Thomas Jefferson TiviaThomas Jefferson was considered the primary author of the Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson was the Third President of the United States
Thomas Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1826
Thomas Jefferson was fluent in seven languages including Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian and German
Thomas Jefferson sold his book collection to Congress to be used as the beginning of the Library of Congress
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Events in the life of Thomas Jefferson
|1743 04/13||Birth of Thomas Jefferson|
|1826 07/04||Death of Thomas Jefferson|
Thomas Jefferson Biography
Thomas Jefferson was born on the second day of April, O. S. 1743, ( April 13, 1743) at a place called Shadwell, in the county of Albermarle, and state of Virginia, a short distance from Monticello. His family were among the earliest emigrants from England. They sustained an honorable standing in the territory in which they resided, and lived in circumstances of considerable affluence. His father, Peter Jefferson, was much known in the province, as a gentleman of considerable scientific attainments, and more than ordinary firmness and integrity. It was probably in consequence of these qualifications, that he was selected as one of the commissioners appointed to the delicate and responsible task of determining the division line between Virginia and North Carolina. On the decease of the father, the son inherited from him an extensive and valuable estate.
Of the early incidents in the life of Thomas Jefferson, but little is known. He was entered, while yet a youth, a student in the college of William and Mary, in Williamsburg; but the precise standing which he occupied among his literary associates, is probably now lost. He doubtless, however, left the college with no inconsiderable reputation. He appears to have been imbued with an early love of letters and science, and to have cherished a strong disposition to the physical sciences especially; and to ancient classical literature, he is understood to have had a warm attachment, and never to have lost sight of them, in the midst of the busiest occupations.
On leaving college, he applied himself to the study of the law under the tuition of George Wythe, of whose high judicial character we have had occasion to speak in a preceding memoir. In the office of this distinguished man, he acquired that unrivalled neatness, system, and method in business, which through all his future life, and in every office that he filled, gave him so much power and despatch. Under the direction of his distinguished preceptor, he became intimately acquainted with the whole round of the civil and common law. From the same distinguished example he caught that untiring spirit of investigation, which never left a subject till he had searched it to the very foundation. In short, Mr. Wythe performed for him, as one of his eulogists remarks, what Jeremiah Gridley did for his great rival, Mr. Adams; he placed on his head the crown of legal preparation, and well did it become him.
For his able legal preceptor, Mr. Jefferson always entertained the greatest respect and friendship. Indeed, the attachment of preceptor and pupil was mutual, and for a long series of years continued to acquire strength and stability. At the close of his life, in 1806, it was found that Mr. Wythe had bequeathed his library and philosophical apparatus to his pupil, as a testimony of the estimation in which he was held by his early preceptor and aged friend.
Mr. Jefferson was called to the bar in the year 1766. With the advantages which he had enjoyed with respect to legal preparation, it might naturally be expected that he would appear with distinguished credit in the practice of his profession. The standing which he occupied at the bar, may be gathered from the following account, the production of the biographer of Patrick Henry:
"It has been thought that Mr. Jefferson made no figure at the bar; but the case was far otherwise. There are still extant, in his own fair and neat hand, in the manner of his master, a number of arguments, which were delivered by him at the bar, upon some of the most intricate questions of the law; which, if they shall ever see the light, will vindicate his claim to the first honours of the profession. It is true, he was not distinguished in popular debate; why he was not so, has often been matter of surprise to those who have seen his eloquence on paper, and heard it in conversation. He had all the attributes of the mind, and the heart, and the soul, which are essential to eloquence of the highest order. The only defect was a physical one: he wanted volume and compass of voice, for a large deliberative assembly; and his voice, from the excess of his sensibility, instead of rising with his feelings and conceptions, sunk under their pressure, and became guttural and inarticulate. The consciousness of this infirmity, repressed any attempt in a large body, in which he knew he must fail. But his voice was all sufficient for the purposes of judicial debate; and there is no reason to doubt that, if the service of his country had not called him away so soon from his profession, his fame as a lawyer would now have stood upon the same distinguished ground, which he confessedly occupied as a statesman, an author, and a scholar."
The year previous to Mr. Jefferson's admission to the bar, Mr. Henry introduced into the Virginia house of burgesses, then sitting at Williamsburg, his celebrated resolutions against the stamp act. Mr. Jefferson was, at this time, present at the debate. "He was then," he says, "but a student, and stood in the door of communication, between the house and the lobby, where he heard the whole of this magnificent debate. The opposition to the last resolution was most vehement; the debate upon it, to use his own strong language, 'most bloody;' but," he adds, "torrents of sublime eloquence from Henry, backed by the solid reasoning of Johnson, prevailed; and the resolution was carried by a single vote. I well remember," he continues, "the cry of 'treason,' by the speaker, echoed from every part of the house, against Mr. Henry: I well remember his pause, and the admirable address with which he recovered himself, and baffled the charge thus vociferated."
