarity of mind. Even Bonaparte thought that a respectable minority might be useful as censors; but neither Bonaparte nor Jefferson was willing to agree that any particular minority was respectable. Jefferson could not persuade himself to treat with justice the remnants of that great party which he himself, by opposition not more "respectable" than theirs, had driven from power and "rendered desperate and furious by despair." Jefferson prided himself on his services to free-thought even more than on those he had rendered to political freedom: in the political field he had many rivals, but in the scientific arena he stood, or thought he stood, alone. His relations with European philosophers afforded him deep enjoyment; and in his Virginian remoteness he imagined his own influence on thought, abroad and at home, to be greater than others supposed it. His knowledge of New England was so slight that he readily adopted a belief in the intolerance of Puritan society toward every form of learning; he loved to contrast himself with his predecessor in the encouragement of science, and he held that to break down the theory and practice of a state-church in New England was necessary not only to his own complete triumph, but to the introduction of scientific thought. Had he known the people of New England better, he would have let them alone; but believing that Massachusetts and Connecticut were ruled by an oligarchy like the old Virginia tobacco-planters, with no deep hold on the people, he was bent on attacking and overthrowing it. At the moment when he was thus preparing to introduce science into New England by political methods, President Dwight, the head of New England Calvinism, was persuading Benjamin Silliman to devote his life to the teaching of chemistry at Yale College.[5] Not long afterward, the Corporation of Harvard College scandalized the orthodox by electing as Professor of Theology, Henry Ware, whose Unitarian sympathies were notorious. All three authorities were working in their own way for the same result; but Jefferson preferred to work through political revolution,—a path which the people of New England chose only when they could annoy their rulers. To effect this revolution from above, to seduce the hesitating, harass the obstinate, and combine the champions of free-thought against the priests, was Jefferson's ardent wish. Soon after his inauguration he wrote to Dr. Priestley,[6]

"Yours is one of the few lives precious to mankind, and for the continuance of which every thinking man is solicitous. Bigots may be an exception. What an effort, my dear sir, of bigotry, in politics and religion, have we gone through! The barbarians really flattered themselves they should be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put everything into the hands of power and priestcraft. All advances in science were proscribed as innovations. They pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement,—the President himself declaring, in one of his Answers to Addresses, that we were never to expect to go beyond them in real science. This was the real ground of all the attacks on you. Those who live by mystery and charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy,— the most sublime and benevolent, but most perverted, system that ever shone on man,—endeavored to crush your well-earned and well-deserved fame."

Who was it that lived "by mystery and charlatanerie?" Some three years before, in the excitement of 1798, Jefferson wrote to his friend John Taylor of Caroline his opinion of the New Englanders, with the serious air which sometimes gave to his occasional exaggerations the more effect of humor because no humor was intended:[7]

"Seeing that we must have somebody to quarrel with, I had rather keep our New England associates for that purpose than to see our bickerings transferred to others. They are circumscribed within such narrow limits, and their population so full, that their numbers will ever be the minority; and they are marked, like the Jews, with such a perversity of character as to constitute, from that circumstance, the natural division of our parties. A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles."
The letters to Priestley and Taylor gave comparatively mild expression of this dislike for New Englanders and Jews. Another letter, written at the same time with that to Priestly, spoke more plainly:[8]
"The Eastern States will be the last to come over, on account of the dominion of the clergy, who had got a smell of union between Church and State, and began to indulge reveries which can never be realized in the present state of science. If, indeed, they could have prevailed on us to view all advances in science as dangerous innovations, and to look back to the opinions and practices of our forefathers instead of looking forward for improvement, a promising groundwork would have been laid; but I am in hopes their good sense will dictate to them that since the mountain will not come to them, they had better go to the mountain; that they will find their interest in acquiescing in the liberty and science of their country; and that the Christian religion when divested of the rags in which they have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind."

