this is online at http://members.aol.com/historiography/jefferson.html
This is considered the best short life of Jefferson. It was written by Dumas Malone, who later wrote the best long biography of Jefferson, in six fat volumes. Many of Malone's notes have been dropped, and the rest appear in small letters. Links have been added to some key letters and documents. Edited by Richard Jensen. Dumas Malone, "Thomas Jefferson" excerpts from Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 5
© 1933 by American Council of Learned Societies

Jefferson, Thomas, (Apr. 2/13, 1743 - July 4, 1826) statesman, diplomat, author, scientist, architect, apostle of freedom, and enlightenment, was born at "Shadwell" in Goochland (now Albemarle) County, Virginia, then on the fringe of western settlement. Whether or not the first Jefferson in the colony came from Wales, as the family tradition held, a Thomas Jefferson was living in Henrico County in 1677 and married Mary Branch. Their son Thomas, who married Mary Field, lived at "Osbornes" in what is now Chesterfield County, where on Feb. 29, 1707/08 Peter Jefferson was born. The family was not aristocratic or wealthy and Peter had largely to shift for himself. Becoming a surveyor, he removed to Goochland County, where by 1731 he was a magistrate. Four years later he patented 1000 acres on the south side of the Rivanna River and shortly thereafter purchased from William Randolph of "Tuckahoe," for a bowl of punch, 400 acres more, containing the site north of the river upon which he erected a plain frame house. Thither in 1739 he brought his wife and there Thomas, his third child, was born.

Jane Randolph, who became Peter Jefferson's wife at nineteen, first-cousin of William of "Tuckahoe" and the eldest surviving child of Isham Randolph of "Dungeness" and his wife, Jane Rogers, connected her husband with perhaps the most distinguished family in the province and assured the social standing of his children. Peter Jefferson's career closely followed that of Joshua Fry, under whom he served as deputy surveyor in Albemarle, with whom he continued the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina and made the first accurate map of Virginia, and whom he succeeded as burgess and county lieutenant . Thomas Jefferson had great respect for his father's map and from him doubtless acquired much of his zest for exploring and drawing and his liking for untrodden paths. From him he inherited a vigorous, if less powerful, body, and perhaps his fondness for mathematical subjects. Of the ten children of Peter Jefferson, eight survived his death, Aug. 17, 1757. He left Thomas, the elder of his two sons, 2750 acres of land and an established position in the community.

Seven of the first nine years of Jefferson's life were spent at "Tuckahoe," on the James a few miles above the present Richmond, whither his father removed in pursuance of a promise to William Randolph to act as guardian of the latter's son. Here he began his education at the "English school." The red hills of Albemarle became his permanent home, however, at the age of nine and held ever thereafter an unrivaled place in his affections. At this time he began the study of Latin and Greek under the Rev. William Douglas, who also introduced him to French. Of Douglas' abilities Jefferson later expressed a low opinion. After the death of his father, he studied with the Rev. James Maury, whom he later described as "a correct classical scholar." Whoever may deserve the credit for it, Jefferson gained an early mastery of the classical tongues and ever found the literature of Greece and Rome a "rich source of delight." In March 1760 he entered the College of William and Mary, from which he was graduated two years later. Here, at the seat of the provincial government, he was enabled to view history in the making and politics in practice His chief intellectual stimulus while a student came from his association with Dr. William Small, who held first the chair of mathematics and then ad interim that of philosophy. Small aroused in him the interest in scientific questions which was destined to remain active all his life, and introduced him to the "familiar table" of Gov. Francis Fauquier and to George Wythe, most noted teacher of law of his generation in Virginia, under whose guidance Jefferson prepared himself for practice.

During these years he appears to have been a recognized member of the close-knit social group that the children of the great families of Virginia constituted. He visited homes, made wagers with girls, gossiped about love affairs, served at weddings. Tall, loose-jointed, sandy-haired, and freckled, he was not prepossessing in appearance, but he was a skilled horseman, played on the violin, and seems to have been a gay companion. The strain of seriousness in his nature, however, was soon apparent; it may have been accentuated by the unhappy outcome of his love affair with Rebecca Burwell (Chinard, Thomas Jefferson, pp. 17-18). Before he became a prominent actor on the stage of public life, he had formulated for himself a stern code of personal conduct and had disciplined himself to habits of study as few of his contemporaries ever found strength to do. Some time after 1764, perhaps, he began to apply historical tests to the Bible, lost faith in conventional religion, though without questioning conventional morality, and for inspiration turned to the great classical writers. That he prepared himself with unusual care for his profession, by the study of legal history as well as of procedure, is apparent from the notebook in which he abridged his legal reading (Chinard, The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson, 1927). He was admitted to the bar in 1767, and, despite his dislike of court practice, was quite successful in the law until on the eve of the Revolution he abandoned it as a profession. His legal training, however, left a permanent impress upon him. In his most famous state papers he is the advocate pleading a cause and buttressing it with precedents.

On Jan. 1, 1772, Jefferson was married to Martha (Wayles) Skelton, then in her twenty-fourth year, the daughter of John Wayles of Charles City County and his wife, Martha Eppes. She was the widow of Bathurst Skelton and had borne him a son, who died in infancy. In the ten years of their married life she bore Jefferson six children, only three of whom survived her and only two of whom, Martha and Mary (or Maria), attained maturity. She is reputed to have been beautiful, and certainly her, second husband lavished upon her notable devotion. The young couple began their married life in the only part of "Monticello" then finished, the southeastern "pavilion." Jefferson had moved to his adored mountain-top after the nearby house at "Shadwell" burned, together with his cherished library, in 1770, and had begun the building operations which were to extend over a generation. The 2750 acres in Albemarle left him by his father were doubled by 1794 and probably much earlier. From the estate of his father-in-law he acquired in behalf of his wife, soon after his marriage, holdings practically equivalent to his own. With them, however, went a huge debt from the effects of which he never entirely escaped. Throughout most of his mature life he was the owner of approximately ten thousand acres of land and from one to two hundred slaves. Nothing if not methodical, he made periodical records of everything connected with his plantations--his slaves, his horses and cattle, the trees planted, the temperature at "Monticello," the dates at which birds and flowers first appeared.


In 1770 Jefferson was appointed county lieutenant of Albemarle, and in 1773, by the College of William and Mary, surveyor of the county. In May 1769 he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses, as he continued to be until the House ceased to function in 1775, though he did not attend in 1772. He says he had been intimate for almost a decade with Patrick Henry, and appears to have been sympathetic with the orator as the representative of the upper counties against the aristocracy. Never an effective public speaker, Jefferson did greatest service in legislative bodies on committees, where his marked talents as a literary draftsman were employed. Identified from the outset with the aggressive anti-British group, he was one of those who drew up the resolves creating the Virginia Committee of Correspondence and was appointed a member of the committee of eleven, though not of the select committee of three. In 1774 he was one of the champions of the resolution for a fast day, on the day the Boston Port Act was to go into effect, which resolution led to the dissolution of the House. In 1775 he was on the committee appointed to draw up an address to Dunmore rejecting Lord North's conciliatory offer, and says that he drafted the address adopted (Ford, Writings 1, 455-59). Prevented by illness from attending the Virginia convention of 1774, after he had drawn up the resolutions of his county and been appointed a delegate, he sent a paper, later published as A Summary View of the Rights of British America see text (Ford, I, 421-47), which proved to be his greatest literary contribution to the American Revolution next to the Declaration of Independence and which reveals, as perhaps no other document does, his point of view in that struggle. Though approved by many, it was not adopted because regarded as too advanced. Emphasizing the "natural" right of emigration and the right of conquest, exercised by the first English settlers in America as by the Saxons in England, he denied all parliamentary authority over the colonies and claimed that the only political tie with Great Britain was supplied by the King, to whom the colonists had voluntarily submitted. The aids rendered by the mother country, he felt, had been solely for commercial benefit and were repayable only in trade privileges. He advocated, not separation, but freedom of trade in articles that the British could not use, and the relinquishment of all British claims in regard to taxation. This powerful pamphlet, distinctly legalistic in tone, reveals no adequate conception of the value of early English protection or of the contemporary British imperial problem. Throughout his career as a Revolutionary patriot he emphasized "rights as derived from the laws of nature," not a king; and here, as elsewhere, he strove for the "revindication of Saxon liberties."

