One thing only is indisputable with regard to the administration of Thomas Jefferson, from 1801 to 1809: it satisfied the people of the United States. The proof of this is not merely that he was re-elected by a vastly increased majority; nor that the Federalists, once so powerful and so confident, were reduced in the House to twenty-seven, and in the Senate to one less than half a dozen; nor that the legislatures of Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Georgia, the Senate of New York, and the House of Delegates of Virginia requested him to stand for a third term; nor that, at last, fourteen States out of seventeen were ranged in the Republican line, and Jefferson himself thought the opposition was getting too weak for the country’s good. These were remarkable facts, but they were only a part of his triumph. At the end of eight years, without an effort of his own, without so much as the expression of a preference, he handed over the government to the man of all others in the world whom he would have chosen for a successor; and that man, at the end of his eight years, passed it on to another of Jefferson’s disciples and allies; under whom opposition died, only to live again when Federalism started into a semblance of life iii the messages of John Quincy Adams. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were three men and one system. The era of good feeling in Monroe’s time, which would have come in Madison’s but for the War of 1812, was the completion of Jefferson’s success. It is this twenty-four years of public content that renders an inquiry into the conduct of President Jefferson interesting.
For, as all readers know, there are two ways of explaining it. To Republicans, indeed, it requires no explanation. It is of the essence of their faith that there is nothing occult or mysterious in the art of government, but that it consists in doing right. Their simple conviction is, — and they desire the Coming Party to ponder well the truth, — that the old Democratic party ruled the United States for sixty years for no other reason than that, on every leading issue except one—the extension of slavery, the Rock on which it struck and went to pieces—the old Democratic party was right. The other theory is, that Mr. Jefferson and his successors were wonderfully skilful and perfectly unscrupulous in flattering what the polite Federalists used to style the Mob. Readers remember, perhaps, Tom Moore’s verses on this subject, written soon after his visit to Washington, in which, putting into rhyme the gossip and sniff of Federalist drawing-rooms, he spoke of President Jefferson as
That inglorious soul,
Which creeps and winds beneath a mob’s control,
Which courts the rabble’s smile, the rabble’s nod,
And makes, like Egypt, every beast its god.
This was the Federalists opinion better expressed; and they used to point to Aaron Burr’s skill in political management as a proof of its correctness. Aaron Burr, however, was too knowing a politician ever to waste time upon the dozen loafers in each ward of New York who alone could then be justly called rabble; and his skill, such as it was, did not prevent his own downfall and hopeless ruin. America had no rabble. America has no rabble. Except in a few large cities, there is no considerable class that even hears any outward resemblance to a rabble; and never has that class been important in a general election. The voters that kept the Tweeds in power were, for the most part, well-meaning, industrious men, whom a Tweed could reach through their prejudices, their vanity, and their interest, but who could not be reached by honest men because education had opened no road to their minds accessible to disinterested intelligence. But let me recall the leading traits of Mr. Jefferson’s administration, with a view to getting light upon the question, whether he satisfied the people of his time by doing right, or by adroitly pretending to do right.
He was faithful to the party that elected him.
As soon as his election was known, some of his friends urged him to conciliate the Federalists by appointing a few of their leaders to office. His answer was, No; the mass of the party, being Republican at heart, will be conciliated by a consistent adherence to Republican principles, and, as to the chiefs, they cannot be conciliated! Besides, every office in the country in the gift of the President was already filled by a Federalist; for that party, said he, had at an early period adopted the principle of “excluding from office every shade of opinion that was not theirs”; and he thought it only right that all vacancies should be given to Republicans, until there should be at least as many of them in office as Federalists. He meant, as he said early in his first term, to “sink Federalism into an abyss from which there should be no resurrection for it.” He accomplished this purpose; and his clear adherence both to the men and principles of his own party was among the means which he employed.
But he would not appoint men to office merely because they were conspicuous partisans.
The notorious Callender was a case in point. He was a scurrilous, fertile, forcible writer of the day, who had been prosecuted under the Sedition Law, and so made a dirty martyr of Republicans had been compelled to give him aid and comfort in his distress, because he was the victim of a law they abhorred. Upon the triumph of the Republican party, he came to Jefferson, asking as a reward for party services the Richmond post-office, worth fifteen hundred dollars a year. Jefferson relieved his necessities with money, but refused him the place, simply because he was unfit for it, and thus gained one of the most implacable and indecent vituperators a public servant ever had. George Rogers Clarke, too, a hero whom he revered, he often longed to employ, as the most skilful manager of all Indian affairs the country possessed. But he did not. The reason was, Whiskey. He gave General Clarke’s brother a commission and an appointment: but not the man who had aided to give his country liberty, only to become himself a slave. Nor did Thomas Paine realize his joke of shocking the bishops and old ladies of the English court by going as Secretary of Legation to London. Jefferson gave him a safe-passage home in a man-of-war, received him with honor at the White House, with cordiality at Monticello, and exchanged philosophic news with him; but did not send him to do what he could not do, — represent a clean, sober, orderly people in a foreign land. And when it became apparent that Chancellor Livingston’s growing deafness rendered him an inefficient minister at the Court of Napoleon, Jefferson risked losing the support of the State of New York, first, by sending Monroe to help him, and afterwards by recalling him. But the most remarkable case was that of John Randolph, the sharp-tongued leader of the Republican party in the House of Representatives. He was suggested by a friend for the English mission. Mr. Jefferson was silent. Mr. Madison, also, waived the subject. Then the friend pressed his claims, and other members of the House added solicitations. The President withheld the appointment. John Randolph went into opposition, in which his single small talent shone like a thin, keen rapier in the sun. The only objection to his appointment was, that he was ludicrously unfit for a post requiring patience, prudence, self-control, industry, and address.
Jefferson took great care to get the right man for the right place.
In fact, a ruler of men, whether he is a private or a public person, has but two duties to perform, — to select the right assistants, and to treat them so as to get out of them the best service they have in them. That is the whole art of governing, and Jefferson knew it. “There is nothing,” he wrote to a friend in May, 1801, “I am so anxious about as making the best possible appointments.” But how difficult the task in a country so extensive as the United States, where personal knowledge is impossible His chief reliance seems to have been upon the unsolicited recommendation of men in whom he had confidence. Thus, he wrote to Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina very early in his first year: “In all cases when an office becomes vacant in your State, I shall be much obliged to you to recommend the best characters.” Jefferson was curiously happy in his appointments, and the reason was that he never slighted this chief duty, and was, from the first, on his guard against the recommendations of thoughtless, unprincipled good-nature. He would have made more successes of this kind even than he did, but for the inadequate compensation attached to the most important posts which limits a President’s choice to a few individuals exceptionally circumstanced. Many of his letters offering appointments show how much he lamented his inability to offer “due remuneration.”
He would not give an appointment to a relative.
