History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/Second/I:1


Chapter 1: Internal ImprovementEdit

A Second time President Jefferson appeared at the Capitol, escorted with due formalities by a procession of militia-men and other citizens; and once more he delivered an inaugural address, "in so low a voice that not half of it was heard by any part of the crowded auditory." [1] The second Inaugural roused neither the bitterness nor the applause which greeted the first, although in part it was intended as a cry of triumph over the principles and vanishing power of New England.

Among Jefferson's manuscripts he preserved a curious memorandum explaining the ideas of this address. As the first Inaugural declared the principles which were to guide the government in Republican hands, the second should report the success of these principles, and recall the results already reached. The task deserved all the eloquence and loftiness of thought that philosophy could command; for Jefferson had made a democratic polity victorious at home and respectable in the world's eyes, and the privilege of hearing him reaffirm his doctrines and pronounce their success was one that could never be renewed. The Moses of democracy, he had the glory of leading his followers into their promised and conquered Canaan.

Jefferson began by renewing the professions of his foreign policy:—

"With nations, as with individuals, our interests, soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties; and history bears witness to the fact that a just nation is taken on its word, when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others."

The sentiments were excellent; but many of Jefferson's followers must have asked themselves in what history they could find the fact, which the President asserted, that a just nation was taken on its word; and they must have been still more perplexed to name the nation, just or unjust, which was taken on its word by any other in the actual condition of the world. Without dwelling on this topic, which had already become one of interest in the councils of his Cabinet, Jefferson, passing to practical questions involved in redemption of debt, advanced a new idea.

"Redemption once effected," he said, "the revenue thereby liberated may, by a just repartition among the States and a corresponding amendment of the Constitution, be applied, in time of peace, to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great objects within each State. In time of war,—if injustice, by ourselves or others, must sometimes produce war,— increased as the same revenue will be increased by population and consumption, and aided by other resources reserved for that crisis, it may meet within the year all the expenses of the year without encroaching on the rights of future generations by burdening them with the debts of the past. War will then be but a suspension of useful works, and a return to a state of peace a return to the progress of improvement."

Ten years earlier, in the mouth of President Washington, this sentiment would have been generally denounced as proof of monarchical designs. That Jefferson was willing not only to assume powers for the central government, but also to part from his States-rights associates and to gratify the Northern democrats by many concessions of principle, his first Administration had already proved; but John Randolph might wonder to see him stride so fast and far toward what had been ever denounced as Roman imperialism and corruption; to hear him advise a change of the Constitution in order to create an annual fund for public works, for the arts, for education, and even for such manufactures as the people might want,—a fund which was to be distributed to the States, thus putting in the hands of the central government an instrument of corruption, and making the States stipendiaries of Congress. Every principle of the Republican party, past or to come, was put to nought by a policy which contradicted the famous sentiment of Jefferson's first annual message: "Sound principles will not justify our taxing the industry of our fellow-citizens to accumulate treasure for wars to happen we know not when, and which might not perhaps happen but from the temptations offered by that treasure." Yet pregnant as this new principle might be in connection with the Constitution and the Union, its bearing on foreign affairs was more startling. Jefferson, the apostle of peace, asked for a war fund which should enable his government to wage indefinite hostilities without borrowing money!

Quitting this dangerous ground, the President spoke of the Louisiana purchase. Then followed a paragraph upon religion. Next he came to the subject of the Indians, and chose this unusual medium for enforcing favorite philosophical doctrines. The memorandum written to explain his address declared the reasons that led him to use the mask of Indian philanthropy to disguise an attack upon conservatism. [2]

"Every respecter of science," said this memorandum, "every friend to political reformation, must have observed with indignation the hue-aud-cry raised against philosophy and the rights of man; and it really seems as if they would be overborne, and barbarism, bigotry, and despotism would recover the ground they have lost by the advance of the public understanding. I have thought the occasion justified some discountenance of these anti-social doctrines, some testimony against them; but not to commit myself in direct warfare on them, I have thought it best to say what is directly applied to the Indians only, but admits by inference a more general extension."

In truth, under the lead of Napoleon and Pitt, Europe seemed bent on turning back the march of time and renewing the bigotry and despotism of the Middle Ages; but this occasion hardly dignified Jefferson's method of bearing testimony against the danger, by not committing himself to direct warfare upon it, but by applying to Indians the homily which by inference included the churches of New England.

"The aboriginal inhabitants of these countries," said the President to his great audience," I have regarded with the commiseration their history inspires. Endowed with the faculties and the rights of men, breathing an ardent love of liberty and independence, and occupying a country which left them no desire but to be undisturbed, the stream of overflowing population from other regions directed itself on these shores."

