Thomas Jefferson's Last Years
AFTER his retirement from the Presidency, in 1809, Jefferson lived seventeen years. He was still the chief personage of the United States. Between himself and the President there was such a harmony of feeling and opinion that the inauguration of Madison did little more than change the signature to public documents. Madison consulted him on every important question ; and Jefferson, besides writing frequently and at length, rode over to Orange every year, when the President, was at home, and spent two or three weeks at his house. When there was dissension in the Cabinet, it was Jefferson who restored harmony. Monroe was in ill-humor, because Madison had been preferred before himself by the nominating caucus. It was Jefferson who healed the breach, and thus prevented one in the Republican party. During the gloom of 1812, many Republicans desired a candidate for the Presidency of more executive energy than Mr. Madison was then supposed to have, and Jefferson was himself solicited from many quarters to accept a nomination. He said, with convincing power : “ What man can do will be done by Mr. Madison,” In the same year the President proposed that he should return to the office of Secretary of State, and Monroe become Secretary of War; but he pleaded his sixty-nine years as an excuse for declining the invitation.
The success in public life of these two men, Madison and Monroe, whose early education he had assisted, as well as the bright career which his nephews and sons-in-law were enjoying, induced other young men to seek his advice and assistance. “ A part of my occupation,” he wrote to General Kosciusko, in 1810, “and by no means the least pleasing, is the direction of the studies of such young men as ask it. They place themselves in the neighboring village, and have the use of my library and counsel, and make a part of my society. In advising the course of their reading, I endeavor to keep their attention fixed on the main objects of all science, the freedom and happiness of man. So that coming to bear a share in the councils and government of their country, they will keep ever in view the sole objects of all legitimate government.”
Monticello overflowed with guests during all these years. The circle of those who had a right to seek its hospitality was very large, and many foreigners of distinction felt their American experience incomplete until they had paid a pilgrimage to the author of the Declaration of Independence. But these were but a small portion of the throng of guests whom the custom of the country brought to Monticello during the summer months. His daughter, Mrs. Randolph, said once that she had been obliged to provide beds for as many as fifty inmates ; and Mr. Randall tells us of one friend who came from abroad with a family of six persons, and remained at Monticello ten months. It fell to the manager, Mr. Edmund Bacon, to keep the mountaintop supplied with sustenance for this crowd of people, and the animals that carried and drew them. Mr. Bacon did not enjoy it, and he has since availed himself of an opportunity to relieve his mind.
“After Mr. Jefferson returned from Washington,” he relates, “he was for years crowded with visitors, and they almost ate him out of house and home. They were there all times of the year ; but about the middle of June the travel would commence from the lower part of the State to the Springs, and then there was a perfect throng of visitors. They travelled in their own carriages, and came in gangs, — the whole family, with carriage and riding horses and servants; sometimes three or four such gangs at a time. We had thirtysix stalls for horses, and only used about ten of them for the stock we kept there. Very often all of the rest were full, and I had to send horses off to another place. I have often sent a wagon-load of hay up to the stable, and the next morning there would not be enough left to make a hen’s-nest. I have killed a fine beef, and it would all be eaten in a day or two. There was no tavern in all that country that had so much company. Mrs. Randolph, who always lived with Mr. Jefferson after his return from Washington, and kept house for him, was very often greatly perplexed to entertain them. I have known her many and many a time to have every bed in the house full, and she would send to my wife and borrow all her beds—she had six spare beds —to accommodate her visitors. I finally told the servant who had charge of the stable to only give the visitors’ horses half allowance. Somehow or other Mr. Jefferson heard of this ; I never could tell how, unless it was through some of the visitors’ servants. He countermanded my orders. One great reason why Mr. Jefferson built his house at Poplar Forest, in Bedford County, was that he might go there in the summer to get rid of entertaining so much company. He knew that it more than used up all his income from the plantation and everything else, but he was so kind and polite that he received all his visitors with a smile, and made them welcome. They pretended to come out of respect and regard to him, but I think that the fact that they saved a tavern bill had a good deal to do with it, with a good many of them. I can assure you I got tired of seeing them come, and waiting on them.”
Such was the custom of old Virginia ; and a very bad, cruel custom it was. The reader observes that even the manager’s wife had “ six spare beds.” All this, too, at a period when non-intercourse and war had reduced the income of Virginia planters two thirds, and when Mr. Jefferson had a Washington debt of many thousand dollars to provide for. But, among this multitude of visitors, there were a large number whose company he keenly enjoyed ; nor would he permit his guests to rob him of his workinghours. From breakfast to dinner, he let them amuse themselves as best they could, while he toiled at his correspondence and rode over his farms. From dinner-time he gave himself up to social enjoyment. I may well speak of his correspondence as toil. One thousand and sixty-seven letters he received in one year, which was not more than the average. After his death, there were found among his papers twenty-six thousand letters addressed to him, and copies of sixteen thousand written by himself.
To complete his character as a personage, it should be mentioned that the Federalists still bestowed upon him the distinction of an animosity such as, perhaps, virtuous men never before entertained for one of their number. I look with wonder upon the publications spread out before me at this moment, issued during the time of non-intercourse and war, Jefferson being the theme. Here are two octavo volumes of vituperation, entitled “Memoirs of the Hon. Thomas Jefferson,” published in New York several months after his retirement, and opening thus : “ The illustrious Dr. Robertson, in a letter to Mr. Gibbon, gave it as his opinion that a historian ought to write as if he were giving evidence upon oath.” Eight hundred and thirty-eight pages of innocent and tedious falsehood naturally follow this noble sentiment ; and they end with a prophecy, that nothing would go well in the United States until the people had turned the Republicans out of office, and placed their affairs in the hands of “that man who more than any other resembles the Father of his Country,” — General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The clergy of New England continued to revile the greatest Christian America has produced in terms surpassing in violence those which the clergy of Palestine applied to the Founder of Christianity. He was an “atheist,”Dr. David Osgood of Massachusetts remarked, and no better than “ the race of demons ” to whose service he had been devoted. By race of demons, this “last of the New England popes” meant the people of France. Young Edward Payson of Portland signalized his entrance into public life by delivering a Fourth of July oration, in which he observed that Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin, and their colleagues were men of a character so vile that “ the most malicious ingenuity can invent nothing worse than the truth.” The orator of twenty-three was as innocent as a lamb in saying this; for he was merely echoing what he had heard constantly asserted, from his youth up, by the men whom he held in veneration, — the clergy of Connecticut and the professors in Yale College. In 1809 appeared a second edition of William Cullen Bryant’s Embargo, with a certificate to the effect, that “ Mr. Bryant, the author,” had arrived, in the month of November, 1808, at the age of fourteen years. A doubt had been intimated in the Monthly Anthology, whether a youth of thirteen could have been the author of this poem. The reader may be gratified to see a few lines from the earliest volume of a poet who has since, in so many ways, both served and honored his country. In this poem, too, lives the judgment of educated New England upon Mr. Jefferson’s attempt to keep his country out of the maniac fight between Bonaparte and the coalition of kings ; for this boy, gifted as he was, could only be a melodious echo of the talk he had heard in his native village : —
From whose dark womb unrecknned misery flows I
Th’ Embargo rages, like a sweeping wind,
Fear lowers before, and famine stalks behind.
What words, O Muse ! can paint the mournful
The saddening street, the desolated green ?
How hungry laborers leave their toil and sigh,
And sorrow droops in each despouding eye !
His element, sink friendless and forlorn 1
His suffering spouse the tear of anguish shed,
His starving children cry aloud for bread !
On the rough billows of misfortune tost,
Resources fail and all his hopes are lost;
To foreign climes for that relief he flies,
His native land ungratefully denies.