Elected by the Virginia convention to serve in Congress in case Peyton Randolph was required at home, Jefferson sat in that body during the summer and autumn of 1775. Though he drew drafts of several papers, these were too strongly anti-British in tone to be acceptable while there was hope of conciliation. He was not present in Congress from Dec. 28, 1775, to May 14, 1776. Probably called home by the illness of his mother, who died Mar. 31, and by the needs of his family, he also had duties to perform as county lieutenant and commander of the militia of Albemarle, to which office he had been appointed by the Virginia Committee of Safety on Sept. 26 (Chinard, Thomas Jefferson, p. 66; Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, I, 140-41). Following the famous resolutions introduced into Congress on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee, Jefferson was elected four days later, with John Adams, Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, to draw up a declaration of independence. The reasons for the prominence in this connection of one so young as Jefferson, and especially for his selection over Lee, have been much disputed (Randall, I, 144-59). Now only thirty-three years old, he had been a "silent member" on the floor of Congress, though outspoken and decisive in committees. The "reputation of a masterly pen," however, stood him in good stead and opened the door of dangerous but glorious opportunity.

More changes in his draft of the Declaration were made at the instance of Adams, and particularly of Franklin, than he later remembered, and some were made by Congress itself, but this most famous American political document as a composition belongs indisputably to Jefferson (Becker, Declaration of Independence.) The philosophical portion strikingly resembles the first three sections of George Mason's Declaration of Rights, itself a notable summary of current revolutionary philosophy. see text Jefferson probably availed himself of this, but he improved upon it. The doctrines are essentially those of John Locke, in which the more radical of the patriots were steeped. Jefferson himself did not believe in absolute human equality, and, though he had no fears of revolution, he preferred that the "social compact" be renewed by periodical, peaceful revisions. That government should be based on popular consent and secure the "inalienable" rights of man, among which he included the pursuit of happiness rather than property, that it should be a means to human well-being and not an end in itself, he steadfastly believed. He gave here a matchless expression of his faith. The charges against the King, who is singled out because all claims of parliamentary authority are implicitly denied, are in general an improved version of those that had already been drawn up by Jefferson and adopted as the preamble of the Virginia constitution of 1776. Relentless in their reiteration, they constitute a statement of the specific grievances of the revolting party, powerfully and persuasively presented at the bar of public opinion. The Declaration is notable for both its clarity and subtlety of expression, and it abounds in the felicities that are characteristic of Jefferson's unlabored prose (Becker, ch. V). More nearly impassioned than any other of his important writings, it is eloquent in its sustained elevation of style and remains his noblest literary monument. see text

Desiring to be nearer his family and feeling that he could be more useful in furthering the "reformation" of Virginia than in Congress, Jefferson left the latter body in September 1776, and, entering the House of Delegates on Oct. 7, served there until his election to the governorship in June 1779. While a member of Congress, he had submitted to the Virginia convention of 1776 a constitution and preamble, only the latter of which was adopted. His proposed constitution was in some respects, especially in its failure to provide for popular participation in the election of senators, less democratic than the one adopted see text (W. C. Ford, in the Nation, Aug. 7, 1890, pp. 107-09). With the new constitution and government, which were marked by little change in law and social organization, he was, however, profoundly dissatisfied. To him the Revolution meant more than a redress of grievances. Against the continuance of an established church, divorced from England, which the conservatives favored, he desired the entire separation of church and state. He was determined to rid his "country," as he long called Virginia, of the artificial aristocracy of wealth and birth, and to facilitate through education the development of a natural aristocracy of talent and virtue and an enlightened electorate. He felt that the legal code should be adapted to republican government "with a single eye to reason, & the good of those for whose government it was formed." Because of his skill as a legislator, the definiteness of his carefully formulated program, and the almost religious zeal with which he pressed it, he immediately assumed the leadership of the progressive group which Patrick Henry had relinquished when he became governor and which George Mason willingly conceded to a more aggressive man. He deserves the chief credit not only for an unparalleled program but also for legislative achievements that have rarely been equaled in American history.

He struck the first blow at the aristocratic system by procuring the abolition of land-holding in fee-tail. On Oct. 12, 1776, he moved the revision of the laws. Elected to the board of revisors with four others, of whom only Wythe and Edmund Pendleton served to the end, he labored two years with scholarly thoroughness on his share of the revision, including the law of descent and the criminal law. The report of the board (June 18, 1778), comprised 126 bills, the substance of at least 100 of which was ultimately enacted ( Ford, II, 199-239). Primogeniture was abolished in 1785. His bill for Establishing Religious Freedom see text (Ford, II, 237-39), presented in 1779 by John Harvie of Albemarle and passed, with slight modifications in the preamble in 1786 when Jefferson was in France, was regarded by him as one of his greatest contributions to humanity. In its assertion that the mind is not subject to coercion, that civil rights have no dependence on religious opinions, and that the opinions of men are not the concern of civil government, it is indeed one of the great American charters of freedom.

Jefferson's educational bills, which represented the constructive part of his program, were unsuccessful. Of his extraordinary Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge (Ford, II, 220-29) which summarizes his educational philosophy, only the part dealing with elementary schools was acted on, in 1796, and a provision was inserted that in effect defeated its purpose. His attempts to amend the constitution of his old college and to establish a public library (Ford, II, 229-37) entirely failed. During his governorship, however, as a visitor of William and Mary, he effected the abolishment of the professorships of Hebrew, theology, and ancient languages and the establishment of professorships of anatomy and medicine, law, and modern languages, the two latter being the first of their kind in America. Though he did not originate the idea of removing the capital to Richmond, he framed a bill for that purpose and the measure which was passed in 1779 included his preamble and provisions for handsome public buildings such as he had favored. His plans for his state were never fully carried out, but he may properly be termed the architect of Virginia government.

His election to the governorship (June 1, 1779) in succession to Patrick Henry was the natural consequence of his preëminence as a legislator and his unchallenged leadership of the progressive group. The philosophical qualities that made him so conspicuous as a planner and prophet were of little avail to him, however, as an executive. Resourceful in counsel, he was ever hesitant and reluctant in the exercise of authority, the very necessity of which he deplored. His position as a war-governor was rendered the more difficult by the constitutional limitations upon his authority and the diminution of the state's resources. In handling the countless details of his office he was extraordinarily industrious and conscientious. His chief weaknesses were his unwillingness, even in time of acute crisis, to use means of doubtful legality and his characteristic reliance upon the militia. He managed sufficiently well during the first year of his governorship and was duly reëlected, but in the spring of 1781, when the British seriously invaded Virginia, the state was at their mercy. Richmond being in British hands, the legislature was called to meet at Charlottesville May 24. Jefferson proceeded to "Monticello" and last exercised the functions of his office June 3, interpreting his term to continue only one year and not until his successor qualified. As he put it, he "resigned" the governor-ship, recommending that the military and civil agencies be combined by the election of Gen. Thomas Nelson, but his act was a virtual abdication. On June 4, Tarleton made a raid on "Monticello." The supposed governor and the legislators who were his guests all escaped, Jefferson the last among them. He returned the next day, but soon removed his family to "Poplar Forest," where late in June he was thrown from his horse and disabled. Thus did his administration come to an unheroic end.

What was left of the Assembly, meeting beyond the mountains at Staunton, elected Nelson and ordered (June 12, 1781) that an investigation of Jefferson's conduct as governor be made at the next session. Judging from the heads of charges proposed by his neighbor and subsequent supporter, George Nicholas, there was no allegation of personal cowardice, such as was made later by political enemies. The conduct of the assemblymen, indeed, had been marked by even greater prudence. All the charges had to do with the lack of military precaution and expedition. After the crisis actually arose, Jefferson seems to have done everything possible and with as great speed as could have been expected. Whether or not he had made such previous preparation for an impending crisis as he might have is questionable. By autumn, however, the storm had stilled. On Dec. 12 a committee appointed by the House of Delegates to inquire into his conduct as governor reported that no information had been offered them except rumors, which they regarded as groundless, and on Dec. 19 resolutions of thanks were finally adopted. Though formally vindicated, Jefferson did not for years recover his prestige in Virginia. For a time the state government passed into conservative hands, but during his long absence in France (1784-89) the progressives, under the able leadership of Madison, again gained ascendancy, and Jefferson came to be regarded as the prophet of the new order, as indeed he was.