If the Boston newspapers were not weary of ridiculing Jefferson's rhetoric, this sentence was fitted to rouse their jaded amusement; but in a few moments they had reason to feel other emotions. He said that he had done what humanity required, and had tried to teach the Indians agriculture and other industries in order to prepare them for new conditions of life,— a claim not only true, but also honorable to him. Unfortunately these attempts met with obstacles from

the Indians themselves:—
"They are combated by the habits of their bodies, prejudice of their minds, ignorance, pride, and the influence of interested and crafty individuals among them, who feel themselves something in the present order of things, and fear to become nothing in any other. These persons inculcate a sanctimonious reverence for the customs of their ancestors; that whatsoever they did must be done through all time; that reason is a false guide, and to advance under its counsel, in their physical, moral, or political condition, is perilous innovation; that their duty is to remain as their Creator made them, ignorance being safety, and knowledge full of danger. In short, my friends, among them is seen the action and counter-action of good sense and bigotry; they too have their anti-philosophers, who find an interest in keeping things in their present state, who dread reformation, and exert all their faculties to maintain the ascendency of habit over the duty of improving our reason and obeying its mandates."

Gallatin remonstrated in vain against this allusion to New England habits; [3] the President could not resist the temptation to strike once more his old enemies. Gallatin, whose sense of humor was keener than that of Jefferson, must have been amused by the travesty of New England under the war-paint and blankets of the Choctaws and Kickapoos; but Jefferson was never more serious than in believing that the people of Massachusetts and Connecticut were held in darkness by a few interested "medicine men," and that he could, without committing himself in direct warfare, insult the clergy, lawyers, and keen-witted squirarchy of New England, thus held up "by inference" to the world as the equivalent to so many savages.

The rest of the Inaugural was chiefly devoted to the press and its licentiousness. Jefferson expressed himself strongly in regard to the slanders he had received, and even hinted that he would be glad to see the State laws of libel applied to punish the offenders; but he pointed out that slander had no political success, and that it might safely be disregarded as a political weapon. He urged "doubting brethren" to give up their fears and prejudices, and to join with the mass of their fellow-citizens. "In the mean time let us cherish them with patient affection; let us do them justice, and more than justice, in all competitions of interest." Finally, as though to silence the New-England pulpit, he closed with a few words which the clergy might perhaps think misplaced in the mouth of so earnest a deist, an invocation of "that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old," to the "country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life, . . . and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications."

The Second Inaugural strode far beyond the first in the path of democracy, away from the landmarks of Virginia republicanism, betraying what Jefferson's friends and enemies alike thought a craving for popularity. If this instinct sometimes led him to forget principles he had once asserted, and which he would some day again declare vital, the quality was so amiable as to cover many shortcomings; but its influence on national growth could not be disputed. Jefferson cherished but one last desire,—to reach the end of his next term without disaster. He frankly expressed this feeling in a letter written to General Heath soon after the autumn election of 1804, which gave him the electoral vote of Massachusetts:—

"I sincerely join you," said he, "in congratulations on the return of Massachusetts into the fold of the Union. This is truly the case wherein we may say, 'This our brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.' It is but too true that our Union could not be pronounced entirely sound while so respectable a member as Massachusetts was under morbid affection. All will now come to rights. . . . The new century opened itself by committing us on a boisterous ocean; but all is now subsiding; peace is smoothing our path at home and abroad; and if we are not wanting in the practice of justice and moderation, our tranquillity and prosperity may be preserved until increasing numbers shall leave us nothing to fear from abroad. With England we are in cordial friendship; with France in the most perfect understanding; with Spain we shall always be bickering, but never at war till we seek it. Other nations view our course with respect and friendly anxiety. Should we be able to preserve this state of public happiness, and to see our citizens, whom we found so divided, rally to their genuine principles, I shall hope yet to enjoy the comfort of that general good-will which has been so unfeelingly wrested from me, and to sing at the close of my term the Nunc dimittis, Domine, with a satisfaction leaving nothing to desire but the last great audit." [4]

He could not forgive the New England clergy their want of feeling in wresting from him ever so small a share of the general good-will, and he looked forward with impatience to the moment when he should enjoy universal applause and respect. In December, 1804, when this letter was written, he felt confident that his splendid triumph would last unchecked to the end of his public career; but the prize of general good-will, which seemed then almost won, continually eluded his grasp. The election of November, 1804, was followed by the session of 1804-1805, which stirred bad blood even in Virginia, and betrayed a spirit of faction among his oldest friends. His Inaugural Address of March, 1805, with its mixture of bitter-sweet, was answered within a few weeks by Massachusetts. At the April election the Federalists reversed the result of November, and re-elected Caleb Strong as governor by a vote of about 35,200 against 33,800, with a Federalist majority in the Legislature. Even in Pennsylvania divisions among Jefferson's followers increased, until in the autumn of 1805 Duane and Leib set up a candidate of their own choice for governor, and forced McKean, Dallas, and Gallatin's friends to unite with the Federalists in order to re-elect McKean. Jefferson balanced anxiously between these warring factions, trying to offend neither Duane nor John Randolph, nor even Burr, while he still drew the mass of moderate Federalists to sympathize in his views.