At the first view, this seems unjust to the honorable and capable families who were related to the President. It has the air of courting cheap and easy popularity, and it is open to the objection of pitching the note too high for the limited range of human nature. But his convictions on the point were clear and strong; and Professor Tucker records that he acted on this principle throughout life in the administration of trusts. Thus, as Rector of the University of Virginia, he opposed the appointment of a nephew to a professorship, though he was well qualified for the place; dreading lest it should open a door to the system which has made universities and Church endowments in other lands mere appendages to the estates of governing families. He was nobly seconded in his resolution by his own kindred. Imagine his delight on receiving from one of them, George Jefferson, a few days after his inauguration, a letter spontaneously declining to be a candidate for a Federal office to which his neighbors and friends desired to recommend him. “The public,” wrote the President, “will never be made to believe that an appointment of a relative is made on the ground of merit alone, uninfluenced by family views; nor can they ever see with approbation offices, the disposal of which they intrust to their Presidents for public purposes, divided out as family property.” He owned that the rule bore hardly upon a President’s relations; but the public good, he thought, required the sacrifice; for which their share in the public esteem might be considered some compensation. “I could not be satisfied,” said he, “until I assured you of the increased esteem with which this transaction fills me for you.”
His two sons-in-law did not suffer from the rule, since their neighbors kept them both in the House of Representatives. Here, again, the President showed his nice regard for the mental integrity of others. In his intercourse with these gentlemen, it was a thing understood between them, that measures pending in their House were not to be a topic of conversation; and if, by chance, conversation took that turn, “I carefully avoid,” says Jefferson, “expressing an opinion on them in their presence, that we may all be at our ease.” The rule, happily, did not exclude friends, and he thus had the pleasure of appointing to the place of Commissioner of Loans at Richmond, the beloved comrade of his youth, John Page.
But he would not exempt friends from the operation of a good rule.
It was an old opinion of his, which now became a rule of his administration, that a foreign minister should not remain abroad more than seven or eight years. He drew this opinion from his own experience. “When I returned from France,” he once explained, “after an absence of six or seven years, I was astonished at the change which I found had taken place in the United States in that time. No more like the same people; their notions, their habits and manners, the course of their commerce, so totally changed, that I, who stood in those of 1784, found myself not at all qualified to speak of their sentiments, or forward their views, in 1790.” Hence the rule. But it excluded from the public service two of his oldest friends, David Humphreys and William Short, both of whom had served under him as Secretary of Legation before attaining the rank of plenipotentiary which they then held. Humphreys had been absent from home eleven years, and Short seventeen years. One of Jefferson’s first acts was to recall Humphreys; which he soon followed by declining to transfer Short to Paris, where he felt the need of just such a tried and vigilant minister. “Your appointment,” he wrote to Mr. Short, “was impossible after an absence of seventeen years. Under any other circumstances, I should never fail to give to yourself and the world proofs of my friendship for you, and of my confidence in you.”
He turned no man out of office because he was opposed to him in politics.
And yet he did, during the first two years of his first term, remove twenty-six Federalists and appoint Republicans in their stead. After that, there were scarcely any removals; and Republicans were only appointed to vacancies created by death or resignation. And now with regard to those twenty-six. The result of the Presidential election of 1800 was known in Washington on the 12th of December, a little less than three months before the end of Mr. Adams’s term. During that interval, some valuable life-offices fell vacant, twenty-four judgeships were created, and several places held during the President’s pleasure were vacated. Mr. Adams hastened to fill these offices, from that of chief justice of the Supreme Court to postmaster, leaving not one of them to his successor. Such was the primitive condition of the political mind in 1801, that Republicans regarded this conduct as the last degree of indecency, and Jefferson shared the feeling. Indeed, for so placid and placable a gentleman, he was highly indignant, and two or three years passed before he could “heartily forgive” his old friend Adams for yielding, in so unworthy a manner, to the “pressure” of his partisans. He resolved not to regard those appointments; which, he said, Mr. Adams knew he was not making for himself, but for a successor. “This outrage on decency, he wrote to his old colleague, General Knox, who had written to congratulate him on his election, should not have its effect except in the life-appointments, which are irremovable; but, as to the others, I consider the nominations as nullities, and will not view the persons appointed as even candidates for their office, much less as possessing it by any title meriting respect.” These offices were sixteen in number. Their incumbents were all removed during the first year, and Republicans appointed to fill them. The other ten removals, most of which occurred in the second year, were for three causes 1. Official misconduct; 2. “Active and bitter opposition (to use the President’s own words) to the order of things which the public will has established.” There was a third reason for removal, which the President thus explained: “The courts being so decidedly Federal and irremovable, it is believed that Republican attorneys and marshals, being the doors of entrance into the courts, are indispensably necessary as a shield to the Republican part of our fellow-citizens, which, I believe, is the main body of the people.” Accordingly, although the expiration of the Alien and Sedition Laws rendered the Federal courts less dangerous to freedom than they had been, four or five of these officials were removed.
The outcry caused by this moderate exercise of the President’s power cannot be imagined by readers of the present day. Jefferson, indeed, stood between two fires, — the Federalists shrieking with most vigorous unanimity as each head dropped into the basket; and the Republican host muttering remonstrance that the decapitating instrument worked so slowly. The denunciation of the Federalists he could not avoid; but he showed much tact in reconciling his own partisans to this moderate course. To mere partisans, he would show how much better it was to have an able Federalist passive and acquiescent in office, and all his circle of friends quiet for his sake, than, by turning him out of office, to convert him and his family into vigilant, embittered opponents. To men who, like himself, desired to see the whole body of citizens restored to good-humor, his appeal was to their sense of the just and the becoming. The Tammany Society of Baltimore deputed a young member, who was going to Monticello, to make known to the President the discontent of the society at seeing so many Federalists still in office. The following conversation is reported by the deputy.
PRESIDENT. I should be very glad to gratify my friends in Baltimore by turning the Federalists out of office, and filling their places with men of my own party. But there is an obstacle in the, way which I cannot remove, — a question which I have not been able to solve. Perhaps you can do this for me.
YOUNG TAMMANY. I despair of solving any problem that puzzles Mr. Jefferson, but I desire to hear what it Is.
PRESIDENT. Well, sir, we are Republicans, and we are contending for the extension of the right of suffrage. Is it not so?
YOUNG TAMMANY. Yes, sir.
PRESIDENT (who had not read his Plato for nothing). We would not, therefore, put any restraint upon the right of suffrage as it already exists?
YOUNG TAMMANY (unwarned by the fate of those who sought wisdom from Socrates). By no means, sir.
PRESIDENT. Tell me, then, what is the difference between denying the right of suffrage, and punishing a man for exercising it by turning him out of office?
The deputy could not answer this question. “I had to leave him where I found him,” he used to say in telling the story. The President held firmly to his course, unmoved by the execrations of Federalists and the remonstrances of Republicans. At a moment in his second year when the opposition was vituperative beyond all previous experience, he wrote to a member of his Cabinet: “I still think our original idea as to office is best; that is, to depend for the obtaining a just participation on deaths, resignations, and delinquencies. This will least affect the tranquillity of the people, and prevent their giving in to the suggestion of our enemies, that ours has been a contest for office, not for principle.” I wish he could have gone one step further, and admitted the right of every office-holder to pass his leisure hours exactly as he chose. I wish he had not added: “To these means of obtaining a just share in the transaction of the public business shall be added one other, to wit, removal for electioneering activity, or open and industrious opposition to the principles of the present government, legislative and executive. Every officer of the government may vote at elections according to his conscience; but we should betray the cause committed to our care were we to permit the influence of official patronage to be used to overthrow that cause.” We must always beware of demanding too much of human nature. But I wish he could have said, “Rail on, Federalist post-masters and Hamiltonian collectors! Mount the stump! Berate the administration! You are not my servants, nor the administration’s servants, but the servants of the people. It is only my concern to see that you do faithfully the duty of your places. After office hours, you differ in no respect from citizens engaged in the ordinary pursuits of private life.” It is easy to be wise for other people; nor have we a victorious party at our back to make wisdom difficult; and who could have foreseen such an abuse of the precedent as infuriate Jackson made in 1829? No man.
