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THE REPUBLICAN TRIUMPH
We are sensible of the duty and expediency of submitting our opinions to the will of the majority, and can wait with patience until they get right if they happen to be at any time wrong. (Jefferson to John Breckenridge, January 29, 1800.)
"THE ensuing year will be the longest of my life, and the last of such hateful labors,” wrote Jefferson to his daughter, Martha Randolph, in March, 1792; “the next we will sow our cabbages together.” In letters written to his friends after his belated return to Monticello, he renounces all further interest in politics. He is now "settled at home as a farmer," his mind "totally absorbed in rural occupations." To John Adams he writes that his only regret is that his retirement was "postponed four years too long.” He replies to a friendly letter from Washington with the sentiment: “I cherish tranquillity too much to suffer political things to enter my mind at all”; and declares to Madison that he has not seen or wished to see a Philadelphia paper since he left the town. Indeed he doubted if he should "ever take another newspaper of any sort”—the man who preferred newspapers without a government to a government without newspapers! If such senti
ments sound hypocritical, especially in view of the fact that Jefferson presently entered the political race and spent twelve consecutive years in the offices of Vice-President and President, we must remember that it was the fashion in his day for public men to protest in elaborate terms their aversion to the cares of office, and to think themselves in “declining years” when they had reached the age of fifty. Jefferson was probably sincere in his belief that he had given up active political life forever for his cabbages at Monticello. But he soon began sowing the seeds of a different harvest.
"It is easier to get into politics than to get out of them,” remarks the Tory in Lowes Dickinson's Modern Symposium. So it proved with Jefferson. His retirement from the cabinet left a free field in the administration to Hamilton, under whose influence Washington became an out-and-out Federalist. “I shall not,” the President wrote to Pickering in September, 1795, “while I have the honor to administer the government, bring a man into any office whose political tenets are adverse to the measures which the general government are pursuing, for this, in my opinion, would be a sort of political suicide.” The brief experiment of non-partisan government was at an end in the United States. But Thomas Jefferson was not the man to stand idly by and see what he considered the wrong party and principles win. He was too much of a politician
and too much of a patriot for that. The opponents of the administration in Congress and the country at large had already come to look on him as their leader, and he must not fail them. The Republicans of Boston in a caucus wrote him just after his resignation from the cabinet that “if he would place himself at their head, they would choose him at the next election.” The politics which he banished from his earliest letters from Monticello in 1794 came stealing back, in first a sentence, then a paragraph, then a disquisition. He checks himself resolutely with "but away, politics !" and turns to the praise of his clover or the price of his wheat. But the old lure is too strong for him. His conversion is unconvincing. He reminds one of Saint Jerome, turned Christian, trying to scourge the love of Cicero out of his mind.
The leaders of political parties have always been inclined to attribute base motives to their opponents and high motives to themselves; and the historians who come after them have too often been willing to accept one or the other of the evaluations as true according as their own sympathies inclined. For the Federalists, Jefferson and his followers were the advocates of the irresponsible rule of the mob. They were deliberately working to bring the government into contempt and ruin its credit in the eyes of Europe. They opposed its “compulsive energy” because they didn't want to pay their
debts. They "generated mistrust and irritation between this country and Great Britain” because they were under “the baleful ascendency of French influence" and the victims of "a contagion of levelism.” They were inoculated with the incendiary, anarchistic, atheistic poison of the Jacobins. For the Republicans, on the other hand, Hamilton was the chief of a "corrupt squadron" in Congress who had created a fictitious debt in order to keep the common people of the country under a perpetual burden of taxation, which would insure their social serfdom to “the rich, the well-born, and the able.” The Federalist system "flowed from principles adverse to liberty.” Its adherents flouted the Constitution and wished to “administer it into a monarchy." Their contempt for the people proceeded from the motives of aristocratic snobbery and economic greed. What each party prized as its principles the other denounced as rank prejudices. The fiscal system which Hamilton regarded as the guaranty of our national honor, was for Jefferson "a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country”; while Fisher Ames stigmatized as "revolutionary Robespierreism” the Republican movement which Jefferson called “the awakening of the spirit of 1776."
It would be idle to multiply quotations to prove the truth or the falsehood of either of these points of view. The test of their "truth” is an experimental one. Politics is not a determined science, but a very flexible and pragmatic art. And, doubtless, since speculation on the forms and functions of government began, men have been divided into these two fundamental parties—one advocating government for the people by the strong, the rich, the titled, the educated; the other advocating government by the people through eliciting the dormant intellect and virtue of the whole community by a wide-spread system of free education, a close control of public officers by the people, and a wide extension of the suffrage. As long as men live together in political societies there will be those who fear anarchy more than tyranny and those who set freedom above efficiency. We incline toward the one or the other of these opinions according to our nature and nurture, and the bias is seldom removed by education or experience. There are "tastes" in politics as well as in food, and they are as impossible to account for. Witness Alexander Hamilton, the illegitimate son of a Scotch father and a French mother, a restless spirit with the shrewd sense of one parent and the versatility and grace of the other, an ardent, precocious boy, coming from the British island of Nevis to New York as a venture for his education, an orator swaying crowds as an undergraduate of King's College at the age of seventeen; and Thomas Jefferson with the aristocratic blood of the Randolphs in his veins, dining with the