The Presidential Election of 1800

"Thomas Jefferson, who began so many things in the early career of the United States, was the first object upon whom the Campaign Liar tried his unpracticed talents."

He threatened, it seems, to "beat down" the incoming administration; and, indeed, I observe, in the newspapers of the time, that he continued, as long as he lived, to fulminate sonorous inanity against Mr. Jefferson's acts and utterances. But he was never again a power in the politics of America. He bought a few acres of land near the Hudson, not far from what exultant land agents now speak of as One Hundred and Fiftieth Street; where the thirteen trees, which he planted in commemoration of the original thirteen States, are now in a condition of umbrageous luxuriance, pleasing to behold even in a photograph. There he strove, during the pleasant summer weeks, to forget politics in cultivating his garden; and there he awaited the inevitable hour when Jefferson's fanatical course should issue in that Anarchy which he had so often foretold, and from which his puissant arm would deliver a misguided people.

Peace now fell upon the anxious minds of men. A vast content spread itself everywhere as the news of Jefferson's election was slowly borne in creaking vehicles over the wide, weltering mud of February and March. The tidings from abroad, too, were more and more reassuring: a convention with Bonaparte was as good as concluded; the Continent was pacificated by being terrified or subdued; and there were good hopes of that peace between Great Britain and France which was to follow before Jefferson had sent in his first message. Bonaparte, so terrible to Europe and to Federalists, seems always, if we may judge from his correspondence, to have cast friendly eyes across the Atlantic. In 1800, it is true, he ordered Fouche to notify "M. Paine" that the police was aware of his ill-conduct, and that, on the first complaint against him, he would be renvoye en Amerique, sa patrie; but, in 1801, about the time of Jefferson's inauguration, he assigned to Robert Fulton ten thousand francs for the completion of his experiment with the nautilus at Brest. Fortunate Jefferson! For the first time in eight years, an American administration could look abroad over the ocean without shame and without fear. Peace at home, peace abroad, safety on the sea!

It becomes a conqueror to conciliate. Only gentle and benevolent feelings occupied the benign soul of Jefferson at this trying period. Those who look over his correspondence of the early weeks of 1801 remark again what a precious, tranquilizing resource he had in nature, and in those "trivial fond records" that employ the naturalist's pen. His letters to philosophical friends, at the time when misguided men were intriguing to rob his country of its right to elect a chief magistrate, were more frequent and more interesting than usual. The bones of the mammoth, the effects of cold on human happiness, the power of the moon over the weather, the temperature of moonbeams, the question of the turkey's native land, the peculiar rainbows seen from, and the nature of the circles round the moon were subjects which had power to lure him from the contemplation of the pitiful strifes around him. Nor did he forget his precious collections of Indian words. He tells one correspondent that he possesses already thirty vocabularies, and that he has it "much at heart to make as extensive a collection as possible of Indian tongues"; wondering to find the different languages so radically different. When, at last, the political struggle was at an end, his first and only thought was to conciliate. He knew the suicidal character of the error which the Federalists had committed, and he was glad of it, because it made his task of restoring parties to good-humor so much easier. "Weeks of ill-judged conduct here," he wrote to a friend, a few days after the election in the House, "have strengthened us more than years of prudent and conciliatory administration could have done. If we can once more get social intercourse restored to its pristine harmony, I shall believe we have not lived in vain." The leaders of the Federalists, he supposed, were "incorrigible"; they would, doubtless, continue to oppose and denounce; but he hoped to convince the mass of their followers that the accession of the Republican party to power would not reverse all the beneficent laws of nature.