Thus the new Presidential term began, bringing with it little sign of change. The old arrangements were continued, with but one exception. Madison, Gallatin, Robert Smith, and Dearborn remained in the Cabinet; but Attorney-General Lincoln resigned, and Robert Smith asked to be transferred from the Navy Department to the Attorney-General's office. [5] After some hesitation Jefferson yielded to Smith's request and consented to the transfer. As Smith's successor in the Navy Department Jefferson selected Jacob Crowninshield, a member of Congress from Massachusetts, who was then at Washington. Crowninshield, in consequence of his wife's objection to leaving her family, declined the offer, Jan. 29, 1805, [6] but the President nevertheless sent the nomination to the Senate, March 2, 1805, together with that of Robert Smith," now Secretary of the Navy to be Attorney-General of the United States." The same day the Senate confirmed both appointments, and the commissions were regularly issued, March 3, Robert Smith apparently ceasing thenceforward to possess any legal authority over the Navy Department.

Nevertheless Crowninshield persisted in declining the office, and Robert Smith continued to act as Secretary of the Navy, probably by the verbal request of the President. At length he consented to retain his old position permanently, and Jefferson sought for a new attorney-general. He offered the post, June 15, to John Julius Pringle of South Carolina, who declined. He then offered it, July 14, to John Thomson Mason, who also declined. August 7, Jefferson wrote to Senator Breckinridge of Kentucky, asking him to accept the office of attorney-general, and a temporary commission was the same day issued to him.

When Congress met, Dec. 2, 1805, Breckenridge was attorney-general under a temporary commission, and Robert Smith, who had ceased to be Secretary of the Navy on the confirmation of his successor, March 3, was acting as secretary under no apparent authority. Dec. 20, 1805, the President sent a message to the Senate making nominations for vacancies which had occurred during the recess, for which commissions had been granted "to the persons herein respectively named." One of these persons was John Breckinridge of Kentucky to be Attorney-General of the United States, and the nomination was duly confirmed. Breckenridge's permanent commission bore date Jan. 17, 1806.

These dates and facts were curious for the reason that Robert Smith, who had ceased to be Secretary of the Navy, March 3, 1805, ceased necessarily to be attorney-general on the confirmation of Breckinridge, and continued to act as Secretary of the Navy without authority of law. The President did not send his name to the Senate, or issue to him a new commission either permanent or temporary. On the official records of the Department of State, not Robert Smith but Jacob Crowninshield was Secretary of the Navy from March 3, 1805, till March 7, 1809, when his successor was appointed, although Jacob Crowninshield died April 15, 1808, and Robert Smith never ceased to act as Secretary of the Navy from his appointment in 1801 to his appointment as Secretary of State in 1809. During the whole period of Jefferson's second administration, his Secretary of the Navy acted by no known authority except the verbal request or permission of the President.

In perfect quiet, disturbed only by rumors of wars abroad, spring crept forward to summer, summer ripened to autumn. Peace was restored with Tripoli; commerce grew apace; the revenue rose to $14,000,000; the Treasury was near a surfeit; no sign appeared of check to the immense prosperity which diffused itself through every rivulet in the wilderness, and the President could see no limit to its future increase. In 1804 he had sent out an expedition under Captain Meriwether Lewis to explore the Louisiana purchase along the course of the Missouri River. May 14, 1804, Lewis and his party began their journey from St. Louis, and without serious difficulty reached the Mandan towns, sixteen hundred and nine miles from the starting point, where, Nov. 1, 1804, they went into winter quarters. April 8, 1805, Lewis resumed his journey to the westward, sending the report of his wanderings to Washington. This report told only of a vast region inhabited by Indian tribes and disturbed by the restless and murderous Sioux; but it served to prove the immensity of the new world which Jefferson's government had given to the American people. Other explorations had been begun along the line of the Red and Washita rivers. In such contributions to human knowledge Jefferson took keen interest, for he had no greater delight than in science and in whatever tended to widen the field of knowledge.