If the New England Calvinists ever laughed, one might suppose that they could have found in this letter, had it been published, material for laughter as sardonic as the letter itself. Their good sense was not likely then to dictate, their interest certainly would not induce them to believe, that they had best adopt Jefferson's views of the "benevolent institutor" of Christianity; and Jefferson, aware of the impossibility, regarded his quarrel with them as irreconcilable. "The clergy," he wrote again, a few weeks later,[9] "who have missed their union with the State, the Anglo-men who have missed their union with England, and the political adventurers who have lost the chance of swindling and plunder in the waste of public money, will never cease to bawl on the breaking up of their sanctuary." Of all these classes the clergy alone were mortal enemies. "Of the monarchical Federalists," he wrote to his attorney-general,[10] "I have no expectations; they are incurables, to be taken care of in a mad-house if necessary, and on motives of charity." The monarchical Federalists, as he chose to call them, were the Essex Junto,—George Cabot, Theophilus Parsons, Fisher Ames, Timothy Pickering, Stephen Higginson, and their followers; but it was not with them or their opinions that Jefferson was angriest. "The 'Palladium'," he went on, "is understood to be the clerical paper, and from the clergy I expect no mercy. They crucified their Saviour, who preached that their kingdom was not of this world; and all who practise on that precept must expect the extreme of their wrath. The laws of the present day withhold their hands from blood, but lies and slander still remain to them."

This was strong language. When Jefferson cried that law alone withheld the hands of the New England clergy from taking his blood, his words were not wholly figures of speech. He had fought a similar battle in Virginia, and still felt its virulence. What was more to the purpose, every politician could see that his strategy was correct. The New England church was the chief obstacle to democratic success, and New-England society, as then constituted, was dangerous to the safety of the Union. Whether a reform could be best accomplished by external attack, or whether Massachusetts and Connecticut had best be left in peace to work out their own problems, was a matter of judgment only. If Jefferson thought he had the power to effect his object by political influence, he could hardly refuse to make the attempt, although he admitted that his chance of success in Connecticut was desperate. "I consider Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Mew Hampshire," he wrote to Pierpont Edwards, of Connecticut,[11] "as coming about in the course of this year, . . . but the nature of your government being a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits exclude the advances of information, and they seem exactly where they were when they separated from the Saints of Oliver Cromwell; and there your clergy will always keep them if they can. You will follow the bark of Liberty only by the help of a tow-rope."

Expecting no mercy from the clergy, Jefferson took pains to show that they were to look for no mercy from him. At the moment he began the attempt to "completely consolidate the nation," he gave what amounted to a formal notice that with the clergy he would neither make peace nor accept truce. A few days after announcing in his Inaugural Address, "We are all Republicans—we are all Federalists," and appealing for harmony and affection in social intercourse, Jefferson wrote a letter to the famous Thomas Paine, then at Paris waiting for means of conveyance to America. A sloop-of-war, the "Maryland," was under orders for Havre to carry the ratification of the new treaty with France, and the Present made his first use of the navy to pay a public compliment to Paine.

"You expressed a wish," he wrote,[12] "to get a passage to this country in a public vessel. Mr. Dawson is charged with orders to the captain of the 'Maryland' to receive and accommodate you with a passage back, if you can be ready to depart at such short warning. . . . I am in hopes you will find us returned generally to sentiments worthy of former times. In these it will be your glory to have steadily labored, and with as much effect as any man living. That you may long live to continue your useful labors, and to reap their reward in the thankfulness of nations, is my sincere prayer. Accept assurances of my high esteem and affectionate attachment."

The sentiments in which Pain gloried "to have steadily labored," so far as they were recent, chiefly consisted in applause of the French Revolution, in libels on President Washington and his successor, and in assaults on the Christian religion. Whether he was right or wrong need not be discussed. Even though he were correct in them all, and was entitled to higher respect than any which Jefferson could show him, he was at that time regarded by respectable society, both Federalist and Republican, as a person to be avoided, a character to be feared. Among the New England churches the prejudice against him amounted to loathing, which epithets could hardly express. Had Jefferson written a letter to Bonaparte applauding his "useful labors" on the 18th Brumaire, and praying that he might live long to continue them, he would not have excited in the minds of the New England Calvinists so deep a sense of disgust as by thus seeming to identify himself with Paine. All this was known to him when he wrote the letter; he knew too that Paine would be likely to make no secret of such a compliment; and even if Paine held his tongue, the fact of his return in a national vessel must tell the story.

