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History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/I:7

< History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson‎ | First


Chapter 7: The InaugurationEdit

The man who mounted the steps of the Capitol, March 4, 1801, to claim the place of an equal between Pitt and Bonaparte, possessed a character which showed itself in acts; but person and manner can be known only by contemporaries, and the liveliest description was worth less than a moment of personal contact. Jefferson was very tall, six feet two-and-a-half inches in height; sandy-complexioned; shy in manner, seeming cold; awkward in attitude, and with little in his bearing that suggested command. Senator Maclay of Pennsylvania described him in 1790, when he had returned from France to become Secretary of State, and appeared before a Committee of the Senate to answer questions about foreign relations.

"Jefferson is a slender man," wrote the senator;[1] "has rather the air of stiffness in his manner. His clothes seem too small for him. He sits in a lounging manner, on one hip commonly, and with one of his shoulders elevated much above the other. His face has a sunny aspect. His whole figure has a loose, shackling air. He had a rambling, vacant look, and nothing of that firm collected deportment which I expected would dignify the presence of a secretary or minister. I looked for gravity, but a laxity of manner seemed shed about him. He spoke almost without ceasing; but even his discourse partook of his personal demeanor. It was loose and rambling; and yet he scattered information wherever he went, and some even brilliant sentiments sparkled from him."

Maclay was one of the earliest members of the Republican party, and his description was not unfriendly. Augustus Foster, Secretary of the British Legation, described Jefferson as he appeared in 1804:[2]

"He was a tall man, with a very red freckled face, and gray neglected hair; his manners good-natured, frank, and rather friendly, though he had somewhat of a cynical expression of countenance. He wore a blue coat, a thick gray-colored hairy waistcoat, with a red under-waistcoat lapped over it, green velveteen breeches with pearl buttons, yarn stockings, and slippers down at the heels,—his appearance being very much like that of a tall, large-boned farmer."

In the middle of the seventeenth century the celebrated Cardinal de Retz formed a judgment of the newly-elected Pope from his remark, at a moment when minds were absorbed in his election, that he had for two years used the same pen. "It is only a trifle," added De Retz, "but I have often observed that the smallest things are sometimes better marks than the greatest." Perhaps dress could never be considered a trifle. One of the greatest of modern writers first made himself famous by declaring that society was founded upon cloth; and Jefferson, at moments of some interest in his career as President, seemed to regard his peculiar style of dress as a matter of political importance, while the Federalist newspapers never ceased ridiculing the corduroy small-clothes, red-plush waistcoat, and sharp-toed boots with which he expressed his contempt for fashion.

For eight years this tall, loosely built, somewhat stiff figure, in red waistcoat and yarn stockings, slippers down at the heel, and clothes that seemed too small for him, may be imagined as Senator Maclay described him, sitting on one hip, with one shoulder high above the other, talking almost without ceasing to his visitors at the White House. His skin was thin, peeling from his face on exposure to the sun, and giving it a tettered appearance. This sandy face, with hazel eyes and sunny aspect; this loose, shackling person; this rambling and often brilliant conversation, belonged to the controlling influences of American history, more necessary to the story than three-fourths of the official papers, which only hid the truth. Jefferson's personality during these eight years appeared to be the government, and impressed itself, like that of Bonaparte, although by a different process, on the mind of the nation. In the village simplicity of Washington he was more than a king, for he was alone in social as well as in political pre-eminence. Except the British Legation, no house in Washington was open to general society; the whole mass of politicians, even the Federalists, were dependent on Jefferson and "The Palace" for amusement; and if they refused to go there, they "lived like bears, brutalized and stupefied."[3]

Jefferson showed his powers at their best in his own house, where among friends as genial and cheerful as himself his ideas could flow freely, and could be discussed with sympathy. Such were the men with whom he surrounded himself by choice, and none but such were invited to enter his Cabinet. First and oldest of his political associates was James Madison, about to become Secretary of State, whose character also described itself, and whose personality was as distinct as that of his chief. A small man, quiet, somewhat precise in manner, pleasant, fond of conversation, with a certain mixture of ease and dignity in his address, Madison had not so much as Jefferson of the commanding attitude which imposed respect on the world. "He has much more the appearance of what I have imagined a Roman cardinal to be," wrote Senator Mills of Massachusetts in 1815.[4] An imposing presence had much to do with political influence, and Madison labored under serious disadvantage in the dryness of his personality. Political opponents of course made fun of him. "As to Jemmy Madison,—oh, poor Jemmy!—he is but a withered little apple-john," wrote Washington Irving in 1812, instinctively applying the Knickerbocker view of history to national concerns.

