Page images
PDF
EPUB

I have elsewhere referred to the repeal of the Federalist naturalization law and the reënactment of the more liberal one. The effect of this treatment of foreigners and this encouragement of unassisted immigration, upon our growth and upon the amicableness of our relations with other nations and upon the material welfare of mankind, here and abroad, cannot be overestimated. Mr. Jefferson elsewhere expressed his opposition to assisted immigration. The restrictions which we have since put upon immigration would undoubtedly have been favored by him, as they only relate to the health and character and intelligence of the immigrants, or else to the preservation of the Caucasian race from the infiltration of Oriental bloods — to the maintenance of a homogeneous population.

We ought to have in our midst no alien races, unassimilable in lawful wedlock. Our prohibition of Mongolian immigration ought to be extended to Africans. I attempted to secure this in the last Congress, but failed. Political reasons — or Republican party reasons — the fear of the defection of the negro vote in the doubtful Northern States — account for the failure.

Of course, the grandest diplomatic achievement of Mr. Jefferson, and that affecting most permanently all our institutions and our destiny, was the acquisition of Louisiana, and the foundations laid by him, and later built upon successfully to acquire Florida. For the latter I shall have no space at all. The former I hope to treat in another lecture.

CHAPTER V

JEFFERSON THE DEMOCRATIZER OF FEDERAL

INSTITUTIONS

STEMMING THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION

JEFFERSON, once back in America, as soon as he could get his bearings, took up in earnest the greatest and most successful work of his life — that of turning back the tide of counter-revolution. His stay in France had had but one political effect — to teach him by contrast the value of democratic forms and a democratic spirit. His every act and word after his return was a call: “Back to the principles of the American Revolution.” Of all the services he rendered his countrymen, this is. that for which they owe him most.

But he began his work before his return, as his letters show. Already while in France he feared the reaction which had set in at home, as a result of Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts, emphasized later by the natural effect of the excesses in France.

It is notable that Shay's Rebellion, as it was called, which was put down by the people themselves, did not result in the death by the act of the civil government of a single man engaged in it - but it did discourage in fact, carried dismay — to the hearts of many men, who had theretofore been stalwart supporters of popular government. Jefferson's insistence upon simplifying and democ

141

ratizing the federal government at home, in the very teeth of the excesses soon occurring in Paris and of the dangerous reaction in England and America – in Austria — everywhere - showed him to be not a visionary, but a practical man. It was the other people, who were visionaries, who did not know how to adapt the blanket to the weather, who wanted to limit our liberty, because the French had shown themselves not yet fit for it.

Parton rather humorously describes, in an article entitled, “Meeting of Jefferson and Hamilton," in the Atlantic Monthly of December, 1872, the situation in which Jefferson found himself, when he reached New York:-.

“The faithful believer was now at Mecca. But he did not find the magnates of the temple so enthusiastic for the Prophet and the Koran, as more distant worshippers. He was in the situation of a person who had left his native village full of ardent Methodists, himself the most ardent of them all, and returning after five years' absence, during which he had become even more glowing, finds half the people turned Ritualists."

Parton says, that it was then in New York “the mode to extol strong and imposing governments, to regret that people were so attached to the town meeting methods of conducting public business, and to anticipate the day when America would be ripe for a government‘not essentially different from that which they had recently discarded.'”

Concerning the celebrated passage in Jefferson's Ana, in which he describes the character of the "dinner table conversations," where “politics were the chief topic, and a preference of kingly over republican

government was evidently the favorite sentiment.” Parton says: “No man can glance over the memorials of the time without meeting on every side confirmation of this passage.”

The proof of this assertion I am about to unfold. Powell calls all this “A Suppressed Chapter of American History,” and says there was “a long contest between the principles of monarchy and democracy." It is true, and our difficulty in realizing it now is found only in the fact that we have passed so far away from it. To Jefferson chiefly we owe the fact of having passed so far away from it.

It was in the spring of 1790, soon after Jefferson arrived, that there, appeared in the Gazette a series of articles, entitled, “The Discourses of Davila.” The newsboys of the day poked it and more like it under Jefferson's nose, and John Adams, the Vice-President of the United States, had written it. One of the sentences in the “Discourses of Davila” was this:

“Nations, perceiving that the still small voice of merit was drowned in the insolent roar of the dupes of impudence and knavery in national elections, without a possibility of remedy, have sought for something more permanent than the popular voice to designate honor.”

Another sentence is additionally to be noted:

"All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continual vigilance, sagacity, virtue, and firmness of the people, when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions."

Such was the strength of this great reaction, that the old time radical — Adams, who had written these sentences, had become “not averse to a life tenure for

polis.eepers at 9 not true.t the peor

the President,” or even an hereditary tenure, holding that the terms of office might be extended, “until they reached the life limit," and that if this was not found sufficient, they should be made hereditary. (Merriam's “Political Theories," page 134.)

To quote Adams further:

“The proposition that the people are the best keepers of their own liberties, is not true; they are the worst conceivable; they are no keepers at all; they can neither judge, act, think, nor will, as & political body.”

This is the man, who, in Revolutionary times, had said: “Where annual elections end, tyranny begins.”

The point I am making is that words like these were not only being spoken at "dinner tables," as Jefferson said they were, but were being deliberately written in books, and not by irresponsible people, but by great statesmen, some of whom had been, as Jefferson later said, “Solomons in council and Samsons in the field,” during the Revolution, but who had since "had their heads shorn."

I believe I love the man John Adams too much to quote further from him, but you can find more like it in his book, "The Defense of American Constitutions," and in his articles, "Discourses on Davila."

I have selected Mr. Adams as the chief illustration of how far the “Solomons in council,” as well as the “Samsons in fight” — like Hamilton and Knox — had retreated from their old positions, because in my opinion, he was the most disinterested, the most patriotic, the sincerest, and the least designing of all the great reactionaries. Much more extreme utterances are to be found in the letters and public addresses

« PreviousContinue »