Persuaded that public service and private misery were inseparable, Jefferson retired to his neglected farms, his cherished books, and his beloved family, convinced that nothing could again separate him from them. He took advantage of the leisure forced upon him by his fall from his horse to organize the careful memoranda about Virginia which he had made over a long period of years. Arranging these in the order of the queries submitted in 1781 by Barbé de Marbois, secretary of the French legation, he somewhat corrected and enlarged them during the winter of 1782-83, and at length had them printed in France in 1784-85.

The Notes on the State of Virginia see complete text (Ford, III, 68-295) went through many editions and laid the foundations of Jefferson's high contemporary reputation as a universal scholar and of his present fame as a pioneer American scientist. Unpretentious in form and statistical in character, this extraordinarily informing and generally interesting book may still be consulted with profit about the geography and productions, the social and political life, of eighteenth-century Virginia. With ardent patriotism as well as zeal for truth Jefferson combatted the theories of Buffon and Raynal in regard to the degeneracy of animal and intellectual life in America, and he manifested great optimism in regard to the future of the country, but he included "strictures" on slavery and the government of Virginia. In 1783 he drafted another proposed constitution for his state (Ford, III, 320-33), which was published in 1786 and ultimately bound with the Notes as an appendix.

But for the death of his wife, Sept. 6, 1782, he might have remained in philosophic retirement. He lavished upon his motherless daughters extraordinary tenderness and solicitude, but he was now glad to abandon "Monticello" and seek relief from personal woe in public activity. Appointed peace commissioner to Europe, Nov. 12, 1782, he was prepared to sail when, his mission having become unnecessary, his appointment was withdrawn. In June 1783 he was elected a delegate to Congress and during six months' service in that body the following winter he was a member of almost every important committee and drafted no fewer than thirty-one state papers (Ford, I, xxviii-xxx). Some of these were of the first importance, especially his Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit (Ibid., III, 446-57), in which he advocated the adoption of the dollar, to be divided into tenths and hundredths, and his successive reports on the government of the western territory see text (Ford III, 407-10, 429-32). The report of Mar. 22, 1784, which has been ranked second in importance only to the Declaration of Independence among Jefferson's state papers (Ibid., III, 430, note), contained practically all the features of the epoch-making Ordinance of 1787. If it had been adopted as Jefferson presented it, slavery would have been forbidden in all the western territory after 1800, and the secession of any part of that region would have been rendered indisputably illegal. Jefferson had earlier drafted a deed of cession of the northwestern territory claimed by Virginia, and he drew up a land ordinance which failed of adoption. Certainly he was a major architect of American expansion.

As a member of Congress he drafted a report on the definitive treaty of peace which was eventually adopted (Ford, III, 349-50). He drew up, on Dec. 20, 1783, a report which was agreed to as the basis of procedure in the negotiation of treaties of commerce, and was himself appointed, May 7, 1784, to assist Franklin and Adams in this work. Arriving in Paris on Aug. 6 with his daughter Martha, he was appointed in 1785 Franklin's successor as minister to France and remained in that country until October 1789. Rightly regarded in France as a savant, he carried on the tradition of Franklin, but until the end of his own stay he was overshadowed by Franklin's immense reputation. Jefferson's attitude toward his predecessor, whom he regarded as the greatest American, was one of becoming modesty without a tinge of jealousy. During his ministry he was likewise overshadowed by Lafayette, who was regarded as the French symbol of American ideas and ideals and the protector of American interests. Jefferson took full advantage of Lafayette's invaluable cooperation and associated with him on terms of intimacy and affection, content to be relatively inconspicuous if he might be useful.


Though he later characterized his official activities in France as unimportant, Jefferson proved a diligent and skillful diplomat. He and his colleagues succeeded in negotiating, in 1785, a treaty of commerce with Prussia. Early in 1786 he joined Adams in London, but their efforts to negotiate a treaty were futile. He made careful note of English domestic gardening and mechanical appliances, but of their architecture and manners had no kind word to say. He supported Thomas Barclay in the negotiation of a treaty with Morocco in 1787, but was convinced that the Barbary pirates could be restrained only by force and worked out a scheme for concerted action on the part of a league of nations. This was accepted by Congress, but aroused no enthusiasm in Europe. He negotiated with France a consular convention, signed Nov. 14, 1788, which was the first of the sort agreed to by the United States. Though he could not hope to make much of a breach in the wall of commercial exclusiveness, he gained some relaxation of French duties on American products, and by his arguments against the tobacco monopoly of the Farmers General, which he attacked as a system, made a definite impression on Vergennes and his successor, Montmorin (F. L. Nusbaum, in Political Science Quarterly, December 1925, pp. 497-516). Jefferson left Europe with the feeling that the French had granted all the commercial concessions possible, that they had few interests in America, and that they had great sentimental attachment to the young Republic. He was convinced that the United States should be friendly to France, both because of gratitude and because of her value as a counterpoise against the British, whom he regarded as hostile in sentiment and entirely selfish in policy. He gained the impression, however, that Great Britain and Spain would pay much for American neutrality if they should become involved in European controversy. The hope that the United States would ultimately gain great advantages from the troubles of Europe profoundly affected his subsequent foreign policy, predisposing him to ways of peace (Bemis, American Secretaries of State, II, 9-13).

At a time when there was a flood of sentimental French writings about America, Jefferson endeavored to present the American cause adequately and accurately. These motives in part caused him to distribute his own Notes on the State of Virginia, and the Virginia statute of religious freedom. Appealed to for information by many writers, he furnished extensive materials in particular to his former neighbor, Philip Mazzei, whose Recherches Historiques et Politiques sur les États-Unis (4 vols., 1788) was the most accurate work of the period on America, and to Démeunier, whose article, "États-Unis," in the Encyclopédie Methodique: Économie Politique et Diplomatique (1786), greatly embarrassed the American minister by its inaccuracies and its fulsome praise of him. To interested friends at home, he wrote about inventions in dozens of letters; and for the younger Madison, Monroe, and others he continually purchased books. In 1787 he went into northern Italy to see the machines used there for cleaning rice, smuggled out samples of rice seed to South Carolina and Georgia, forwarded information about the olive tree, and at Nîmes gazed for hours at the Maison Carrée, "like a lover at his mistress." To his native Virginia he sent a plan for the new state capitol, modeled on this temple, and thus served to initiate the classical revival in American architecture. On another tour in 1788, he made numerous observations in Germany. This keen-eyed, serious-minded, reflective traveler purposed that his mission should prove educative to his fellow citizens as well as himself and never lost sight of his obligation to be useful.

Though greatly impressed with French manners, he was strongly opposed to any aping of them by Americans. He was attracted by the cuisine and wines and found the French a temperate people, but thought their life lacking in domestic happiness and on the whole rather futile. Life for him was empty when not purposeful. He thought little of French science, but was enthusiastic about their arts--architecture, painting, and, most of all, music, which he valued the more perhaps because a fractured wrist had ended his days as a violinist. It is doubtful whether he ever mastered French as a spoken language, but he read it well enough. Distressed by the inequality of conditions, he came to think less than ever of royalty, nobility, and priests. His experiences and observations did not give him a new philosophy, for, like the French reformers, he had already drunk at the fountain of liberal English political thought. Many of the writings of Condorcet might have come from Jefferson's own pen; he shared with Du Pont de Nemours the passionate desire to remove economic and intellectual barriers; like the early revolutionists, he had profound faith in the indefinite perfectibility of mankind and made a veritable religion of enlightenment. From his stay in France he gained, not new doctrines, but an emotional stimulus, returning to America strengthened in his civic faith.

The course of the Revolution until his departure Jefferson followed closely and reported in detail. Though he strove to maintain strict official neutrality, this skilled political architect suggested to Lafayette's aunt, Mme. de Tessé, a desirable course of procedure for the Assembly of Notables, and to Lafayette himself he submitted a proposed charter for France (June 3, 1789, Ford, V, 199-202). A meeting of the leaders of the Patriot party, arranged by Lafayette, met at Jefferson's house in the effort to arrive at a compromise on the questions of the royal veto and the constitution of the Assembly. Intimate and sympathetic with the moderate reformers, he deplored the violence of later days but retained the conviction that the Revolution had done far more good than ill; and, in his ripe old age, he declared that every traveled man would prefer France as a place of residence to any country but his own.