"In his dress," said one who knew him,[5] "he was not at all eccentric or given to dandyism, but always appeared neat and genteel, and in the costume of a well-bred and tasty old-school gentleman. I have heard in early life he sometimes wore light-colored clothes; but from the time I first knew him . . . never any other color than black, his coat being cut in what is termed dress-fashion; his breeches short, with buckles at the knees, black silk stockings, and shoes with strings, or long fair top-boots when out in cold weather, or when he rode on horseback, of which he was fond. . . . He wore powder on his hair, which was dressed full over the ears, tied behind, and brought to a point above the forehead, to cover in some degree his baldness, as may be noticed in all the likenesses taken of him."

Madison had a sense of humor, felt in his conversation, and detected in the demure cast of his flexile lips, but leaving no trace in his published writings. Small in stature, in deportment modest to the point of sensitive reserve, in address simple and pleasing, in feature rather thoughtful and benevolent than strong, he was such a man as Jefferson, who so much disliked contentious and self-asserting manners, loved to keep by his side. Sir Augustus Foster liked Mr. Madison, although in 1812 Madison sent him out of the country:—

"I thought Mr. Jefferson more of a statesman and man of the world than Mr. Madison, who was rather too much the disputatious pleader; yet the latter was better informed, and moreover a social, jovial, and good-humored companion, full of anecdote, sometimes rather of a loose description, but oftener of a political and historical interest. He was a little man with small features, rather wizened when I saw him, but occasionally lit up with a good-natured smile. He wore a black coat, stockings with shoes buckled, and had his hair powdered, with a tail."

The third aristocrat in this democratic triumvirate was Albert Gallatin, marked by circumstances even more than by the President's choice for the post of Secretary of the Treasury. Like the President and the Secretary of State, Gallatin was born and bred a gentleman; in person and manners he was well fitted for the cabinet-table over which Jefferson presided. Gallatin possessed the personal force which was somewhat lacking in his two friends. His appearance impressed bystanders with a sense of strength. His complexion was dark; his eyes were hazel and full of expression; his hair black, and like Madison he was becoming bald. From long experience, at first among the democrats of western Pennsylvania, and afterward as a leader in the House of Representatives, he had lost all shyness in dealing with men. His long prominent nose and lofty forehead showed character, and his eyes expressed humor. A slight foreign accent betrayed his Genevan origin. Gallatin was also one of the best talkers in America, and perhaps the best-informed man in the country; for his laborious mind had studied America with infinite care, and he retained so much knowledge of European affairs as to fit him equally for the State Department or the Treasury. Three more agreeable men than Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin were never collected round the dinner-table of the White House; and their difference in age was enough to add zest to their friendship; for Jefferson was born in 1743, Madison in 1751, and Gallatin in 1761. While the President was nearly sixty years old, his Secretary of the Treasury had the energy and liberality of forty.

Jefferson was the first President inaugurated at Washington, and the ceremony, necessarily simple, was made still simpler for political reasons. The retiring President was not present at the installation of his successor. In Jefferson's eyes a revolution had taken place as vast as that of 1776; and if this was his belief, perhaps the late President was wise to retire from a stage where everything was arranged to point to a censure upon his principles, and where he would have seemed, in his successor's opinion, as little in place as George III. would have appeared at the installation of President Washington. The collapse of government which marked the last weeks of February, 1801, had been such as to leave of the old Cabinet only Samuel Dexter of Massachusetts, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Benjamin Stoddert of Maryland, the Secretary of the Navy, still in office. John Marshall, the late Secretary of State, had been appointed, six weeks before, Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court.