Jefferson reduced the patronage of the government to the minimum.
The strongest organization on earth is, as we all know, the Roman Catholic Church. Viewed merely as an organization, it has but one defect, — there is no provision in itself for limiting its expansion, and preventing its becoming an insupportable burden. And this grievous fault belongs to all the ancient governments, whether ecclesiastical or secular. When Louis XIV. passed a few weeks at Versailles, accommodation had to be provided in the palace for three thousand persons and I have myself possessed an octavo volume of four hundred pages which was filled with the mere catalogue of the servants of George III., stating only their titles, duties, and salaries. Burke’s Reform Bill abolished six hundred court offices, without making a gap in the mighty host large enough to attract the notice of a disinterested public. Nobody appears to have missed any of them. This tendency of governments to become excessive is so strong, constant, and insidious, that no head of a government will ever resist it unless the ambition that controls him is something nobler than personal. Jefferson was one of those who gave this best proof of a disinterested love of right principles. Every office in his control that was not necessary was suppressed, and the whole apparatus of government—military, naval, judicial, executive—was reduced in quantity. We might sum up his policy in this particular in a sentence: The men you do employ, pay adequately; make it worth the ablest men’s while to serve the government; but employ no two men to do one man’s work.
Thus, while no branch of the public service was increased in cost or in importance, most departments were diminished Mr. Gallatin co-operated heartily with the President in reducing the extensive corps of officials which Colonel Hamilton had created. In 1802, the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue and that of Superintendent of Stamps were suppressed which only whetted the President’s appetite for further reductions.” It remains,” he wrote to Gallatin, “to amalgamate the comptroller and auditor into one, and reduce the register to a clerk of accounts; and then the organization will consist, as it should at first, of a keeper of money, a keeper of accounts, and the head of the department.” Details do not concern us now; it is the spirit of the administration which I desire to exhibit. “Let us deserve well of our country,” he concluded, “by making her interests the end of all our plans, and not our pomp, patronage, and irresponsibility.” It is this disinterested spirit, which shines from all the documents, the correspondence, the hasty notes of the President and his Cabinet, that renders the administration of Jefferson so remarkable. Bitter John Randolph conceded this merit to Jefferson. “I have never seen,” said he, in 1828, “but one administration which, seriously and in good faith, was disposed to give up its patronage, and was willing to go further than Congress, or even the people themselves, so far as Congress represents their feelings, desired; and that was the first administration of Thomas Jefferson. He, sir, was the only man I knew, or ever heard of, who really, truly, and honestly, not only said Nolo episcopari, but actually refused the mitre.”
He endeavored to simplify the apparatus and the operations of government, so that the rural member of Congress and his constituents might understand them.
His heart was much set on this, particularly in the finances, which, he thought, Hamilton had purposely complicated. What we can now all see was merely a defect of Hamilton’s mind (or the inevitable failure of a third-rate man in a first-rate place), Jefferson, stung by his calumnious vituperation, and alarmed at the pernicious tendency of his influence, regarded as intentional mystification. He thought that Hamilton began by puzzling the President and Congress, and ended by getting the finances into such a snarl that he could not “unravel” them himself. Thus he explained his meaning to Mr. Gallatin: “Hamilton gave to the debt, in the first instance, in funding it, the most artificial and mysterious form he could devise. He then moulded up his appropriations of a number of scraps and fragments, many of which were nothing at all, and applied them to different objects in reversion and remainder, until the whole system was involved in an impenetrable fog; and while he was giving himself the airs of providing for the payment of the debt, he left himself free to add to it continually, as he did, in fact, instead of paying it.” Jefferson’s idea was to let the money received into the treasury form one mass, from which all payments should be made, only giving precedence to such claims as involved the honor of the nation that is, reserve, first, the interest of the public debt; next, any portion of the principal of the debt due within the year; then, pay the expenses of the year; and, finally, if there is any money left, discharge part of the debt payable at pleasure. This was his idea, which he desired the Secretary to “approach by every tack which previous arrangements force upon us”; until the finances should be “as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books; so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union, should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.”
He abolished court etiquette, and every usage that resembled it.
Any one who passed an hour at the head-quarters of a commanding general during the late war had an opportunity of discovering that court etiquette originated in necessity. So many people desire access to the officer in command of a large force in active service, that unless he is hedged about by rules, usages, sentinels, aide-de-camps, he would, not merely be useless as an officer, but he would soon be destroyed. Kingship began in generalship. The king was once the ablest man in defending his people, who were always menaced by other barbarians. The first time an ancient border chief told one of his tribe to answer questions for him while he devoured his dinner, or persuaded two or three to stand guard over him with their clubs while he caught an hour’s sleep between two fights, court etiquette began. It was the invention of “Divine Right” that exaggerated the necessary regulations of a camp into a system of adulation and semi-worship. How absurd, how oppressive, how impious, how ridiculous, it had become in the last century, we can still partly see by the relics of it that remain. We know how it “riled” the generous mind of Thackeray (who was no democrat) to see Prince Albert attended in shooting by a gentleman-equerry to hand the Prince his gun, when it had been loaded by a servant, and give it back to the servant after it had been discharged. This trifle represents the system which was founded on the assumption that the king and the class whom the king honored were of an essence or blood superior to others, as the Brahmin is supposed to be innately and eternally superior to the pariah. It all grew out of the theory, that the king is the divinely designated Master. Jefferson regarded himself as the chosen servant of the people of his country, entitled, if he was faithful to his trust, to the honor due from all the worthy to all the worthy, and to no more. His person, his time, his house, could justly claim the protection which is the right and necessity of all men engaged in affairs numerous and important, and no more.
Accordingly, the weekly levee was at once abolished. On two days in the year, the Fourth of July and the 1st of January, when houses and hearts are usually open in the United States, he opened his to all who chose to visit him. On other days, he was accessible to visitors on the terms and conditions which his duties imposed; all were welcome who had claims upon his attention or regard, except so far as the superior claim of the whole people restricted him. Some of the Federalists in Washington, we are told, hit upon an expedient to balk the President’s intention of abolishing the levee. On the usual day, at the usual hour, — two in the afternoon, — ladies and gentlemen began to arrive at the President’s house, attired in the manner customary at the levees. The President was not at home. He was enjoying his regular two hours ride on horseback, which nothing but absolute necessity could make him forego. When he returned at three o’clock, and learned that the great rooms were filled with company waiting to see him, he guessed their object, and frustrated it gracefully, and with perfect good-humor, by merely going among them, all accoutred as he was, booted, spurred, splashed with mud, riding-whip in hand, and greeting them as though the conjunction of so many guests were merely a joyous coincidence. They, in their turn, caught the spirit of the joke, and the affair ended happily. But it was the last of the levees.