He here alludes to that memorable exclamation of Mr. Henry, now become almost too familiar for quotation: "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third ('treason!' cried the speaker; 'treason! treason!' echoed the house;) may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."
The talents of Mr. Jefferson, which were early well known, permitted him not long to remain in a private station, or to pursue the ordinary routine of his profession. A career of more extensive usefulness, and objects of greater importance, were now presented to him. His country demanded his services; and at the early age of twenty-five, that is, in the year 1769, he entered the house of burgesses in Virginia, and then first inscribed his name as a champion of his country's rights.
At a former period, the attachment of the American colonies to England was like that of an affectionate child towards a venerable parent. In Virginia, this attachment was unusually strong. Various circumstances combined to render it so. Many of the families of that province were allied to distinguished families in England, and the sons of the former sought their education in the universities of the mother country; It was not singular, therefore, that a strong affection should exist, on the part of this colony, for the people in England, nor that the people of the colonies generally should have come to the severance of these ties with peculiar reluctance. Resistance, however, was at length forced upon them, by the rash course pursued by the British ministry. The rights of the colonies were invaded; their choicest privileges were taken away, and loudly were the patriots of America called upon, by the sufferings of the country, to awake to a strong and effectual resistance. At this time, Mr. Jefferson commenced his political career, and has himself given us, in few words, an outline of the reasons which powerfully impelled him to enter the lists, with other American patriots, against the parent country.
"The colonies," says he, "were taxed internally and externally; their essential interests sacrificed to individuals in Great Britain; their legislatures suspended; charters annulled; trials by jurors taken away; their persons subjected to transportation across the Atlantic, and to trial by foreign judicatories; their supplications for redress thought beneath answer, themselves published as cowards in the councils of their mother country, and courts of Europe; armed troops sent amongst them, to enforce submission to these violences; and actual hostilities commenced against them. No alternative was presented, but resistance or unconditional submision. Between these there could be no hesitation. They closed in the appeal to arms."
In the year 1773, Mr. Jefferson became a member of the first committee of correspondence, established by the provincial assemblies. We have already noticed the claim which Virginia and Massachusetts have respectively urged, to the honor of having first suggested this important measure in the revolution. Both, probably, in respect to this, are entitled to equal credit; but to whomsoever the honor belongs, that honor is, indeed, great, since this measure, more than most others, contributed to that union of action and sentiment, which characterized the proceedings of the several colonies, and which was the foundation of their final triumph over an ancient and powerful kingdom.
In 1774, Mr. Jefferson published a "Summary View of the Rights of British America," a valuable production among those intended to show the dangers which threatened the liberties of the country, and to encourage the people in their defense. This pamphlet was addressed to the king, whom, in language respectful but bold, it reminded that America was settled by British freemen, whose rights had been violated, upon whom the hand of tyranny was thus heavily lying, and from the sufferings which they were experiencing, they must be, and they would be, free.
The bold and independent language of this pamphlet gave great umbrage to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of the province. Mr. Jefferson, on avowing himself the author of the pamphlet, was threatened with a prosecution for high treason by the governor; a threat, which he probably would have carried into effect, could he have hoped that the vindictive measure would succeed.
In the following year, 1775, Mr. Jefferson was selected by the Virginia legislature to answer Lord North's famous "Conciliatory proposition," called, in the language of the day, his "Olive branch;" but it was an olive branch that concealed a serpent; or, as the former President Adams observed, "it was an asp, in a basket of flowers." The task assigned him, was performed by Mr. Jefferson in a manner the most happy and satisfactory. The reply was cool and calm and close—marked with uncommon energy and keen sagacity. The document may be found in most of the histories of that period, and is manifestly one of the most nervous and manly productions of that day. It concluded with the following strong and independent language:
"These, my lord, are our sentiments, on this important subject, which we offer only as an individual part of the whole empire. Final determination we leave to the general congress, now sitting, before whom we shall lay the papers your lordship has communicated to us. For ourselves, we have exhausted every mode of application, which our invention could suggest, as proper and promising. We have decently remonstrated with parliament—they have added new injuries to the old; we have wearied our king with supplications—he has not deigned to answer us; we have appealed to the native honour and justice of the British nation—their efforts in our favour have hitherto been ineffectual. What then remains to be done? That we commit our injuries to the even handed justice of that Being, who doth no wrong, earnestly beseeching Him to illuminate the councils, and prosper the endeavours of those to whom America hath confided her hopes; that through their wise directions, we may again see reunited the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and harmony with Great Britain."
In the month of June, 1775, Mr. Jefferson appeared and took his seat in the continental congress, as a delegate from Virginia. In this enlightened assembly, he soon became conspicuous among the most distinguished for their abilities and patriotism. He was appointed on various important committees, towards the discharge of whose duties he contributed his full share. The cause of liberty lay near his heart, nor did he hesitate to incur all necessary hazard in maintaining and defending it.