In this first appearance of John Marshall as Chief-Justice, to administer the oath of office, lay the dramatic climax of the inauguration. The retiring President, acting for what he supposed to be the best interests of the country, by one of his last acts of power, deliberately intended to perpetuate the principles of his administration, placed at the head of the judiciary, for life, a man as obnoxious to Jefferson as the bitterest New England Calvinist could have been; for he belonged to that class of conservative Virginians whose devotion to President Washington, and whose education in the common law, caused them to hold Jefferson and his theories in antipathy. The new President and his two Secretaries were political philanthropists, bent on restricting the powers of the national government in the interests of human liberty. The Chief-Justice, a man who in grasp of mind and steadiness of purpose had no superior, perhaps no equal, was bent on enlarging the powers of government in the interests of justice and nationality. As they stood face to face on this threshold of their power, each could foresee that the contest between them would end only with life.

If Jefferson and his two friends were the most aristocratic of democrats, John Marshall was of all aristocrats the most democratic in manners and appearance.

"A tall, slender figure," wrote Joseph Story in 1808,[6] "not graceful or imposing, but erect and steady. His hair is black, his eyes small and twinkling, his forehead rather low; but his features are in general harmonious. His manners are plain yet dignified, and an unaffected modesty diffuses itself through all his actions. His dress is very simple yet neat; his language chaste, but hardly elegant; it does not flow rapidly, but it seldom wants precision. In conversation he is quite familiar, but is occasionally embarrassed by a hesitancy and drawling. . . . I love his laugh,—it is too hearty for an intriguer; and his good temper and unwearied patience are equally agreeable on the bench and in the study."

The unaffected simplicity of Marshall's life was delightful to all who knew him, for it sprang from the simplicity of his mind. Never self-conscious, his dignity was never affected by his situation. Bishop Meade,[7] who was proud of the Chief-Justice as one of his flock, being in a street near Marshall's house one morning between daybreak and sunrise, met the Chief-Justice on horseback, with a bag of clover-seed lying before him, which he has carrying to his little farm at seed-time. Simple as American life was, his habits were remarkable for modest plainness; and only the character of his mind, which seemed to have no flaw, made his influence irresistible upon all who were brought within its reach.

Nevertheless this great man nourished one weakness. Pure in life; broad in mind, and the despair of bench and bar for the unswerving certainty of his legal method; almost idolized by those who stood nearest him, and loving warmly in return,—this excellent and amiable man clung to one rooted prejudice: he detested Thomas Jefferson. He regarded with quiet, unspoken, but immovable antipathy the character and doings of the philosopher standing before him, about to take the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. No argument or entreaty affected his conviction that Jefferson was not an honest man. "By weakening the office of President he will increase his personal power," were Marshall's words, written at this time;[8] "the morals of the author of the letter to Mazzei cannot be pure." Jefferson in return regarded Marshall with a repugnance tinged by a shade of some deeper feeling, almost akin to fear. "The judge's inveteracy is profound," he once wrote,[9] "and his mind of that gloomy malignity which will never let him forego the opportunity of satiating it on a victim."

Another person, with individuality not less marked, took the oath of office the same day. When the Senate met at ten o'clock on the morning of March 4, 1801, Aaron Burr stood at the desk, and having duly sworn to support the Constitution, took his seat in the chair as Vice-President. This quiet, gentlemanly, and rather dignified figure, hardly taller than Madison, and dressed in much the same manner, impressed with favor all who first met him. An aristocrat imbued in the morality of Lord Chesterfield and Napoleon Bonaparte, Colonel Burr was the chosen head of Northern democracy, idol of the wards of New York city, and aspirant to the highest offices he could reach by means legal or beyond the law; for as he pleased himself with saying, after the manner of the First Consul of the French Republic, "Great souls care little for small morals." Among the other party leaders who have been mentioned,—Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin, Marshall,—not one was dishonest. The exaggeration or equivocations that Jefferson allowed himself, which led to the deep-rooted conviction of Marshall that he did not tell the truth and must therefore be dangerous, amounted to nothing when compared with the dishonesty of a corrupt man. Had the worst political charges against Jefferson been true, he would not have been necessarily corrupt. The self-deception inherent in every struggle for personal power was not the kind of immorality which characterized Colonel Burr. Jefferson, if his enemies were to be believed, might occasionally make misstatements of fact; yet he was true to the faith of his life, and would rather have abdicated his office and foregone his honors than have compassed even an imaginary wrong against the principles he professed. His life, both private and public, was pure. His associates, like Madison, Gallatin, and Monroe, were men upon whose reputations no breath of scandal rested. The standard of morality at Washington, both in private society and in politics, was respectable. For this reason Colonel Burr was a new power in the government; for being in public and in private life an adventurer of the same school as scores who were then seeking fortune in the antechambers of Bonaparte and Pitt, he became a loadstone for every other adventurer who frequented New York or whom the chances of politics might throw into office. The Vice-President wielded power, for he was the certain centre of corruption.

