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If we turn to Jefferson's private correspondence during the few months after he entered the presidential office, we find in it little that matches the roseate view of reconciliation and harmony expressed in the inaugural address. He wrote to Monroe three days after the inauguration that he would never turn an inch out of his way to placate the Federalist leaders; and to General Gates a day later that he hoped to make up an administration which should "bid defiance to the plans of opposition meditated” by them. He would rebuke “Mr. Adams' indecent conduct in crowding nominations after he knew they were not for himself,” by treating such nominations "as nullities.” To his attorney-general, Levi Lincoln, he wrote in midsummer deploring the “inflexibility of the federalist spirit” in Connecticut, and asked for a list of “Essex men” in office in New England with a view to their removal. Commenting on his first annual message of December, 1801, in a letter to Dupont de Nemours, he excused himself for not having attacked the financial system inherited from Alexander Hamilton. "It mortifies me," he wrote, "to be strengthening principles which I deem radically vicious, but this vice is entailed on us by the first error. In other parts of our government I hope we shall be able by degrees to introduce sound principles and make them habitual.” The leaders of the Federalists he considered incorrigible, but their
followers might be won. As Henry Adams neatly says: “Jefferson intended to entice the flock with one hand and belabor the shepherds with the other."
When Jefferson's first Congress adjourned on May 3, 1802, though there was a Republican majority in both Houses, the sum total of its onslaught on the Federalist measures against which the Republicans had protested for a decade was the repeal of the Judiciary Act, the Naturalization Act, and the internal taxes. Economies were introduced in army and navy by Jefferson's able secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, a budget system calling for specific appropriations was introduced, and provision was made for setting aside enough of the annual income as a sinking fund to extinguish the debt by the year 1817. But no steps were taken to modify the structure of government or to guard against those centralizing tendencies which the Republicans professed to detest. The Alien and Sedition Acts expired by limitation in 1801, but the Enemies Alien Act remained, and still remains, on our statute-books. The central doctrine of Jefferson's political creed was that the "general Government” must not be the final judge of its own powers. Such a government he had lately called a “despotism." Yet his Republican Congress took no steps toward initiating an amendment to the Constitution by which the justices of the supreme court should have a limited or elective term or should be removable on petition by Congress. Jefferson spoke bitterly of the Federalists "retiring into the Judiciary as a stronghold” from which they might batter down all the works of republicanism; yet he left the stronghold unattacked. Where was the spirit of the Kentucky Resolutions !
Uncompromising Republicans of the South, like John Randolph, John Taylor, Macon, and Giles, attributed Jefferson's acquiescence in the status quo to the influence of Secretary Madison's still unreformed Federalism, while the Federalists rejoiced at the signs of approaching disaffection in the Republican ranks. It is hard to know just what the motives for Jefferson's "inconsistency" were, for the story that he promised the Federalists of the House not to interfere with the financial institutions of their party, in order to secure his election over Burr, he categorically denied. The most charitable view of the matter is that Jefferson was so convinced of the change of heart of all but a negligible remnant of Federalists that he thought the Constitution was in no further danger of being "perverted into monarchy.” After all, it was not the instrument that mattered so much as the character of the men in whose hands the instrument was. The least charitable view of Jefferson's behavior is that it was of a piece with the "ineradicable duplicity” of mind which made him say one thing to the public to establish his popularity, and work another course in private to preserve his domination. At any rate, the majority of Jefferson's biographers have adopted the shrewd and pitiless judgment of his quondam colleague, Hamilton, written to persuade Bayard to cast the vote of Delaware for Jefferson instead of Burr: "Nor is it true that Jefferson is zealot enough to do anything in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity or his interest ... and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which, once being established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. To my mind, a true estimate of Mr. Jefferson's character warrants the expectation of a temporizing rather than a violent system.”
But apart from nice calculations of political philosophy or personal popularity, practical questions arose early in Jefferson's administration which made it imperative for him to preserve the “general Government in its whole constitutional vigor.” We have seen in a former chapter what efforts Jefferson made, while minister at Paris, to curb the pirates of the Barbary Coast. He failed to enlist the support of the maritime Powers of Europe, and, worse than that, our own government consented to pay ransom money and tribute all through the administrations of Washington and Adams. Early in Jefferson's term the crisis came in the Mediterranean. The Dey of Algiers compelled Captain Bainbridge,
who had just brought him tribute money from America, to raise the Algerian standard to the masthead of the American ship and go on an errand for him to the Sultan of Constantinople. A few months after this humiliating event, the Bashaw of Tripoli demanded an increase of the meagre tribute of eighty-three thousand dollars, which he was receiving from America, and on being refused, declared war on the United States, more barbarico, by chopping down the flagpole in front of the American consulate.
Jefferson and Gallatin both deplored the necessity of war: the former because it disturbed his dream of a new and peaceful empire on this side of the Atlantic, the latter because it interfered with his programme of economics for the reduction of the national debt. But theoretical and practical objections both had to yield to the exigencies of the situation. Instead of laying up our few war-ships in the eastern branch of the Potomac, where they could be taken care of by "a single set of plunderers," and roofing them over to protect them from the sun and rain, Jefferson had to despatch several expeditions under Dale, Morris, Preble, and Rodgers, to the Mediterranean. The work of chastising the Barbary pirates lasted through the four years of his first administration, but when it was done the Mediterranean was as safe for commerce as the English Channel. The brilliant exploits of Decatur,