Antecedently to the year 1776, a dissolution of the union with Great Britain had not been contemplated, either by congress, or the nation. During the spring of that year, however, the question of independence became one of deep and solemn reflection, among the American people. It was perceived, by many in all parts of the land, that the hope of reconciliation with the parent country was at an end. It was, indeed, an unequal contest, in which the colonies were engaged. It was a measure of unexampled boldness, which they were contemplating—a step which, should it not receive the smiles of a propitious Providence, would evidently involve them and their posterity in calamities, the full measure and duration of which no political prophet could foretell. But, then, it was a measure rendered necessary, by the oppression which they were suffering. The "shadows, clouds, and darkness," which rested on the future, did not deter them.
The language which they adopted, and the feelings which they indulged, were the language and feelings of the patriotic Hawley, who said, "We must put to sea—Providence will bring us into port."
It was fortunate for the cause of America, and for the cause of freedom, that there was a class of men at that day, who were adequate to the high and mighty enterprise of sundering the ties which bound the colonies. For this they were doubtless specially raised up by the God of heaven; for this they were prepared by the lofty energies of their minds, and by that boldness and intrepidity of character, which, perhaps, never so signally marked another generation of men.
The measure thus determined upon was, at length, brought forward in the continental congress. We have already noticed in several preceding sketches, the debate on this subject, and the important part which various individuals took in urging it forward. It belongs to this place to notice, particularly, the important services which Mr. Jefferson rendered in relation to it. A resolution had been presented by Richard Henry Lee to declare America free and independent. The debate upon this resolution was continued from the seventh to the tenth of June, when the further consideration of it was postponed until the first of July, and at the same time a committee of five was appointed to prepare provisionally a draft of a declaration of independence. At the head of this committee was placed Thomas Jefferson. He was at this time but thirty-two years of age, and was probably the youngest member of the committee, and one of the youngest men in the house for he had only served part of the former session.
Mr. Jefferson being chairman of this committee, the important duty of preparing the draft of the document was assigned to him. It was a task of no ordinary magnitude, and demanded the exercise of no common judgment and foresight. By the act itself, a nation was to stand or fall. Nay, in its effects, it was to exercise a powerful influence upon other nations on the globe, and might extend forward to the end of time.
To frame a document, which should precisely meet the exigencies of the case—which should set forth the causes of complaint, according to truth—which should abide the scrutiny of enemies at home and abroad—which should stand the test of time, especially of a day which would come, when the high wrought excitement, then existing, would have subsided—this was no ordinary task. Indeed, there were few minds, even at that day, which would have felt adequate to the undertaking.
From his study, Mr. Jefferson at length presented to his colleagues the original draft. A few changes only in the document were suggested by two of them, Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams. The whole merit of the paper was Mr. Jefferson's. On being reported to congress, it underwent a few other slight alterations; none of which, however, altered the tone, the frame, the arrangement, or the general character of the instrument.
"It has sometimes been said," observes an eloquent writer, "as if it were a derogation from the merits of this paper, that it contains nothing new; that it only states grounds of proceeding, and presses topics of argument, which had often been stated and pressed before. But it was not the object of the declaration to produce any thing new. It was not to invent reasons for independence, but to state those which governed the congress. For great and sufficient reasons it was proposed to declare independence; and the proper business of the paper to be drawn, was, to set forth those causes, and justify the authors of the measure, in any event of fortune, to the country and to posterity. The cause of American independence, moreover, was now to be presented to the world in such a manner, if it might so be, as to engage its sympathy, to command its respect, to attract its admiration; and in an assembly of most able and distinguished men, Thomas Jefferson had the high honour of being the selected advocate of this cause. To say that he performed his great work well, would be doing him injustice. To say that he did excellently well, admirably well, would be inadequate and halting praise. Let us rather say, that he so discharged the duty assigned him, that all Americans may well rejoice that the work of drawing the little deed of their liberties devolved on his hands."
In 1778, Mr. Jefferson was appointed by congress, in conjunction with Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane, a commissioner to France, for the purpose of forming a treaty of alliance and commerce with that nation. In consequence, however, of ill health, and impressed with the conviction that he could be of greater service to his country, and especially to his state, by continuing at home, he declined accepting the office, and Arthur Lee was appointed in his place.
Between 1777 and 1779, Mr. Jefferson was employed, conjointly with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, on a commission for revising the laws of Virginia. This was an arduous service, requiring no less than one hundred and twenty-six bills, which were drawn by these gentlemen, and which for simplicity and perspicuity have seldom been excelled. In respect to Mr. Jefferson, it should be noticed, that, besides the laborious share which he took in revising the laws of the state, to him belongs the honor of having first proposed the important laws in the Virginia code, forbidding the importation of slaves; converting estates tail into fees simple; annulling the rights of primogeniture; establishing schools for general education, and confirming the rights of freedom in religious opinion, with several others.