Thus when the doors of the Senate chamber were thrown open, and the new President of the United States appeared on the threshold; when the Vice-President rose from his chair, and Jefferson sat down in it, with Aaron Burr on his right hand and John Marshall on his left, the assembled senators looked up at three men who profoundly disliked and distrusted each other.

John Davis, one of many Englishmen who were allowed by Burr to attach themselves to him on the chance of some future benefit to be derived from them, asserted in a book of American travels published in London two years afterward, that he was present at the inauguration, and that Jefferson rode on horseback to the Capitol, and after hitching his horse to the palings, went in to take the oath. This story, being spread by the Federalist newspapers, was accepted by the Republicans and became a legend of the Capitol. In fact Davis was not then at Washington, and his story was untrue. Afterward as President, Jefferson was in the habit of going on horseback, rather than in a carriage, wherever business called him, and the Federalists found fault with him for doing so. "He makes it a point," they declared,[10] "when he has occasion to visit the Capitol to meet the representatives of the nation on public business, to go on a single horse, which he leads into the shed and hitches to a peg." Davis wished to write a book that should amuse Englishmen, and in order to give an air of truth to invention, he added that he was himself present at the ceremony. Jefferson was then living as Vice-President at Conrad's boarding-house, within a stone's throw of the Capitol. He did not mount his horse only to ride across the square and dismount in a crowd of observers. Doubtless he wished to offer an example of republican simplicity, and he was not unwilling to annoy his opponents; but the ceremony was conducted with proper form.

Edward Thornton, then in charge of the British Legation at Washington, wrote to Lord Grenville, then Foreign Secretary in Pitt's administration, a despatch enclosing the new President's Inaugural Address, with comments upon its democratic tendencies; and after a few remarks on this subject, he added:[11]

"The same republican spirit which runs through this performance, and which in many passages discovers some bitterness through all the sentiments of conciliation and philanthropy with which it is overcharged, Mr. Jefferson affected to display in performing the customary ceremonies. He came from his own lodgings to the House where the Congress convenes, and which goes by the name of the Capitol, on foot, in his ordinary dress, escorted by a body of militia artillery from the neighboring State, and accompanied by the Secretaries of the Navy and the Treasury, and a number of his political friends in the House of Representatives. He was received by Mr. Burr, the Vice-President of the United States, who arrived a day or two ago at the seat of government, and who was previously admitted this morning to the chair of the Senate; and was afterward complimented at his own lodgings by the very few foreign agents who reside at this place, by the members of Congress, and other public officials."

Only the north wing of the Capitol had then been so far completed as to be occupied by the Senate, the courts, and the small library of Congress. The centre rose not much above its foundations; and the south wing, some twenty feet in height, contained a temporary oval brick building, commonly called the "Oven," in which the House of Representatives sat in some peril of their lives, for had not the walls been strongly shored up from without, the structure would have crumbled to pieces. Into the north wing the new President went, accompanied by the only remaining secretaries, Dexter and Stoddert, and by his friends from the House. Received by Vice-President Burr, and seated in the chair between Burr and Marshall, after a short pause Jefferson rose, and in a somewhat inaudible voice began his Inaugural Address.

Time, which has laid its chastening hand on many reputations, and has given to many once famous formulas a meaning unsuspected by their authors, has not altogether spared Jefferson's first Inaugural Address, although it was for a long time almost as well known as the Declaration of Independence; yet this Address was one of the few State Papers which should have lost little of its interest by age. As the starting-point of a powerful political party, the first Inaugural was a standard by which future movements were measured, and it went out of fashion only when its principles were universally accepted or thrown aside. Even as a literary work, it possessed a certain charm of style peculiar to Jefferson, a flavor of Virginia thought and manners, a Jeffersonian ideality calculated to please the ear of later generations forced to task their utmost powers in order to carry the complex trains of their thought.

