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“Jefferson intended that the new nation should be a democracy, and he would rather have let the whole world perish than that this purpose should fail. Nevertheless, he was the most absolute monarch that ever sat in the Presidential chair. Although he introduced the practice of discussing all matters in his Cabinet and deciding the questions of importance by vote, his powerful individuality and persuasive reasoning controlled his advisers in that official family, and in Congress. He exercised an influence in both Houses of the National Legislature and with the people that has never been equalled by any of his predecessors. He formed a powerful party, he directed its action, and he selected its principles, but he never assumed the attitude of a 'boss.'''
In connection with this statement that "Jefferson led his party," as thoroughly as “an absolute monarch," it may well be remarked that America has never suffered from too much political leadership. We have not had enough of it. True, we have had too much unofficial, unelected, irresponsible leadership, or too many “bosses.” But a man selected to lead and leading by convincing others that he is right, by appeals to the popular heart and head, has no followers except volunteers, and, they even, not “for the war," but only during his “good behavior.” The reason why a genuine democracy, oftener than a party not founded on its principles, follows a leader, is because it is only the head of a party with that faith, that dares or can appeal frankly to the common sense and common-conscience of the masses. How can a multitude follow him, who does not trust them, nor, at heart, recognize their reason and rectitude of purpose, and not recognizing them, can therefore not sympathetically appeal to them?
THE INFLUENCE OF JEFFERSON AS PRESIDENT
1. "MY PASSION IS PEACE" THROUGHOUT Jefferson's whole administration, the chief thing in his view was the democratization of the Federal Government. For this, à frugal, simple government, and peace, were absolutely necessary. This accounts to a large extent for his peace-at-almostany-price policy.
In a letter to Noah Worcester (Massachusetts collection), he says:
"Of my disposition to maintain peace until its condition shall be less tolerable than war itself, the world has had proofs, and more, perhaps, than it has approved;. . . if by the inculcations of reason or religion, the perversities of our nature can be so far corrected, as sometimes to prevent the necessity, real or supposed, of an appeal to the blinder scourge of war, devastation and murder, the benevolent endeavor of friends of peace will not be entirely unremunerated.”
If deeds, or lack of deeds, flowing from such a creed be error, it is humanizing error, requiring more resolution and courage, than it required a hundred years after the time, for a citizen of a compact, wealthy and strong country, of nearly one hundred millions of inhabitants, unassailable by any foreign influence to call it "infamous conduct.”
If infamous, Washington's administration was "in
famous” for the same reason, and that of Adams only a little less so.
Washington submitted to the humiliation of recommending and signing the Jay Treaty. It required courage to do it.
If our early history, while the government was a-forming, had been either one of war and victory and conquest, or one of war and defeat and desolation and debt, a beginner can spell out for us a fate totally different from that which we have enjoyed.
Washington and Jefferson were great, but greater in nothing than in not permitting “the Maniacal War Fury of Europe” to spread its contagion to America. Washington, perhaps, deserves the more credit of the two, because he first set the pace. However that may be, there is "glory enough to go round,” as Schley said, and Washington's preëminence consists in this, that without his great name, neither Jefferson as his Secretary of State, nor any other man, amidst all the then provocations to popular passion, could have started us off right, as “The Great Peace Nation of the Earth.”
Few have better expressed our special reasons and our peculiar opportunity to set an example of peace to all the world, than Jefferson:
"Separated by a wide ocean from the nations of Europe, and from the political interests, which entangle them together, with productions and wants which render our commerce and friendship useful to them and theirs to us, it cannot be the interest of any to assail us, nor ours to disturb them. We should be most unwise, indeed, were we to cast away the singular blessings of the position in which nature has placed us, the opportunity she has endowed us with of pursuing, at a distance from foreign contentions, the paths of industry, peace and happiness; of cultivating general friendship, and of bringing collisions of interest to the umpirage of reason rather than of force."
I like those last words, which I have italicized.
In one of his messages these words — so much too wise for Jingoes to comprehend — occur: —
“Our duty, therefore, is to act upon things as they are, and to make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be. Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon, we should never have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers, which would never have happened, instead of being reserved for what is really to take place.”
It is popular to talk about our being "an unready nation,” and about how much is added to the cost of war in life and treasure by the fact that we are never prepared for it; but those who talk thus forget the other side of the shield. If we are to be kept always prepared for war, then we are never prepared for the utmost possibilities of peace, and it is far better to strain our backs to an extra burden, now and then, when war is unavoidable, than it is to keep them burdened all the time. Every dollar which goes into war preparation goes out of peace progress; it is subtracted from public roads, popular education, internal improvements, good churches, clothes or food for the people — subtracted somewhere from industry or improvement. The real truth is, the constant drain pre-decreases our strength either for offensive or defensive war when it comes.
Besides; being “always ready” is an ever-present temptation to make war wantonly. A nation thus “fixed” is like a man with a pistol — he wants to use it, to see if it is not rusty.
Jefferson in one of his letters, says: “I frankly confess that my passion is peace.” And in another place he voices this utterance, by way of a sublime paraphrase: “Let all the world pray to Heaven that at length there may be on earth peace and good will toward men.”
In connection with the designation by Mr. Theodore Roosevelt of the conduct of Jefferson and Madison in “not preparing for war," as "infamous conduct," Mr. Tom E. Watson is very happy. What he says is worth reading from every standpoint, and can be found on pages 445 and 446 of his “Life of Jefferson.”
Anent the Leopard-Chesapeake incident, Jefferson wrote:
"I had only to open my hands and let havoc loose. . . . If ever I was gratified with the possession of power and of the confidence of those who intrusted me with it, it was on that occasion, when I was enabled to use both for the prevention of war, toward which the torrent of passion was directed almost irresistibly, and when not another person in the United States, less supported by authority and popular favor, could have resisted it.”
I think the best judgment will be that the early Presidents acted wisely in their “Peace-at-almost-anyPrice" policy, in their avoidance of war till, like Topsy, we were "growed up" a little. It would not be many years before instead of accepting terms from others, we could impose them. So convinced was Jefferson of this that he was wary of all such treaties and agreements as were practically to be hoped for in his day.
This sound reasoning and sentiment occur in a letter