Jefferson's friends took a tone of apology about the letter to Paine, implying that he acted without reflection. They treated the letter as a formal civility, such as might without complaint have been extended to Gates or Conway or Charles Lee,[13]—a reminiscence of Revolutionary services which implied no personal feeling. Had Jefferson meant no more than this, he would have said only what he meant. He was not obliged to offer Paine a passage in a ship-of-war; or if he felt himself called upon to do so, he need not have written a letter; or if a letter must be written, he might have used very cordial language without risking the charge of applauding Paine's assaults on Christianity, and without seeming to invite him to continue such "useful labors" in America. No man could express more delicate shades of sympathy than Jefferson when he chose. He had smarted for years under the lashing caused by his Mazzei letter, and knew that a nest of hornets would rise about him the moment the "Maryland" should arrive; yet he wrote an assurance of his "high esteem and affectionate attachment" to Paine, with a "sincere prayer" that he might "long live to continue" his "useful labors." These expressions were either deceptive, or they proved the President's earnestness and courage. The letter to Paine was not, like the letter to Mazzei, a matter of apology or explanation. Jefferson never withdrew or qualified its language, or tried to soften its effect. "With respect to the letter," he wrote[14] to Paine in 1805, "I never hesitated to avow and to justify it in conversation. In no other way do I trouble myself to contradict anything which is said." Believing that the clergy would have taken his blood if the law had not restrained them, he meant to destroy their church if he could; and he gave them fair notice of his intention.

Although the letter to Paine was never explained away, other expressions of the President seemed to contradict the spirit of this letter, and these the President took trouble to explain. What had he meant by his famous appeal in behalf of harmony and affection in social intercourse, "without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things"? What was to become of the still more famous declaration, "We are all Republicans—we are all Federalists"? Hardly had he uttered these words than he hastened to explain them to his friends. "It was a conviction," he wrote to Giles,[15] "that these people did not differ from us in principle which induced me to define the principles which I deemed orthodox, and to urge a reunion on those principles; and I am induced to hope it has conciliated many. I do not speak of the desperadoes of the quondam faction in and out of Congress. These I consider as incurables, on whom all attentions would be lost, and therefore will not be wasted; but my wish is to keep their flock from returning to them." He intended to entice the flock with one hand and to belabor the shepherds with the other. In equally clear language he wrote to Governor McKean of Pennsylvania:[16]

"My idea is that the mass of our countrymen, even of those who call themselves Federalist, are Republican. They differ from us but in a shade of more or less power to be given to the Executive or Legislative organ. . . . To restore that harmony which our predecessors so wickedly made it their object to break up, to render us again one people acting as one nation,—should be the object of every man really a patriot. I am satisfied it can be done, and I own that the day which should convince me to the contrary would be the bitterest of my life."

This motive, he said, had dictated his answer to the New Haven remonstrants,—a paper, he added, which "will furnish new texts for the monarchists; but from them I ask nothing: I wish nothing but their eternal hatred."

The interest of Jefferson's character consisted, to no small extent, in these outbursts of temper, which gave so lively a tone to his official, and still more to his private, language. The avowal in one sentence of his duty as a patriot to restore the harmony which his predcessors (one of whom was President Washington) had "so wickedly made it their object to break up," and the admission that the day of his final failure would be the bitterest of his life, contrasted strangely with his wish, in the next sentence, for the eternal hatred of a class which embraced most of the bench and bar, the merchants and farmers, the colleges and the churches of New England! In any other man such contradictions would have argued dishonesty. In Jefferson they proved only that he took New England to be like Virginia,—ruled by a petty oligarchy which had no sympathies with the people, and whose artificial power, once broken, would vanish like that of the Virginia church. He persuaded himself that if his system were politically successful, the New England hierarchy could be safely ignored. When he said that all were Republicans and all Federalists, he meant that the churches and prejudices of New England were, in his opinion, already so much weakened as not to be taken into his account.