The chief object of the Address was to quiet the passions which had been raised by the violent agitation of the past eight years. Every interest of the new Administration required that the extreme Federalists should be disarmed. Their temper was such as to endanger both Administration and Union; and their power was still formidable, for they controlled New England and contested New York. To them, Jefferson turned:—

"Let us unite with one heart and one mind," he entreated; "let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And 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 bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing 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 than by others; that this should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."

The Federalist newspapers never ceased laughing at the "spasms" so suddenly converted into "billows," and at the orthodoxy of Jefferson's Federalism; but perhaps his chief fault was to belittle the revolution which had taken place. In no party sense was it true that all were Republicans or all Federalists. As will appear, Jefferson himself was far from meaning what he seemed to say. He wished to soothe the great body of his opponents, and if possible to win them over; but he had no idea of harmony or affection other than that which was to spring from his own further triumph; and in representing that he was in any sense a Federalist, he did himself a wrong.

"I know, indeed," he continued, "that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong; that this government is not strong enough. But would 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 laws, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. 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 forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question!"

That the government, the world's best hope, had hitherto kept the country free and firm, in the full tide of successful experiment, was a startling compliment to the Federalist party, coming as it did from a man who had not been used to compliment his political opponents; but Federalists, on the other hand, might doubt whether this government would continue to answer the same purpose when administered for no other avowed object than to curtail its powers. Clearly, Jefferson credited government with strength which belonged to society; and if he meant to practise upon this idea, by taking the tone of "the strongest government on earth" in the face of Bonaparte and Pitt, whose governments were strong in a different sense, he might properly have developed this idea at more length, for it was likely to prove deeply interesting. Moreover, history, if asked, must at that day have answered that no form of government, whether theocratic, autocratic, democratic, or mixed, had ever in Western civilization lasted long, without change or need of change. History was not the witness to which Republicans could with entire confidence appeal, even against kings.

The Address next enumerated the advantages which America enjoyed, and those which remained to be acquired:—

"With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens,—a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which 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."

A government restricted to keeping the peace, which should raise no taxes except for that purpose, seemed to be simply a judicature and a police. Jefferson gave no development to the idea further than to define its essential principles, and those which were to guide his Administration. Except the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, this short passage was the only official gloss ever given to the Constitution by the Republican party; and for this reason students of American history who would understand the course of American thought should constantly carry in mind not only the Constitutions of 1781 and of 1787, but also the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and the following paragraph of Jefferson's first Inaugural Address:—

"I will compress them," said the President, "within the narrowest compass 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 the 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 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 alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."

From the metaphors in which these principles appeared as a constellation, a creed, a text, a touchstone, and a road, the world learned that they had already guided the American people through an age of revolution. In fact, they were mainly the principles of President Washington, and had they been announced by a Federalist President, would have created little remonstrance or surprise. In Jefferson's mouth they sounded less familiar, and certain phrases seemed even out of place.

Among the cardinal points of republicanism thus proclaimed to the world was one in particular, which as a maxim of government seemed to contradict cherished convictions and the fixed practice of the Republican party. "Absolute acquiescence" was required "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." No principle was so thoroughly entwined in the roots of Virginia republicanism as that which affirmed the worthlessness of decisions made by a majority of the United States, either as a nation or a confederacy, in matters which concerned the exercise of doubtful powers. Not three years had passed since Jefferson himself penned the draft of the Kentucky Resolutions, in which he declared[12] "that in cases of an abuse of the delegated powers, the members of the general government being chosen by the people, a change by the people would be the Constitutional remedy; but where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy; that every State has a natural right, in cases not within the compact, to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits; that without this right they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them." He went so far as to advise that every State should forbid, within its borders, the execution of any act of the general government "not plainly and intentionally authorized by the Constitution;" and although the legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia softened the language, they acted on the principle so far as to declare certain laws of the United States unconstitutional, with the additional understanding that whatever was unconstitutional was void. So far from accepting with "absolute acquiescence" the decisions of the majority, Jefferson and his followers held that freedom could be maintained only by preserving inviolate the right of every State to judge for itself what was, and what was not, lawful for a majority to decide.