Having been granted a leave of absence to settle his private affairs and to take home his two daughters, the younger of whom, Mary, had joined him in Paris in 1787, Jefferson sailed in October 1789 and arrived at "Monticello" two days before Christmas, to be welcomed tumultuously by his rejoicing slaves. Soon after he landed, he received from Washington the offer of the appointment to the Department of State, then being temporarily administered by John Jay. Jefferson's dislike for publicity and shrinking from censure made him reluctant to enter the storm of politics, from which in France he had been relatively aloof, but on patriotic grounds he at length accepted the eminently appropriate appointment. After giving his daughter Martha in marriage to her cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph, he proceeded to New York, where, on Mar. 22, 1790, he became the first secretary of state under the Constitution.


Though he had kept in close touch with American developments through extensive correspondence, Jefferson was not fully aware of the conservative reaction which had taken place in his own country while he was in the midst of political ferment in France. He had seen nothing threatening in the commotions that had marked the last years of the Confederation, but thought dangerous liberty distinctly preferable to quiet slavery and had regarded the government, despite its imperfections, as "without comparison the best existing or that ever did exist" (Ford, IV, 423-25). None the less, he had viewed with distinct favor the movement for strengthening the federal government and had given the new Constitution his general approval, objecting chiefly to the absence of a bill of rights, which was later supplied, and the perpetual re-eligibility of the president. He had denied that he was of the party of federalists, but had stated that he was much farther from the anti-federalists (Ford, V, 75-78). He cannot be justly charged with factiousness because he came to be regarded, before his retirement from office, as the leader of the group opposed to the policies of Alexander Hamilton. To distinguish themselves from their opponents, whom they termed monarchists, Jefferson and his sympathizers soon called themselves Republicans. They may have subsequently exaggerated their charges for political effect, but he believed until the end of his life that his early fears of an American monarchy were warranted and it would seem that they were at the time not unnatural and not without foundation (Ford, I, 156-57). Undoubtedly he was distressed by the social atmosphere in which he found himself. He had enjoyed a considerable social experience in monarchical France, where theoretical democracy and even republicanism were fashionable, but in the aristocratic Federalist court, at first in New York and soon in Philadelphia, he was ever ill at ease.

With Hamilton, nearly fourteen years his junior, who had already assumed the first place in the counsels of the government, he strove at the outset to cooperate. His subsequent statement that he was duped by his colleague in connection with the Assumption Bill is unconvincing as well as uncomplimentary to his own intelligence. His contemporary letters show clearly that he was at the time convinced that some compromise was essential for peace and the preservation of the Union. When at length better provision for Virginia was made in the bill, and the location of the Federal City on the banks of the Potomac was agreed to, he gave his approval to the measure. He did not yet fully perceive that Hamilton's whole financial policy was least advantageous to the agrarian groups in which--for broad social rather than narrow economic reasons--he himself was most interested.

The first serious difference of opinion between the two men was over a question of foreign policy. Fully convinced that the British would not yield the Northwest posts or grant commercial privileges unless forced to do so, Jefferson favored the employment of commercial discrimination as a weapon against them. This policy, advocated in Congress by Madison, was opposed by Hamilton, who feared the loss of revenue from British imports. The movement in Congress for discrimination was strengthened by successive able reports of Jefferson on matters of commercial policy, but thanks to Hamilton it was blocked in February 1791 and ultimately abandoned (Bemis, Jay's Treaty, chs. I-IV). Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Treasury had maintained a surprising intimacy with George Beckwith, the unofficial British representative (1789-91), with whom the Secretary of State properly refused to have anything to do.

In February 1791, at the request of his chief, Jefferson drew up an opinion on the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States see text (Ford, V, 284-89) to which Hamilton replied, though neither paper was published until long afterward. Jefferson, who opposed monopolistic tendencies anyway, argued that the powers assumed by Hamilton's bill were not among those enumerated in the Constitution as belonging to the federal government, nor within either of its general phrases, which he interpreted narrowly and literally. He subsequently declared that he did not view constitutions with "sanctimonious reverence," and he favored their periodical revision, but this critic of the Scriptures here set up the Constitution as a sort of sacred law. His fears that liberal construction might result in the unbridled power of the federal government were undoubtedly heightened by his growing distrust of Hamilton, and this perhaps led him to go to extremes in the statement of his own theoretical position. Strict construction had its uses as a check on the tyranny of the national majority, but thoroughgoing application of Jefferson's arguments would have rendered the federal government feeble and inflexible, as he himself in practice later found. None the less, he had suffered a second defeat at the hands of Hamilton.

In the spring of 1791 Thomas Paine's Rights of Man appeared in America, with an extract from a private note of the Secretary of State as a preface. Jefferson's statement that he was glad that something was to be said publicly against "the political heresies" that had sprung up was interpreted both as an approval of Paine, who was anathema to the Anglomen in America, and as a reflection upon John Adams, whose expatiations on the faults of democratic systems, indeed, Jefferson had definitely in mind. His statement of regret see text (Ford, V, 353-55) that he and his old friend had been "thrown on the public stage as public antagonists," may be accepted as sincere by others, as it was by Adams. The incident, however, identified Jefferson with criticism of the aristocratic tendencies of the government and in the end was politically advantageous to him. Fortuitous circumstances thus served to make a popular figure of one who abhorred controversy, who preferred to work behind the scenes, and who lacked the personal aggressiveness commonly associated with political leadership.

In May-June 1791 he and Madison made a trip to New England, during which they doubtless gave thought to politics; and, on Oct. 31, Philip Freneau published in Philadelphia the first number of the National Gazette, in opposition to the Gazette of the United States, published by John Fenno. Jefferson, knowing Freneau to be an ardent democrat, had given him the small post of translator in the Department of State, as Hamilton had already given Fenno the more lucrative printing at his disposal and was later to give him personal financial assistance. With the increasingly bitter criticism of Hamilton in Congress during the winter of 1791-92 Jefferson afterward claimed that he had nothing to do, except that he expressed hostility in conversation with and letters to his friends. His leadership even at this time was probably less active than has been commonly supposed, but he had undoubtedly become the symbol of anti-Hamiltonianism, and, though more scrupulous of proprieties than his colleague, served to inspire forces which he did not now or ever essay to command.

Hamilton had established with George Hammond, who presented in November 1791 his credentials as British minister, an intimacy similar to that which Beckwith had enjoyed. Hammond, forced by Jefferson to admit that he had no power to negotiate a new treaty, unwisely undertook to debate with the American Secretary the infractions of the treaty of peace. Jefferson's magnificent reply of May 29, 1792, which completely demolished the mediocre case of the Britisher, was submitted in draft to Hamilton in advance, and, with the latter's relatively minor criticisms, to Washington, who heartily approved it. To Hammond, however, the Secretary of the Treasury lamented the "intemperate violence" of Jefferson, and stated that the reply had not been read by Washington and did not represent the position of the government. Thus fortified by assurances which nullified Jefferson's arguments, the British minister submitted the matter to his superiors at home, who felt safe in ignoring it (Bemis, Jay's Treaty, ch. V). The full extent of Hamilton's intrigue has only recently been disclosed, but Jefferson was undoubtedly aware that he owed his undeserved defeat to his colleague.

By the summer of 1792 the hostility of the two men had become implacable. In the spring Jefferson had expressed in no uncertain terms to Washington his opinion that the causes. of public discontent lay in Hamilton's policy, particularly in the "corruption" that had accompanied the financial measures of the latter and that had extended to the legislature itself (Ford, I, 176-78). A formal list of the objections Jefferson had cited was submitted by the President to Hamilton on July 29 and was replied to by the latter three weeks later. In the meantime, Hamilton, smarting under the barbs of Freneau, had made an anonymous attack on the democratic editor and through him upon Jefferson. Washington's letters to his two secretaries, deploring the dissensions within the government, elicited lengthy replies in which each man presented his case, not only to his chief but also to posterity. Washington did not succeed in stilling the troubled waters. Hamilton, indeed, during the autumn of 1792 published in the Gazette of the United States a series of ferocious anonymous attacks on his colleague, with the definite object of driving him from office. Jefferson, with greater dignity or greater discretion, refrained from newspaper controversy, leaving his defense to his friends. He played a direct part, however, in drafting the resolutions of William Branch Giles presented early in 1793, which were severely critical of Hamilton's conduct of the Treasury.