And bootless mourn the interdicted mart;
While our sage Ruler’s diplomatic skill
Subjects our councils to his sovereign will ;
His grand ‘ restrictive energies ’ employs,
And wisely regulating trade destroys.
Leaves the rude joke, and cheerless hangs his head ;
Misfortunes fall, an unremitting shower,
Debts follow debts, on taxes, taxes pour.
See in his stores his hoarded produce rot,
Or sheriff’s sales his produce bring to naught;
Disheartening cares in thronging myriads flow,
Till down he sinks to poverty and woe.
And say that fancy paints ideal ill;
Go, on the wing of observation fly,
Cast o’er the land a scrutinizing eye :
States, counties, towns, remark with keen review,
Let facts convince, and own the picture true !
Throw off a weak and erring ruler’s sway?
Rise, injured people, vindicate your cause !
And prove your love of liberty and laws ;
O, wrest, sole refuge of a sinking land,
The sceptre from the slave’s imbecile hand !
O, ne’er consent obsequious to advance,
The willing vassal of imperious France !
Correct that suffrage you misused before,
And lift your voice above a Congress roar.
Thy country’s ruin, and her council’s shame !
Poor servile thing ! derision of the brave !
Who erst from Tarlton fled to Carter’s cave ;
Thou, who, when menaced by perfidious Gaul,
Didst prostrate to her whiskered minion fall ;
And when our cash her empty bags supplied,
Didst meanly strive the foul disgrace to hide ;
Go, wretch, resign the Presidential chair,
Disclose thy secret measures, foul or fair.
Go, search with curious eyes for horned frogs,
’Mid the wild wastes of Louisianian bogs;
Or, where Ohio rolls his turbid stream,
Dig for huge bones, thy glory and thy theme.
Go, scan, PhilosOphist, thy .... charms
And sink supinely in her sable arms ;
Put quit to abler hands the helm of state,
Nor image ruin on thy country’s fate.
And skilled to pour conviction o’er the mind,
O, might some patriot rise ! the gloom dispel,
Chase error’s mist, and break her magic spell !
Of hoarse applause from yonder shed proceed ;
Enter, and view the thronging concourse there,
Intent, with gaping mouth, and stupid stare ;
Harangues aloud, and flourishes his hands ;
To adulation tunes his servile throat,
And sues successful for each blockhead’s vote.”
The work contains nearly six hundred lines, several of which clearly announce the coming poet; but in these which I have chosen, it is the Federalist that speaks. The forming poet of the woods appears in a passage where the author of thirteen imagines Commerce starting to life again, amid the desolation of the Embargo, when at last the people had expelled from Washington the pimps of France : —
With sudden growth a tender sapling shoots,
Improves from day to day, delights the eyes,
With strength and beauty, stateliness and size,
Puts forth robuster arms, and broader leaves,
And high in air its branching head upheaves.”
It is interesting to discover that a poet who solaced his old age by translating Homer had, at thirteen, already begun to pay him the homage of imitation. The boy’s prediction was fulfilled seven years later; not through the return of the Federalists to power, but by the treaty of Ghent, which ended the conflict for neutral rights.
Abuse and adulation were equally powerless to disturb the serenity of the lord of Monticello. “ I have rode over the plantation, I reckon,” reports the worthy Mr. Bacon, “a thousand times with Mr. Jefferson, and when he was not talking he was nearly always humming some tune, or singing in a low tone to himself.” During his annual rides to Poplar Forest, ninety miles distant, he was usually accompanied by his daughter or by one of her children, and he often beguiled the tedium of the journey by singing an old song, alone or with his companion. His daughter, too, had what Mr. Bacon calls the Jefferson temper, — all music and sunshine. In the twenty years of his service, he declares that he never once saw her in ill-humor. She was nearly as tall as her father, he tells us, and had his bright, clear complexion and blue eyes ; and as she went about the house she seemed always in a happy mood, and was “nearly always humming a tune.” The singularly sound health of the father was, no doubt, part of the secret of his festive existence. Mr. Bacon supplies another part of it: —
“ Mr. Jefferson was the most industrious person I ever saw in my life. All the time I was with him I had full permission to visit his room whenever I thought it necessary to see him on any business. I knew how to get into his room at any time of day or night. I have sometimes gone into his room when he was in bed ; but aside from that, I never went into it but twice, in the whole twenty years I was with him, that I did not find him employed. I never saw him sitting idle in his room but twice. Once he was suffering with the toothache ; and once, in returning from his Bedford farm, he had slept in a room where some of the glass had been broken out of the window, and the wind had blown upon him and given him a kind of neuralgia. At all other times he was either reading, writing, talking, working upon some model, or doing something else. Mrs. Randolph was just like her father in this respect. She was always busy. If she wasn’t reading or writing, she was always doing something. She used to sit in Mr. Jefferson’s room a great deal, and sew, or read, or talk, as he would be busy about something else. As her daughters grew up, she taught them to be industrious like herself. They used to take turns each day in giving out to the servants, and superintending the housekeeping.”
These children were eleven in number, six daughters and five sons ; to whom must be added Francis Eppes, a fine lad, the son of Maria Jefferson, to say nothing of a troop of schoolmates that one of the grandsons usually brought over from school at the next village, on Friday afternoons, to join in the sports of Saturday. Jefferson joined heartily in the pleasures of these children, but he was not the less a stickler for industry. One of the grandsons, named Merriwether Lewis, did not see the necessity of their doing hard work, like Captain Bacon’s boys, whose diligence Mr. Jefferson had been commending. “Why,” said the boy, “if we should work like them, our hands would get so rough and sore that we could not hold our books. And we need not work so. We shall be rich, and all we want is a good education.” Mr. Jefferson replied: “Ah! those that expect to get through the world without industry because they are rich will be greatly mistaken. The people that do work will soon get possession of their property.” Mr. Bacon, with pleasing simplicity, remarks that he has thought of these words a thousand times. He might do so naturally enough ; for he fulfilled the prophecy. At the end of his twenty years of faithful service he went off to Kentucky with three thousand dollars buckled round his waist. He bought a farm, grew rich, and was living there, in honor and abundance, upon his own estate, forty years after the inheritance of those boys had passed to strangers.
And here the reader must be informed that the usual proportion of ugly facts and discordant elements mingled with the elevated life of this family. Monticello was not Paradise. No man can keep himself wholly unaffected by the great faults of his time and place. I suppose Mr. Thackeray meant this when, in discoursing so wisely upon the snobs of England he said, that, no doubt, he should be himself elated on finding himself walking down Piccadilly arm-in-arm with a couple of dukes. Still less can any man escape his share of the penalty of a wrong which his community commits, Even upon the serene and smiling summit of Monticello, slavery was a blight. It blighted those young lives. It injured those admirable characters. It contracted those superior understandings. So intimately bound together are all the classes of a state, that the mere presence of a huge mass of human ignorance and stolidity makes a high and enduring civilization impossible to every family. The Five Points lower the Fifth Avenue. British laborers’ one - roomed hovels vulgarize the drawing-rooms of lords. Ignorant French peasants for ninety years kept scoundrels or imbeciles in the Tuileries. As well expect to have a calm and fertile brain while there is gout in the toe as to have your ruling class noble and safe while your laborers are ignorant and squalid. A commonwealth is an integer, wherein every man is bound by mere selfishness to become his brother’s keeper ; as truly so as the head is interested in having the feet sound.