In the great matter of dinners, he adopted, or rather he continued, the style of Old Virginia, which proved to be to him a grievous, if not a ruinous burden, as it had been to many a wealthier planter. The Virginia style was, simply: Come one, come all, come again, keep coming, and bring your friends. In President Washington’s time, the business of entertaining members of Congress, officers of the government, and distinguished strangers had been assumed by the four members of the Cabinet; and it became so oppressive, Jefferson tells us, that “it was among the motives for their retirement.” Their successors, he adds, profited by the experiment, and lived altogether as private individuals, leaving to the President the whole burden of that representative hospitality supposed then to be incumbent upon the head of a government. In Washington, too, the President was then the only man who had a house large enough for the entertainment of a dozen people at dinner, or fifty persons in the evening; and, hence, there could be little social life in the place unless the President kept open house. Shut out from all the world, ill-lodged and ill-attended, the circle of officials, the foreign legations, and members of Congress could only meet in an agreeable manner at the President’s mansion. To the last year of Jefferson’s second term, Washington was still only a spoiled wilderness. Francis Jackson, the English plenipotentiary, described it, in 1809, as more resembling Hampstead Heath than any place he had ever seen, consisting of scattered houses intersected with heath, forest, and gravel-pits. He declares that he started a covey of partridges “about three hundred yards from the House of Congress.” In such circumstances, what could a hospitable Virginian do but convert his residence into a general rendezvous and free club?
All would have gone well but for the dinners, to which the salary was fatally inadequate. We get an insight into the way of life at the White House from the recollections of Edmund Bacon of Kentucky, who was, for twenty years, Mr. Jefferson’s manager. He visited Washington several times, and always lived at the White House during his stay, dining daily at the President’s table. There were eleven servants in the house from Monticello, he tells us, besides a French cook, a French steward, and an Irish coachman. “When I was there,” Mr. Bacon reports, “the President’s house was surrounded by a high rock wall, and there was an iron gate immediately in front of it, and from that gate to the Capitol the street was just as straight as a gun-barrel. Nearly all the houses were on that street.” This is Mr. Bacon’s recollection of the dinners: —
“Mr. Jefferson often told me that the office of Vice-President was far preferable to that of President. He was perfectly tired out with company. He had a very long dining-room, and his table was chock-full every one of the sixteen days I was there. There were Congressmen, foreigners, and all sorts of people to dine with him. He dined at four o’clock, and they generally sat and talked until night. It used to worry me to sit so long, and I finally quit when I got through eating, and went off and left them. The first thing in the morning, there was to go to market. Mr. Jefferson’s steward was a very smart man, well educated, and as much of a gentleman in his appearance as any man. His carriage-driver would get out the wagon early in the morning, and Lamar would go with him to Georgetown to market. I have all my life been in the habit of getting up about four o’clock in the morning, and I went with them very often. Lamar told me that it often took fifty dollars to pay for what marketing they would use in a day.”
At these dinners, which so wearied the soul of Mr. Bacon, there was no etiquette except that which would have been observed at the table of any private person of the time. Mr. Jefferson, however, as his friend, Professor Tucker, reports, was well aware of the sensitiveness of self-love, and was most careful never to wound it. At his more public dinners, if he found that he could not recall the name of a member of Congress who was present, he would give a sign to his secretary to go into the next room, where the President would join him to get the information desired.
The system of precedence was abolished.
This was settled at a Cabinet meeting early in the first term, when the whole barbarous code of precedence was swept away. These Rules were substituted: 1. Residents to pay the first visit to strangers; and, among strangers, whether native or foreign, first comers call first upon later comers. To this rule there was allowed one exception: “Foreign ministers, from the necessity of making themselves known, pay the first visit to the Secretary of State, which is returned.” 2. “When brought together in society, all are perfectly equal, whether foreign or domestic, titled or untitled, in or out of office.” The President amplified these rules thus: “The families of foreign ministers, arriving at the seat of government, receive the first visit from those of the national ministers, as from all other residents. Members of the Legislature and of the judiciary, independent of their offices, have a right as strangers to receive the first visit. No title being admitted here, those of foreigners give no precedence. Difference of grade among the diplomatic members gives no precedence. At public ceremonies, to which the government invites the presence of foreign ministers and their families, a convenient seat or station will be provided for them, with any other strangers invited and the families of the national ministers, each taking place as they arrive, and without any precedence. To maintain the principle of equality, or of pêle mêle, and prevent the growth of precedence out of courtesy, the members of the executive will practice at their own houses, and recommend an adherence to the ancient usage of the country, of gentlemen in mass giving precedence to the ladies in mass, in passing from one apartment where they are assembled into another.”
All this, with the friendly, humane usages that grew out of it, or were akin to it, agreeable as it was to most persons, shocked some ladies, and offended all men who owed their importance solely to rank or office. Mr. Jackson, English Minister in 1809, being a gentleman of sense and good-humor, was amused and pleased, during his first conference with President Madison (which proved to be very long), when a “negro servant brought in some glasses of punch and a seed-cake,” just as might have been done in a farm-house of the day; but his wife lamented that her husband, after having been accustomed “to treat with the civilized governments of Europe,” should have to negotiate with the “savage democrats” of America. It so chanced that the British Minister from 1803 to 1809, with whom Jefferson had most to do, Merry by name but not by nature, was a fanatic of etiquette; and it appears that, previous to his presentation to the President, he had not heard of the business-like manner in which the affairs of the White House were conducted. He was stunned at the manner of his reception! It made an impression upon his mind which neither explanation nor the lapse of years could even soften, much less obliterate. And, really, when we consider that he had passed his life at courts where the nod, the smile, the frown, the glance, the tone, the silence, the presence, the absence, of the head of the government were matters of importance, to be noted, recorded, transmitted, and weighed, we ought not to laugh at this Mr. Merry as we do. Besides, as Mr. Jefferson remarks, “Poor Merry had learned nothing of diplomacy but its suspicions without head enough to distinguish when they were misplaced.” Nevertheless, he comes down to us borne on a billow of laughter, and he remains to this day one of the stock jests of Washington. Thus he recounted his woes, three years after the event, to Mr. Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, the ablest Federalist in Congress, and one of the worthiest: —
“I called on Mr. Madison, who accompanied me officially to introduce me to the President. We went together to the mansion-house, I being in full official costume, as the etiquette of my place required on such a formal introduction of a minister from Great Britain to the President of the United States. On arriving at the hall of audience, we found it empty, at which Mr. Madison seemed surprised, and proceeded to an entry leading to the President’s study. I followed him, supposing the introduction was to take place in the adjoining room. At this moment Mr. Jefferson entered the entry at the other end, and all three of us were packed in this narrow space, from which, to make room, I was obliged to back out. In this awkward position my introduction to the President was made by Mr. Madison. Mr. Jefferson’s appearance soon explained to me that the general circumstances of my reception had not been accidental, but studied. I, in my official costume, found myself; at the hour of reception he had himself appointed, introduced to a man as President of the United States, not merely in an undress, but ACTUALLY STANDING IN SLIPPERS DOWN AT THE HEELS, and both pantaloons, coat, and underclothes indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances, and in a state of negligence actually studied. I could not doubt that the whole scene was prepared and intended as an insult, not to me personally, but to the Sovereign I represented.”