At first the New Englanders were half inclined to believe his assurances. The idea of drawing a line between the people on one side and the bulk of their clergy, magistrates, political leaders, learned professions, colleges, and land-owners on the other did not occur to them, and so thoroughly Virginian was this idea that it never came to be understood; but when they found Jefferson ejecting Federalists from office and threatening the clergy with Paine, they assumed, without refined analysis, that the President had deliberately deceived them. This view agreed with their previous prejudices against Jefferson's character, and with their understanding of the Mazzei letter. Their wrath soon became hot with the dry white heat peculiar to their character. The clergy had always hated Jefferson, and believed him not only to be untruthful, but to be also a demagogue, a backbiter, and a sensualist. When they found him, as they imagined, actually at work stripping not only the rags from their religion, but the very coats from their backs, and setting Paine to bait them, they were beside themselves with rage and contempt.

Thus, the summer of 1802, which Jefferson's hopes had painted as the term of his complete success, was marked by an outburst of reciprocal invective and slander such as could not be matched in American history. The floodgates of calumny were opened. By a stroke of evil fortune Jefferson further roused against himself the hatred of a man whose vileness made him more formidable than the respectablility of New England could ever be. James Thompson Callender, a Scotch adventurer compared with whom the Cobbetts, Duanes, Cheethams, and Woods who infested the press were men of moral and pure life, had been an ally of Jefferson during the stormy days of 1798, and had published at Richmond a volume called "The Prospect before us," which was sufficiently libellous to draw upon him a State prosecution, and a fine and some months' imprisonment at the rough hands of Judge Chase. A few years later the Republicans would have applauded the sentence, and regretted only its lightness. In 1800 they were bound to make common cause with the victim. When Jefferson became President, he pardoned Callender, and by a stretch of authority returned to him the amount of his fine. Naturally Callender expected reward. He hastened to Washington, and was referred to Madison. He said that he was in love, and hinted that to win the object of his affection nothing less than the post-office at Richmond was necessary for his social standing.[17] Meeting with a positive refusal, he returned to Richmond in extreme anger, and became editor of a newspaper called "The Recorder," in which he began to wage against Jefferson a war of slander that Cobbett and Cheetham would have shrunk from. He collected every story he could gather, among overseers and scandal-mongers, about Jefferson's past life,—charged him with having a family of negro children by a slave named Sally; with having been turned out of the house of a certain Major Walker for writing a secret love-letter to his wife; with having swindled his creditors by paying debts in worthless currency, and with having privately paid Callendar himself to write "The Prospect before us," besides furnishing materials for the book. Disproof of these chrarges was impossible. That which concerned Black Sally, as she was called, seems to have rested on a confusion of persons which could not be cleared up; that relating to Mrs. Walker had a foundation of truth, although the parties were afterward reconciled;[18] that regarding the payment of debt was true in one sense, and false only in the sense which Callender gave it; while that which referred to "The Prospect before us" was true enough to be serious. All these charges were welcomed by the Federalist press, reprinted even in the New York "Evening Post," and scattered broadcast over New England. There men's minds were ready to welcome any tale of villany that bore out their theory of Jefferson's character; and, at the most critical moment, a mistake made by himself went far to confirm their prejudice.

Jefferson's nature was feminine; he was more refined than many women in the delicacy of his private relations, and even men as shameless as Callender himself winced under attacks of such a sort. He was sensitive, affectionate, and, in his own eyes, heroic. He yearned for love and praise as no other great American ever did. He hated the clergy chiefly because he knew that from them he could expect neither love nor praise, perhaps not even forbearance. He had befriended Callender against his own better judgment, as every party leader befriended party hacks, not because the leaders approved them, but because they were necessary for the press. So far as license was concerned, "The Prospect before us" was a mild libel compared with Cobbett's, Coleman's, and Dennie's cataracts of abuse; and at the time it was written, Callender's character was not known and his habits were still decent. In return for kindness and encouragement, Callender attempted an act of dastardly assassination, which the whole Federalist press cheered. That a large part of the community, and the part socially uppermost, should believe this drunken ruffian, and should laugh while he bespattered their President with his filth, was a mortification which cut deep into Jefferson's heart. Hurt and angry, he felt that at bottom it was the old theological hatred in Virginia and New England which sustained this mode of warfare; that as he had flung Paine at them, they were flinging Callender at him. "With the aid of a lying renegade from Republicanism, the Federalists have opened all their sluices of calumny," he wrote;[19] and he would have done wisely to say no more. Unluckily for him, he undertook to contradict Callender's assertions.