In 1779, Patrick Henry, who was the first republican governor, under the renovated constitution, and the successor of the earl of Dunmore, having served his appointed term, retired from that office, upon which Mr. Jefferson was chosen to succeed him. To this office he was re-elected the following year, and continued in office until June, 1781.
The administration of Mr. Jefferson, as governor of Virginia, during the above term, was arduous and difficult. The revolutionary struggle was progressing, and the southern states were particularly the theatre of hostile operations. At three several times, during his magistracy, the state of Virginia was invaded by the enemy; the first time in the spring of 1780, by the ferocious General Tarlton, whose military movements were characterized by unusual barbarity, and who was followed in his invasion by the main army, under Lord Cornwallis.
While the eyes of all were directed to these military movements in the south, the state experienced a still more unexpected and disastrous attack, from a body of troops, under the guidance of the infamous Arnold, whom treachery had rendered more daring and more vindictive.
In respect to preparations for hostilities within her own limits, the state of Virginia was sadly deficient; nor had the habits and pursuits of Mr. Jefferson been of a kind which fitted him for military enterprise. Aware, however, of the necessity of energy and exertion, in this season of danger and general distress, he applied his mind, with alacrity and ardor, to meet the exigencies of the case. Scarcely had Arnold left the coast, when Cornwallis entered the state, on its southern border. At this time, the condition of Virginia was extremely distressing; she was wholly unprepared; her troops were fighting in remote parts of the country; she had few military stores; and, to add to her distress, her finances were exhausted. On the approach of Arnold in January, the general assembly had hastily adjourned to meet again at Charlottesville, on the twenty-fourth of May.
In the mean time, a most anxious part devolved upon the governor. He had few resources, and was obliged to depend, in a great measure, upon his personal influence to obtain the munitions of war, and to raise and set in motion troops from different parts of the state. The various expedients which he adopted were indicative of much sagacity, and were attended by success highly important to the common cause.
On the twenty-fourth of May, the legislature was to meet at Charlottesville. They were not formed for business, however until the twenty-eighth. A few days following which, the term for which Mr. Jefferson had been elected expired, when he again found himself a private citizen.
On leaving the chair of state, Mr. Jefferson retired to Monticello, when intelligence was received, two days after, that a body of troops under command of General Tarlton were rapidly hastening to Charlottesville, for the purpose of surprising and capturing the members of the assembly. They had only time, after the alarm was given, to adjourn to meet at Staunton, and to disperse, before the enemy entered the village. Another party had directed their course to Monticello to capture the ex-governor. Fortunately, an express hastened from Charlottesville, to convey intelligence to Mr. Jefferson of their approach. Scarcely had the family time to make arrangements, indispensable for their departure, and to effect their escape, before the enemy were seen ascending the hill, leading to the mansion-house. Mr. Jefferson himself, mounting his horse, narrowly escaped, by taking a course through the woods. This flight of Mr. Jefferson, eminently proper, and upon which his safety depended, has unwarrantably excited in times gone by the ridicule and censure of his enemies.
Agreeably to their appointment, the legislature assembled at Staunton on the seventh, soon after which, at the instigation of Mr. George Nicholas, all inquiry was moved into the conduct of Mr. Jefferson in respect to remissness in the discharge of his duty, at the time of Arnold's invasion. The ensuing session of the legislature was fixed upon for the investigation of the charges. At the arrival of the appointed time, Mr. Nicholas had become convinced that the charges were without foundation, and this impression having generally obtained, no one appeared to bring forward the investigation. Upon this, Mr. Jefferson, who had been returned a member of the assembly, rose in his place, and entered into a justification of his conduct His statement was calm, lucid, and convincing. On concluding it, the house unanimously adopted the following resolution:
"Resolved, That the sincere thanks of the general assembly be given to our former governor, Thomas Jefferson, for his impartial, upright, and attentive administration, whilst in office. The assembly wish, in the strongest manner, to declare the high opinion they entertain of Mr. Jefferson's ability, rectitude, and integrity, as chief magistrate of this commonwealth; and mean, by thus publicly avowing their opinion, to obviate and to remove all unmerited censure."
To this it may be added, that Mr. Nicholas, some time after, did Mr. Jefferson the justice to acknowledge, in a public manner, the erroneous views which he had entertained, and to express his regret that more correct information had not been obtained, before the accusation had been brought forward.
In the year 1781, Mr. Jefferson composed his "Notes on Virginia," a work which grew out of a number of questions, proposed to him by M. De Marbois, the secretary of the French legation in the United States. It embraced a general view of the geography of Virginia, its natural productions, statistics, government, history, and laws. In 1787, Mr. Jefferson published the work, under his own signature. It attracted much attention in Europe, as well as in America; dispelled many misconceptions respecting this continent, and gave its author a place among men distinguished for science. It is still admired, and will long be admired, for the happy simplicity of its style, and for the extent and variety of its information.