It is just possible that Mr. Jefferson thought, that morning, of the time when Gouverneur Morris kicked his heels four months in London waiting for the promised answer of the British government to as reasonable and urgent a communication from President Washington as one government ever made to another, and then had to leave England without getting it. Possibly, also, it did happen to occur to his memory, that Mr. Adams had been kept vainly waiting three years in England for a reply to the same proposals. Perhaps, too, he remembered the period when he was himself presented to the king of England by Mr. Adams, and the king froze to them both; an example which was followed by the king’s friends, and society generally; so that it required courage for a courtier to show them anything more than cold civility at an evening party. And this, while they were only asking the king to stay the bloody ravages of the Indians by giving up the seven posts within the boundaries of their country. He may, too, have thought of the time when he, as Secretary of State, would send an important communication to the British Minister at Philadelphia, and wait many months for an answer; but if he failed to answer a letter within three or four days, he would be “goaded” by a second. Perhaps he thought the time had come to show the Federalists that he did not accept Great Britain at her own valuation, and did not believe she was fighting the battle of man and liberty against Bonaparte. It may be, too, that he, knowing the childish politics of Europe, and what ridiculous importance was attached there to trifles, may have paused before ringing for a pair of shoes not down at the heels, and wondered if his old slippers, duly reported to Bonaparte, might not drive another nail into the bargain for Louisiana, just concluded by Mr. Livingston and Mr. Monroe, to the great joy of President and people. All these thoughts may have flitted through the President’s mind, and held back his hand from the bell rope; but, in all probability, he had no thoughts of the kind, and only wore the clothes he usually did while at work.
A few weeks after, arrived in Washington the young Irish poet, Thomas Moore, who had crossed the Atlantic in the same ship with Mr. and Mrs. Merry. To him, also, the affronted Briton related his sorrows, and even exhibited the President clad in the same style. Mr. Merry presented Mr. Moore to the President at the White House. “I found him,” the poet records, “sitting with General Dearborn, and one or two other officers, and in the same homely costume, comprising slippers and Connemara stockings, in which Mr. Merry had been received by him, much to that formal minister’s horror, when waiting on him in full dress to deliver his credentials. My single interview with this remarkable person was of very short duration; but to have seen and spoken to the man who drew up the Declaration of Independence was an event not to be forgotten.” The poet did not approve of the President, and said so in several satirical stanzas and poems in his next publication, at which Mr. Jefferson was amused, and even surprised; for he had not before heard of this new light in literature. Mr. Randall relates a pleasing incident to show how little he had come to regard the stings and arrows of outrageous politics. A few years after his retirement, a grand-daughter placed in his hands Moore’s Irish Melodies, as the book of the season, which was having a great run on both sides of the ocean. The young lady, curious and expectant, watched him as he opened the work and turned over the leaves. Said Jefferson, “This is the little man who satirized me so.” Reading on, he was won by the flowing music and patriotic feeling of the verse, “Why,” he said at length, “he is a poet, after all”; and, ever after, even to the end of his life, he was fond of reading certain favorites among the poems of Thomas Moore.
But poor Merry’s troubles were not yet at an end. He and his wife dined one day at the White House; and, when dinner was announced, the President offered his arm to the lady nearest him at the moment, Mrs. Madison, — not to Mrs. Merry, who was on the other side of the room! Insult upon insult! “Poor Merry” made such an outcry at this in Washington, that Mr. Madison deemed it best to explain the circumstances to Monroe, the American Minister in London, that he might be prepared to meet Merry’s version. Mr. Merry did relate his grievances to the English Minister for Foreign Affairs; who, however, forbore to mention the matter to Monroe. If he had, Monroe was ready for him; for, besides being fully alive to the humor of the affair, he had seen, a few weeks before, in an official London drawing-room, the wife of an under-secretary of state accorded precedence over his own. Mrs. Merry went no more to the White House, and her husband only went when official duty compelled. But nothing could tire the placable good-nature of Jefferson. Some time after, desirous to restore social intercourse, he caused Mr. Merry to be informally asked whether he and his wife would accept an invitation to a family dinner at the President’s house; and receiving, as he understood, an affirmative intimation, Mr. Jefferson sent the invitation, written with his own hand. Merry rose to his opportunity. He wrote to the Secretary of State, asking whether the President of the United States had invited him as a private gentleman or as British plenipotentiary; for, if as a private gentleman, he must obtain the kings permission before he could accept; if in his official character, he must have an assurance that he would be treated with the respect due to it. Madison, with short civility, waived the solution of this problem, and the matter dropped. But it was not till 1809 that British interests in America were confided to abler hands.
Some other points of public etiquette were now settled on rational principles, once and forever. The fussy incompetents recently in power had been concerned to know the relation which the President sustained to the governors of States, — precisely how much more exalted a President was than a governor, the exact degree of deference a governor should show to a President, and the forms in which that deference should be expressed. In July, 1801, the governor of Virginia asked the President to indicate the etiquette which he thought should regulate the communications between the State governments and the general government. His reply in substance was: Let there be no special etiquette. Between President and governor, each being the supreme head of an independent government, no difference of rank can be admitted. They are equals. Let us continue, then, as in General Washington’s time, to write freely, just as public business requires, and with no more ceremony than obvious propriety and convenience dictate. “If it be possible,” he said, “to be certainly conscious of anything, I am conscious of feeling no difference between writing to the highest and lowest being on earth.”
The two miles of tenacious, yellow mud that lay “straight as a gun-barrel” between the White House and the Capitol, assisted to reconcile all but the extreme Federalists to a change in the mode of intercourse between the President and Congress. Hitherto the President had opened Congress by a speech, framed on the model of a king of England’s speech, and delivered it to both houses assembled in the Senate Chamber. He had been wont to ride to and from the Capitol in a coach and six, which was followed by coaches and four bearing members of the government and others, the whole forming a considerable procession. When the President had retired, the houses separated, and each appointed a committee to prepare an address in reply. Of late years, these addresses had furnished the pretext for long and impassioned debates on party politics, lasting one, two, and even three weeks, the minority always striving to reduce the eulogy of the address to the minimum. When, after this desperate struggle, an address had been agreed upon, the House voting it rode in such state as members could command to the abode of the President, and stood around him in a solemn semicircle, while one of their number read to him what he had already read fifty times for himself, besides fifty columns of debate upon it. Then, the President read a short, formal acknowledgment of the address; after which the members returned to their chamber and began the business of the session.
Federalist gentlemen discovered, on the morning of December 8, 1801, that this fine opportunity for oratorical display and partisan recrimination was not to be afforded them. Scene, the Senate Chamber; the chairman in his revolving chair; members in their seats. Enter a young gentleman, Meriwether Lewis, perhaps, private secretary to the President, bearing a mass of documents, and a note from the President to the Vice-President: —
“SIR, — The circumstances under which we find ourselves at this place rendering inconvenient the mode heretofore practised, of making, by personal address, the first communications between the legislative and executive branches, I have adopted that by message, as used on all subsequent occasions through the session. In doing this, I have had principal regard to the convenience of the legislature, to the economy of their time, to their relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers on subjects not yet fully before them, and to the benefits thence resulting to the public affairs. Trusting that a procedure founded on these motives will meet their approbation, I beg leave through you, sir, to communicate the inclosed copy with the documents accompanying it, to the honorable the Senate, and pray you to accept for yourself and them the homage of my high regard and consideration.”
Thus the present usage was established, to the great content of all rational beings. He was himself well pleased with the first results of the experiment. “Our winter campaign,” he wrote to Dr. Rush, “has opened with more good-humor than I expected. By sending a message, instead of making a speech, at the opening of the session, I have prevented the bloody conflict to which the making an answer would have committed them.”