What too, was meant by the words which pledged the new Administration to preserve the general government "in its whole Constitutional vigor"? The two parties were divided by a bottomless gulf in their theories of Constitutional powers; but until the precedents established by the Federalists should be expressly reversed, no one could deny that those precedents, to be treated as acts of the majority with absolute acquiescence, were a measure of the vigor which the President pledged himself to preserve. Jefferson could not have intended such a conclusion; for how could he promise to "preserve" the powers assumed in the Alien and Sedition laws, which then represented the whole vigor of the general government in fact if not in theory, when he had himself often and bitterly denounced those powers, when he had been a party to their nullification, and when he and his friends had actually prepared to resist by arms their enforcement? Undoubtedly Jefferson meant no more than to preserve the general government in such vigor as in his opinion was Constitutional, without regard to Federalist precedents; but his words were equivocal, and unless they were to be defined by legislation, they identified him with the contrary legislation of his predecessors. In history and law they did so. Neither the Alien nor the Sedition Act, nor any other Federalist precedent, was ever declared unconstitutional by any department of the general government; and Jefferson's pledge to preserve that government in its full Constitutional vigor was actually redeemed with no exception or limitation on the precedents established. His intention seemed to be different; but the sweeping language of his pledge was never afterward restricted or even more exactly defined while he remained in power.

Hence arose a sense of disappointment for future students of the Inaugural Address. A revolution had taken place; but the new President seemed anxious to prove that there had been no revolution at all. A new experiment in government was to be tried, and the philosopher at its head began by pledging himself to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. Americans ended by taking him at his word, and by assuming that there was no break of continuity between his ideas and those of President Washington; yet even at the moment of these assurances he was writing privately in an opposite sense. In his eyes the past was wrong, both in method and intention; its work must be undone and its example forgotten. His conviction of a radical difference between himself and his predecessors was expressed in the strongest language. His predecessors, in his opinion, had involved the government in difficulties in order to destroy it, and to build up a monarchy on its ruins. "The tough sides of our Argosie," he wrote two days after his inauguration,[13] "have been thoroughly tried. Her strength has stood the waves into which she was steered with a view to sink her. We shall put her on her Republican tack, and she will now show by the beauty of her motion the skill of her builders." "The Federalists," said he at one moment,[14] "wished for everything which would approach our new government to a monarchy; the Republicans, to preserve it essentially republican. . . . The real difference consisted in their different degrees of inclination to monarchy or republicanism." "The revolution of 1800," he wrote many years afterward,[15] "was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form."

Not, therefore, in the Inaugural Address, with its amiable professions of harmony, could President Jefferson's full view of his own reforms be discovered. Judged by his inaugural addresses and annual messages, Jefferson's Administration seemed a colorless continuation of Washington's; but when seen in the light of private correspondence, the difference was complete. So strong was the new President's persuasion of the monarchical bent of his predecessors, that his joy at obtaining the government was mingled with a shade of surprise that his enemies should have handed to him, without question, the power they had so long held. He shared his fears of monarchy with politicians like William B. Giles, young John Randolph, and many Southern voters; and although neither Madison nor Gallatin seemed to think monarchists formidable, they gladly encouraged the President to pursue a conservative and conciliatory path. Jefferson and his Southern friends took power as republicans opposed to monarchists, not as democrats opposed to oligarchy. Jefferson himself was not in a social sense a democrat, and was called so only as a term of opprobium. His Northern followers were in the main democrats; but he and most of his Southern partisans claimed to be republicans, opposed by secret monarchists.

The conflict of ideas between Southern republicanism, Northern democracy, and Federal monarchism marked much of Jefferson's writing; but especially when he began his career as President his mind was filled with the conviction that he had wrung power from monarchy, and that in this sense he was the founder of a new republic. Henceforward, as he hoped, republicanism was forever safe; he had but to conciliate the misguided, and give an example to the world, for centralization was only a monarchical principle. Nearly twenty years passed before he woke to a doubt on the subject; but even then he did not admit a mistake. In the tendency to centralization he still saw no democratic instinct, but only the influence of monarchical Federalists "under the pseudo-republican mask."[16]