If there is one thing upon which the Tories of America and Great Britain plume themselves more than another, it is their superior breeding, their finer sense of what is due from one person to another in trying circumstances. The public has been frequently informed, that, when the Federalists fell from power in 1801, the "age of politeness passed away." The late Mr. Peter Parley Goodrich lamented the decline of the "good old country custom" of youngsters giving respectful salutation to their elders in passing. It was at this period, he tells us, that the well-executed bow "subsided, first, into a vulgar nod, half ashamed and half impudent, and then like the pendulum of a dying clock, totally ceased." When Jefferson came in, he adds, rudeness and irreverence were deemed the true mode for democrats; a statement which he illustrates by one of his entertaining anecdotes. "How are you, priest?" said a rough fellow to a clergyman. "How are you, democrat?" was the clergyman's retort, "How do you know I am a democrat?" asked the man. "How do you know I am a priest?" said the clergyman. "I know you to be a priest by your dress." "I know you to be a democrat by your address," said the parson.

This anecdote, Mr. Goodrich assures us, in his humorous manner, is "strictly historical." I am afraid it is. And I fear that much of the superior breeding of the gentlemen of the old school, of which we are so frequently reminded, was a thing of bows and observances which expressed the homage claimed by rank, instead of the respectful and friendly consideration due from man to man.

In taking leave of power in 1801, the "gentlemen's part" revealed the innate vulgarity of the Tory soul. When I say vulgarity, I mean commonness, the absence of superiority, which is the precise signification of the word. Congress had acted upon Hamilton's suggestion of dividing the country into judicial districts, with a permanent United States court in each; but they preserved only the shadow of his perfect apparatus of tyranny: twenty-four district courts in all, with powers not excessive. But when the fangs of a serpent have been extracted, the creature in it writhing impotence retains its power to disgust. This increase of the judiciary was believed to be only a device for providing elevated and comfortable places of Federalists, from the vantage-ground of which they could assail with more effect the Republican administration. The measure was not, in itself, a lofty style of politics; but the manner in which the scheme was carried out bears the unquestionable stamp of—commonness.

Mr. Adams's last day arrived. This odious judiciary law had been passed three weeks before; but, owing to the delay of the Senate to act upon the nominations, the judges were still uncommissioned. The gentlemen's party had not the decency to leave so much as one of these valuable life-appointments to the incoming administration; nor any other vacancy whatever, of which tidings reached the seat of government in time. Nominations were sent to the Senate as late as nine o'clock in the evening of the 3d of March; and Judge Marshall, the acting Secretary of State, was in his office at midnight, still signing commissions for men through whom another administration was to act. But the Secretary and his busy clerks, precisely upon the stroke of twelve, were startled by an apparition. It was the bodily presence of Mr. Levi Lincoln of Massachusetts, whom the President elect had chosen for the office of Attorney-general. A conversation ensued between these two gentlemen, which has been recently reported for us by Mr. Jefferson's great-granddaughter: [Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson, p 308]—

LINCOLN. I have been ordered by Mr. Jefferson to take possession of this office and its papers.

MARSHALL. Why, Mr. Jefferson has not yet qualified.

LINCOLN. Mr. Jefferson considers himself in the light of an executor, bound to take charge of the papers of the government until he is duly qualified.

MARSHALL (taking off his watch). But it is not yet twelve o'clock.

LINCOLN (taking a watch from his pocket and showing it). This is the president's watch, and rules the hour.

Judge Marshall felt that Mr. Lincoln was master of the situation; and, casting a rueful look upon the unsigned commissions spread upon the table, he left his midnight visitor in possession. Relating the scene in after-years, when the Federalists had recovered a portion of their good-humor, he used to say, laughing, that he had been allowed to pick up nothing but his hat.

While these events were transpiring, Mr. Adams was preparing for that precipitate flight from the Capital which gave the last humiliation to his party. He had not the courtesy to stay in Washington for a few hours, and give the éclat of his presence to the inauguration of his successor. Tradition reports that he ordered his carriage to be at the door of the White House at midnight; and we know that, before the dawn of the 4th of March, he had left Washington forever.