These explorations of the territory beyond the Mississippi had little immediate bearing on the interests of commerce or agriculture; but the government was actively engaged in measures of direct value. July 4, 1805, William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, closed a bargain with the Wyandots, Ottawas, and other Indian tribes, by which the Indian title over another part of Ohio was extinguished. The Indians thenceforward held within the State of Ohio only the country west of Sandusky and north of the old line fixed by the treaty of Greenville. Within the year the Piankeshaw tribe sold for a small annuity a tract of land in southern Indiana, along the Ohio River, which made the United States government master of the whole north bank of the Ohio to its mouth. These concessions, of the utmost value, were obtained at a trifling cost." The average price paid for the Indian lands within the last four years," wrote the Secretary of War,[7] "does not amount to one cent per acre." The Chickasaws and Cherokees sold a very large district between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in Tennessee, so that thenceforward the road from Knoxville to Nashville passed through no Indian land. In Georgia the Creeks were induced to sell an important territory between the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers. In these treaties provision was also made for horse-roads through the Creek and Cherokee country, both from Knoxville and from central Georgia to the Mobile River.

Besides the many millions of acres thus gained for immediate improvement, these treaties had no little strategic value in case of war. No foreign country could fail to see that the outlying American settlements were defenceless in their isolation. Even the fort and village at Detroit were separated from the nearest white village by a wide Indian country impassable to wagons or artillery; and the helplessness of such posts was so evident as to impress every observer.

"The principles of our government," said Jefferson when danger at last arose, [8] "leading us to the employment of such moderate garrisons in time of peace as may merely take care of the post, and to a reliance on the neighboring militia for its support in the first moments of war, I have thought it would be important to obtain from the Indians such a cession in the neighborhood of these posts as might maintain a militia proportioned to this object."

This "principle of our government" that the settlers should protect the army, not the army the settlers, was so rigorously carried out that every new purchase of Indian lands was equivalent to providing a new army. The possession of Sandusky brought Detroit nearer its supports; possession of the banks of the Ohio strengthened Indiana. A bridle-path to New Orleans was the first step toward bringing that foreign dependence within reach; and although this path must necessarily pass through Spanish territory, it would enable the government in an emergency to hear from Louisiana within six weeks from the despatch of an order.

In spite of these immense gains, the military situation was still extremely weak. The Indians held in strong force the country west of Sandusky. The boundary between them and the whites was a mere line running from Lake Erie south and west across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to the neighborhood of St. Louis. Directly on this boundary line, near Greenville, lived the Shawanese, among whom a warrior named Tecumthe, and his brother called the Prophet were acquiring an influence hostile to the white men. These Indians, jealous of the rapid American encroachments, maintained relations with the British officials in Canada, and in case of a war between the United States and England they were likely to enter into a British alliance. In this case unless the United States government could control Lake Erie, nothing was more certain than that Detroit and every other post on the Lakes beyond must fall into British hands, and with them the military possession of the whole Northwest. Whether Great Britain could afterward be forced to surrender her conquests remained to be seen.

Even in Kentucky the country between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi still belonged to the Chickasaws; and south of the Tennessee River as far as the Gulf of Mexico, and east to the Ocmulgee, all belonged to Cherokees, Creeks, and Choctaws, who could not boast, like the Chickasaws, that "they had never spilt the blood of a white man." These tribes maintained friendly relations with the Spanish authorities at Mobile and Pensacola, and, like the Shawanese and Northwestern Indians, dreaded the grasping Americans, who were driving them westward. In case of war with Spain, should New Orleans give trouble and invite a Spanish garrison, the Indians might be counted as Spaniards, and the United States government might be required to protect a frontier suddenly thrust back from the Floridas to the Duck River, within thirty miles of Nashville.

The President might well see with relief every new step that brought him within nearer reach of his remote military post and his proconsular province at New Orleans. That he should dread war was natural, for he was responsible for the safety of the settlements on the Indian frontier, and he knew that in case of sudden war the capture of these posts was certain, and the massacre of their occupants more than probable. New Orleans was an immediate and incessant danger, and hardly a spot between New Orleans and Mackinaw was safe.

Anxiety caused by these perils had probably much to do with the bent of the President's mind toward internal improvements and democratic rather than Virginia principles. In 1803 the United States government became owner of a territory which dwarfed the States themselves, and which at its most important point contained a foreign population governed by military methods. Old political theories had been thrown aside both in the purchase and in the organization of this New World; their observance in its administration was impossible. The Louisiana purchase not only required a military system of government for itself, but also reacted on the other national territory, and through it on the States in their relations to Washington. New England was thrown to the verge of the political system; but New York and Pennsylvania, Georgia and Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky found many new interests which they wanted the central government to assist, and Virginia, holding the power and patronage of the central government, had every inducement to satisfy these demands.