The republic which Jefferson believed himself to be founding or securing in 1801 was an enlarged Virginia,—a society to be kept pure and free by the absence of complicated interests, by the encouragement of agriculture and of commerce as its handmaid, but not of industry in a larger sense. "The agricultural capacities of our country," he wrote long afterward,[17] "constitute its distinguishing feature; and the adapting our policy and pursuits to that is more likely to make us a numerous and happy people than the mimicry of an Amsterdam, a Hamburg, or a city of London." He did not love mechanics or manufactures, or the capital without which they could not exist.[18] "Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies," he said; and added, "that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale." Such theories were republican in the Virginia sense, but not democratic; they had nothing in common with the democracy of Pennsylvania and New England, except their love of freedom; and Virginia freedom was not the same conception as the democratic freedom of the North.

In 1801 this Virginia type was still the popular form of republicanism. Although the Northern democrat had already developed a tendency toward cities, manufactures, and "the mimicry of an Amsterdam, a Hamburg, or a city of London," while the republican of the South was distinguished by his dislike of every condition except that of agriculture, the two wings of the party had so much in common that they could afford to disregard for a time these divergencies of interest; and if the Virginians cared nothing for cities, banks, and manufactures, or if the Northern democrats troubled themselves little about the dangers of centralization, they could unite with one heart in overthrowing monarchy, and in effecting a social revolution.

Henceforward, as Jefferson conceived, government might act directly for the encouragement of agriculture and of commerce as its handmaid, for the diffusion of information and the arraignment of abuses; but there its positive functions stopped. Beyond that point only negative action remained,—respect for States' rights, preservation of constitutional powers, economy, and the maintenance of a pure and simple society such as already existed. With a political system which would not take from the mouth of labor the bread it had earned, and which should leave men free to follow whatever paths of industry and improvement they might find most profitable, "the circle of felicities" was closed.

The possibility of foreign war alone disturbed this dream. President Washington himself might have been glad to accept these ideas of domestic politics, had not France, England, and Spain shown an unequivocal wish to take advantage of American weakness in arms in order to withhold rights vital to national welfare. How did Jefferson propose to convert a government of judiciary and police into the strongest government on earth? His answer to this question, omitted from the Inaugural Address, was to be found in his private correspondence and in the speeches of Gallatin and Madison as leaders of the opposition. He meant to prevent war. He was convinced that governments, like human beings, were on the whole controlled by their interests, and that the interests of Europe required peace and free commerce with America. Believing a union of European Powers to be impossible, he was willing to trust their jealousies of each other to secure their good treatment of the United States. Knowing that Congress could by a single act divert a stream of wealth from one European country to another, foreign Governments would hardly challenge the use of such a weapon, or long resist their own overpowering interests. The new President found in the Constitutional power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations" the machinery for doing away with navies, armies, and wars.

During eight years of opposition the Republican party had matured its doctrines on this subject. In 1797, in the midst of difficulties with France, Jefferson wrote:[19]

"If we weather the present storm, I hope we shall avail ourselves of the calm of peace to place our foreign connections under a new and different arrangement. We must make the interest of every nation stand surety for their justice, and their own loss to follow injury to us, as effect follows its cause. As to everything except commerce, we ought to divorce ourselves from them all."

A few months before the inauguration, he wrote in terms more general:[20]

"The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the States are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization and a very unexpensive one,—a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants."

Immediately after the inauguration the new President explained his future foreign policy to correspondents, who, as he knew, would spread his views widely throughout both continents. In a famous letter to Thomas Paine,[21]—a letter which was in some respects a true inaugural address,—Jefferson told the thought he had but hinted in public. "Determined as we are to avoid, if possible, wasting the energies of our people in war and destruction, we shall avoid implicating ourselves with the Powers of Europe, even in support of principles we mean to pursue. They have so many other interests different from ours that we must avoid being entangled in them. We believe we can enforce those principles as to ourselves by peaceable means, now that we are likely to have our public councils detached from foreign views." A few days later, he wrote to the well-known Pennsylvania peacemaker, Dr. Logan, and explained the process of enforcing against foreign nations "principles as to ourselves by peaceable means." "Our commerce," said he,[22] "is so valuable to them, that they will be glad to purchase it, when the only price we ask is to do us justice. I believe we have in our own hands the means of peaceable coercion; and that the moment they see our government so united as that we can make use of it, they will for their own interest be disposed to do us justice."