James Monroe was Governor of Virginia. Some weakness in Monroe's character caused him more than once to mix in scandals which he might better have left untouched. July 7, 1802, he wrote to the President, asking for the facts in regard to Jefferson's relations with Callender. The President's reply confessed the smart of his wound:[20]

"I am really mortified at the base ingratitude of Callender. It presents human nature in a hideous form. It gives me concern because I perceive that relief which was afforded him on mere motives of charity, may be viewed under the aspect of employing him as a writer."

He explained how he had pitied Callender, and repeatedly given him money.

"As to myself" he continued, "no man wished more to see his pen stopped; but I considered him still as a proper object of benevolence. The succeeding year [1800] he again wanted money to buy paper for another volume. I made his letter, as before, the occasion of giving him another fifty dollars. He considers these as proofs of my approbation of his writings, when they were mere charities, yielded under a strong conviction that he was injuring us by his writings."

Unfortunately, Jefferson could not find the press-copies of his letters to Callender, and let Monroe send out these apologies without stopping to compare them with his written words. No sooner had the Republican newspapers taken their tone from Monroe, and committed themselves to these assertions of fact, than Callender printed the two letters which Jefferson had written to him,[21] which proved that not only had Jefferson given him at different times some two hundred dollars, but had also supplied information, of a harmless nature, for "The Prospect before us," and under an injunction of secrecy had encouraged Callender to write. His words were not to be explained away: "I thank you for the proof-sheets you enclosed me; such papers cannot fail to produce the best effect."[22]

No man who stood within the circle of the President's intimates could be perplexed to understand how this apparent self-contradiction might have occurred. Callender was neither the first nor the last to take advantage of what John Randolph called the "easy credulity" of Jefferson's temper. The nearest approach Jefferson could make toward checking an over-zealous friend was by shades of difference in the strength of his encouragement. To tell Callender that his book could not fail to produce the best effect was a way of hinting that it might do harm; and, however specious such an excuse might seem, this language was in his mind consistent with a secret wish that Callender should not write. More than one such instance of this kindly prevarication, this dislike for whatever might seem harsh or disobliging, could be found in Jefferson's correspondence.

A man's enemies rarely invent specious theories of human nature in order to excuse what they prefer to look upon as falsehood and treason. July 17, 1803, Callender was drowned in some drunken debauch; but the Federalists never forgot his calumnies, or ceased ringing the changes on the President's self-contradictions,—and throughout New England the trio of Jefferson, Paine, and Callender were henceforward held in equal abhorrence. That this prejudice did not affect Jefferson's popular vote was true, but it seriously affected his social relations; and it annoyed and mortified him more than coarser men could understand, to feel in the midst of his utmost popularity that large numbers of his worthiest fellow-citizens, whose respect he knew himself to deserve, despised him as they did the vermin they trod upon.