See how slavery cursed those fine boys. One of them was William C. Rives, who afterwards filled honorable public stations. In the absence of Mr. Jefferson and his daughters, the manager would sometimes give the boys the key of the mansion, and let them stay there all night. It happened very often, Mr. Bacon reports, that, after the troop of boys had gone up, “ Willie Rives ” would return and spend the night at the house of the manager, at the foot of the mountain. Why this reappearance ? “ He did not like the doings of the other boys. The other boys were too intimate with the negro women to suit him. He was always a very modest boy. I once heard one of the other boys make a vulgar remark. He said, ‘ Such talk as that ought not to be thought, much less spoken out.’ ”
The father of Mr. Jefferson’s grandsons was a kind of man which can only be produced by the exercise of despotic power for successive generations. His name portrays him: he was a Randolph ; that is, a gifted, eccentric, and ungovernable man. Bacon describes him as “ tall, swarthy, rawboned,” of great strength, and afraid of nothing,—as strange a man as John Randolph, and as much like him as one steer of a well-matched pair is like another. “He had no control of his temper. I have seen him cane his son Jeff after he was a grown man. Jeff made no resistance, but got away from him as soon as he could. I have seen him knock down his son-in-law with an iron poker.” This son-in-law, Bankhead by name, was married to Jefferson’s grand-daughter, Anne, whom Mr. Bacon desciibes as “a Jefferson in temper,”and “ a perfectly lovely woman.” Bankhead, a handsome man, of wealth and lineage, was a terrible drunkard. “ I have seen him,” says Bacon, “ride his horse into the barroom at Charlottesville and get a drink of liquor. I have seen his wife run from him when he was drunk and hide in a potato-hole to get out of danger. He once stabbed Jeft Randolph because he had said something about his abuse of his sister, and I think would have killed him, if I had not interfered and separated them.”
Here is a scene which occurred at Monticello, in the absence of the master : “ One night Bankhead was very drunk and made a great disturbance, because Burwell, who kept the keys, would not give him any more brandy. Mrs. Randolph could not manage him, and she sent for me. She would never call on Mr. Randolph at such a time, he was so excitable. But he heard the noise in the dining-room and rushed in to see what was the matter; He entered the room just as I did, and Bankhead, thinking he was Burwell, began to curse him. Seizing an iron poker that was standing by the fireplace, he knocked him down as quick as I ever saw a bullock fall. The blow peeled the skin off one side of his forehead and face, and he bled terribly.” And the plain-spoken Bacon describes a fight which he witnessed between this Bankhead, when he was sober, and another fine Virginia gentleman named Gordon : “ I never did see as even a match. I think they must have fought a half an hour, and both of them were as bloody as butchers, when I told Phil. Barbour it would never do for us to let them fight any longer ; we must separate them. So he took hold of Gordon, and I took hold of Bankhead, and we just pulled them apart.” Such gentlemen could not be very good managers of Virginia estates. For years they were in straits for money; and whenever the pinch became severe past endurance, they could think of no resource better than to implore the steady-going Bacon to buy “ a little girl” or “ a female slave,” from their negro quarters. When Randolph was governor of Virginia we find him writing to Bacon in this manner : “ It is so absolutely necessary to me to have as much as $ 150 by tomorrow evening, that I am forced, against my will, to importune you further with the offer of the little girl at Edgehill. Do you think it would be possible for us to borrow that money between us by three o’clock to-morrow ? Could you prevail on your mother to lend as much money ? ”
At last, Randolph became bankrupt, lost all that he possessed, even his senses, and left his family a charge upon the drained and shrinking estate of his father-in-law. What a tale ot horror is this ! But these events, like those of most domestic tragedies, were spread over many years, and, probably, the worst aspects of the case were never exhibited to Mr. Jefferson. He and his daughter enjoyed long intervals of tranquil happiness. But, living as he did in the midst of slavery, it was impossible for him to avoid his personal share of the harm it wrought to every creature in the United States, even to those who hated it most, and opposed it always ; for it made them intense and one-sided. He was an indulgent master, it is true ; and he never lost a sense of the folly of a system of labor, of which the laborer got most of the good, and the master nearly all the evil. “ He did not like slayery,” remarks Mr. Bacon. “ I have heard him talk a great deal about it. He thought it a bad system. I have heard him prophesy that we should have just such trouble with it as we are having now, in 1862.” And yet his lifelong contact with slavery appears to have lessened his ability to think rationally concerning it. Long he cherished the dream of colonization, and fancied he saw in Liberia the beginning of a movement that would deliver the negroes of America from slavery, and those of Africa from barbarism. He took it for granted that the two races could not live together, both being free. “We have the wolf by the ears,” he wrote in 1820, “and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”
When the question arose of extending the area of slavery over Missouri, he showed a strange blending of keenness and dulness of vision ; descrying the distant danger most clearly, as aged eyes are apt to do, but blind to the path immediately before him, “ This momentous question,” he wrote in April, 1820, “like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror.” He thought it was “ the knell of the Union.” Since Bunker Hill, he said, we had never had so ominous a question, and he thanked Heaven that he should not live to see the issue. We now know that his worst forebodings came short of the mighty sum-total of evil and calamity which his country was to endure : first, forty years of an ignoble strife of words, one side insolent and infuriate, the other insincere and timorous ; next, four years of carnage ; then, ten of the beggaron - horseback’s demoralizing sway. But, with all this correctness of prophecy, the aged Jefferson thought the Northern members were wrong in wishing to keep slavery out of those lovely, fertile plains west of the Mississippi. He thought slavery would be weakened by being spread, and its final abolition made easier. Worse than this, he began to think it an evil for Southern youth to attend Northern colleges, “imbibing opinions and principles in discord with those of their own country ” ; and he was far from discerning that the opposition in the Northern States to the extension of slavery had any basis of disinterested conviction. “ The Hartford Convention men,” he wrote in 1821, “have had the address, by playing on the honest feelings of our former friends, to seduce them from their kindred spirits, and to borrow their weight into the Federal scale. Desperate of regaining power under political distinctions, they have adroitly wriggled into its seat under the auspices of morality, and are again in the ascendency from which their sins had hurled them.” Much is to be allowed to seventy-eight years. But even at seventy-eight so fine an intelligence as his could not, even for a moment, have shrunk to these limits in an atmosphere congenial with it. To become capable of thus misinterpreting the course of events was part of his share of the penalty of slavery.
But his conduct was wiser than his words ; for he spent all his declining years in a singularly persistent endeavor to introduce into Virginia the institutions of New England. When a man finds himself a member of a community in which there is incorporated some all-pervading evil, — like slavery in old Virginia, like ill-distributed wealth in Great Britain now, — there are two ways in which he can attack it. One way is to cry aloud and spare not; place himself distinctly in opposition to the evil; show it no quarter ; and take the chance of being a martyr or a conqueror. There are times and places when this heroic system is the only one admissible. The other method of attack is to set on foot measures, the fair working of which will infuse such health and vigor into the sick body politic as will enable it, at length, to cast out the disease. Thus we see that Yale, Harvard, and the common school have gone far toward rescuing the fine intelligence of New England from the blight of the Mathers and their hideous ideas ; and we see the cheap press and the workingmen’s lyceums and unions of Great Britain about to break up entail, primogeniture, and the rich preserves of an exclusive army, navy, India, and Church. In Virginia no other method but this was even possible to be attempted in Jefferson’s time. If he had set free his slaves, and waged open war against slavery, he would not have improved their condition, nor mitigated the malady of which Virginia was dying. His slaves would have become vagabonds, and himself an object of commiseration and derision. He made no such Quixotic attempts to serve his State, but directed his efforts to the gradual removal of what he felt to be the ally and main support of all the evil in the universe,— IGNORANCE. He made this his business during the last sixteen years of his life, and toiled at it as vigorous men toil for the ordinary objects of ambition.
