Page images

a trace of that satisfaction which men who are of a retiring disposition take in the unburdening of their grievances to their intimate friends. But for all these faults of disposition or judgment, there was nothing mean or base in Thomas Jefferson. He was an idealist through and through. His whole being was devoted to his cause. And it is not the least testimony to his labors for democracy that since the Republican triumph which ushered in the nineteenth century every political party that has gained or sought the direction of our government has made its appeal to the people of America.



Adiunt monument teries and joihat a free govern

A just and solid republican government maintained here will be a standing monument and example for the aim and imitation of the people of other countries; and I join with you in the hope and belief that they will see from our example that a free government is of all others the most majestic. (Jefferson to John Dickinson, March 6, 1801.)

THOMAS JEFFERSON was approaching his fifty-eighth birthday when he entered the White House. The vigor of his tall spare frame was somewhat disguised by a studied negligence of dress and carelessness of posture; and the incessant activity of his forceful, orderly mind was concealed beneath an ostentatious indifference to social conventions. He was anxious that the triumphant democracy of which he was the oracle should avoid all appearance of conformity to the Old World traditions of pomp and ceremony. He held no stiff levees like Washington's, but was easily accessible to callers. In place of the formal “speech from the throne” to the Houses of Congress, with their formal reply delivered by a delegation, he substituted a written message to be read by the clerk of the House. He answered a petition from the merchants of New Haven with his own pen. He received the British minister, Anthony Merry, in a dressing-gown with slippers run down at the heels, to the great chagrin of that gentleman in correct diplomatic tenue. To the minister's secretary he made an appearance very much like that of "a tall, large-boned farmer”—a characterization which probably would have pleased Jefferson rather than nettled him.

Yet there was nothing coarse or boorish about the “Jeffersonian simplicity," nothing like those revellings of King Mob amid unlimited orange punch which Webster and Story describe with a kind of tolerant disgust in their accounts of the inauguration of Andrew Jackson a generation later. Jefferson was a man of rare accomplishments and fine tastes, a scholar, a diplomat, a musician. He was the very soul of hospitality, keeping in the White House as at Monticello an open table at which his guests were cheered by good fare and charmed by brilliant discourse. His wine bills for the first year of the presidency were two thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven dollars and thirty-eight cents. His pride in a fine stable did credit to the traditions of the Virginia aristocracy. "His interests,” says Henry Adams, "were those of a liberal European nobleman like the Duc de Liancourt,” a welcome visitor at Monticello. “He seemed,” says Adams again, “during his entire life to breathe with perfect satisfaction nowhere except in the liberal literary and scientific air of the Paris of 1789.” The demagogues of the Paris of 1792, the Marats and Desmoulins and Héberts with whom his Federalist opponents compared him, would have filled him with disgust. For he had none of the arts of the popular orator and shrank from the rude blows of public controversy with a sensitiveness which some of his biographers have called timidity.

Jefferson regarded the victory of 1800 not as a personal triumph or a mere change of administration only. It was a political revolution, furnishing the first opportunity for true Republicans to administer a government professedly republican, but perverted by Hamilton and the Essex men' into a semblance of monarchy. The country had found itself in the election of 1800. To use a simile which Jefferson never tired of, the ship of state had righted itself to an even keel. Ten years of vigilant labor and patient persuasion had organized the good sense of the masses into a compact party, and now delivered into the hands of that party those branches of the national government (executive and legislative) which were in the people's gift. Jefferson's inaugural address was a hymn of reconciliation. Harmony was restored except for the few malcontents in New

1 The “Essex Junto" was a name applied to a group of ultraFederalists (Ames, Cabot, Pickering, Parsons, Higginson) whose activities lay chiefly in Essex County, Massachusetts. Though their faithful followers numbered no more than five hundred, according to Ames's confession, their wealth, social eminence, and alliance with the Congregational clergy gave them a great influence in the politics of Massachusetts and New England.

England who were destined to dwindle into a little factious group of leaders without a following. “We have called by different names bretheren of the same principles, cried Jefferson. “We are all republicans; we are all federalists !” He spoke of the republic as “in the full tide of a successful experiment” under a government "which has so far kept us free and firm.” He urged that we “pursue with courage and confidence our principles,” and pledged himself to the preservation of the general Government in its whole constitutional vigor as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” Not a word of the bitter battle of 1800 or the ten years opposition to the "vigor” of the general government under the Federalists ! Not a hint that the authors of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions had come to sit in the seats vacated by Timothy Pickering and John Adams! What did these "amiable professions of harmony” mean when the whole hated structure of the Hamiltonian finances, with debt, bank, funds, excise, stood intact; when the Naturalization Act and the Enemies Alien Act still disgraced the statute-books; when the newly appointed Federalist judges were stretching out their hands for their "midnight” commissions; when the tax-gatherer was trying to meet the unprecedented budget of over eleven million dollars caused by the “needless quarrel” with France over the X Y Z "frenzy"?

« PreviousContinue »