His hostility to Hamilton, apart from his justifiable resentment at the interference of the latter in the conduct of his department, was like that of a religious devotee to an enemy of his faith. He was convinced that Hamilton's system "flowed from principles adverse to liberty, and was calculated to undermine and demolish the republic, by creating an influence of his department over the members of the legislature." see text Hamilton's hostility to Jefferson, apart from resentment that his power had been challenged, was like that of a practical man of affairs who found specific projects impeded by one whom he regarded as a quibbling theorist. Washington, reluctant to admit the existence of parties, valued both men and wanted both to remain in office, utilized both, and followed the policies of neither exclusively. The invaluable service rendered by each in his own field of activity vindicates the judgment of the patient President.

Yielding to the request of his Chief, Jefferson remained in office until the last day of 1793, during a critical period of foreign affairs. Though the course of the Revolution in France had been followed with growing concern by the conservative groups in America, popular opinion was still rather favorable to the French when war broke out in Europe (Feb. 1, 1793) and a new minister, Edmond Charles Genet, came to the United States. Jefferson was determined that his country should take no action that would imply opposition to the principles of the French Revolution, but he fully shared the feeling of Washington and Hamilton that American neutrality was imperative. He successfully urged the avoidance of the word "neutrality" in Washington's proclamation, however, in order to offend the French as little as possible and in the hope of gaining from the British some concessions in the definition of contraband. He also prevailed upon Washington to receive Genet without qualification and to postpone consideration of the treaty until the French should demand execution of the guarantee, which he thought they would not do. He finally yielded to the opinion of Hamilton that payments on the debt to France should not be anticipated, but urged a softening of the refusal. Though he received Genet kindly, rejoiced in the popular enthusiasm for democracy that the fiery emissary kindled, and, through letters of introduction, came dangerously near conniving with the Frenchman in his projected expeditions against Canada and Louisiana, he strove with diligence to maintain neutrality and bore with patience the immense labors that the American position imposed upon him. When Genet persisted in intolerable practices and criticisms Jefferson lost patience with him and joined his colleagues in asking his recall.

Though he protested vigorously against British infringements of American neutral rights during the war, Jefferson was unable as secretary of state to solve the problem of British relations, and he regarded Jay's Treaty, which was later negotiated under the influence of Hamilton, as an ignominious surrender of American claims. The negotiations instituted by him with Spain were equally unsuccessful during his term of office, though the American objectives which he had formulated were attained in the treaty of 1795. His tangible achievements as secretary of state were not commensurate with his devoted labors, but he had fully justified Washington's confidence in him. If in the heat of the controversy with Hamilton he was at times guilty of extravagant assertion, he performed an inestimable service to the Republic by calling attention to the dangers of his colleague's policy, by formulating the chief grounds of opposition to it, and by inspiring the forces that were to effect its modification after it had achieved its most significant results.

Now in his fifty-first year, Jefferson felt that his second retirement from public life was final. Soon he gathered all the members of his immediate family under the paternal roof, and he at length resumed building operations at "Monticello," following revised plans that had grown out of his architectural observations abroad. By a system of crop rotation he tried to restore his lands, he experimented with mechanical devices, built a grist-mill, set up a nail-factory, and directed his large but relatively unprofitable establishment with characteristic diligence and attention to minute details. His renewed and increased enthusiasm for agriculture quite got the better of his love of study. At no other period of his mature life did he read so little and write so rarely. His days on horseback soon restored his health to the vigor that he feared it had permanently lost, and he brought some order into his tangled finances. During his years as an office-holder he had largely lived upon his small salary, yet the profits from his plantations and even sales of slaves and lands had been insufficient to rid him of the old Wayles debt, which in 1795 was increased by a judgment against the executors as security for the late Richard Randolph. Like so many of his fellow Virginians, Jefferson was unable to realize upon his assets and was eaten up by interest to British creditors. His personal generosity, however, which had been manifested in Philadelphia by loans to friends more distressed than he, continued unabated.

To Madison, whom he regarded as the logical Republican candidate for the presidency, he wrote, Apr. 27, 1795, that the "little spice of ambition" he had had in his younger days had long since evaporated and that the question of his own candidacy was forever closed see text ; Ford, VII, 10 . He remained, however, the symbol and the prophet of a political faith and when the leaders of his party determined to support him in 1796 did not gainsay them. He would have been willing to go into the presidency for a while, he said, in order "to put our vessel on her republican tack before she should be thrown too much to leeward of her true principles" (Jan. 1, 1797, see text ; Ford, VII, 98) , but he was surprisingly content to run second to Adams, who was his senior and whom he perhaps regarded as the only barrier against Hamilton. After it appeared that Adams had won, and that he was second by three votes, he even suggested that some understanding in regard to future elections be reached with the President-Elect. He proved himself a more realistic observer and a better political strategist, however, when he wrote Madison: "Let us cultivate Pennsylvania & we need not fear the universe" (Ford, VII, 109).

The vice-presidency provided a salary which Jefferson undoubtedly needed, enabled him to spend much time at "Monticello," and afforded him relative leisure. The chief significance of his service as presiding officer of the Senate lies in the fact that out of it emerged his Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801), subsequently published in many editions and translated into several languages, and even now the basis of parliamentary usage in the Senate. Despite the conciliatory spirit that marked his early relations with Adams, Jefferson played no part in the conduct of the administration, in which the hand of Hamilton was soon apparent. Since the Vice-President belonged to the opposing group, his complete abstention from politics was not to be expected. He was characteristically discreet in public utterance, but his general attitude toward the questions of the day was undoubtedly well known; and he was inevitably the target of the Federalist press, which continued to regard him as the personification of his party. The publication in the United States in May 1797 of a private letter of his to Philip Mazzei see text (Apr. 24, 1796, Ford, VII, 72-78), which originally appeared in a Florentine paper and was somewhat altered in form by successive translations, gave wide currency to his earlier criticisms of the Federalists. Certain vehement phrases were interpreted as reflecting upon Washington and served to alienate the latter from his former secretary. Jefferson made no effort to disavow a letter which was in substance his (Ford, VII, 165), and suffered in silence while the Federalist press termed him "libeler," "liar," and "assassin" (Bowers, p. 352), and he was practically ostracized by polite society.

He had approved of Monroe's conduct in France, which aroused so much hostile Federalist comment, and felt that the bellicose spirit which swept the country after the publication of the "X. Y. Z. despatches" was aggravated by the Hamiltonians, with a view to advancing their own interests and embroiling the United States on the side of the British. He himself was sympathetic with Elbridge Gerry, the Republican commissioner who proved more amenable than his colleagues to French influence, and suggested that Gerry publish an account of his experiences. At all times, however, Jefferson was a patriotic American, and he had now no enthusiasm for the existing order in France. He was glad to drop the disastrous French issue when, at the height of the war fever, the Federalists provided a better one by passing the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson rightly regarded hysterical hostility to aliens, such as his friends Volney and Joseph Priestley, and attacks upon freedom of speech as a menace to the ideals he most cherished. Since the Sedition Law was applied chiefly to Republican editors, partisan as well as philosophical motives were conjoined in his opposition.

His most notable contribution to the campaign of discussion consisted of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, which, it appeared years later, he drafted. see text The Virginia Resolutions, drawn by Madison, were similar in tenor. The constitutional doctrines advanced in these famous documents--that the government of the United States originated in a compact, that acts of the federal government unauthorized by the delegated powers are void, and that a state has the right to judge of infractions of its powers and to determine the mode of redress--were in later years emphasized as their most important feature. The dominant purpose of the framers, however, was to attack the offensive laws as an unconstitutional and unwarranted infringement upon individual freedom, a denial of rights that could not be alienated. The language of what was in effect a party platform was in the nature of the case extravagant, but Jefferson and Madison had no intention of carrying matters to extremes, and such indorsement as their party ultimately received was of their protest, not of their method. More important from the practical point of view than any promulgation of constitutional theory was the immense stimulus given by Jefferson and the other Republican leaders to the establishment of newspapers such as their opponents had attacked.