And, happily, as in earlier days when the liberties of his country were menaced, he had in Madison a confidential ally, gifted with a parliamentary talent which nature had denied to himself, so now, when his object was to break up the great deep of Virginia ignorance, he found a most efficient and untiring co-operator in his friend, Joseph C. Cabell, a member of the senate of Virginia. They entered into a holy alliance to bring their State up to the level demanded by the age. What both had planned in the study, Cabell advocated in the Legislature; and when Cabell found the Legislature unmanageable, Jefferson would come to his aid with one of his exhaustive, vote-changing letters, which would find its way into a Richmond newspaper, and then go the rounds of the press.
A part of the letters which passed between these lovers of their country have been published in an octavo of five hundred and twenty-eight pages ; and most of Jefferson’s, long and elaborate as many of them are, were written when a page or two of manuscript cost him hours of painful exertion. Once, in 1822, when Cabell had urged him to write a number of letters to influential gentlemen in aid of one of their schemes, he replied: “You do not know, my dear sir, how great is my physical inability to write. The joints of my right wrist and fingers, in consequence of an ancient dislocation, are become so stiffened that I can write but at the pace of a snail. The copying our report and my letter lately sent to the governor being seven pages only, employed me laboriously a whole week. The letter I am now writing you ” (filling one large sheet) “has taken me two days, A letter of a page or two costs me a day of labor, and a painful labor.”
But some of these letters were among the best he ever wrote. In his endeavors to reconcile the people of Virginia to the cost of maintaining a common school in each “ward” of every county, he showed all his old tact and skill. His “ward ” was to be “ so laid off as to comprehend the number of inhabitants necessary to furnish a captain’s company of militia,” — five hundred persons of all ages and either sex. The great difficulty was to convince the average planter that he, the rich man of the ward, had an interest in contributing to the common school, the teacher of which -was to receive a hundred and fifty dollars a year, and “board round.” Jefferson met this objection in a letter that still possesses convincing power. And his argument comes home to the inhabitants of the great cities now rising everywhere, and destined to contain half of the population of this continent. What are they but a narrow rim of elegance and plenty around a vast and deep abyss of squalor, into which a certain portion of the dainty children of the smiling verge are sure to slide at last ? How eloquent are these quiet words of Jefferson, when we apply them to our own city ! Would that I could give them wings that would carry round the world a passage so simple, so humane, so wise, and so adroit!
“And will the wealthy individual have no retribution"? And what will this be? 1. The peopling his neighborhood with honest, useful, and enlightened citizens, understanding their own rights, and firm in their perpetuation. 2. When his descendants become poor, which they generally do within three generations (no law of primogeniture now perpetuating wealth in the same families), their children will be educated by the then rich ; and the little advance he now makes to poverty, while rich himself, will be repaid by the then rich to his descendants when become poor, and thus give them a chance of rising again. This is a solid consideration and should go home to the bosom of every parent. This will be seed sown in fertile ground. It is a provision for his family looking to distant times, and far in duration beyond that he has now in hand for them. Let every man count backwards in his own family, and see how many generations he can go, before he comes to the ancestor who made the fortune he now holds. Most will be stopped at the first generation ; many at the second ; few will reach the third ; and not one in the State can go beyond the fifth.”
Like Franklin, he was not content with appealing only to the higher motives. State pride was a chord which he touched with effect. He reminded Virginians that, before the Revolution, the mass of education in Virginia placed her with the foremost of her sister Colonies; but now, “the little we have we import like beggars from other States, or import their beggars to bestow on us their miserable crumbs.” He pointed to Virginia’s ancient friend and ally, Massachusetts, only one tenth as large as Virginia, and the twenty-first State in the Union in size. But she has “ more influence in our confederacy than any other State in it.” Why ? “From her attention to education, unquestionably. There can be no stronger proof that knowledge is power and that ignorance is weakness.”
He did not live to see a State system of common schools established in Virginia. A scheme of his for maintaining in each county a circulating library was also in advance of that generation, and had no great results in his own day.
But the two conspirators against ignorance had one memorable and glorious triumph. They succeeded in planting on Virginia soil a university unique in two particulars. In all other American colleges then existing, the controlling influence was wielded by one of the learned professions, and all students were compelled to pursue a course of studies originally prescribed by that one profession for its own perpetuation. In the University of Virginia, founded through the influence and persistent tact of Jefferson, seconded at every stage by the zeal and ability of Cabell, all the professions are upon an equality, and every student is free to choose what knowledge he will acquire, and what neglect. It is a secularized university. Knowledge and scholarship are there neither rivals nor enemies, but equal and indepeadent sources of mental power, inviting all, compelling none. Jefferson’s intention was to provide an assemblage of schools and professors, where every student could find facilities for getting just what knowledge he wanted, without being obliged to pretend to pursue studies for which he had neither need nor taste. He desired, also, to test his favorite principle of trusting every individual to the custody of his own honor and conscience. It was his wish that students should stand on the simple footing of citizens, amenable only to the laws of their State and country, and that the head of the faculty should be a regularly commissioned magistrate, to sit in judgment on any who had violated those laws. This part of the scheme he was compelled, at a critical moment, to drop ; but he did so only to avoid the peril of a more important failure. But he held to the principle. He would have no espionage upon the students ; but left all of them free to improve their opportunities in their own way, provided the laws of the land were not broken, and the rights of others were respected. His trust was in the conscience and good sense of the students, in the moral influence of a superior corps of instructors, and in an elevated public opinion.
Jefferson was forty years in getting the University of Virginia established. Long he hoped that the ancient college of William and Mary could be freed from limiting conditions and influences, and be developed into a true university. As late as 1820, he was still striving for a “consolidation” of the old college with the forming institution in Albemarle. It was already apparent that the want of America was, not new institutions of learning, but a suppression of one half of those already existing, and the “survival of the fittest,” enriched by the spoils of the weak. But William and Mary, like most of the colleges of Christendom, is constricted by the ignorance and vanity of “benefactors,” who gave their money to found an institution for all time, and annexed conditions to their gifts which were suited only to their own time. Nothing remained but to create a new institution. In 1794 a strange circumstance occurred which gave him hopes of attaining his object by a short cut. Several of the professors in the College of Geneva, Switzerland, dissatisfied with the political condition of their canton, united in proposing to Mr. Jefferson to remove in a body to Virginia, and continue their vocation under the protection and patronage of the Legislature. On sounding influential members, he discovered that the project was premature, and it was not pressed. The coming of Dr. Priestley, followed by some learned friends of his, and other men of science, revived his hopes. A letter to Priestley in 1800 shows that the great outlines of the scheme were then fully drawn in his mind. He told the learned exile that he desired to found in the centre of the State a “ university on a plan so broad and liberal and modern as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.” He proposed that the professors should follow no other calling, and he hoped “ to draw from Europe the first characters in science, by considerable temptations.” He asked Dr, Priestley to draw up a plan and favor him with advice and suggestions. During his Presidency, he still embraced opportunities to increase his knowledge of such institutions. After his retirement, the War of 1812 interposed obstacles ; but, from the peace of 1815 to the close of his life, the University of Virginia was the chief subject of his thoughts, and the chief object of his labors.
It is not difficult to begin the most arduous enterprise. How many wellcut corner-stones lie buried in various parts of this continent ! We excel in corner-stones. That was a glad and proud day for Albemarle when the corner-stone of the University of Virginia was laid, witnessed by the three neighbors who filled in succession the office of President of the United States,—Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, the last named being President at the time. But it had cost Jefferson some exercise of his tact to get the corner-stone laid just there, within sight of his own abode. Other localities had, of course, their strenuous advocates. If a member of the commission raised an objection on the ground that other places were more salubrious, Jefferson would draw from his pocket a list of persons past eighty then living in the neighborhood. But an institution built and supported by the common treasure should be central ! So it must. And Jefferson produced a card cut into the shape of Virginia, upon which the proposed site of the University was indicated by a dot. That the dot was very near the centre of the State could be shown by balancing the card on the point of a pencil. But a place may be geographically central without being near the centre of population. It may indeed. And Jefferson exhibited a piece of board representing Virginia, on which he had written, in his own clear, minute hand, the population of every part of the State ; which made it plain to the eye that if the population of Virginia had been called upon to revolve, Monticello was the very pivot for the purpose. In short, the cornerstone was laid where the master of Monticello could watch its rising glories from his portico, and ride over everyday to the site five miles distant.