That day was celebrated throughout the United States like another 4th of July. Soldiers paraded, bells rang, orations were delivered, the Declaration of Independence was read, and in some of the Republican newspapers it was printed at length. In most towns of any importance a dinner was eaten in honor of the day, the toasts of which figured in the papers, duly numbered, and the precise number of cheers stated which each called forth. Sixteen was evidently considered the proper number for the President. In some instances, if we may believe the party press, the Federalists paraded their disgust. No one can tell us now whether the great bell of Christ Church in Philadelphia really did "toll all day" when the news of Jefferson's election reached the city; nor whether, on the 4th of March, a ship-owner, on going to the wharf and finding his vessel dressed with flags, flew into a passion, and swore he would sell out his share in her if the flags were not taken in. Nothing is too absurd to be believed of human prejudice.

Of ceremonies at Washington the records of the time give us the most meager accounts. Boswell, the father of interviewing, had no representative in America then, and journalism was content to print little more than the Inaugural Address. It is only from the accidental presence of an English traveler that we know in what manner Mr. Jefferson was conveyed to the Capitol that morning. He had no establishment in Washington. "Jack Eppes," his son-in-law, was completing somewhere in Virginia the purchase of four coach-horse,—price $1,600—with which the President elect hoped to contend triumphantly with the yellow mud of Washington. But, as neither horses nor coach had yet arrived, he went to the Capitol in his usual way. "His dress," as our traveler, John Davis, informs us, "was of plain cloth, and he rode on horseback to the Capitol without a single guard or even servant in his train, dismounted without assistance, and hitched the bridle of his horse to the palisades." In composing the Inaugural Address (fitter to be read on the Fourth of July than the Declaration of Independence) he evidently put his heart and strength into the passages which called upon estranged partisans to be fellow-citizens once more:—

"Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans,—we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a Republican government cannot be strong; that this government is not strong enough. But would the honest patriot, in full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm, on the theoretic and visionary fear that this government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the laws, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern."

In 1801, this was "theory." In 1861, it was fact.

Happy, indeed, was the change which that day came over the aspect of American politics. No longer was the spectacle exhibited of the government pulling one way and the people another. The people of the United States ruled the United States, and they were served by men who owned their rightful mastery. That element, which resisted the Stamp Act, and declared independence, was uppermost again. "Old Coke" and Algernon Sydney were in the ascendant. The hard hand that held the plough, the thick muscle that wielded the hammer, the pioneer out on the deadly borderline between savage and civilized man, and all the mighty host of toiling men, gained something of dignity and self-esteem by the change. The old Whig chiefs, who for two or three years past had been avoided, reviled, cut by their juniors and inferiors, could look up again and exchange glad salutations. The old men of the ante-Revolution time were coming into vogue once more, and Jefferson used all the prestige of his office in their behalf.

A graceful act of manly homage (like King Hal's greeting to "old Sir Thomas Erpingham" on the morning of Agincourt [Henry V., Act IV. Scene 1.]) was the letter which President Jefferson, amid the hurry and distraction of his first days of power, found time to write to Samuel Adams, then verging upon fourscore, past service, but not past love and veneration. It was so good and gentleman-like in Jefferson to think of the old hero at such a time; and it was becoming in Virginia, thus again, as in the great years preceding the Revolution, to greet congenial Massachusetts. And how gracefully the President acquitted himself: "I addressed a letter to you, my very dear and ancient friend, on the 4th of March; not, indeed, to you by name, but through the medium of some of my fellow-citizens, whom occasion called on me to address. In meditating the matter of that address, I often asked myself, 'Is this exactly in the spirit of the patriarch, Samuel Adams? Is it as he would express it? Will he approve of it?' I have felt a great deal for our country in the times we have seen; but individually for no one as much as yourself. When I have been told that you were avoided, insulted, frowned upon, I could but ejaculate, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!' I confess I felt an indignation for you which for myself I have been able, under every trial, to keep entirely passive. However, the storm is over, and we are in port. The ship was not rigged for the service she was put on. We will show the smoothness of her motions on her Republican tack." And he goes on to tell the old man how intent he is upon restoring harmony in the country; an object to which he is ready to "sacrifice everything but principle." "How much I lament," concluded the President, "that time has deprived me of your aid. It would have been a day of glory which should have called you to the first office of the administration. But give us your counsel, my friend, and give us your blessing!" We can imagine the radiant countenance of this venerable man, so august in his poverty and isolation, as he held this letter in his palsied hand and slowly gathered its contents.