Nominated by a congressional caucus for the presidency and by no means indifferent to the outcome as he had been four years earlier, Jefferson owed his success in the election of 1800 as much to Federalist dissensions as to any formal issues that had been raised. To the Republican victory, his running mate, Aaron Burr, also made no small contribution. By fault of the electoral machinery, soon to be remedied, the two Republicans received an identical vote and the choice of a president was left to the Federalist House of Representatives. Despite the personal hostility of many of the Federalists to Jefferson, the feeling, to which Hamilton greatly contributed, that he was the safer man of the two, and a tacit understanding that he would not revolutionize the government, caused Congress ultimately to yield to the undoubted desire of the Republicans and to elect him (Charles Beard, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, (1915) pp. 402-14). His own reference to the "revolution" of 1800 was one of his political exaggerations, but the elevation to the highest executive office of one who, almost twenty years before, had unheroically relinquished the reins of gubernatorial power undoubtedly marked a revolution in his own political fortunes. see text The popular success of Jefferson, whose diffidence and lack of spectacular qualities would have constituted in a later day an insuperable handicap, and whose relative freedom from personal ambition makes it impossible to characterize him as a demagogue, was due in considerable part to his identification of himself with causes for which time was fighting, and to his remarkable sensitiveness to fluctuations in public opinion, combined with an ability to utilize and to develop agencies of popular appeal. As a practical politician he worked through other men, whom he energized and who gave him to an extraordinary degree their devoted cooperation. His unchallenged leadership was due, not to selfassertiveness and imperiousness of will, but to the fact that circumstances had made him a symbolic figure, and that to an acute intelligence and unceasing industry he joined a dauntless and contagious faith. The long struggle between his partisans and the Federalists has been variously interpreted as one between democracy and aristocracy, state rights and centralization, agrarianism and capitalism. His election, however, had more immediate significance in marking the vindication of political opposition, the repudiation of a reactionary régime, and the accession of more representative leaders to power.

Jefferson, the first president inaugurated in Washington, had himself drawn a plan for the city, part of which survives in the Mall. As secretary of state, to whom the commissioners of the District were responsible, he had suggested the competition for the new federal buildings and he was considerably responsible for the selection of classical designs. As president he created for Benjamin H. Latrobe the office of surveyor of public buildings and fully cooperated in planning for the future development of a monumental city. In his day, pomp and ceremony, to which on principle and for political reasons he was opposed, would have been preposterous in the wilderness village. Remaining until the last at Conrad's boardinghouse, where his democratic simplicity was almost ostentatious, he walked to the nearby Senate chamber of the incompleted capitol, to receive the oath of office from his cousin and inveterate political foe, Chief Justice John Marshall. Though aware of the last efforts of the Federalists to renew the Sedition Act and entrench themselves in the judiciary, he felt that after the long "contest of opinion" the danger of monarchy was now removed, and in his benevolent inaugural (Ford, VII, 1-6) he sought to woo the more moderate of his opponents by making acquiescence in the will of the majority as easy as possible. Though he challenged the assertion that a republican government could not be strong, he defined its functions as essentially negative. It should restrain men from injuring one another, he said, but otherwise leave them to regulate their own concerns. He declared against special privileges and urged encouragement, not of industry, but of agriculture and of commerce "as its handmaid." He reiterated his conviction that the federal government should chiefly concern itself with foreign affairs, leaving to the states the administration of local matters. War, he felt, could be avoided by peaceable coercion through the weapon of commerce.


Inaugurated in his fifty-eighth year, he made his official residence in the boxlike and incompletely plastered Executive Mansion, though he continued to spend as much time as possible at "Monticello," where he was still directing building operations. His beautiful second daughter, now the wife of her cousin John Wayles Eppes, though far less prolific than her sister, had also by this time made him a grandfather. She was to sadden her father's life by her untimely death in 1804. Generally deprived of adequate feminine supervision while in Washington, Jefferson lived there in sartorial indifference and dispensed generous but informal hospitality, as he was accustomed to do at home, to the consternation of diplomats jealous of precedence (Ford, VIII, 276-77; Henry Adams, II, ch. XVI; American Historical Review, July 1928, pp. 832-35). His manners, after he had overcome his constitutional diffidence, were easy though not polished. To hostile observers his democratic simplicity was a pose, to his friends the naturalness of one who had achieved and thought enough to dare to be himself. His loose gait and habit of lounging, together with his discursive though highly informing conversation, doubtless contributed to the common but erroneous impression among his foes that this most scholarly of politicians was a careless thinker. "His external appearance," according to an admirer, "had no pretensions to elegance, but it was neither coarse nor awkward, and it must be owned that his greatest personal attraction was a countenance beaming with benevolence and intelligence" [Margaret Bayard Smith, First Forty Years of Washington Society, 1906, pp. 385-86).

Chief in his harmonious official family were Madison, the secretary of state, and Gallatin, who as secretary of the treasury was to carry out with considerable success his program of economy. Jefferson found nearly all the minor offices filled by Federalists and, though anxious to conciliate his former foes, sympathized with his own followers in their insistence that the balance be restored. This could only be done by removals, for, as he said, vacancies "by death are few; by resignation none." He proceeded to treat as null and void Federalist appointments which seemed to him of questionable legality, such as those of the "midnight judges" and others made by Adams after the latter's defeat was apparent. Finding his policy a political success, he extended it, until by the summer of 1803 the balance was restored and removals ceased. No non-partisan standard was adopted, however, and the Republicans came to dominate the civil service as the Federalists had done. Since Jefferson's appointments involved some recognition of party service, they constituted a technical introduction of the spoils system. The standards of the federal service, however, were not perceptibly lowered, and, except in New England, the people were generally satisfied.

Though Jefferson, whose voice could hardly be heard upon a public occasion anyway, abandoned the custom of delivering messages in person, he maintained over Congress indirect and tactful but efficacious control. The repeal of the Federalist Judiciary Act of 1801 was distinctly a measure of the administration. The severe rebuke administered to him and Madison by Marshall in Marbury vs. Madison (1803) did not predispose him to concede the right of the Supreme Court to invalidate an act of Congress. Indeed, in pardoning victims of the Sedition Law, he himself pronounced that statute unconstitutional, as he felt he was called upon to do (Albert Beveridge, Life of John Marshall, III, 605-06). He thoroughly approved of the use of the weapon of impeachment against offensively partisan judges and deeply regretted its practical failure, notably in the case of Justice Samuel Chase. Though the federal judges learned better to observe the proprieties, Jefferson never receded from his position that the Federalists, from the battery of the judiciary, were endeavoring to beat down the works of Republicanism and defeat the will of the people, as in a sense they were.

Rumors of the retrocession of Louisiana by Spain to France led Jefferson to write the American minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, on Apr. 18, 1802, that the possessor of New Orleans was the natural enemy of the United States and that by placing herself there France assumed an attitude of defiance see text (Ford, VIII, 143-47). Following the independent announcement by the Spanish intendant, Oct. 16, 1802, of the closure of the Mississippi and Federalist talk in Congress of warlike measures, he despatched Monroe to France as special minister. The purchase which Livingston and Monroe made, and for which Jefferson gave them full credit, was a diplomatic triumph of the first magnitude but it required him to disregard many scruples and to compromise cherished constitutional principles. In his proper anxiety to preserve the freedom of navigation of the Mississippi, he felt compelled at one time to consider a rapprochement with Great Britain, his traditional foe, and ultimately to increase the debt which he was striving so hard to reduce. He was confident that the Constitution did not empower the federal government to acquire or incorporate territory, and that broad construction would make blank paper of that supreme safeguard against tyranny. After the treaty was negotiated he favored the submission of a constitutional amendment, but yielded to the insistence of his political friends that no amendment was necessary and that delay was perilous, doubtless consoling himself with the thought that in Republican hands the Constitution was safe. The ratification of the treaty, effected in response to overwhelming public opinion, has been interpreted as a death-blow to strict construction (H. Adams, History II, 90-91). The Louisiana Purchase marked the lowest, or highest, point of Jefferson's pragmatic statesmanship. He had assured the physical greatness of his country and the future success of his party, which was symbolized by his own triumphant reëlection. Western discontent was stilled and the Federalists were reduced to sectional impotence. For all of this his momentary theoretical inconsistency seemed to his partisans a small price to pay, but his subsequent silence about the greatest constructive accomplishment of his presidency implies that he viewed it with little pride. The purchase served, however, to facilitate the expedition for which he had already commissioned Meriwether Lewis, and prepared elaborate instructions see text (Ford, VIII, 192-202). He himself wrote for the History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark (1814), the best biography of his former secretary, and no one more than he rejoiced in the discoveries the explorers made.