In 1782, Mr. Jefferson received the appointment of minister plenipotentiary, to join commissioners already in Europe, to settle the conditions of peace between the United States and Great Britain. Before his embarkation, however, intelligence was received, that the preliminaries of peace had been signed. The necessity of his mission being removed, congress dispensed with his leaving America.
In November, 1783, he again took his seat in the continental congress; but in May following was appointed minister plenipotentiary to act abroad in the negotiations of commercial treaties, in conjunction with Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams. In the month of July, Mr. Jefferson sailed for France, and joined the other commissioners at Paris, in August.
Although ample powers had been imparted to the commissioners, they were not as successful in forming commercial treaties as had been expected. It was of great importance to the United States to effect a treaty of this kind with Great Britain, and for this purpose Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams proceeded to London. In this important object they failed, owing, probably, to the hostile feelings which the ministry indulged towards America, and to the wounded pride which still rankled in their breasts; and, moreover, to a selfish policy which they had adopted in respect to their navigation system, by which they intended to increase their own navigation at the expense of other nations, and especially of the United States. The only treaties which the commissioners were at this time able to negotiate, were with Morocco and Prussia.
In 1785, Mr. Jefferson was appointed to succeed Doctor Franklin as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Versailles. The duties of this station he continued to perform until October, 1789, when he obtained leave to retire, just on the eve of that tremendous revolution which has so much agitated the world in our times.
The discharge of Mr. Jefferson's diplomatic duties while abroad, "was marked by great ability, diligence, and patriotism; and while he resided at Paris, in one of the most interesting periods, his character for intelligence, his love of knowledge, and of the society of learned men, distinguished him in the highest circles of the French capital. No court in Europe had, at that time, in Paris, a representative commanding or enjoying higher regard, for political knowledge, or for general attainment, titan the minister of this then infant republic."
During his residence in France, Mr. Jefferson found leisure to visit both Holland and Italy. In both countries he was received with the respect and attention due to his official station, as the minister of a rising republic, and as a man of learning and science.
In the year 1789, he returned to his native country. His talents and experience recommended him to President Washington for the first office in his gift. He was accordingly placed at the head of the department of state, end immediately entered on the arduous duties of that important station.
Soon after Mr. Jefferson entered on the duties of this office, congress directed him to prepare and report a plan for establishing a uniform system of currency, weights, and measures. This was followed, at a subsequent day, by reports on the subject of tonnage duties payable by France, and on the subject of the cod and whale fisheries. Each of these reports displayed the usual accuracy, information, and intelligence of the writer.
Towards the close of the year 1791, the relation of the United States to several countries abroad became embarrassing, and gave occasion to Mr. Jefferson to exercise those talents of a diplomatic character, with which he was pre-eminently endowed. "His correspondence with the ministers of other powers residing here, and his instructions to our own diplomatic agents abroad, are among our ablest state papers. A thorough knowledge of the laws and usages of nations, perfect acquaintance with the immediate subject before him, great felicity, and still greater facility, in writing show themselves in whatever effort his official situation called on him to make. It is believed, by competent judges, that the diplomatic intercourse of the government of the United States, from the first meeting of the continental congress in 1774 to the present time, taken together, would not suffer, in respect to the talent with which it has been conducted, by comparison with any thing which other and older states can produce; and to the attainment of this respectability and distinction, Mr. Jefferson has contributed his full part."
On the sixteenth of December, 1793, Mr. Jefferson communicated his last official report to congress, on the nature and extent of the privileges and restrictions on the commerce of the United States in foreign countries, and the measures which he deemed important to be adopted by the United States, for the improvement of their commerce and navigation.
This report, which has ever been considered as one of primary importance, gave rise to a long and interesting discussion in the national legislature. In regard to the measures recommended in the report, a wide difference prevailed in congress, among the two great parties, into which that body had become obviously and permanently divided. Indeed, it may be said to have been this report, which finally separates the statesmen of the country into two great political parties, which have existed almost to the present time.
On the thirty-first of December, 1793, Mr. Jefferson tendered his resignation as secretary of state, and again retired to private life. The interval which elapsed between his resignation of the above office, and his being summoned again to the councils of the nation, he employed in a manner most delightful to himself, viz. in the education of his family, the management of his estate, and the pursuit of philosophical studies, to the latter of which, though long neglected, in his devotion to higher duties, he returned with renewed ardor.
The attachment of a large proportion of his fellow-citizens, which Mr. Jefferson carried with him into his seclusion, did not allow him long to enjoy the pleasures of a private life, to which he appears to have been sincerely devoted. General Washington had for some time determined upon a relinquishment of the presidential chair, and in his farewell address, in the month of September, 1796, announced that intention. This distinguished man, having thus withdrawn himself, the two political parties brought forward their respective candidates, Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson. On counting the votes in February, 1797, in the presence of both houses of congress, it was found that Mr. Adams was elected president, he having the highest number of votes, and Mr. Jefferson vice president, upon which respective offices they entered on the following fourth of March.