Dr. Priestley, too, who had been an object of envenomed attack, and menaced with expulsion under the Alien Law, received cordial recognition, and a warm invitation to visit the seat of government. "I should claim a right to lodge you," said the President, "should you make such an excursion." He evidently felt it a public duty to atone, in some degree, for the inhospitality with which the United States had appeared to treat the first man eminent in original science who ever emigrated to the western continent. "It is with heartfelt satisfaction," he wrote to him, "that in the first moments of my public action I can hail you with welcome to our land, tender to you the homage of its respect and esteem, cover you under the protection of those laws which were made for the good and wise like you, and disdain the legitimacy of the libel on legislation which, under the form of a law, was for some time placed among them."

Before Dr. Priestley had the pleasure of reading these lines, he had enjoyed the greater one of knowing that, among President Jefferson's first acts, was the pardoning of every man in the country who was in prison under the Sedition Law. Jefferson used to say that he considered that law "a nullity as absolute and palpable as if Congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image." The victims of the Alien Law were beyond his reach; but some of them, who could be fitly consoled by epistolary notice, Kisciusko, Volney, and others, received friendly letters from the President.

A gallant, high-bred act it was in Jefferson not to shrink from the odium of recognizing the claim which Thomas Paine had to the regards of a Republican President. The ocean, for some years past, had not been a safe highway for a man whom both belligerents looked upon as an enemy, and Paine had in consequence expressed a wish for a passage home in a naval vessel. The first national ship that sailed for France after Mr. Jefferson's inauguration carried a letter from the President to Mr. Paine, offering him a passage in that vessel on its return. "I am in hope," he wrote, "that you will find us returned generally to sentiments worthy of former times. In these it will be your glory to have steadily labored, and with as much effect as any man living." This must have been comforting to a man who, having been first driven from England, then threatened with expulsion from France, and warned by the Sedition Law from entering the United States, might have been truly described, before the 4th of March, 1801, as "the man without a country." Enriched though he had been by the gratitude of America, he had been living in Paris for some time past in poverty and squalor; his American property being little productive in the absence of his owner. Mr. Jefferson's letter found him the occupant of "a little dirty room, containing a small wooden table and two chairs." An old English friend who visited him not long after he had received it, describes Paine's abode, which he had much trouble to find, as being the dirtiest apartment he ever sat down in. "The chimney hearth was an heap of dirt," he adds, "there was not a speck of cleanliness to be seen. Three shelves were filled with pasteboard boxes, each labeled after the manner of a minister of foreign affairs: Correspondance Brittanique, Francaise, etc. In one corner of the room stood several huge bars of iron, curiously shaped, and two large trunks; opposite the fireplace, a board covered with pamphlets and journals, having more the appearance of a dresser in a scullery than a sideboard."

The occupant of this doleful room, then sixty-five years of age, soon came down stairs dressed in a long flannel gown, and wearing in his haggard face an expression of the deepest melancholy. His conversation showed that he was in full sympathy with the little band of Frenchmen whom Bonaparte had not dazzled out of their senses. He had dared even to translate and print Jefferson's Inaugural Address, "by way of contrast," as he said, "with the government of the First Consul." But he had lost all hope of France. "This is not a country," he said, "for an honest man to live in; they do not understand anything at all of the principles of free government, and the best way is to leave them to themselves. You see, they have conquered all Europe, only to make it more miserable than it was before. Republic! Do you call this a republic? Why, they are worse off than the slaves at Constantinople; for there they expect to be bashaws in heaven by submitting to be slaves here below, but here they believe neither in heaven nor hell, and yet are slaves by choice! I know of no republic in the world, except America, which is the only country for such men as you and me. I have done with Europe and its slavish politics." He gave his visitor Mr. Jefferson's letter to read, and said he meant soon to avail himself of its offer. "It would be a curious circumstance," he added laughing, "if I should hereafter be sent as Secretary of Legation to the English Court which outlawed me. What a hubbub it would create at the king's levee to see Tom Paine presented by the American ambassador! All the bishops and women would faint away." His guest frankly told him that the course of events had caused him to change his principles. Paine's answer was, "You certainly have the right to do so; but you cannot alter the nature of things. The French have alarmed all honest men; but still, truth is truth."