Other changes of this nature were these: He discontinued the practice of assigning a frigate for the conveyance of ministers across the ocean. He declined to write official letters of condolence to the widows or families of deceased officers. He would not have his birthday celebrated by the usual balls; and, to prevent this, refused to let the date of his birth be communicated. He would not deny himself any innocent pleasure, such as attending the races near Washington, from any false ideas of official dignity. He refused to appoint days of fasting or thanksgiving, on the ground that to do so would be indirectly to assume an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has expressly forbidden. A recommendation from the chief magistrate, he thought, would carry with it so much authority that any person or sect disregarding it would suffer some degree of odium. “Fasting and prayer,” said he, “are religious exercises the enjoining them an act of discipline.” “And does the change in the nature of the penalty make the recommendation less a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed?” He declined to make anything resembling an official tour or progress, or to receive while travelling attentions directed to his office. To secularize and to republicanize the government completely, remaining himself a plain American citizen, — these were among the objects which he steadily pursued and which he accomplished.
He was resolved not to be a personage. He would be Thomas Jefferson, and nothing else. Pleasing anecdotes are those which Mr. Randall relates in illustration of this point, particularly that one in which the President figures as the thoughtful and affectionate grandfather to his namesake, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who stopped at Washington a few days on his way to attend the scientific lectures at Philadelphia. The President came into his room one day, had him unpack his trunk, took pencil and paper, and made a list of things he still lacked, saying, “You will need this and this at Philadelphia”; and then going about among the stores of Washington with the lad, and buying the articles required; finishing the performance by asking to see his pocket-book, and handing it back to him much better furnished than when he had taken it. That story, too, of the President carrying the rough Kentuckian over a river on his horse is interesting. This Kentuckian, sitting solitary on the bank of a swollen stream, let the gay young men of the President’s party all pass on and flounder across the river, without making known his desire. Last of all rode the President. Him the rough wayfarer addressed, and Mr. Jefferson took him up behind, without ado. Being asked why he selected that particular individual of the party, the Kentuckian replied: “I reckon a man carries Yes or No in his face. The young chaps’ faces said, No; the old mans said, Yes.” And, one day, in his daily ride near Washington, the President fell into conversation with a stranger. Politics becoming a topic, he had the pleasure of hearing, not only his measures roundly denounced, but his character most indecently reviled. “Do you know Mr. Jefferson personally?” he asked. “No; nor do I want to.” “But is it fair play to believe and repeat such stories, and then not dare to meet the subject of them face to face, and trust to your own senses I will never shrink from meeting Mr. Jefferson if he comes in my way.” “Will you go to his house to-morrow, and be introduced to him, if I will meet you there?” He consented, and Jefferson galloped on. Instantly it occurred to the traveller, that it was the President himself with whom he had been conversing. But he kept his appointment, appearing at the hour, attired in his best. “I have called, Mr. Jefferson,” said he, “to apologize for having said to a stranger —” Here the President, laughing, broke in and finished the sentence hard things of an imaginary personage who is no relation of mine.” The stranger tried to get in his apology, but the President laughed it down, insisted on his staying to dinner, and made a friend of him and all his family.
He declined to receive presents while in office.
But he made one exception. In 1806, he received a present of a bust of the new Emperor of Russia, Alexander, with whom he had much friendly intercourse during his second term. He thus acknowledged the receipt of this work: “I had laid down as a law for my conduct while in office, and hitherto scrupulously observed, to accept of no present beyond a book, a pamphlet, or other curiosity of minor value; as well to avoid imputation on my motives of action as to shut out a practice susceptible of such abuse. But my particular esteem for the character of the Emperor places his image, in my mind above the scope of law. I receive it, therefore, and shall cherish it with affection. It nourishes the contemplation of all the good placed in his power, and of his disposition to do it.”
An instance of his scrupulousness with regard to deriving personal advantage from his office has only lately come to light. A private letter of his to General Muhlenburg, collector at Philadelphia, concerning a purchase of wine, was found, a few years ago, by a descendant of that officer, and sent to Mr. Greeley for publication. If I were a collector, I would have it printed, framed, and hung up in my custom-house. It is dated February 6, 1803: —
DEAR SIR: — Mons. d'Yrujo, the Spanish Minister here, has been so kind as to spare me two hundred bottles of Champagne, part of a larger parcel imported for his own use, and consequently privileged from duty; but it would be improper for me to take the benefit of that. I must therefore ask the favor of you to take the proper measures for paying the duty, for which purpose I inclose you a bank check for twenty-two and a half dollars, the amount of it. If it could be done without mentioning my name, it would avoid ill-intended observations, as in some such way as this, ‘By duty paid on a part of such a parcel of wines not entitled to privilege,’ or in any other way you please. The wine was imported into Philadelphia probably about midsummer last. Accept assurances of my great esteem and respect.
It would be absurd to praise such an act as this, because it was simply right. Nor ought it to be within the choice of any public officer, of any grade whatever, to do otherwise. It will doubtless, before many years have passed, be an impeachable offence for any man holding a public office to accept so much as a free ride on a horse-car. This is a point that comes home to the suffering sons of Manhattan, who remember that a system of plunder which reached an average of ten millions a year began in aldermen pocketing bundles of cigars and quires of note-paper in the old corporation “tea-room.”
He used the prestige and the opportunities of his office for the public advantage.
His introduction of better breeds of domestic animals into Virginia is a case in point. With the aid of Mr. Livingston, Minister at Paris, after a long course of manœuvring and trouble, he managed to get six merino sheep as far on their way to Albemarle as Fredericksburg, half for himself, half for Madison, and all for Virginia; and wrote to his manager to go with Mr. Madison’s head man to get them home. The two managers, when they caught sight of these animals, so renowned at the time throughout the country, were wofully disappointed. “The sheep were little bits of things,” reports Mr. Bacon, “and Graves said he would not give his riding-whip for the whole lot.” Their instructions were to divide them by tossing up for the first choice. “So,” says Mr. Bacon, “I put my hand into my pocket, and drew out a dollar, and said, ‘Head or tail?’ I got the best buck. He was a little fellow, but his wool was as fine almost as cotton. When I got home, I put a notice in the paper at Charlottesville, that persons who wished to improve their stock could send us two ewes, and we would keep them until the lambs were old enough to wean, and then give the owners the choice of the lambs, and they leave the other lamb and both of the ewes. We got the greatest lot of sheep, more than we wanted; two or three hundred, I think; and in a few years we had an immense flock. People came long distances to buy our full-blooded sheep. At first we sold them for fifty dollars, but they soon fell to thirty and twenty; and before I left Mr. Jefferson, merino sheep were so numerous that they sold about as cheap as common ones.”
Next, he imported some of the broad-tailed sheep from Barbary, which made splendid mutton, but would not thrive in Virginia. He introduced also a superior kind of Guinea pigs. Himself, Mr. Madison, and General Dearborn joined in importing six hogs of a kind which Mr. Bacon tells us were called Calcutta hogs; black and white, short-legged, long-bodied, easily kept, and not given to rooting, — a very great success in every respect. “Mr. Jefferson,” remarks Mr. Bacon, “didn’t care about making money from his imported stock. His great object was to get it widely scattered over the country, and he left all these arrangements to me. I told the people to bring three sows, and when they came for them, they might take two and leave one. In this way he soon got a large number of hogs, and the stock was scattered over that whole country.”