Livingston and Monroe had bought a vaguely defined region which they soon persuaded themselves included West Florida as well as Louisiana. Jefferson subsequently embodied similar views in a pamphlet which determined the attitude of the administration and its supporters. The Mobile Act of Feb. 24, 1804, assumed the acquisition of West Florida, but Jefferson, finding that the Spanish were not acquiescent as he had expected, practically annulled its offensive features by proclamation and soon afterward sent Monroe on what proved to be a futile mission to Spain. In his public message to Congress, on Dec. 4, 1805 see text (Ford, VIII, 384-96), he adopted an uncharacteristic tone of belligerency, apparently with the idea of frightening the Spanish, then, by revealing to Congress his purpose to acquire Florida by what John Randolph of Roanoke regarded as a bribe to France, confounded his supporters and alienated that vitriolic leader, already incensed by the settlement of the Yazoo claims. A proposal went to Napoleon too late to be of any use and the perplexing question of Florida remained unsettled during Jefferson's administration. His tortuous and uncandid policy had served only to diminish his influence in Congress and weaken his hand against the British.

His policy of peaceable negotiation did not extend to the Barbary pirates, to whom he applied more force than had any previous American president. Following the repudiation of his treaty by the Bey of Tripoli in 1801, Jefferson dispatched against him a naval force which blockaded his ports. Subsequently Jefferson also employed naval force against the Sultan of Morocco. The treaty at length negotiated with Tripoli, though it included provisions for the ransom of American prisoners, granted the United States the most favorable terms yet given any nation by that piratical power.


Long before the trial of Aaron Burr in 1807 on charges of treason, Jefferson had lost faith in his former associate, but he gave little heed to the mystifying western expedition of the adventurer until it was well on its way. On Nov. 27, 1806, Jefferson issued a proclamation of warning against an illegal expedition against Spain, and, after Burr's arrest, publicly expressing himself as convinced of the latter's guilt, exerted powerful influence to bring about his conviction. Burr's trial in Richmond before John Marshall developed into a political duel between the Chief Justice and the President. Burr's counsel, including Luther Martin, raised against Jefferson a cry of persecution which echoed through the land, and, attacking the credibility of the chief witness for the prosecution, the vulnerable James Wilkinson, through him assailed the man who had appointed him to command the army and had sent him to protect Louisiana against the Spanish. Marshall was distinctly hostile to Jefferson throughout the proceedings and, by his definition of treason, made the conviction of Burr impossible. Jefferson wished to press the charge of misdemeanor, in order to find grounds for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, but had to abandon his plans because the whole case rested on Wilkinson. Though Marshall's conduct was by no means unexceptionable, this famous trial proved more discomforting to Jefferson than to the Chief Justice and strengthened the hands of his political enemies, who not improperly charged him with an original indifference which gave way to credulity, and with a measure of vindictiveness wholly inconsistent with his expressed convictions in regard to the sacred rights of the individual.

The difficulties which Jefferson faced during his second administration as the head of a neutral nation in a time of ruthless general European war, were unescapable and could probably have been successfully met by no American statesman. During his first term, though he had done little to prepare for a possible conflict of arms, he had managed sufficiently well by employing ordinary diplomatic methods. Until 1805 the British had in practice granted sufficient concessions to permit large prosperity to the American carrying trade, and in effect they later modified the Rule of 1756 (1805). The impressment of seamen, however, remained a grievance, which the British would do nothing to remove. Then, in the battle of Orders in Council and Napoleonic decrees, the neutral American Republic, unable to meet both sets of requirements and threatened with the confiscation of commercial vessels in case either were violated, was placed in an intolerable position.

Of the possible courses of action open to him, war never commended itself to Jefferson, who did not want to take sides with either of the European rivals, though, after the Leopard fired on the Chesapeake in June 1807, a declaration against the British might have been supported by the American people. In this instance, Jefferson's belligerency vented itself in a proclamation, regarded by his foes as pusillanimous, denying to British armed vessels the hospitality of American waters (Ford, IX, 89-99). He had previously sent William Pinkney to London to serve with Monroe on a mission extraordinary, and had tried to strengthen the hands of the negotiators by the Non-Importation Act of 1806, which was to become effective some months later. His reliance was on diplomacy, supplemented by the threat of economic pressure, and when diplomacy failed he fell back on economic pressure. The only other apparent alternatives were intolerable submission or some sort of cooperation with the British against Napoleon. The Embargo constituted perhaps Jefferson's most original and daring measure of statesmanship; it proved to be his greatest practical failure. Adopted in December 1807, after an inadequate debate and by an overwhelming vote because of his political dominance and still enormous popularity, the measure, which Jefferson is thought to have drawn, combined with the Non-Intercourse Act to bring about a theoretical suspension of foreign commerce for an indefinite period.

The attempts to enforce the Embargo involved an exercise of arbitrary power by the federal government and an inevitable and increasing infringement on individual rights which were contrary to Jefferson's most cherished ideals. He opposed war in large part because of the corruption and repression which were its accompaniments, little realizing that his peaceful substitute would be attended with the same evils and that negative heroism would in the end prove galling. He counted too heavily on British liberal opinion, which had opposed the Orders in Council as affecting the United States, and he did not anticipate the developments in Spain and the Spanish colonies which did so much to relieve the pressure on Great Britain. He claimed, with considerable justification, that the Embargo was not in effect long enough to attain its objective, and it may well be that under other circumstances some measure of the sort might prove an efficacious weapon. But in 1808-09, employed by a weak power, it served chiefly to impoverish the sections that supported Jefferson most loyally, to give a new lease on life to partisan opposition in New England, and to bring his second executive venture to an inglorious consummation. Forced to yield to a rebellious Congress, on Mar. 1, 1809, he signed the Non-Intercourse Act, which partially raised the Embargo, and shortly afterward retired to Albemarle, discredited and disillusioned, though unconvinced that he had erred in policy. He correctly described himself as a wave-worn mariner approaching the shore, as a prisoner emerging from the shackles, and declared that Nature had intended him for the tranquil pursuits of science, in which he found infinite delight see text


During the past eight years this earnest advocate of the freedom of the press had been subjected to a flood of personal calumny. Long regarded in ecclesiastical circles, especially in New England, as the embodiment of foreign infidelity, he not unnaturally aroused a storm of indignation, soon after his first inauguration, by offering to Thomas Paine passage to America on a sloop-of-war and by expressing the hope that his "useful labours" would be continued (Ford, VIII, 18-19). The following year an indefensible assault was launched by a disgruntled pamphleteer, whose pen Jefferson himself had previously subsidized. To the charges of cowardice, dishonesty, and personal immorality made in 1802 by James Thomson Callender in the Richmond Recorder almost every subsequent story reflecting on Jefferson's private life can ultimately be traced. Given nationwide currency by the Federalist press, these were discussed in 1805 in the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, where a motion to dismiss the printers of the House for publishing in the New-England Palladium (Jan. 18, 1805) libels on the President failed of adoption. One only of these charges was admitted by Jefferson. This referred to an instance of highly improper conduct on his part, while yet a young man and single, for which he made restitution. Of the other allegations of immorality, it is quite sufficient to say that Jefferson, a model husband and father, was "more refined than many women in the delicacy of his private relations" [Henry Adams, I, 324).

For the wide acceptance, by persons of the better sort, of the extravagant charges of an unscrupulous drunkard, the sensitive President was disposed to blame his old theological foes, especially in New England. There his followers were assaulting the ancient alliance between church and state, for the final overthrow of which they deserve considerable credit. It may well be, as Henry Adams says (History, I, 310), that Jefferson did not understand the New Englanders, but it is certain that they did not understand him. Though sanguine in temperament, he was as serious-minded and almost as devoid of humor as any Puritan; and had he lived a generation later he would have been more at home in liberal religious circles in New England than anywhere else in America. He loathed Calvinism, but he objected to Unitarianism only because it also was another sect. At many times he paid grateful tribute to Epicurus and Epictetus, but as early as 1803 he began to select from the Gospels the passages which he believed came from Jesus. see text Toward the end of his life this amateur higher critic placed parallel texts, in four languages, in a "wee-little book," which he entitled the "Morals of Jesus" (published in 1904 as House Doc. No. 755, 58 Cong., 2 Sess.). This proved, he felt, that he was "a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus" (Ford, X, 5-6).


During the remaining seventeen years of his life, Jefferson ventured only a few miles from his haven at "Monticello." The Embargo and its aftermath were ruinous to him, as to so many Virginia planters, and because of the demands of incessant hospitality he could not live as simply as he desired. After the War of 1812, however, the sale of his library of some 10,000 volumes to the government, for the Library of Congress, served for several years to relieve his financial burdens; and his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, took over the management of his lands. Laborious correspondence occupied a disproportionate amount of his time, but he enjoyed exchanging ideas with John Adams (with whom his old friendship was beautifully restored), his friends in France, Thomas Cooper, and others, and has left in the letters of these years a mine of treasure. He gave his counsel to his disciples Madison and Monroe, when they asked it; and some of his expressions on public policy, as, for example, on the Missouri Compromise (to John Holmes, Ford, X, 157), and on the attitude of the United States toward Europe and the Latin-American republicssee text (Oct. 24, 1823, Ford, X, 277-79) are notable.