Poor Paine! His errors were, for the most part, those of his age, and they were aggravated by his circumstances, his defective education, and the ardor of his temperament. But his merits, which were real and not small, were peculiarly his own. He loved the truth for its own sake; and he stood by what he conceived to be the truth when all the world around him reviled it. That hasty pamphlet of his which he named The Age of Reason, written to alleviate the tedium of his Paris prison, differs from other deistical works only in being bolder and honester. It contains not a position which Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, and Theodore Parker would have dissented from; and, doubtless, he spoke the truth when he declared that his main purpose in writing it was to "inspire mankind with a more exalted idea of the Supreme Architect of the Universe." I think his judgment must have been impaired before he could have consented to publish so inadequate a performance. In a remarkably convivial age, he sang a very good song, and often favored a jovial company, after dinner, with ditties of his own composition. This ever-welcome talent, joined to the vivacity of mind which naturally expends itself in agreeable conversation, made him in his best days the delight of his circle, and lured him, perhaps, into habits that prevented his ripening into happiness and wisdom; for no man can attain welfare who does not obey the physical laws of his being. It becomes us, however, to deal charitably with the faults of a benefactor who wrote The Crisis and Common Sense, who conceived the planing-machine and the iron bridge. A glorious monument in his honor swells aloft in many of our great towns. The principle of his arch now sustains the marvelous railroad depots that half abolish the distinction between in-doors and out.

Nearly every other man whom Jefferson singled out for distinction had suffered, in some special manner, during the recent contests. Madison after bearing the brunt of many a battle in the House of Representatives, retired at last, almost despairing of the Republic, and went home to make a new stand in the Legislature of Virginia. His father, too, far advanced in years, needed his constant aid in the management of an extensive estate that only a master's eye could render profitable. Now he was coming back to the seat of government as Secretary of State! The declining strength of his father warned him not to leave his home for the inauguration, and the old man died a few days after. The news of Mr. Madison's nomination to the Cabinet, and that of his father's death reached the public at the same time.

What a change, too, for Albert Gallatin to find himself at the head of the Treasury Department! We can estimate his services to Republicanism by the singular intensity of the hatred borne him by the Federalists. From 1793, when Pennsylvania elected him to represent her in the Senate of the United States, their aversion, as much as his own merit, had kept his name conspicuous. For eight weeks the Senate debated the question whether he was eligible to sit in their body. The Constitution requires that a Senator, who is not a native of the United States, must have been a citizen for nine years. The question was, whether Albert Gallatin's citizenship began on the day he landed in Massachusetts, thirteen years before, or on the day when he formally took the oath of allegiance to the United States, eight years before. By a strict party vote, fourteen to twelve, the Senate declared him ineligible. Two years after, he was a member of the House of Representatives, the firm and able opponent of every reactionary measure which the Federalists introduced. His enemies were again inconsiderate enough to confer upon him the distinction of an outrage. In February, 1799, when he was exerting every faculty in opposition to the Alien Law, the majority held a caucus and resolved to make no answer whatever to anything that might be said against either the Alien or the Sedition Law. Gallatin rose in the House to urge their repeal. For a short time he was heard in contemptuous silence. Then, honorable members began to converse, laugh, cough, move about; and made at last so loud a noise that, as Jefferson remarked at the time, the speaker must have had the lungs of an auctioneer to be heard. Perhaps he may have thought of this scandalous scene when he sent to the Senate, two years after, the name of Albert Gallatin for Secretary of the Treasury.