His neighbors derived benefit even from his salary, which, to the imagination of primitive Virginia, seemed inexhaustible. A larger mill was among the urgent wants of the neighborhood, Mr. Bacon relates, and the people thought that, “as Mr. Jefferson had a large salary, he was better able to build it than anybody else.” He undertook the work, since “he was always anxious to benefit the community as much as possible”; and Mr. Bacon, assisted by an engineer from the North, superintended the construction. In his homely, excellent way, the manager relates the hopeful rise of the structure, “built of rock,” four stories high, with “four run of stone,” and a dam and race that cost a thousand dollars; and he tells us what minute directions Mr. Jefferson kept sending from Washington about it, and how he preferred it to all the works in progress on his estate. The mill complete, grain came in in surprising quantities, until eleven thousand bushels were stored, awaiting their turn to be ground. Coopers, millers, and teamsters were all in full activity; when, alas in the midst of a great freshet, Mr. Bacon saw the dam swept away by the torrent of waters. “I thought we were ruined,” he says; “I never felt worse. I did not know what we should do.” Mr. Jefferson being at home at the time, Bacon hurried off to the mountain-top to convey to him the dreadful news. There he met the lord of the mansion just from the breakfast-table, calm as a May morning. He asked, “Have you heard from the river?” “Yes, sir,” replied the doleful manager, “I have just come from there with very bad news. The mill-dam is all swept away.” “Well, sir,” said Mr. Jefferson, with perfect serenity of manner, “we can’t make a new dam this summer, but we will get Lewis’s ferry-boat, with our own, and get the hands from all the quarters, and boat in rock enough in place of the darn to answer for the present; and, next summer, I will send to Baltimore and get ship-bolts, and make a dam that the freshet can’t wash away.” Which was done. “You never saw his countenance ruffled,” Mr. Bacon observes. “No odds what happened, it always maintained the same expression.”
How eagerly he availed himself of his opportunities for increasing the sum of knowledge, his letters exhibit, and the fact is part of the history of that age. It was his thought that sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke up the Missouri to its sources in the Rocky Mountains, across those mountains to the Columbia River, and down the Columbia until huge waves rolling in from the ocean and tossing high their light canoes notified them that they had reached the Pacific. Counting from the time when Captain John Smith sailed up the Chickahominy in search of the South Sea, the world had waited two hundred years for this exploration. Never was a piece of work of that kind better done or better chronicled; for it was Jefferson who selected the two heroes that conducted it. Captain Lewis was the son of one of his most valued Albemarle neighbors. Lieutenant Clarke was the brother of that General George Rogers Clarke who held hack the Indians from joining in the war of the Revolution; and both of them were such masters of all frontier arts, that the perilous expedition of two years, four months, and ten days was one joyous holiday excursion to them. Returning to St. Louis laden with spoils and trophies, Captain Lewis, besides his journals and other official results, sends off exultingly to the President “sixty-seven specimens of earths, salts, and minerals, and sixty specimens of plants.” It was Jefferson, too, who set on foot the two exploring expeditions of Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike, whose name lives in that of the peak which he discovered, and in those of ten counties of the United States. Pike was the first American who explored the Upper Mississippi beyond the Falls of St. Anthony; noting the sites of the cities now rising on its banks, and shaking hands on the way with “Monsieur Dubuque,” who was working the lead-mines and lording it over a wide domain. Lieutenant Pike was the first American to explore the valley of the Arkansas. He said truly, in one of his letters, that the regions which he had traversed were little more known to the world than the wilds in the interior of Africa. In seventy years we behold them populous, and more familiar to our knowledge than the next county.
It was Jefferson who encouraged Astor to attempt his scheme of Northwestern trade, — a scheme which was as feasible as it was audacious, and which only the War of 1812 frustrated. It is interesting to observe, in view of the present importance of the Western silver-mines, that, in 1808, the secret of their existence, “seventeen hundred miles from St. Louis,” was confided to the President, who, however, considering the menacing attitude of Spain, could only give verbal encouragement to the exploration sought. He jocularly writes to Gallatin: “I enclose for your information the account of a silver-mine to fill your treasury.” As for the bones of the mammoth, he had enough of them at last, and kept the Philosophical Society, of which he was still the president, abundantly supplied with objects of curiosity and investigation. And was there ever such an indefatigable recorder? Among his papers is a leaf thus entitled: “Statement of the vegetable market of Washington during a period of eight years, wherein the earliest and latest appearance of each article within the whole eight years is noted.” One small page suffices, but it is complete; the list embraces thirty-seven articles. He could tell at a glance that the earliest appearance of “sprouts” was on the 22d of February, and the latest, May 20th; and that the extremes of the strawberry season were May 8th and July 9th. He refutes Dickens’s satire of red-tape. In a minute or two, he could put his hand upon any letter or document, any entry or memorandum, of the tens of thousands which he possessed; and of all this myriad mass of details he was the master, not the slave.
He preserved perfect harmony in his Cabinet during the whole of both terms.
One reason was this: there was not an egotist among them. The pugnacious traits, such as vanity, jealousy, personal ambition, and the other commonplace forms of self-love, were extinguished, or, at least, subordinated in them all. “Our administration,” wrote Jefferson once, “now drawing to a close, I have a sublime pleasure in believing will be distinguished as much by having placed itself above all the passions which could disturb its harmony as by the great operations by which it will have advanced the well-being of the nation.” All of them were modernized persons. The masters of the past were, of necessity, soldiers and men of the soldierly spirit. The masters of our modern world are educated men of business. These five gentlemen, Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin, Dearborn, and Robert Smith, were all of this description; for Dearborn was only a soldier while his country was invaded; just as the most peaceful citizen becomes warlike when attacked by a ruffian. The military type of man, valuable as it was and is, was not represented in the Cabinet at all. It is also true, that the Jeffersonian theory of government is precisely the one that tasks the intellect and stirs the passions least, because it excludes even from consideration seven tenths of the questions which usually most perplex governments, its chief object being to protect rights, not interests. Interests are complex; rights are simple. The tariff question is a puzzler if you view it as affecting existing interests; but if you put the case thus: Has an American citizen a right to buy a pair of Sunday trousers, London made, for four dollars, instead of paying twenty-two for the Broadway article? — the case is within finite comprehension. Ralph Waldo Emerson and John G. Whittier go to Washington demanding to be protected, at home and abroad, in their right to the product of their life-times arduous and noble toil. Pirate publisher meets them there with the thieves’ natural plea: Stolen books are cheaper than books honestly paid for. Republican government waives all that complicated nonsense out of hearing, and considers but two points, both easy: 1. Does the Constitution give us jurisdiction? 2. Is the demand of these ornaments of their country just? How adapted to human capacity such questions! A wayfaring man, unless a book-pedler, need not err therein.
But there never was a time when the politics of the world were so difficult as then. “Every country but one,” as Jefferson said, “demolished; a conqueror roaming over the earth with havoc and destruction, a pirate spreading misery and ruin over the face of the ocean. Indeed, my friend, ours is a bed of roses. And the system of government which shall keep us afloat amidst this wreck of the world will be immortalized in history.” It was a bed of roses, because the simple aim of the Republican administration was to have nothing whatever to do with this prodigious and astounding broil, except to sell refreshing provisions to both combatants, and pick up anything in the way of a Louisiana or so that might get loose in the contest.