In the life of Mr. Adams, we had occasion to allude to the unsettled state of the country, and the general dissatisfaction with his administration, which prevailed. During this period, however, Mr. Jefferson resided chiefly at Monticello, pursuing the peaceful and noiseless occupations of private life. The time, at length, approached for a new election of president Mr. Jefferson was again proposed by the republican party as a candidate for that office. The candidate of the federal party was Mr. Burr.
On the eleventh of February, 1801, the votes were counted in the presence of both houses of congress, and the result declared by the vice president to be, for Thomas Jefferson seventy-three; for Aaron Burr seventy-three; John Adams sixty-five; C.C. Pinckney sixty-four; and John Jay one.
The vice president then, in pursuance of the duty enjoined upon him, declared that Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, having an equal number of votes, it remained for the house of representatives to determine the choice. Upon this, the two houses separated, "and the house of representatives returned to their chamber, where seats had been previously prepared for the members of the senate. A call of the members of the house, arranged according to states, was then made; upon which it appeared that every member was present, except General Sumpter, who was unwell, and unable to attend. Mr. Nicholson, of Maryland, was also unwell, but attended, and had a bed prepared for him in one of the committee rooms, to which place the ballot box was carried to him, by the tellers, appointed on the part of the state.
"The first ballot was eight states for Mr. Jefferson, six for Mr. Burr, and two divided; which result continued to be the same after balloting thirty-five times."
Thus stood affairs, after a long and even distressing contest, when a member of the house, (General Smith,) communicated to the house the following extract of a letter from Mr. Burr:
"It is highly improbable that I shall have an equal number of votes with Mr. Jefferson: but if such should be the result, every man who knows me, ought to know, that I would utterly disclaim all competition. Be assured that the federal party can entertain no wish for such an exchange.
"As to my friends, they would dishonour, my views, and insult my feelings, by a suspicion that I would submit to be instrumental in counteracting the wishes and expectations of the United States; and I now constitute you my proxy to declare these sentiments, if the occasion shall require."
This avowal of the wishes of Mr. Burr, induced two federal members to withdraw; in consequence of which, on the thirty-sixth balloting, Mr. Jefferson was elected president. Colonel Burr, by the provision of the constitution, became, of course, vice president.
On the fourth of March, 1801, Mr. Jefferson, agreeable to the constitution, took the oath of office, in the presence of both houses of congress, on which occasion he delivered his inaugural address.
In this address, after expressing his diffidence in his powers satisfactorily to discharge the duties of the high and responsible office assigned him, he proceeded to state the principles by which his administration would be governed. These were, "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 administration for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies: the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigour, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home, and safety abroad: a jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution, where peaceable remedies are unprovided: absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotisms: 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 labour may be lightly burthened: the honest payment of our debts, and sacred preservation of the public faith: encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its hand-maid: 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," added Mr. Jefferson, "should be the creed of our political faith; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."
To enter into a minute detail of the administration of Mr. Jefferson, would neither comport with the duties of a biographer, nor with the limits which must necessarily be prescribed to the present sketch. At a future day, more distant by far than the present, when the remembrance of political asperities shall have passed away, can exact justice be done to Mr. Jefferson and his administration. That he was a distinguished man, distinguished as a statesman, none can deny. But as the measures of his administration were called in question, in respect to their policy, and as the day of excitement has scarcely passed by, it is deemed more judicious to leave the subject to the research and deliberation of the future historian, than, in this place, to attempt to settle questions, about which there was, while he lived, and still may exist, an honest difference of opinion.
On the meeting of congress in December, 1801, Mr. Jefferson, varying from the practice of the former presidents, communicated a message to congress, instead of delivering a speech in person. The change in this respect thus introduced was obviously so popular and acceptable, that it has been adopted on every subsequent similar occasion.
The principal acts which characterized the first term of Mr. Jefferson's career, were, a removal from responsible and lucrative offices of a great portion of those whose political opinions were opposed to his own; the abolition of the internal taxes; a reorganization of the judiciary; an extension of the laws relative to naturalization; the purchase of Louisiana, and the establishment of commercial and friendly relations with various western tribes of Indians.
On the occurrence of a new presidential election, in 1805, the administration of Mr. Jefferson had been so acceptable, that he was re-elected by a majority, not of eight votes, as in the former instance, but by one hundred and forty-eight. Inspired with new zeal by this additional proof of confidence which his fellow-citizens had given him, he took occasion, in his second inaugural address, to assert his determination to abide by those principles upon which he had administered the government, and the approbation of which, on the part of the people, he read in their re-election of him to the same exalted station. In concluding his inaugural address, he took occasion to observe: "I do not fear that any motives of interest may lead me astray; I am sensible of no passion which could seduce me knowingly from the path of justice; but the weaknesses of human nature, and the limits of my own understanding, will produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests; I shall need, therefore, all the indulgence I have heretofore experienced; the want of it will certainly not lessen with increasing years. I shall need, too, the favour of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power."