Levi Lincoln, the new Attorney-General, had a taste in common with the President. He loved science. Another remarkable qualification was that he was a distinguished Massachusetts lawyer,—at the head of the bar of that State for several years,—and yet not a Federalist. These two facts, if we may believe the controversial writings of the day, bore to one another the relation of cause and effect.

Henry Dearborn of Maine, whom Mr. Jefferson appointed Secretary of War, had been a veritable hero of romance. In 1775, he was a village doctor. For three years, the sign of Dr. Dearborn had hung out in his hamlet of New Hampshire, when a horseman on a panting steed brought the news of the battle of Lexington. Before the sun had set that day, the young doctor, splendid with the glow of perfect health, and the elastic grace of twenty-four, led sixty men toward Cambridge, sixty-five miles distant, which he reached soon after sunrise on the day following. At Bunker Hill, he was a captain; but as there was nothing to do there but load and fire, he took a musket and made one of his company, loading and firing with the rest as long as they had anything to put into their guns. He went with Arnold's thousand men on that march through an untrodden wilderness to join Montgomery in an attack upon Quebec. The wonder was, that a man of them escaped starvation. Captain Dearborn had with him a magnificent dog, the favorite of all the company, and to himself most dear; but he could not resist the entreaties of starving comrades, and gave him up, at length, to some soldiers, who took the dog to their quarters, and divided his flesh, with fine Yankee self-control, among the men who could least help themselves, who were nearest perishing. "They ate every part of him," wrote his master, "no excepting his entrails; and, after finishing their meal, they collected the bones and carried them to be pounded up, and to make broth for another meal." The only other dog attached to the expedition, a small one, had been privately killed and eaten before. Men sacrificed their "old breeches" made of moosehide; boiled them long, and then cut them into slices, and broiled them on the coals. A barber's powder-bag was made into soup at last. It excited the wonder of the doctor-captain to see men keep up with their company until they were so near exhaustion that they would breathe their last, four or five minutes after sitting down. Dearborn himself gave out at length, and lay in a hut for ten days at the point of death. But he rallied, trudged after the army, and went to the assault at the head of his command.

In this spirit and in this manner, Henry Dearborn served till the surrender of Cornwallis, which he witnessed. On General Washington's staff, as quartermaster-general, he acquired that familiarity with military business which made him at home in the office in which Mr. Jefferson placed him. President Washington had appointed him marshal of the district of Maine, and the people had elected him twice to the House of Representatives. He was a large, handsome man, of erect, graceful, military bearing; a striking figure in the circles of the city that was rising in the primeval wilderness. He was, perhaps, the only public man in the country who united all the qualities desirable for this post; being a soldier, a Republican, a man of science, and a man of business.

In bestowing the great places of the government, Jefferson evidently had it in view to exalt and stimulate the intellectual side of human nature, then under a kind of ban in Christendom. Every member of his Cabinet was college-bred; and every man of them was in some peculiar way identified with knowledge. Madison was, above all things else, a student of constitutional law. Gallatin, the founder of the glass manufacture of Pittsburg, was accomplished in the science of his day, eminently an intellectualized person. Dearborn, a graduate of Harvard, had also been admitted to one of the learned professions. Robert Smith of Maryland, Secretary of the Navy, a graduate of Princeton, after long eminence at the bar and in public life, died President of the Agricultural Society and Provost of the University of Maryland. Gideon Granger, of Connecticut, Postmaster-General, a graduate of Yale, a lawyer of learning and high distinction, fought through the Connecticut Legislature the liberal school fund to which that State is so much indebted. He was noted, all his life, as the intelligent and public-spirited friend of everything high and advanced. It was he who promoted internal improvements in a manner to which the strictest constructionist could not object, by giving a thousand acres of land for the benefit of the Erie Canal. Chancellor Livingston, whom Mr. Jefferson invited to his Cabinet, and induced to go as minister to France, was the most liberal patron science had yet found in America. A graduate of King's College in New York, he spent his leisure and his income in promoting science, art, and agriculture. It was his intelligent faith and his liberal outlay of money that enabled Robert Fulton to carry out John Fitch's idea of a steamboat. James Monroe, the least learned of the men whom Jefferson advanced, could give a glorious reason why he was not a graduate of a college. The battle of Lexington called him away from William and Mary to the camp at Cambridge.