Then came the tug of war. He had subscribed a thousand dollars toward the fund, and his neighbors had multiplied that sum by forty-four. But the main reliance of the founder was upon the Legislature of the State, not accustomed to appropriate money for such an object, nor able to appropriate much. Party passions were not extinct; and it, with the majority, Jefferson was still a name to conjure with, there was an influential minority who held him in undiminished aversion. Virginia, too, was a declining Commonwealth. Nothing was so abundant there as encumbered estates ; and many families, who held their heads high, were subsisting on the proceeds of the sale, now and then, of little girls and boys, or “likely ” men and women. Money came hard ; and Jefferson wanted a great deal more of it to complete his plans than either he or the Legislature had anticipated. “ I have been long sensible,” he wrote in 1826, “that while I was endeavoring to render our country the greatest of all services, that of regenerating the public education, and placing our rising generation on the level of our sister States (which they have proudly held heretofore), I was discharging the odious function of a physician pouring medicine down the throat of a patient insensible of needing it.” He was, also, a connoisseur in architecture, which is not an inexpensive taste. He thought that it became Virginia to erect something grand and noble for an institution that was to bear her name and invite the flower of the youth of other States. “Year after year, Mr. Cabell had to renew the struggle in the Legislature to get money to go on with. Three hundred thousand dollars were expended, in all, and an appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars a year was made toward the support of the institution. The zeal of Cabell was contagious and irresistible. At one critical moment, his feelings were wrought to such a pitch that he dared not remain in the chamber while the vote was taken ; and thus he missed a moving scene. The vote that day decided the location. As soon as the result was declared, Mr. B. G. Baldwin, the leader of the party opposed to placing the institution at Charlottesville, rose and made a powerful appeal in behalf of the University. He had contended strenuously for a more western site as long as there was any hope, of success ; but now that another place had been chosen, he conjured the western members to rise superior to local prejudices and give the institution a cordial support. “ A great part of the House,” reports Cabell, “ were in tears. Such magnanimity in a defeated adversary excited universal applause.”
Mr. Jefferson had now secured the most fascinating occupation for his last years that could have been contrived for him. He was chairman of the board of trustees, and they all seemed to agree with Mr. Madison when he remarked at one of their first meetings : “ This is Mr. Jefferson’s scheme; the responsibility is his ; and it is but fair that he should be allowed to carry it out in his own way.” Jefferson’s love of construction, his ingenuity as an inventor, his interest in science, his patriotism and benevolence were all gratified in superintending the formation of the University. Colonel T. J. Randolph has described in a vivid and agreeable manner the joyous activity of his grandfather at this time ; how he would mount his horse early in the morning, canter down the mountain and across the country to the site, and spend a long day there in assisting at the work ; carrying with him a walkingstick of his own invention (now familiar to all), composed of three sticks, which being spread out and covered with a piece of cloth made a tolerable seat. He it was who designed the plan and made working draughts for each detail. He engaged workmen, selected timber, and bought bricks. Carvers of stone whom he caused to be brought from Italy settled in the county, and have living descendants there at this moment. Afterwards, finding his ornate capitals could be cut cheaper in Italy, he had them executed there. It was his object to exhibit to the future students specimens of all the orders of architecture and edifices that should call to mind several of the ancient triumphs of his favorite art Occupants of the buildings, it is said, would prefer less grandeur and more convenience, fewer columns and more closets.
The time came for selecting professors. The very first appointment brought a storm about his ears. One of the fugitives from the reaction in European politics of 1793 was Thomas Cooper, a friend of Priestley and a gentleman of note in chemistry and other branches of natural science. Under the Sedition Law, for a harmless paragraph upon President Adams, after a trial in which Judge Chase had not kept up even a decent show of impartiality, the accused was sentenced to pay a fine of four hundred dollars, and to be imprisoned six months. Of course he was a made man from the moment of the ascendency of the Republican party. As he was reputed to be the first chemist in the United States, the visitors innocently invited him to the chair of chemistry in the new University. Four States were competing for his services. New York, through De Witt Clinton, offered him liberal compensation for that time,—twenty-five hundred dollars a year and fees. Pennsylvania sought him for the University in Philadelphia, offering him a place worth seven thousand a year. New Orleans had invited him, and William and Mary desired him. But when it became known that he had decided for Jefferson and the University of Virginia, the slumbering fury of the year 1800 blazed up again, and an outcry arose so violent as to threaten the existence of a University dependent upon the popular will. It was remembered, too, that Dr. Cooper was a Unitarian, a name of opprobrium even at a time so recent. This was, indeed, a serious consideration ; for a religious prejudice was then one of those blind, resistless forces which were no more amenable to reason than an earthquake or a tornado. There is nothing to be done in the presence of a convulsion of nature but to get out of its way. And it really was of the very first necessity to avoid the appearance of using the University as a means of propagating peculiar opinions. Jefferson bent to a storm he could not brave, and relinquished Cooper to one of the other institutions that desired him. It was a happy riddance. South Carolina obtained him at last, and made a nullifier of him in 1832.
A competent corps of professors were engaged in England, and in March, 1825, the University was opened with forty students, a number which was increased to one hundred and twenty-three before the end of the first term, and to one hundred and seventy-seven at the beginning of the second year.
The institution differs from other American colleges in these particulars : there is no president ; all the professors are of equal rank, except that one of their number is elected chairman of the faculty, and performs the usual representative duties. They get from the University a small fixed salary, meant to be sufficient for subsistence. Besides this, every professor receives a small fee from each of the students attending his “ school.” There are no rewards given by the University and no honors, except a statement of the student’s proficiency in each of the “ schools ” which he attends ; and that proficiency is ascertained, not by a system of daily marks, but by an examination which is intended to be thorough and just. “ Graduation ” signifies only that a student has acquitted himself well in one of the “ groups ” ot schools. A. great point is made of the examinations. “Rigorous written examinations,” Dr. Charles Venable, the chairman of the faculty, has recently written, “are held periodically in each school, and the diploma of the school is conferred on those students only whose examination-papers come up to a fixed standard. That is, the candidate for graduation must obtain fourfifths (in some of the schools threefourths) of the values assigned to the questions set in the examinations. No distinctions are made among the graduates. A student either graduates cum laude or not at all. In the lower classes of the schools like examinations are held, and certificates of distinction given to those who come up to the standard of three-fourths of the values of the questions set.”
Another peculiarity of this institution is the homage it pays to religion. This is unique. In other colleges, it is assumed that students will neither go to church nor attend prayers unless they are compelled to do so. This University, on the contrary, assumes that religion has an attractive power of its own, and leaves it to each student to go to church and attend prayers, or to abstain from so doing. Daily prayers are held and a service on Sunday is conducted by a clergyman of the vicinity, elected in rotation from the chief denominations of the State ; and he is maintained by the voluntary contributions of the inmates of the University. But the dishonor is not put upon him of compelling attendance at his ministrations. Dr. Venable states that the results of this system of freedom are such as might have been expected. “ The students,” he says, “contribute with commendable liberality to the support of the chaplain, who goes constantly in and out among them as their friend and brother, laboring earnestly in the promotion of Christian activity and all good works. There is always a respectable attendance of student worshippers at morning prayers, a good attendance of students in the Sunday services in the chapel as well as in the churches in the town. There is an earnest Christian activity among the students, which employs itself in the different enterprises of the University Young Men’s Christian Association. They keep up six Sunday schools in the sparsely settled mountain districts of the neighborhood, five for whites and one for freedmen, with an average attendance on each of thirty pupils. This steady Christian activity is not a thing of to-day or yesterday, but it has been the rule for years.”