On the second election of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency, the vice presidency was transferred from Mr. Burr to George Clinton, of New-York. A merited odium had settled upon Mr. Burr in consequence of his unprincipled duel with General Hamilton, in which the latter gentleman had fallen a victim to murderous revenge. From this time, Mr. Burr sunk, as it was thought, into final obscurity; but his future conduct showed, that, while unobserved by his fellow citizens, he had been achieving a project, which, but for the sagacity and effective measures of Mr. Jefferson, might have led even to a dissolution of the union.
In the autumn of 1806, the movements of Mr. Burr first attracted the notice of government. He had purchased and was building boats on the Ohio, and engaging men to descend that river. His declared purpose was to form a settlement on the banks of the Washita, in Louisiana; but the character of the man, the nature of his preparations, and the incautious disclosures of his associates, led to the suspicion that his true object was either to gain possession of New-Orleans, and to erect into a separate government the country watered by the Mississippi and its branches, or to invade, from the territories of the United States, the rich Spanish province of Mexico.
From the first moment of suspicion, he was closely watched by the agents of the government. At Natchez, while on his way to New-Orleans, he was cited to appear before the supreme court of the Mississippi Territory. But he had so enveloped his projects in secrecy, that sufficient evidence to convict him could not be produced, and he was discharged. Hearing, however, that several persons, suspected of being his accomplices, had been arrested at New-Orleans and else where, he fled in disguise from Natchez, was apprehended on the Tombigbee, and conveyed a prisoner to Richmond. Two indictments were found against him, one charging him with treason against the United States, the other with preparing and commencing an expedition against the dominions of Spain.
In August, 1807, he was tried upon those indictments before John Marshall, the chief justice of the United States. Full evidence of his guilt not being exhibited, he was acquitted by the jury. The people, however, believed him guilty; and by their desertion and contempt he was reduced to a condition of the most abject wretchedness. The ease with which his plans were defeated, demonstrated the strength of the government; and his fate will ever be an impressive warning to those who, in a free country, listen to the suggestions of criminal ambition.
While these domestic troubles were, in a measure, agitating the country, questions of still greater importance were engaging the attention of the government in respect to our foreign relations. War was at this time waging between England and France. America, taking advantage of the belligerent state of these kingdoms, was advantageously employing herself, as a neutral power, in carrying from port to port the productions of France and her dependent kingdoms, and also to the ports of those kingdoms the manufactures of England.
Great Britain, at this time, and indeed from the peace of 1783, had claimed a right to search for and seize her seamen, even on board of neutral vessels while traversing the ocean. In the exercise of this pretended right, many unlawful seizures were made, against which Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, had successively remonstrated in vain. Added to this, the Americans were molested in the carrying trade, their vessels being seized by British cruisers while transporting ,to the continent the products of the French colonies, and condemned by the English courts as lawful prizes. In May, 1806, were issued the British orders in council, by which several European ports, under the control of France, were declared to be in a state of blockade, although not invested with a British fleet, and American vessels, in attempting to enter those ports, were captured and condemned.
As a measure retaliatory to the above orders in council, the French emperor issued a decree at Berlin, in 1806, declaring the British islands in a state of blockade. In consequence of these measures of the two belligerents, the commerce of the United States severely suffered, and their merchants were loud in their demands on the government for redress and protection.
In June, 1807, an act was committed which raised the indignation of the whole American people, and concentrated upon the British government the whole weight of popular indignation. This was an attack upon the frigate Chesapeake, just as she was leaving her port, for a distant service, by order of a British admiral, in consequence of which three of her men were killed, and four taken away. This outrage occasioned an immediate proclamation on the part of Mr. Jefferson, requiring all British armed vessels immediately to depart from the waters of the United States, and forbidding all such to enter. Instructions were forwarded to the American minister at the court of Great Britain, to demand satisfaction for the insult, and security against future aggression. Congress was summoned to meet, and to decide upon the further measures which should be adopted.
In the mean time, the British government promptly disavowed the act of the officer, by whom the above outrage had been committed, and offered reparation for the injuries done, which some time after was carried into effect.
From this time, the conduct of the belligerents was such, in respect to each other, as to bear oppressively upon the American nation, leaving the government of the latter no other alternative, but abject submission, or decided retaliation. In respect to the latter course, two measures only could be adopted, a declaration of war, or a suspension of the commerce of the United States. The latter alternative was adopted, and on the twenty-second of December, 1807, an act passed both houses of congress, laying a general embargo.
In respect to the policy of the embargo, the most prominent feature in the administration of Mr. Jefferson, different opinions prevailed among the American people. By the administration, it was acknowledged to be only an experiment; which, while it showed the spirit of the nation, and operated with no inconsiderable severity upon the interests of the belligerents, left the way open to negotiations, or, if necessary to actual war.
