Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson in the United States

Life of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Note: for information on early life of thomas jefferson, see the entry thomas jefferson biography.

In October 1789 he returned to America and the following year became Secretary of State in Washington’s Cabinet, in which position he opposed Hamilton (q.v.), who favored the exercise of extensive powers by Congress. Jefferson believed in a real federal relation between the States, and in a restricting of the congressional powers to purely constitutional authorizations. The final line of cleavage came when Congress passed a bill to establish a national bank. Hamilton submitted to Washington a paper asserting that such a step was legal, while Jefferson made a vigorous written protest showing that the bill was unconstitutional. Washington approved the measure, thus accepting Hamilton’s views as correct. The Bank Bill, along with similar congressional acts, caused the establishment of two distinct parties — the Federalist or Loose Construction party, headed by Hamilton, and the Anti-Federalist or Strict Construction party, with Jefferson as its leader.

Jefferson’s followers were usually called the Democratic-Republicans.

In December 1793 Jefferson resigned from the cabinet and returned to Monticello, where he remained for four years, studying farming. His estate at this time contained 10,647 acres of land, worked by 154 slaves, and stocked with 34 horses, 5 mules and 249 cattle. Among the negroes he had a sort of industrial (manual-training) school, and taught them to be cabinetmakers, bricklayers, masons and smiths.

From his retirement at Monticello, Jefferson was called to become Vice-President in 1797, a position which he held till 1801. During these four years he bitterly opposed the so-called monarchical tendencies of the Federal party as seen in the Alien and Sedition Acts (q.v.), and he boldly asserted the compact theory of State sovereignty in the Kentucky resolutions of 1799. The Kentucky resolutions and Virginia resolutions of 1798-99 (the latter framed by Madison after a copy of the Kentucky resolutions sent him by Jefferson), made the platform, so to speak, of the Democratic-Republican party which elected Jefferson as President in 1801.

From 4 March 1801 to 4 March 1809 Jefferson was President. He was the first President to be inaugurated in Washington City. He believed in rotation in office, and in pursuance of this idea removed a number of Federalists from their positions. His great act, however, was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France for the sum of $15,000,000. This vast territory was acquired for two reasons: (1) In order that the United States might have control of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans; and (2) that the United States might not be hampered by European countries in the development of a republican form of government. As Secretary of State in Washington’s Cabinet, Jefferson had practically asserted what was afterward known as the Monroe Doctrine, when he claimed that the United States should see that no European countries, other than those already holding possessions, secure a foothold in America.

In 1801 Jefferson viewed with alarm the transfer of the Louisiana Territory from Spain to France, for he feared that, with France added to Spain, England and Russia, in control of colonies in America, republican government would have a hard struggle. Jefferson was accused of inconsistency for having sanctioned the Louisiana Purchase (q.v.), for if he had applied the strict construction principle of the Constitution here as in such acts of Congress as the establishment of the national bank, this territory could not have been purchased, there being no provision in the Constitution allowing territorial expansion. But Jefferson’s political sagacity kept him from refusing this great opportunity, and his wish of expansion caused him to advocate earnestly the purchase of Florida from Spain. It was 13 years later before his desire was accomplished. The second administration of Jefferson was not so successful as the first. It opened with a war against the Tripolitan pirates who were plundering American commerce. The outcome of this war was to increase our influence among the nations of the world.

The last years of the second term were marked with difficult complications arising out of the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon tried to prevent the United States from trading with England, and England retaliated by attempting to cut off all commercial relations between the United States and France. Many American vessels were seized by both England and France. Adding to this indignity, England claimed the right to search American vessels for English seamen, and an English war vessel actually fired on an American man-of-war, killing three of the crew and wounding 18. Jefferson tried to meet the restrictions on American commerce by the Non-Importation Bill and the Embargo Act. To enforce the measures all of the New England ships would have been shut up in American harbors. The New England merchants preferred to run the risk of losing their ships to keeping them without traffic; therefore they began to abuse the President and his policy. The result was that Congress felt forced to repeal the Embargo Act. Jefferson always claimed that had the embargo been enforced the United States would have gained its rights without the second war with England in 1812. See Embargo in the United States.

On 4 March 1809, Jefferson retired from the White House, and spent the remaining 17 years of his life at Monticello. In these latter days he was known as the “Sage of Monticello,” and to his home came people of prominence from all parts of the world to consult with him on great questions of politics and economics. Often his housekeeper had to provide beds for 50 guests. The demands which were made on his hospitality were so great that he died a bankrupt. During this period of his life he did all that he could to encourage better methods in agriculture, to reform the government of Virginia and to develop in it a batter system of education. The crowning event of his life was the establishment of the University of Virginia (q.v.) in 1819. He died on 4 July 1826, just 50 years from the day that has made him famous in all history, and by a singular coincidence his old rival and political antagonist, John Adams, passed away on the same day, Jefferson asked that three things be inscribed on his tomb: “Author of the Declaration of Independence; of the Statute for Religious Liberty in Virginia, and Founder of the University of Virginia,” — three acts which have made him famous.