Dr. Venable bears explicit testimony also to the happy results of Mr. Jefferson’s darling system of trusting the students, instead of spying them. “ I have seen,” he says, “ the plan of trusting to the students’ honor, and of the abolition of all espionage tested here and in the University of South Carolina. It has also been adopted in most of the Virginia colleges with the best results. Its effects in imbuing the body of the students with the spirit of truth and candor, in giving them the proper scorn for a lie, and in promoting a frank and manly intercourse between the students and professors, cannot be too highly estimated. A student who is known to have been guilty of a violation of his examination pledge, or of any other falsehood in his dealings with the authorities, — things of rare occurrence,”— is not permitted by his fellows to remain in the institution.”
It is also his opinion that the University has signally answered the great design of its founder, which was, to raise the standard of liberal education in Virginia. The mere fact of keeping its diplomas, so far as is possible to human scrutiny, free from falsehoods, and issuing no diplomas of the kind called honorary, has had a perceptible effect, he thinks, in restoring to parchment a portion of the power it once had to confer honorable distinction.
Like all other institutions of learning in the Southern States, it was subjected to a most severe ordeal during the late war. The number of students had gone on increasing from year to year, until it had reached an average of six hundred and fifty. Then came the rude blast of war, which a Southern student must have been much more, or something less, than human, not to' have obeyed. Abstract truth is usually powerless when father, mother, sisters, brothers, friends, and neighbors are all pulling the other way. Hundreds of alumni (the strength of a university) fell in battle, never doubting that they died for their country and their rights. But during the whole of the four years’ struggle, the University was kept open, and only once did the war come near it. In March, 1865, General Sheridan was at Charlottesville with a body of cavalry ; but during the few days of his stay in the neighborhood he placed guards around the grounds of the University, and preserved its property uninjured. For the first two or three years after the peace, education being in arrears, and the people it is said more hopeful than they are now, the number of students was again nearly five hundred. The Catalogue for 1872 shows three hundred and sixty-five. Virginia, besides bearing up under a great load of debt, has nobly continued the annual appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars; and two citizens of the State, Samuel Miller and Thomas Johnson, have recently given one hundred and forty thousand dollars to found a department of industrial chemistry and engineering.
The present effort of the visitors is to strengthen and widen the basis of the University by an endowment of half a million. That peculiar friendship which once existed between Virginia and Massachusetts, dating back to the time when Massachusetts was stricken in her chief industry, and Virginia was her bountiful helper and consolation, seems to live again in the late exchange of courtesies between the president of Harvard and the chairman of the faculty of the University of Virginia. “I hope,” says Dr. Venable, “ the many friends and benefactors of Harvard will wisely concentrate on her the means of fulfilling all her high aspirations.” Massachusetts, with her capital to rebuild, and her Harvard to restore, must deny herself at present many pleasures which she would otherwise enjoy. New York will, perhaps, treat herself to the gift of this half-million. It is a pleasing evidence of the advance of catholicity of feeling, that Henry Ward Beecher, the representative liberal of the Northern States, the son of a Calvinist and a Federalist, himself always an Abolitionist, should have contributed a thousand dollars to the fund.
The great thing to be desired in the higher education of America is the union of several colleges in each State to form two or three real universities. But probably this can only be done by nature’s own method of strengthening the strong and starving the weak. This University, from the day when Jefferson gave it life, has shown a lusty strength that marks it as one of the “ fittest ” which are destined to “ survive.”
During these last years Mr. Jefferson showed in many other ways that the best solace of declining age is an intelligent and benevolent mind. He watched with deep concern the ceaseless movement of the human soul toward freedom and purity. Dr. Channing became an interesting figure to him, and he hailed with delight the inroads which Channing appeared to be making in what he considered the most pernicious of all priestly devices, the theology of Calvin. It is hard to say which surpassed the other in boiling hatred of Calvinism, Jefferson or John Adams. “ I rejoice,” writes Jefferson in 1822, “that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience neither to kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” He was ever the most sanguine of men. Often, at this period, he spoke of the ancient doctrines with an approach to violence. In thanking Colonel Pickering for sending him one of Dr. Channing’s sermons, he wrote thus : “No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances toward rational Christianity. When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three ; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus ; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, — we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples ; and my opinion is, that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from his lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian..... Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel.”
He became even more vehement than this after his eightieth year. He spoke of “ the blasphemous absurdity of the five points of Calvin ” ; and declared that, in his opinion, “it would be more pardonable to believe in no God at all than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.” Hence his joy at the triumphs of the young Boston preacher, whose boldness and fervor, he heard, were setting free so many human minds from the iron bondage of the past. “ In our village of Charlottesville there is a good degree of religion with a small spice only of fanaticism. We have four sects, but without either church or meeting-house. The court-house is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each. Here Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each other’s preachers, and all mix in society with perfect harmony.” The final and complete remedy, he thought, for the “fever of fanaticism” was the diffusion of knowledge ; and again he indulges his sanguine humor by predicting that “ Unitarianism will, erelong, be the religion of the majority from north to south.”
In matters political he remained to the last what he was in 1800. He could not relish Scott’s novels, because they concealed, as he thought, the ugly truth of the past under an alluring guise of the romantic and picturesque. He disliked the robber Norman, loved the industrial Saxon. As for Hume’s History of England and Blackstone’s Commentaries, he never ceased to hate them. “They have made tories,” he wrote, “ of all England, and are making tories of those young Americans whose native feelings of independence do not place them above the wily sophistries of a Hume or a Blackstone. These two books, but especially the former, have done more towards the suppression of the liberties of man than all the million of men in arms of Bonaparte and the millions of human lives with the sacrifice of which he will stand loaded before the judgment seat of his Maker.” He said, too, that, while he feared nothing for our liberty from the assaults of force, he had fears of the influence of English books, English prejudices, English manners, and their apes and dupes among professional men. He remained a free-trader to the end. The longer he lived the more he felt the necessity of a subdivision of territory, like the town system of New England, under which each citizen belongs to a small body of voters, with whom he can conveniently co-operate, and who can be assembled without delay or difficulty. He would have divided a city of the size of New York into three hundred wards. He also became perfectly aware of the truth, since demonstrated in so many ways and places, that universal suffrage, where a majority of the voters are grossly ignorant, tends to put the scoundrel at the summit of affairs. In commenting upon a new constitution proposed for Spain, he said there was one provision in it “ which would immortalize its inventors.” That provision disfranchised every man who, after a certain epoch, could not read and write.
The meeting of Jefferson and Lafayette in 1824 fills a great place in the memoirs of those times. They had labored together in anxious and critical periods : first, when Jefferson was governor of Virginia, and Lafayette commanded the forces defending the State against the inroads of Cornwallis ; and afterwards when Jefferson, a tyro in diplomacy, enjoyed the powerful aid of the young and popular nobleman at the Court of France. Thirty-six years had passed since that memorable day when Lafayette had brought the leaders of the Revolution to Jefferson’s house in Paris, and they had there eaten a sacramental dinner, and, afterwards, under the serene influence of the silent master of the feast, arranged a programme upon which it was possible for them to unite. Thirty-six years ! Both were old men now, — Jefferson past eighty, Lafayette nearly seventy, — but both retained every faculty except those which begin to perish as soon as they are created. Jefferson exulted when he heard of the landing of his ancient friend and colleague. “ I hope,” said he, “we shall close his visit with something more solid for him than dinners and balls”; and it was Jefferson who proposed that Congress should pay part of the unrecorded and unclaimed debt which the country owed Lafayette for money advanced during the Revolutionary War.