To Chancellor Livingston, in September, 1801,[23] the President wrote his views of the principles which he meant to pursue: "Yet in the present state of things," he added, "they are not worth a war; nor do I believe war the most certain means of enforcing them. Those peaceable coercions which are in the power of every nation, if undertaken in concert and in time of peace, are more likely to produce the desired effect."

That these views were new as a system in government could not be denied. In later life Jefferson frequently asserted, and took pains to impress upon his friends, the difference between his opinions and those of his Federalist opponents. The radical distinction lay in their opposite conceptions of the national government. The Federalists wished to extend its functions; Jefferson wished to exclude its influence from domestic affairs:—

"The people," he declared in 1821,[24] "to whom all authority belongs, have divided the powers of government into two distinct departments, the leading characters of which are foreign and domestic; and they have appointed for each a distinct set of functionaries. These they have made coordinate, checking and balancing each other, like the three cardinal departments in the individual States,—each equally supreme as to the powers delegated to itself, and neither authorized ultimately to decide what belongs to itself or to its coparcener in government. As independent, in fact, as different nations, a spirit of forbearance and compromise, therefore, and not of encroachment and usurpation, is the healing balm of such a Constitution."

In the year 1824 Jefferson still maintained the same doctrine, and expressed it more concisely than ever:—

"The federal is in truth our foreign government, which department alone is taken from the sovereignty of the separate States."[25] "I recollect no case where a question simply between citizens of the same State has been transferred to the foreign department, except that of inhibiting tenders but of metallic money, and ex post facto legislation."[26]

These expressions, taken together, partly explain why Jefferson thought his assumption of power to be "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form." His view of governmental functions was simple and clearly expressed. The national government, as he conceived it, was a foreign department as independent from the domestic department, which belonged to the States, as though they were governments of different nations. He intended that the general government should "be reduced to foreign concerns only;" and his theory of foreign concerns was equally simple and clear. He meant to enforce against foreign nations such principles as national objects required, not by war, but by "peaceable coercion" through commercial restrictions. "Our commerce is so valuable to them that they will be glad to purchase it, when the only price we ask is to do us justice."

The history of his Administration will show how these principles were applied, and what success attended the experiment.


  1. Sketches of Debate in the First Senate, by William Maclay, p. 212.
  2. The Quarterly Review (London, 1841), p. 24.
  3. The Quarterly Review (London, 1841), p. 23.
  4. Massachusetts Historical Society's Proceedings, vol. xix. 1881-1882.
  5. Grigsby's Convention of 1776, p. 85.
  6. Life of Story, i. 166.
  7. Old Churches of Virginia, ii. 222.
  8. Marshall to Hamilton, Jan. 1, 1801; Hamilton's Works, vi. 502.
  9. Jefferson to Gallatin, Sept. 27, 1810; Gallatin's Writings, i. 492.
  10. Evening Post, April 20, 1802.
  11. Thornton to Grenville, March 4, 1801; MSS. British Archives.
  12. Jefferson's Works, ix. 469.
  13. Jefferson to J. Dickinson, March 6, 1801; Works, iv. 365.
  14. Jefferson's Works, ix. 480.
  15. Jefferson to Roane, Sept. 6, 1819; Works, vii. 133.
  16. Jefferson to Judge Johnson, June 12, 1823; Works, vii. 293.
  17. Jefferson to W. H. Crawford, June 20, 1816; Works, vii. 6.
  18. Jefferson to John Taylor, May 28, 1816; Works, vi. 608.
  19. Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, June 24, 1797; Works, iv. 189.
  20. Jefferson to Gideon Granger, Aug. 13, 1800; Works, iv. 330.
  21. Jefferson to Thomas Paine, March 18, 1801; Works, iv. 370.
  22. Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 23.
  23. Jefferson to R. R. Livingston, Sept. 9, 1801; Works, iv. 408.
  24. Jefferson to Judge Roane, June 27, 1821; Works, vii. 212.
  25. Jefferson to Robert J. Garnett, Feb. 14, 1824; Works, vii. 336.
  26. Jefferson to Edward Livingston, April 4, 1824; Works, vii. 342.