But, after all, it is the Arnold who makes the Rugby; it is the Fellenberg who renders possible the self-governing college, so pleasingly revealed to us by Mr. Robert Dale Owen; and it was the large, benign, commanding intelligence of the chief which alone could have united and exalted a group of men to the height maintained by this peerless administration. Washington, Adams, and Madison, all had dissension in their Cabinets. Jefferson alone had none. He gave them his confidence without reserve. “If I had the universe to choose from,” he said to them all, in 1801, “I could not change one of my associates to my better satisfaction”; and, in 1809, he said the same, with only a change of tense. Nor did anything like a serious difference of opinion ever arise among them. “All matters of importance or difficulty,” he once wrote, “are submitted to all the heads of departments composing the Cabinet, sometimes by the President consulting them separately and successively, as they happen to call upon him; but, in the greatest cases, by calling them together, discussing the subject maturely, and finally taking the vote, in which the President counts himself but as one. So that, in all important cases, the executive is in fact a Directory, which certainly the President might control but of this there never was an example, either in the first or the present administration.”
In his use of the pardoning power, he was governed by principles that rendered that absurd relic of Divine Right comparatively harmless.
These principles were two in number. In a letter to Edmund Randolph, of 1808, he stated them both: 1. To entitle a criminal to the remission of a penalty, “extraordinary and singular considerations are necessary”: otherwise, the pardon of the criminal would be “to repeal the law” that condemned him. 2. “The opinion of the judges who sat in the cause I have ever required as indispensable to ground a pardon.”
He submitted to the outrages of the press.
We are now too familiar with this policy to appreciate either its novelty or its difficulty in the early years of the present century. Jefferson both believed and proved that a public man, fit for his place and doing his duty, cannot be injured by a hostile press. This truth we now all know, and have seen it tested many times; but in 1801 it was a discovery. Nor was there then in Christendom one government besides that of the United States strong and able enough to permit freedom of the press. Bonaparte’s, of course, was not. Pitt’s was not. Nor was there a government in all Europe where the idea of a free press could be entertained. And what made Jefferson’s triumph the more remarkable was, that the Federalists were the vocal class. It was they who filled most pulpits, wrote most books, edited most papers, presided in most courts, pleaded most causes, and taught in most colleges. They were denominated the educated class. Education, at that day, did not mean the acquisition of knowledge, but of scholarship; which, while it cultivates the communicating talents, may leave the prejudices intact, and is compatible with the last degree of mental servility and narrowness. A man may become a genuine scholar and remain a Jesuit. The Federalist leaders, too, were exasperated beyond mortal endurance. Their self-love was torn all to pieces. They had predicted their own speedy return to power: they saw their minority dwindling at every election. They foretold anarchy: they saw universal order and general content. They had prophesied financial chaos; they saw every obligation of the government met, its debt steadily diminished, its credit perfect, its only embarrassment a surplus. They had expected a suppression of the navy; they now saw, for the first time, the navy put to its legitimate use in terminating the piracies of the Algerines. They had dreaded an expulsion from office of all their adherents: they saw the right of opinion respected, and no man disturbed in his place, except for a reason that did not include his political creed. They had predicted a reign of loafers and scallawags: they saw the great offices filled with men who were both refined by scholarship and enlarged by knowledge. They had foretold a base subserviency to France: they saw the President win from France the most valuable acquisition that one country ever gained from another since the creation, and this without bloodshed. They had predicted insult and rash hostility to Great Britain: they saw the moment come when, with universal acclamation, Jefferson could have had a war with England, and yet he held back the conflict for another four years, every month of which made that conflict less unequal.
It is not in mortals to behold with equanimity such brilliant and triumphant wisdom in the career of a person against whom they are publicly committed. The leading Federalists seem to have been equally puzzled and indignant. C. C. Pinckney could only attribute the strengthening hold Jefferson had of the public confidence to “the infatuation of the people.” John Quincy Adams thought that Jefferson’s success was owing to an unaccountable run of good luck. “Fortune,” said he, “has taken a pleasure in making Jefferson’s greatest weaknesses and follies issue more successfully than if he had been inspired with the profoundest wisdom.” (This in 1804. Before Mr. Jefferson went out of office Adams was a Republican.) Gouverneur Morris, the jovial and witty aristocrat, set it down, Froude-fashion, to the natural baseness of merchants and traders. It was a favorite fiction of the class of tories represented by Morris, that the counting-room is the centre and resort of all that is sordid and contemptible. But Morris did not despair of the Republic. “When the people,” said he, “have been long enough drunk, they will get sober; but while the frolic lasts, to reason with them is useless. Their present leaders take advantage of their besotted condition, and tie their hands and feet; but if this prevents them from running into the fire, why should we, who are their friends, complain?” Fisher Ames thought it was all a piece of impudent, reckless imposture, which just happened to succeed. “Never before,” wrote he, “was it attempted to play the fool on so great a scale.” Hamilton solved the enigma with the utmost ease, in his old manner; his central, immutable principle being this: Man is an ass. In his usual high-stepping style, he remarks: “Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold and cunning imposture.” Old John Adams, “nursing his wrath to keep it warm,” fulminated comparative history, but thought the people would open their eyes at last. “If,” said he, “the talents, the policy, the address, the power, the bigotry and tyranny of Archbishop Laud and the court of Charles the First were not able to destroy or discredit sound principles in 1630 or 1635, there is little cause of apprehension for them from the feeble efforts of the frivolous libertines who are combinining, conspiring, and intriguing against them in 1802.”
How instructive is all this! How eloquent it is against intrusting the rights of a nation to the custody of a class!
If the uppermost men of the opposition wrote thus in their confidential correspondence, we can imagine the tone and style of the party press. The falsehoods which had been accumulating for three Presidential elections, with the new atrocities of Callender and others, formed a mass of calumny from which the mildest and the fiercest county editor could draw every week the slanders most congenial to his disposition. They did so. The State courts gave members of the administration a fair means of redress, and some of them appear to have thought of bringing suits for libel. Jefferson avowed their right to do so; but said he, in various forms of expression, “Let us prove to the world that an administration which has nothing to conceal has nothing to fear from the press.” It is the means which the press has of giving publicity to events which makes it one of the great powers of the modern world. When it utters falsehood, the party injured is itself. “I admit,” he wrote to an old friend in 1808, “that restraining the press to truth, as the present laws do, is the only way of making it useful. But I have thought it necessary first to prove that it can never be dangerous.” Again, in his second inaugural, he spoke of the importance to mankind of this experiment to ascertain whether a government that did no act which it would be unwilling the whole world should witness, could be written down. “The experiment has been tried,” said he. “You have witnessed the scene; our fellow-citizens looked on, cool and collected; they saw the latent source from which these outrages proceeded; they gathered around their public functionaries, and when the Constitution called them to the decision by suffrage they pronounced their verdict, honorable to those who had served them, and consolatory to the friend of man, who believes he may be trusted with the control of his own affairs.”
Such were some of the preliminary and minor excellences of this unique administration. Of themselves, they would not have carried it far. We are familiar with the theological student of tradition who advertised for a home in a family where a pious example would be considered an equivalent for his board. Of similar absurdity we might accuse the head of a nation who should expect to satisfy the people by being a virtuous, attentive, and rational man. That, indeed, is highly desirable; but it was for something else that the people assigned to Mr. Jefferson quarters in their White House at Washington.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.