During the heats of August the French Republican landed in New York; and as soon as the cool days of September came he moved southward on a pilgrimage to Monticello. They met on one of the fine days of October. Jefferson would have gone some distance to welcome his approaching guest, but the gentlemen in charge of the occasion requested him to remain at his house, while they escorted the Marquis from Charlottesville to the summit of the mount. A brave cavalcade of the gentlemen of the county, with trumpets sounding, and banners waving in the breeze, accompanied him, and formed about the lawn, while the carriage advanced to the front of the mansion. A great concourse of excited and expectant people were present, gazing intently upon the portico. The carriage drew up ; and while an alert little figure with gray hair descended, the front door of the house opened, and the tall, bent, and wasted form of Jefferson was seen. The music ceased and every head was uncovered. The two old men threw themselves into each other’s arms, and relieved their feelings by a hearty embrace. The coldest heart was moved, and tears filled the eyes of almost every spectator. They entered the house together, and the assembly dispersed.
During the stay of Lafayette at Monticello, there was a grand banquet given in his honor in the great room of the University, which was attended by President Monroe and the two exPresidents, Madison and Jefferson. It was a time of hilarity and enthusiasm such as we can all easily imagine. When Jefferson was toasted, he handed a written speech to a friend to read to the company. I think he meant this address as a kind of Farewell to his Countrymen, and to the great Cause to which his own life and the life of his guest had been devoted,— the supremacy of Right in the affairs of men.
“ I will avail myself of this occasion, my beloved neighbors and friends, to thank you for the kindness which now, and at all times, I have received at your hands. Born and bred among your fathers, led by their partiality into the line of public life, I labored in fellowship with them through that arduous struggle which, freeing us from foreign bondage, established us in the rights of self-government, — rights which have blessed ourselves, and will bless, in their sequence, all the nations of the earth. In this contest, we all did our utmost, and, as none could do more, none had pretentions to superior merit.
“ I joy, my friends, in your joy, inspired by the visit of this our ancient and distinguished leader and benefactor. His deeds in the War of Independence you have heard and read. They are known to you and embalmed in your memories, and in the pages of faithful history. His deeds, in the peace which followed that war, are perhaps not known to you ; but I can attest them. When I was stationed in his country, for the purpose of cementing its friendship with ours, and of advancing our mutual interests, this friend of both was my most powerful auxiliary and advocate. He made our cause his own, as in truth it was that of his native country also. His influence and connections there were great. All doors of all departments were open to him at all times ; to me, only formally and at appointed times. In truth, I only held the nail, he drove it. Honor him, then, as your benefactor in peace, as well as in war.
“ My friends, I am old, long in the disuse of making speeches, and without voice to utter them. In this feeble state, the exhausted powers of life leave little within my competence for your service. If, with the aid of my younger and abler coadjutors, I can still contribute anything to advance the institution within whose walls we are now mingling manifestations to this our guest, it will be, as it ever has been, cheerfully and zealously bestowed. And could I live to see it once enjoy the patronage and cherishment of our public authorities with undivided voice, I should die without a doubt of the future fortunes of my native State, and in the consoling contemplation of the happy influence of this institution on its character, its virtue, its prosperity, and safety.
“To these effusions for the cradle and land of my birth, I add, for our nation at large, the aspirations of a heart warm with the love of country ; whose invocations to heaven for its indissoluble union will be fervent and unremitting while the pulse of life continues to beat, and, when that ceases, it will expire in prayers for the eternal duration of its freedom and prosperity.”
When Lafayette again visited Monticello, in 1825, to take leave of his venerable friend, the University was open, with a fair prospect of realizing, at length, the fond hopes of its chief founder. Professors and students gathered about the visitor, and enlivened the table of his illustrious host.
These last years of Mr. Jefferson’s life were not wholly passed in such lofty occupations as the founding of a university and the entertainment of a nation’s guest. His own estate, always more large than productive, had been diminishing in value for many years. Few men lost more by the Embargo, in proportion to their means, than the author of that measure; and this was one of the reasons why he left Washington in 1809 owing twenty thousand dollars. The War of 1812 continued the suspension of commerce, and made tobacco and cotton almost worthless. After the war, Mr. Jefferson relieved himself of his most pressing embarrassments by selling the part of his estate which was most precious to him, and most peculiarly his own,— his library, — the result of sixty years’ affectionate search and selection. He offered it to Congress to supply the place of their library burnt by the English soldiers in 1814 ; and he sedulously schemed to cut down the price so as to silence the murmurs of his old enemies, and prevent the purchase from being an injury to his friends. The committee valued it at twentythree thousand dollars, about half its cost, and a quarter of its worth. Mr. Bacon had the charge of removing the books to Washington. “ There was an immense quantity of them,” he tells us, “ sixteen wagon-loads. Each wagon was to carry three thousand pounds for a load, and to have four dollars a day for delivering them in Washington. If they carried more than three thousand pounds, they were to have extra pay. There were all kinds of books,— books in a great many languages that I knew nothing about.”
And so Mr. Jefferson lost his library just when he needed it most, and Congress did not dare improve the golden opportunity (by merely paying the just value of a unique collection) of giving him substantial relief. But his library was soon partly replaced. Chancellor Wythe bequeathed his collection to his ancient pupil, colleague, and friend. “ It was very large,” says Bacon, “ and nearly filled up the room of the one Mr. Jefferson sold to Congress.”
The hard times of 1819 and 1820, which reduced so many established families to poverty, brought upon Mr. Jefferson, also, an insupportable burden. He had indorsed for one of his oldest friends and connections, to the amount of twenty thousand dollars, in the confident expectation of saving him from ruin. His friend became bankrupt notwithstanding, and the indorser had to take upon his aged shoulders this crushing addition to his already excessive load, — twelve hundred dollars a year in money. One consequence of this misfortune was that he lost the services of his faithful and competent manager, Edmund Bacon, who had been for some years looking westward, intending to buy land and settle there. “ I was sorry,” he says, “ to leave Mr. Jefferson ; but I was more willing to do it, because I did not wish to see the poor old gentleman suffer, what I knew he must suffer, from the debts that were pressing upon him.” They had a sorrowful parting after their twenty years of friendly and familiar intercourse. “ It was a trying time to me,” Mr. Bacon records. “ I don’t know whether he shed any tears or not, but I know that I shed a good many, He was sitting in his room, on his sofa, where I had seen him so often, and keeping hold of my hand some time, he said, ‘ Now let us hear from each other occasionally ’ ; and as long as he lived I heard from him once or twice a year. The last letter I ever had from him was when I wrote him of the death of my wife, soon after I got to Kentucky. He expressed a great deal of sympathy for me ; said he did not wonder that I felt completely broken up, and was disposed to move back ; that he had passed through the same himself; and only time and silence would relieve me.”