Jefferson stands in history for (1) Republican government and the sovereignty of the people; (2) Opposition to privileged orders of nobility and the entail system; (3) Universal education and local circulating libraries; (4) Separation of Church and State; (S) Freedom of thought and speech; (6) Local self-government; (7) Economy in government and small public debt; (8) A policy of peace; (9) Political equality and universal suffrage; (10) Strict construction of the Constitution and the sovereignty of the States; (11) Well-trained militia and small standing army; (12) Metallic money, either gold or silver, as a standard, and no paper legal tender; (13) Opposition to bounties and monopolies; (14) Emancipation and deportation of slaves; (15) Expansion of the United States to include Louisiana, Florida, Cuba and Canada; (16) Maintenance of Indian reservations; (17) Judiciary beyond the control of the legislative or executive branches of government; (18) Small navy; (19) Opposition to nepotism; (20) Rotation in office; (21) Opposition to all secession movements, North or South. This review will show that Jefferson probably gave to the world more broad principles of government than any other man. Whenever republican forms of government exist there the name of Jefferson will always be uttered with reverence and respect. Important monuments to Jefferson are as follows: by David d’Angers in the Capitol, Washington, a copy in the New York city-hall, and one at Angers, France; by Galt, at the University of Virginia; by Ezekiel, in Louisville, Ky.; by Hiram Powers, in Hall of Representatives, Washington; by Partridge, at Columbia University; and by Valentine, in Richmond. Va. (1)

Thinkings

Jefferson advocated a decentralized agrarian republic. He recognized the value of a strong central government in foreign relations, but he did not want it strong in other respects. Hamilton’s great aim was more efficient organization, whereas Jefferson once said “I am not a friend to a very energetic government.” (…) Jefferson feared tyranny and thought in terms of freedom. (2)

Election of 1800: Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson and Madison sponsored the passage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions by the legislatures of the two states in November and December 1798. According to the resolutions, states could “interpose” their views on federal actions and “nullify” them. The doctrine of nullification would be used later for the Southern states’ defense of their interests vis-a-vis the North on the question of the tariff, and, more ominously, slavery.

By 1800 the American people were ready for a change. Under Washington and Adams, the Federalists had established a strong government, but sometimes failing to honor the principle that the American government must be responsive to the will of the people, they had followed policies that alienated large groups. For example, in 1798 they had enacted a tax on houses, land and slaves, affecting every property owner in the country.

Jefferson had steadily gathered behind him a great mass of small farmers, shopkeepers and other workers, and they asserted themselves in the election of 1800. Jefferson enjoyed extraordinary favor because of his appeal to American idealism. In his inaugural address, the first such speech in the new capital of Washington, D.C., he promised “a wise and frugal government” to preserve order among the inhabitants but would “leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry, and improvement.”

Jefferson’s mere presence in The White House encouraged democratic procedures. He taught his subordinates to regard themselves merely as trustees of the people. He encouraged agriculture and westward expansion. Believing America to be a haven for the oppressed, he urged a liberal naturalization law. By the end of his second term, his far-sighted secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, had reduced the national debt to less than $560 million. As a wave of Jeffersonian fervor swept the nation, state after state abolished property qualifications for the ballot and passed more humane laws for debtors and criminals. (3)

Election of 1804: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson in the U.S. Legal History

Summary

The primary author of the Declaration of Independence, the first secretary of state, and the third president of the United States. As president, he was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807, which sought to end British and French interference with American shipping.

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Main Source: The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)
  2. ”An Outline of American History”(1994), a publication of the United States Information Agency (USIA). Editor: Howard Cincotta
  3. Id.

Further Reading

Adams, H. B., ‘Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia’ (Washington 1888); Bryce, James, ‘University and Historical Addresses’ (New York 1913); Channing, ‘The Jeffersonian System’ (ib. 1906); Curtis, W. E., ‘True Thomas Jefferson’ (Philadelphia 1901)-; Dodd, W. E., ‘Statesmen of the Old South’ (ib. 1911); Dunlap, J. R., ‘Jeffersonian Democracy’ (ib. 1903); Foley, ‘Jefferson Cyclopedia’ (ib. 1900); Ford, P. L., ‘Writings of Thomas Jefferson’ (10 vols., ib., 1892-99); Forman, ‘Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson’ (Indianapolis 1900); Littleton, Martin W., ‘Monticello’ (New York 1912); id., ‘One Wish: An Appeal for the Purchase by the United States of the Home of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello’ (ib. 1912); Morse, T. J., ‘Thomas Jefferson’ (Boston 1898); Patton, ‘Jefferson, Cabell, and the University of Virginia’ (New York 1906); Parton, James, ‘Life of Thomas Jefferson’ (Boston 1874); Randall, ‘Life of Thomas Jefferson’ (ib. 1858); Randolph, T. J., (editor), ‘Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson’ (4 vols., Charlottesville, Va., 1829); Schouler, James, ‘Thomas Jefferson’ (New York 1897); Trent, W. P., ‘Southern Statesmen of the Old Régime’ (ib. 1897); Tucker, G., ‘Life of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States’ (2 vols., Philadelphia 1837); Watson, T. E., ‘Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson’ (New York 1903); Williams, J. S., ‘Thomas Jefferson: His Permanent Influence on American Institutions’ (ib. 1913). For bibliographies of Jefferson, consult Tompkins, H. B., ‘Biblioteca Jeffersoniana’ (New York 1887) and Johnston, R. H., ‘Contribution to a Bibliography,’ in Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Writings’ (Monticello ed., Vol. XX, Washington 1905). Consult also Lambeth and Manning, ‘Thomas Jefferson as an Architect and Designer of Landscapes’ (Boston 1913) and Kimball, S. F., ‘Thomas Jefferson as Architect,’ in Architectural Quarterly (Vol. II, Cambridge, Mass., 1914); Muzzy, D. S., ‘Thomas Jefferson’ (1918).

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