In the ferment of the Callender scandal, October 29, Paine arrived from Europe. Unable to come by the "Maryland," he had waited a year, and then appeared at Baltimore. The Republican newspapers made the same blunder in regard to Paine which they had made in regard to Callender,—they denied at first that he had been invited to return in a Government ship, or that Jefferson had written him any such letter as was rumored; and they were altogether perplexed to know how to deal with so dangerous an ally, until the President invited Paine to the White House and gave him all the support that political and social influence could command. In a few days the "National Intelligencer," Jefferson's more than semi-official organ, published the first of a series of letters addressed by Paine to the American people; and no one could longer doubt what kind of "useful labors" Jefferson had invited him to continue. Fourteen years of absence had not abated the vigor of that homely style which once roused the spirits of Washington's soldiers; and age lent increased virulence to powers of invective which had always been great. His new series of letters overflowed with abuse of the Federalists, and bristled with sarcasms on the Federalist Presidents. Unfortunately for Jefferson's object Paine had exhausted the effect of such weapons, which resemble the the sting of a bee lost in the wound it makes. The bee dies of her own mutilation. Paine, too, was dying from the loss of his sting. Only once in any man's career could he enjoy the full pleasure of saying, as Paine said to President Washington: "You are treacherous in private friendship, and a hypocrite in public life." To repeat it in other forms, to fumble and buzz about a wound meant to be deadly, was to be tiresome and ridiculous. Paine, too, was no longer one of a weak minority struggling for freedom of speech or act; he represented power, and was the mouthpiece of a centralized Government striking at the last remnants of Puritan independence. The glory of wounding Cæsar on his throne was one thing; that of adding one more stab to his prostrate body was another. Paine's weapon no longer caused alarm. The Federalist newspapers were delighted to reprint his letters, and to hold the President responsible for them. The clergy thundered from their pulpits. The storm of recrimination raged with noisy violence amid incessant recurrence to the trio of godless ruffians,—Jefferson, Paine, and Callender; but the only permanent result was to leave a fixed prejudice in the New England mind,—an ineradicable hatred for President Jefferson, in due time to bear poisonous fruit.

The summer of 1802 was a disappointment to Jefferson. He had hoped for better things. The time-servers and those voters whose love of nationality was stronger than their local interests or personal prejudices were for the most part drawn over to the Administration,—even Boston and Salem chose Republican Congressmen; yet Massachusetts as a whole was still Federalist, and of course, as the Federalists became fewer, the extreme wing became more influential in the party. The Essex Junto were still far from control, but they succeeded better than the moderate Federalists in holding their own. Thus these three influences in Massachusetts had nearly reached an equilibrium, and Jefferson was at a loss to understand why the growth of his popularity had been checked. He saw that provincial jealousies were strengthened, and this consequence of isolation he chose to look upon as its cause. Even an ode of the Massachusetts poet Thomas Paine, whose better-known name of Robert Treat Paine recorded the political passions which caused him to petition for the change, served to console Jefferson for the partial defeat of his consolidating schemes. Paine's refrain ran,—

"Rule, New England! New England rules and saves!"

and this echo of Virginia sentiments in 1798, this shadowy suggestion of a New England Confederacy, jarred on the President's ear. Toward autumn he wrote to his friend Langdon, of New Hampshire:[23]

"Although we have not yet got a majority into the fold of Republicanism in your State, yet one long pull more will effect it. We can hardly doubt that one twelve-month more will give an executive and legislature in that State whose opinions may harmonize with their sister States,—unless it be true, as is sometimes said, that New Hampshire is but a satellite of Massachusetts. In this last State the public sentiment seems to be under some influence additional to that of the clergy and lawyers. I suspect there must be a leaven of State pride at seeing itself deserted by the public opinion, and that their late popular song of 'Rule, New England,' betrays one principle of their present variance from the Union. But I am in hopes they will in time discover that the shortest road to rule is to join the majority."

The struggle was full of interest; for if Jefferson had never yet failed to break down every opponent, from King George III. to Aaron Burr, the New England oligarchy for near two hundred years were a fatal enemy to every ruler not of their own choice, from King Charles I. to Thomas Jefferson.