Mr. Jefferson’s affairs did not mend, though he enjoyed the able and resolute assistance of his grandson and namesake, Thomas Jefferson Randolph; and he resolved, at length, to discharge the worst of his debts, in the fashion of old Virginia, by selling a portion of his lands. But there was nobody to buy. Land sold in the usual way would not bring a third of its value ; and consequently he petitioned the Legislature to relax the operation of law so far as to allow him to dispose of some of his farms by lottery, as was frequently done when money was to be raised for a public object. The Legislature granted his request, though with reluctance. But, in the mean time, it had been noised abroad, all over the Union, that the author of the Declaration of Independence was about to lose that far-famed Monticello, with which his name had been associated in the public mind for two generations, the abode of his prime and the refuge of his old age, a Mecca to the Republicans of many lands. A feeling arose in all liberal minds that this must not be ; and, during the spring of 1826, the last of his years, subscriptions were made for his relief in several places. Philip Hone, mayor of New York, raised without an effort, as Mr. Randall records, eight thousand five hundred dollars. Philadelphia sent five thousand, and Baltimore three thousand. The lottery was suspended, and Mr. Jefferson’s last days were solaced by the belief that the subscriptions would suffice to free his estate from debt, and secure home and independence to his daughter and her children. He was proud of the liberality of his countrymen, and proud to be its object. He who had refused to accept so much as a loan from the Legislature of his State gloried in being the recipient of gifts from individuals. “No cent of this,” said he, “ is wrung from the tax-payer. It is the pure and unsolicited offering of love.”
There has seldom been a sounder constitution than his, nor one less abused. At eighty-two his teeth were all but perfect; he enjoyed his daily ride on horseback of ten miles ; and he was only afraid that life might continue after it had ceased to be a blessing. “I have ever,” he wrote to Mr. Adams in 1822, “ dreaded a doting old age ; and my health has been generally so good, and is now so good, that I dread it still. The rapid decline of my strength during the last winter has made me hope sometimes that I see land. During summer I enjoy its temperature, but I shudder at the approach of winter, and wish I could sleep through it with the dormouse, and only wake with him in spring, if ever.” Reduced by an occasional diarrhoea, he alternately rallied and declined during the next three years ; but, of course, never quite regained after an attack what he had lost. By his family the decay of his bodily powers was scarcely observed, it was so gradual, until the spring of 1826, when it became more obvious and rapid. It was his habit all his life to be silent with regard to his own sufferings ; and now, especially, he concealed from every one the ravages of a disease which, he knew, was about to deliver him from the “doting old age ” that he dreaded. His grandson just mentioned, who stood nearer to him at this period than any one except his daughter, was taken by surprise when he heard him say, in March, 1826, that he might live till midsummer; and, again, when, about the middle of June, he said, as he handed him a paper to read, “ Don’t delay, there is no time to be lost.”
From that day he was under regular medical treatment. He told his physician, Dr. Dunglison of the University, that he attributed his disease to his free use, some years before, of the water of the White Sulphur Springs of Virginia. On the 24th of June he was still well enough to write a long letter in reply to an invitation to attend the fiftieth celebration of the Fourth of July, at Washington. How sanguine his mind within nine days of his death ! “ All eyes,” he wrote, with trembling hand, indeed, but with a heart buoyant and alert, “are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” Nothing of him was impaired but his body, even then. But that grew steadily weaker until he lay upon his bed, serene, painless, cheerful, in full possession of his reason, but helpless and dying. He conversed calmly with his family concerning his affairs, in the tone of a person about to set out upon a journey which could not be avoided. He mentioned to his friends a fact of his mental condition that seemed to strike him as peculiar,— that the scenes and events of the Revolutionary period kept recurring to him. The curtains of his bed, he said, were brought over in the first ship that arrived after the peace of 1782, and he related many incidents of those eventful times. Once, while he was dozing, he placed his hands as if he were writing with his right on a tablet held in his left, and murmured, “ Warn the committee to be on the alert.” When his grandson said that he thought he was a little better, he replied : “ Do not imagine for a moment that I feel the smallest solicitude about the result. I am like an old watch, with a pinion worn out here, and a wheel there, until it can go no longer.” Upon imagining that he heard a clergyman of the neighborhood in the next room, he said, “ I have no objection to see him as a kind and good neighbor ” ; meaning, as his grandson thought, that he did not desire to see him in his professional character. He repeated on his deathbed a remark which he had made a hundred times before : His calumniators he had never thought were assailing him, but a being non-existent, of their own imagining, to whom they had given the name of Thomas Jefferson. Observing a little grandson eight years old in the room, he said, with a smile : “ George does not understand what all this means.” He spoke much of Mr. Madison, who, he hoped, would succeed him as rector of the University. He eulogized him justly as one of the best of men, and one of the greatest of citizens.
During the 3d of July, he dozed hour after hour, under the influence of opiates, rousing occasionally, and uttering a few words. It wasevident that his end was very near, and a fervent desire . arose in all minds that he should live until the Day which he had assisted to consecrate half a century before. He, too, desired it. At eleven in the evening, Mr. N. P. Trist, the young husband of one of his grand-daughters, sat by his pillow watching his face, and turning every minute toward the slowmoving hands of the clock, dreading lest the flickering flame should go out before midnight. “ This is the fourth ? ” whispered the dying patriot. Mr. Trist could nor bear to say, “ Not yet” ; so he remained silent. “ This is the Fourth ?” again asked Mr. Jefferson, in a whisper. Mr. Trist nodded assent. “ Ah ! ” he breathed ; and an expression of satisfaction passed over his countenance. Again he sunk into sleep, which all about him feared was the slumber of death. But midnight came; the night passed ; the morning dawned, the sun rose, the new day progressed ; and still he breathed, and occasionally indicated a desire, by words or looks. At twenty minutes to one in the afternoon he ceased to live.
At Quincy, on the granite shore of distant Massachusetts, another memorable death scene was passing on this Fourth of July, 1826.
John Adams, at the age of ninetyone, had been an enjoyer of existence down almost to the dawn of the fiftieth Fourth of July. He voted for Monroe, in 1820. His own son was President of the United States in 1826. He used to sit many hours of every day, tranquilly listening to members of his family, while they read to him the new books with which friends in Boston, knowing his taste, kept him abundantly supplied. He, who was a formed man when Dr. Johnson was writing his Dictionary, lived to enjoy Scott’s novels and Byron’s poetry. His grandson, Mr. Charles Francis Adams, the worthy heir of an honorable name, then a youth of eighteen, used to sit by him, he tells us, for days together, reading to him, “ watching the noble image of a serene old age, or listening with unabated interest to the numerous anecdotes, the reminiscences of the past, and the speculations upon the questions of all times, in which he loved to indulge.” On the last day of June, 1826, though his strength had much declined of late, he was still well enough to receive and chat with a neighbor, the orator of the coming anniversary, who called to ask him for a toast to be offered at the usual banquet. “ I will give you,” said the old man, “ INDEPENDENCE FOREVER!” Being asked if he wished to add anything to it, he replied. “ Not a word.” The day came. It was evident that he could not long survive. He lingered, tranquil and without pain, to the setting of the sun. The last words that he articulated were thought to be, “ Thomas Jefferson still lives.” As the sun sank below the horizon, a noise of great shouting was heard in the village, and reached even the apartment in which the old man lay. It was the enthusiastic cheers called forth by his toast, — Independence forever. Before the sounds died away he had breathed his last.
The coincidence of the death of these two venerable men on the Day associated with their names in all minds did not startle the whole country at once, on the morning of the next day, as such an event now would. Slowly the news of Mr. Adams’s death spread over the Northern States, while that of Mr. Jefferson’s was borne more slowly over the Southern ; so that almost every person heard of the death of one several days before he learned the death of the other. The public mind had been wrought to an unusual degree of patriotic fervor by the celebration of the anniversary of the nation’s birth, when few orators had failed to allude to the sole survivors of the body which had declared independence. That one of them should have departed on that day struck every mind as something remarkable. But when it became known that the author of the Declaration and its most powerful defender had both breathed their last on the Fourth of July, the Fiftieth since they had set it apart from the roll of common days, it seemed as if Heaven had given its visible and unerring sanction to the work they had done.