Before the result of that system of measures which had been recommended by Mr. Jefferson was fully known, the period arrived when a new election to the presidency was to take place. As Mr. Jefferson had reached the age of sixty-five years, forty of which had almost uninterruptedly been devoted to the arduous duties of public life, he was desirous, at the close of his then presidential term, of ending his political career.
Having formed this determination, he alluded to it in a message to congress, in the following language:
"Availing myself of this, the last occasion which will occur of addressing the two houses of the legislature at their meeting, I cannot omit the expression of my sincere gratitude for the repeated proofs of confidence manifested to me by themselves, and their predecessors, since my call to the administration, and the many indulgences experienced at their hands. The same grateful acknowledgments are due to my fellow-citizens generally, whose support has been my great encouragement, under all embarrassments. In the transactions of their business, I cannot have escaped error. It is incident to our imperfect nature. But I may say with truth, my errors have been of the understanding, not of intention; and that the advancement of their rights and interests has been the constant motive of every measure. On these considerations, I solicit their indulgence, Looking forward with anxiety to their future destinies, I trust, that in their steady character, unshaken by difficulties, in their love of liberty, obedience to law, and support of public authorities, I see a sure guarantee of the permanence of our republic; and retiring from the charge of their affairs, I carry with me the consolation of a firm persuasion, that heaven has in store for our beloved country, long ages to come of prosperity and happiness."
From the time of his retirement from public life, in 1807, Mr. Jefferson resided at Monticello, and lived as became a wise man. "Surrounded by affectionate friends, his ardor in the pursuit of knowledge undiminished, with uncommon health, and unbroken spirits, he was able to enjoy largely the rational pleasures of life, and to partake in that public prosperity, which he had so much contributed to produce. His kindness and hospitality, the charm of his conversation, the ease of his manners, the extent of his acquirements, and especially the full store of revolutionary incidents which he possessed, and which he knew when and how to dispense, rendered his abode, in a high degree, attractive to his admiring countrymen, while his high public and scientific character drew towards him every intelligent and educated traveler from abroad."
Although Mr. Jefferson had withdrawn from public life, he was still anxious to promote the objects of science, taste, and literature; and especially solicitous to see established a university in his native state. To this object he devoted several years of incessant and anxious attention, and by the enlightened liberality of the legislature of Virginia, and the co-operation of other able and zealous friends, he lived to see it accomplished. Of this institution, of which he was the father, he was elected the rector, and, during the declining years of his life, devoted himself, with unceasing ardor, to its permanent prosperity.
It has often been the lot of those who have devoted themselves to the public service, to suffer in the decline of life from the hand of poverty. This was the lot of Mr. Jefferson. His patrimony was originally large but was unavoidably neglected, in his attendance upon the duties of the high official stations which he had filled. Partial efforts were made in his native state, and in other parts of the country, to relieve his embarrassments; but the precise extent of the measures adopted, in reference to this subject, we have not the means of ascertaining.
At length, the day on which this illustrious man was to terminate his long and useful career, approached. That day, by the appointment of heaven, was to be the fourth of July, 1826. He saw its approach with undisturbed serenity. He had no wish to live beyond that day. It was a day which, fifty years before, he had helped to make immortal. His wishes were answered; and at ten minutes before one o'clock, on that day—memorable, also, for the departure of his compatriot, Adams—Mr. Jefferson himself expired at Monticello. At this time he had reached the age of eighty-three years, two months, and twenty-one days. In stature, he was six feet and two inches high. His person was erect and well formed, though spare. The color of his eyes was light, but they beamed with intelligence.
We shall not attempt minutely to delineate the character of Mr. Jefferson; this must be left to others, who may possess greater facilities of doing him justice. It may be observed, however, that in his manners he was simple and unaffected; at the same time possessing no inconsiderable share of dignity. In disposition he was uncommonly liberal and benevolent. In seasons of danger and perplexity, he exhibited no ordinary fortitude and strength of mind. His opinions were slowly formed, but yielded with great reluctance. Over his passions he possessed an uncommon control.
In his domestic habits, he was quite simple. He rose early, and through the whole day was unusually diligent in his application, either to business or study, he was ardently devoted to literature and science, with almost every branch of which he was well acquainted. Of his peculiar opinions on religious subjects, we are designedly silent. In respect to these, the best and wisest of his countrymen have entertained very different sentiments. At a future day, it will be easier to decide in respect to their true character and tendency.
It remains to notice only one circumstance more. "In a private memorandum found among some other obituary papers and relies of Mr. Jefferson, is a suggestion, in case a monument over him should ever be thought of, that a granite obelisk, of small dimensions, should be erected, with the following inscription:
HERE WAS BURIED
Author of the Declaration of Independence
Of the Statutes of Virginia for Religious Freedom
And Father of the University of Virginia
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich
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