Let it be noted, then, as an interesting fact in political history, that the first Democratic administration paid homage to the higher attainments of man, and sought aid from the class furthest removed from the uninstructed multitude. If Jefferson had not done this from principle, he would have done it from calculation; because, knowing the people as he did, he was aware that the further they get from bowing down to fictitious distinctions, the more alive they become to those which are real. At the same time, he did not over value learning. "It is not by his reading in Coke-Littleton," he wrote to the brother of Robert Smith, "that I am induced to this proposition (offering him the Navy Department), though that also will be of value in our administration; but from a confidence that he must, from his infancy, have been so familiarized with naval things, that he will be perfectly competent to select proper agents and to judge of their conduct." From that day to this as often as Mr. Jefferson's example has been followed in this particular, the people of the United States have been gratified. What appointments more popular than those of Irving, Goodrich, Hawthorne, Bancroft, Kennedy, and Curtis?

An American President usually has something to do besides managing the affairs of the public. After making the first arrangements, Jefferson went home for a month to put his own affairs in train for a long absence, to select books for removal, and give time for the members of his Cabinet to remove to Washington. The city was miserably incomplete and unprovided. Only ten months had passed since Philadelphians, going by the office of the Secretary of State, had read on a placard the official notice of the removal of the government to the tract of wilderness which had been despoiled of its primeval beauty and named after the Father of his Country. These were the words they read: "Notice.—The office of the Department of State will be removed this day from Philadelphia. All letters and applications are therefore to be addressed to that department at the city of Washington from this date, 28th May, 1800." The day before, President Adams began his journey toward the new capital, going "by way of Lancaster and Fredricksburg." When Mrs. Adams joined him, she was ill-advised enough to go by Baltimore and Washington, the forest had not a break. Soon after leaving Baltimore, her coachman lost his way, went eight or nine miles wrong, then tried to get back through the forest to the right road, and wandered two hours without finding a creature of whom to ask a question; until, at last, a straggling negro came along, whom they hired as a guide. Washington she discovered to be all promise and no performance; everything begun and nothing finished; no bells in the Presidential mansion; no fence about it; the grand staircase not up; and the great rooms unfurnished. She used the unplastered East Room that winter for drying clothes.

If the President's house was in such a condition, we may conclude that, if the President and Cabinet meant to be comfortable, they must lend a hand to the work themselves. They were going to live in a city of huts and small unfinished houses, with, here and there, a marble palace rising above the trees, and a great street of rich yellow clay piercing the forest, three miles long, a hundred feet wide, and two feet deep,—"the best city in the world for a future residence," as Gouverneur Morris remarked to one of his fair correspondents. "We want nothing here," said he, "but houses, cellars, kitchens, well-informed men, amiable women, and other little trifles of this kind to make our city perfect."

Besides sending many a load of books and other articles by way of beginning, Jefferson kept a wagon going pretty frequently between Monticello and Washington during the whole of his Presidency. Before leaving home he wrote curiously minute directions for his steward, Mr. Edmund Bacon. His heart was set upon restoring and enlarging a mill for grinding the grain of the region roundabout; that must be pushed to completion. Then there were fences to be made, fields to be cleared, a new variety of corn to tried, charcoal to be bought, the nailery to be kept going, clothing to be provided, groves to be thinned, shrubs to be pruned, the building to continue. Concerning all these labors, Mr. Jefferson left precise instructions, and kept them in mind at all times. Take this brief passage of his last orders in April, 1801, as a specimen of the kind of directions he frequently gave while he was apparently absorbed in affairs of state:—