Had the clergy and lawyers, the poets and magistrates of Massachusetts been the only troublesome element with which Jefferson had to deal, the task of the Republican party would have been simple; but virulent as party feeling was in New England during the summer of 1802, a feud broke out in New York which took a darker hue. Vice-President Burr, by his birthday toast to the "Union of honest men" and by his vote on the Judiciary Bill, flung down a challenge to the Virginians which De Witt Clinton, on their behalf, hastened to take up. With a violence that startled uninitiated bystanders, Cheetham in his "American Citizen" flung one charge after another at Burr: first his Judiciary vote; then his birthday toast; then the suppression of a worthless history of the last Administration written by John Wood, another foreign adventurer, whose book Burr bought in order, as Cheetham believed, to curry favor with the New England Federalists; finally, with the rhetorical flourish of an American Junius, Cheetham charged that Burr had tried to steal the Presidency from Jefferson in February, 1801, when the House of Representatives was divided. All the world knew that not Cheetham, but De Witt Clinton thus dragged the Vice-President from his chair, and that not Burr's vices but his influence made his crimes heinous; that behind De Witt Clinton stood the Virginia dynasty, dangling Burr's office in the eyes of the Clinton family, and lavishing honors and money on the Livingstons. All this was as clear to Burr and his friends as though it were embodied in an Act of Congress. No one ever explained why Burr did not drag De Witt Clinton from his ambush and shoot him, as two years later he shot Alexander Hamilton with less provocation. At midsummer the city was startled by the report that John Swartwout the marshal, one of Burr's intimates, had charged Clinton with attacking the Vice-Presidnt from personal and selfish motives; that Clinton had branded Swartwout as a liar, a scoundrel, and a villain; that they had met at Weehawken, where, after lodging two bullets in his opponent, Clinton had flung down his pistol at the sixth shot, swearing that he would have no more to do with the bloody business. Among the stories current was one that Clinton had expressed regret at not having Swartwout's principal before his pistol. Swartwout, wounded as he was, returned directly to Burr's house. In the face of all this provocation, the Vice-President behaved with studied caution and reserve. Never in the history of the United States did so powerful a combination of rival politicians unite to break down a single man as that which arrayed itself against Burr; for as the hostile circle gathered about him, he could plainly see not only Jefferson, Madison, and the whole Virginia legion, with Duane and his "Aurora" at their heels: not only De Witt Clinton and his whole family interest, with Cheetham and his "Watchtower" by their side; but—strangest of companions—Alexander Hamilton himself joining hands with his own bitterest enemies to complete the ring.

Under the influence of these personal hatreds, which raged from the Penobscot to the Potomac, American politics bade fair to become a faction-fight. The President proposed no new legislation; he had come to the end of his economies, and was even beginning to renew expenditures; he had no idea of amending the Constitution or reconstructing the Supreme Court; he thought only of revolutionizing the State governments of New England.[24] "The path we have to pursue is so quiet, that we have nothing scarcely to propose to our Legislature,"—so he wrote a few days before Congress was to meet. "If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy." The energy of reform was exhausted, the point of departure no longer in sight; the ever-increasing momentum of a governmental system required constant care; and with all this, complications of a new and unexpected kind began, which henceforward caused the chief interest of politics to centre in foreign affairs.


  1. Jefferson to Peter Carr, Oct. 25, 1801; Jefferson MSS.
  2. Jefferson to M. Dupont, Jan. 18, 1802; Jefferson MSS.
  3. Jefferson to Cæsar A. Rodney, April 24, 1802; Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 147.
  4. Jefferson to Joel Barlow, May 3, 1802; Works, iv. 437.
  5. Life of Benjamin Silliman, i. 90-96.
  6. Jefferson to Priestly, March 21, 1801; Works, iv. 373.
  7. Jefferson to John Taylor, June 1, 1798; Works, iv. 247.
  8. Jefferson to Moses Robinson, March 23, 1801; Works, iv. 379.
  9. Jefferson to Gideon Granger, May 3, 1801; Works, iv. 395.
  10. Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, Aug. 26, 1801; Works, iv. 406.
  11. Jefferson to Pierpont Edwards, July 21, 1801; Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 74.
  12. Jefferson to Thomas Paine, March 18, 1801; Works, iv. 370.
  13. Randall's Jefferson, ii. 643.
  14. Jefferson to Paine, June 5, 1805; Works, iv. 582.
  15. Jefferson to W. B. Giles, March 23, 1801; Works, iv. 382.
  16. Jefferson to Governor McKean, July 24, 1801; Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 78.
  17. Madison to Monroe, June 1, 1801; Madison's Works, ii. 173.
  18. Madison to Monroe, April 20, 1803; Madison's Writings, ii. 181.
  19. Jefferson to R. R. Livingston, Oct. 10, 1802; Works, iv. 448.
  20. Jefferson to Monroe, July 15 and 17, 1802; Works, iv. 444-447.
  21. The Recorder, September-October, 1802.
  22. Jefferson to Callender, Oct. 6, 1799; Jefferson MSS.
  23. Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 160.
  24. Jefferson to Dr. Cooper, Nov. 29, 1802; Works, iv. 453.