The chief public problem to which he addressed himself, however, was that of education in Virginia, which he again called his "country." He never ceased to advocate a comprehensive state-wide plan of education, such as he had proposed in 1779. "Enlighten the people generally," he wrote Du Pont de Nemours in 1816, "and tyranny and oppressions of both mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." see text Popular education, however, he regarded as more than a defensive weapon and a guarantor of freedom. His proposals of 1779 had been marked by a unique provision whereby youths of great promise were to be advanced from one grade of instruction to another without cost, and he hoped that these "geniuses . . . raked from the rubbish" would serve the state as governors or enlarge the domains of human knowledge. He formulated, as perhaps no other American of his generation, an educational philosophy for a democratic state; and in his last years he declared himself in favor of a literacy test for citizenship.

Having failed in his earlier efforts to transform the College of William and Mary, by 1800 at least Jefferson had hopes of establishing in the more salubrious upper country a university on a broad, liberal, and modern plan. Whatever interest he may have had, during his presidency, in the creation of a national university contingent upon the amendment of the Constitution, after 1809 Virginia was central in all his thoughts. Indeed, his regret that so many of his "countrymen" went to be educated among "foreigners" (as at Princeton) or were taught at home by "beggars" (Northern tutors) was partly due to the fear that their political principles were being contaminated. ....


During his own lifetime, Jefferson received not only American but also international recognition as a man, and as a patron, of learning. Elected president of the American Philosophical Society on Jan. 6, 1797, he remained the head of this notable organization until 1815 and actively cooperated with it in the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. By introducing to his colleagues, on Mar. 10, 1797, his megalonyx he fired the "signal gun of American paleontology" (Science, Apr. 19, 1929, p. 411). To them he read on May 4, 1798, a description of a mould-board of least resistance for a plow for which invention he received in 1805 a gold medal from a French society.... In due course he became associated with an extraordinary number of important societies in various countries of Europe, as he had long been with the chief learned, and almost all the agricultural, societies of America. Much but by no means all of his recognition was due to his political prominence. His election, Dec. 26, 1801, as associé étranger of the Institute of France, if due to his position at all, was due to his presidency of the American Philosophical Society. This signal honor, which during his lifetime was shared by no other man of American birth and residence, may best be attributed to his reputation in France as the most conspicuous American intellectual. He himself interpreted it as "an evidence of the brotherly spirit of Science, which unites into one family all its votaries of whatever grade, and however widely dispersed throughout the different quarters of the globe" He corresponded throughout his life with an extraordinary number of scientists and philosophers in other lands, as well as in America, and sought to make available in his own country the best of foreign thought and discovery.

Modern scholars have recognized Jefferson as an American pioneer in numerous branches of science, notably paleontology, ethnology, geography, and botany. Living before the age of specialization, he was for his day a careful investigator, no more credulous than his learned contemporaries, and notable among them for his effort in all fields to attain scientific exactitude. In state papers he is commonly the lawyer, pleading a cause; in the heat of political controversy he doubtless compromised his intellectual ideals and certainly indulged in exaggeration; but his procedure in arriving at his fundamental opinions, the habits of his life, and his temperament were essentially those of a scholar. As secretary of state, he was in effect the first commissioner of patents and the first patent examiner (Wyman, ). He himself invented or adapted to personal uses numerous ingenious devices, the best known of which is his polygraph.

At home in French, Italian, and Spanish, as well as Greek and Latin, he wrote An Essay towards Facilitating Instruction in the AngloSaxon and Modern Dialects of the English Language (1851), and during a generation he amassed an extraordinary collection of Indian vocabularies, only to have them cast upon the waters by thieves in 1809. He owned one of the best private collections of paintings and statuary in the country, and has been termed "the first American connoisseur and patron of the arts" (Kimball, Thomas Jefferson, Architect, p. 86). Besides the Virginia state capitol, "Monticello," and the original buildings of the University of Virginia, he designed wholly or in part numerous Virginia houses, among them his own "Poplar Forest," "Farmington," "Bremo." "Barboursville," and probably the middle section of "Brandon." Before the advent of professional architects in America, he began to collect books on architecture and discovered Palladio, from whom his careful and extensive observations abroad never weaned him. Always himself a Romanist, he d:d more than any other man to stimulate the classical revival in America. His own work, while always ingenious, is academic, precise, and orderly, but, because of the fortunate necessity of using brick and wood, the new creation was a blend, with a pleasing domesticity (Ibid., pp. 82-83). He created a definite school of builders in Virginia, sought to establish formal instruction in architecture, stimulated and encouraged, among others, Bulfinch and Thornton, and, except for the fact that he accepted no pay for his services, was as truly a professional as they. It is probably no exaggeration to say that he was "the father of our national architecture" (Ibid., p. 89).


Few other American statesmen have been such careful and unremitting students of political thought and history as was Jefferson, or have been more concerned with ultimate ends. Yet he has left no treatise on political philosophy, and all general statements about his theoretical position are subject to qualification. It is impossible to grant eternal validity to the "principles" adduced by him to support his position in particular circumstances; he was always more interested in applications than in speculation, and he was forced to modify his own philosophy in practice. But, despite unquestionable inconsistencies, the general trend of his policies and his major aims are unmistakable. A homely aristocrat in manner of life and personal tastes, he distrusted all rulers and feared the rise of an industrial proletariat, but, more than any of his eminent contemporaries, he trusted the common man, if measurably enlightened and kept in rural virtue; though pained and angered when the free press made him the victim of its license, he was a passionate advocate of human liberty and laid supreme stress on the individual; though he clearly realized the value of union, he emphasized the importance of the states and of local agencies of government; an intellectual internationalist, he gave whole-hearted support to the policy of political isolation, and anticipated the development on the North American continent of a dominant nation, unique in civilization. He is notable, not for his harmony with the life of his age, but rather for his being a step or several steps ahead of it; no other American more deserves to be termed a major prophet, a supreme pioneer. A philosophical statesman rather than a political philosopher, he contributed to democracy and liberalism a faith rather than a body of doctrine. By his works alone he must be adjudged one of the greatest of all Americans, while the influence of his energizing faith cannot be measured.


Regarded by Hamilton as ambitious and temporizing, by Marshall as untrustworthy, loved by John Adams despite rivalry and misunderstanding, honored as a kindly master by a group of disciples the like of which has assembled around no other American statesman, Jefferson, by the very contradictions of his subtle and complex personality, of his bold mind and highly sensitive nature, has both vexed and fascinated all that have attempted to interpret him. As Henry Adams said: "Almost every other American statesman might be described in a parenthesis. A few broad strokes of the brush would paint the portraits of all the early Presidents with this exception, . . . but Jefferson could be painted only touch by touch, with a fine pencil, and the perfection of the likeness depended upon the shifting and uncertain flicker of its semitransparent shadows" (History, I, 277).


The last years of this most enigmatical and probably the most versatile of great Americans were marked by philosophical serenity in the face of impending financial disaster. Ruined by the failure in 1819 of his friend Wilson Cary Nicholas, whose note for $20,000 he had indorsed, he tried vainly to find a purchaser for his lands, and secured legislative permission, in the last year of his life, to dispose of most of them by the common method of a lottery. The public strongly protested against this indignity to him and some voluntary contributions were made, so the project was abandoned. Jefferson died believing that his debts would be paid, fortunately not realizing that "Monticello" was soon to pass from the hands of his heirs forever. A beloved and revered patriarch in the extensive family circle, he retained extraordinary intellectual vigor and rode his horse daily until almost the end of his ordered and temperate life. His death occurred, with dramatic appropriateness, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, shortly after noon and a few hours before that of John Adams. His daughter, Martha Randolph, with ten of her children and their progeny, and his grandson, Francis Eppes, survived him. On the simple stone over his grave in the family burying-ground at "Monticello" he is described as he wished to be remembered, not as the holder of great offices, but as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia statute for religious freedom, and the father of the University of Virginia.


Bibliography: 2000
by Richard Jensen

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