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personality. But for this, he might have found time in his busy retirement, to compose a history of the Revolution down to the taking of the Bastille, which would have been of imperishable interest. It was not merely that he knew the men and witnessed the events, but he preserved his incredulity, accepted nothing upon mere rumor, and personally investigated occurrences. If a rumor reached him that 'three thousand people had fallen in the streets,' he and his secretary, Mr. Short, would go to the spot, and, after minute inquiry, reduce the number to 'three.' He was unwearied in sifting out the interminable sessions of the various assemblies, and thought little of riding to Versailles 'to satisfy myself of what has passed there, for nothing can be believed (“here”) but what one sees or has from an eye witness.””
Jefferson had been in constant association with the chief spirits, who constituted the moderate monarchical, and the moderate republican, membership of the French legislative body. He supplied them with books and literature, wrote for them a discourse on the jury system, recommending it because it gave an “infusion of the people in the transaction of affairs,” which was “necessary to the preservation of purity.”
In connection with Jefferson's views of the French Revolution, it must be remembered that he had studied and understood the condition of the French people as well as the follies of their government; that he had “felt of their beds to see how they slept;" that he had “looked into their pots" to see if there were soup or fowl in them; that he was in a better position, than any other American of his day, to make due allowance for the excesses which after his departure ran riot amongst a sorely provoked people — a people, who, in addition to the drawback of inexperience in self-government, had had the hot iron of contempt and oppression thrust into them and turned around in the wound, until their hearts were aflame with a spirit of revenge, as well as with a desire for their share of the earth's freedom and happiness. Most Americans put the French in their own positions and judged them accordingly. Jefferson tried to put himself in their place, and did it very wellconsidering that he was philosophe and they were enragées.
JEFFERSON THE DEMOCRATIZER OF STATE
1. A STATE MADE OVER
I DOUBT if there is anything sweeter in Mr. Jefferson's life than what he says in his Autobiography in the following modest way:
“I have sometimes asked myself whether my country is better for my having lived at all. I do not know that it is; I have been the instrument of doing the following things; but they would have been done by others, some of them, perhaps, a little better.”
Then there follows a reference to four great measures - three of which were afterwards inscribed on his tomb, the other being the abolition of primogeniture and entail.
Note that the things he took most pride in were all, save one — the authorship of the Declaration - state, not federal, acts. Note the same fact in the inscription chosen by him for his tomb: “Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Freedom of Religion and Father of the University of Virginia."
It has been a sort of fashion to speak of Thomas Jefferson as a "theorist," "doctrinaire,” and all that. Very few people know how great he was as a constructive statesman – a legislator. In the first place, Mr. Jefferson was an excellent lawyer — not a great
advocate, because he was never an orator, nor even a very great debater. His vocal defects, as noted elsewhere, prevented this.
He was only thirty-three, when he resigned from Congress and went back to Virginia, there to begin his wonderful work of political and social and industrial reconstruction. His reason for it is best given in his own language:
“When I left Congress in 1776, it was in the persuasion that our whole code must be revised, adapted to our republican form of government, and, now that we had no negations of councils, governors and kings to restrain us from doing right, that it should be corrected in all its parts, with a single eye to reason, and the good of those for whose government it was formed.”
Every law that he introduced was in itself a reformation, far reaching in its ends, conservative in its methods. Let us run over, rapidly, the acts of constructive legislation, of which he was the author, leaving details as to their bearing, effect, origin, or date of passage to later comment: An act defining treason, and abolishing corruption of blood as a part of its punishment, thus refraining from visiting upon the heads of the innocent the guilt of the offender; one defining citizenship, being the first legislative assertion in the world of the right of expatriation, the first denial of the doctrine of indefeasible allegiance, under which kings claimed men's bodies and services for life and defied the natural right of the individual to adopt a new country. This has since become an American principle. His acts abolishing estates tail; abolishing primogeniture; establishing freedom of religion; his bill, which failed to be fully enacted, establishing a thorough
system of education; the magnificent preamble to the first constitution of the State of Virginia; the bill of 1784 for the government of the Northwest Territory, the precedent for our territorial system of government; his bills, which became law, for the simplification of the court system of Virginia; his act prohibiting the importation of slaves into Virginia; his amendment for the emancipation and deportation of slaves, which failed, it is true, but barely failed; the laws for the establishment of a State University, all of which he drafted; his bills reforming the criminal laws of the State of Virginia, and abolishing the barbarous practice of drawing and quartering; his protest against the revolting feature of the lex talionis; the removal, under his recodification, from the Virginia criminal laws of the death penalty in twenty-seven cases — in all cases except treason and murder — a third of a century or more before the great English law reformers, amongst whom Romilly stood first, succeeded in reaching a like result in Great Britain. All of these things were not the promises of a theorist, but the accomplishments of a practical constructive statesman. The multifariousness of his work is equalled in credit to him by the lucidity of the language in which it was dressed. How many of them were the first examples of their kind? The act defining citizenship, I have mentioned; his amelioration of brutal penalties, the first example of that sort of legislative humaneness perhaps anywhere, certainly in the English-speaking world; his act of '78 was the first American law to abolish the foreign slave trade, and became a legislative fact, as R. G. H. Kean, in "Thomas Jefferson as a Legislator," says, “when