So it happened that Jefferson gave up his Virginia dogmas, and adopted Gallatin's ideas. They were both jealous of the army and navy; but they were willing to spend money with comparative liberality on internal improvements; and the wisdom of this course was evident. Even in a military point of view, roads and canals were more necessary than forts or ships.

The first evidence of change was the proposed fund for internal improvements and war purposes described in the second Inaugural Address. The suggestion was intended to prepare the public for a relaxation of Gallatin's economy. Although the entire debt could not be paid before 1817, only ten and a half millions of bonds remained to be immediately dealt with. By the year 1809 these ten and a half millions would be discharged; and thereafter Gallatin might reduce his annual payments of principal and interest from $8,000,000 to $4,500,000, freeing an annual sum of $3,500,000 for use in other directions. During the next three years Gallatin was anxious to maintain his old system, and especially to preserve peace with foreign nations; but after the year 1808 he promised to relax his severity, and to provide three or four millions for purposes of internal improvement and defence. The rapid increase of revenue helped to create confidence in this calculation, and to hasten decision as to the use of the promised surplus. The President had already decided to convert it into a permanent reserve fund. He looked forward to the moment when, as he expressed it, he could "begin upon canals, roads, colleges, etc." [9] He no longer talked of "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;" he rather proposed to devote a third of the national revenues to improvements and to regulation of industries.

This theory of statesmanship was broader than that which he had proclaimed four years earlier. Jefferson proved the liberality and elevation of his mind; and if he did this at some cost to his consistency, he did only what all men had done whose minds kept pace with the movement of their time. So far as he could see, at the threshold of his second term, he had every reason to hope that it would be more successful than his first. He promised to annihilate opposition; and no serious obstacle seemed in his path. No doubt his concessions to the spirit of nationality, in winning support from moderate Federalists and self-interested democrats, alienated a few State-rights Republicans, and might arouse uneasiness among old friends; but to this Jefferson resigned himself. He parted company with the "mere metaphysical subtleties" of John Randolph. Except in his aversion to military measures and to formal etiquette, he stood nearly where President Washington had stood ten years before.

The New England hierarchy might grumble, but at heart Massachusetts was already converted. Only with the utmost difficulty, and at the cost of avoiding every aggressive movement, could the Federalists keep control of their State governments. John Randolph flattered himself that if Jefferson's personal authority were removed from the scale, Virginia would again incline to her old principles; but he was mistaken. So long as Virginia held power, she was certain to use it. At no time since the Declaration of Independence had the prospects of nationality seemed so promising as in the spring of 1805. With the stride of the last four years as a standard for the future, no man could measure the possible effects of the coming four years in extending the powers of the government and developing the prosperity of the nation. Gallatin already meditated schemes of internal improvements, which included four great thoroughfares across the Alleghanies, while Fulton was nearly ready with the steamboat. The Floridas could not escape the government's grasp. Even New England must at last yield her prejudices to the spirit of democratic nationality.

No one could wonder if Jefferson's head was somewhat turned by the splendors of such a promise. Sanguine by nature, he felt that every day made more secure the grandeur of his destiny. He could scarcely be blamed for putting a high estimate on the value of his services, for in all modesty he might reasonably ask what name recorded in history would stand higher than his own for qualities of the noblest order in statesmanship. Had he not been first to conceive and to put in practice the theories of future democracy? Had he not succeeded in the experiment? Had he not doubled the national domain? Was not his government a model of republican virtues? With what offence against the highest canons of personal merit could he be charged? What ruler of ancient or modern times, what Trajan or Antonine, what Edward or Louis, was more unselfish or was truer to the interests intrusted to his care? Who had proposed to himself a loftier ideal? Among all the kings and statesmen who swayed the power of empire, where could one be found who had looked so far into the future, and had so boldly grappled with its hopes?

  1. Diary of J. Q. Adams (March 4, 1805), i. 373.
  2. Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 341.
  3. Gallatin's Writings, i. 227.
  4. Jefferson to General Heath, Dec. 13, 1804; Jefferson MSS.
  5. Jefferson to Robert Smith, Jan. 3, 1805; Jefferson MSS.
  6. Crowninshield to Jefferson, Jan. 29, 1805; Jefferson MSS. State Department Archives.
  7. Dearborn to Robertson, March 20, 1805; State Papers, vol v.; Indian Affairs, i. 700.
  8. Message of Jan. 30, 1808; State Papers, vol. v.; Indian Affairs, i. 752.
  9. Jefferson to Gallatin, May 29, 1805; Gallatin's Writings, 232.