"I have hired all the hands belonging to Mrs. and Miss Dangerfield, for the next year. They are nine in number. Moses the miller is to be sent home when his year is up. With these will work in common, Isaac, Charles, Ben, Shepherd, Abram, Davy, John, and Shoemaker Phill; making a gang of seventeen hands. Martin is the miller, and Jerry will drive his wagon. Those who work in the nailery are Moses, Wormly, James Hubbard, Barnaby, Isbel's Davy, Bedford John, Bedford Davy, Phill Hubbard, Bartlet, and Lewis. They are sufficient for two fires, five at a fire. I am desirous a single man, a smith, should be hired to work with them, to see that their nails are well made, and to superintend them generally; if such an one can be found for $150 or $200 a year, though I would rather give him a share in the nails made, deducting the e cost of thiron; if such a person can be got, Isbel's Davy may be withdrawn to drive the mule wagon, and Sampson join the laborers. There will then be nine nailers, besides the manager, so that ten may still work at two fires; the manager to have a log house built, and to have 500 pounds of pork. The nails are to be sold by Mr. Bacon, and the accounts to be kept by him; and he is to direct at all times what nails are to be made. The toll of the mill is to be put away in the two garners made, which are to have secure locks, and Mr. Bacon is to keep the keys. When they are getting too full, the wagons should carry the grain to the overseer's house, to be carefully stowed away. In general, it will be better to use all the bread corn from the mill from week to week, and only bring away the surplus. Mr. Randolph is hopper-free and toll-free at the mill. Mr. Eppes having leased his plantation and gang, they are to pay toll hereafter. Clothes for the people are to be got from Mr. Higginbotham, of the kind heretofore got. I allow them a best striped blanket every three years. This year eleven blankets must be bought, and given to those most in need, noting to whom they are given. The hirelings, if they had not blankets last year, must have them this year. Mrs. Randolph always chooses the clothing for the house-servants; that is to say, for Peter Henings, Burwell, Edwin, Critta, and Sally. Colored plaids are provided for Betty Brown, Betty Henings, Nance, Ursula, and indeed all the others. The nailers, laborers, and hirelings may have it, if they prefer it to cotton. Wool is given for stockings to those who will have it spun and knit for themselves. Fish is always to be got from Richmond, and to be dealt out to the hirelings, laborers, workmen, and house-servants of all sorts, as has been usual. 600 pounds of pork is to be provided for the overseer, 500 pounds for Mr. Stewart, and 500 pounds for the superintendent of the nailery, if one is employed; also about 900 pounds more for the people, so as to give them half a pound apiece once a week. This will require, in the whole, 2,000 or 2,500 pounds. After seeing what the plantation can furnish, and the three hogs at the mill, the residue must be purchased. In the winter a hogshead of molasses must be provided and brought up, which Mr. Jefferson (merchant at Richmond) will furnish. This will afford to give a gill apiece to everybody once or twice a week."

No interest of his plantation was too trifling to escape his attention. He did not disdain to remind Mr. Bacon that "the old garden pales" wanted patching up, nor omit to designate the two men most fit for the job. When all else had been provided for, he adds, by way of postscript, that, as "these rains have possibly spoiled the fodder you had agreed for, you had better see it, and, if injured, look out in time for more." And yet another word: If Mr. Bacon would prefer to "take his half beef now," he might kill an animal for that purpose, and send the other half to the house, or to Mr. Randolph's.

A man does not govern a commonwealth the worse for having been trained in a homely school like this. Such training, of course, would not be sufficient; but, even of itself, it would bring an intelligent mind nearer the secret of genuine statesmanship than Bonaparte's military school or Pitt's parliamentary arena.

Early in May, the members of the administration were in Washington, and Mr. Jefferson addressed himself to the task which his countrymen had assigned him.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In