Thomas Jefferson's Presidency

Mr. Thomas Jefferson began his administration on the 4th of March, 1801, under favorable auspices. He was then in the fifty-eighth year of his age--a tall, bony man, with grizzled sandy hair, and rather sloven in dress. He affected republican simplicity in all things, and sometimes carried this notion to extremes. Senator William Plummer, writing in 1802, said: "The next day after my arrival I visited the President, accompanied by some Democratic members. In a few moments after our arrival a tall, high-boned man came into the room. He was dressed, or rather undressed, in an old brown coat, red waistcoat, old corduroy small clothes much soiled, woolen hose, and slippers without heels. I thought him a servant, when General Varnum surprised me by announcing it was the President."

Mr. Jefferson indicated his policy, as follows, in a letter to Nathaniel Macon: "1. Levees are done away with. 2. The first communication to the next Congress will be, like all subsequent ones, by message, to which no answer will be expected. 3. The diplomatic establishment in Europe will be reduced to three ministers. 4. The compensation of collectors depends on you [Congress], and not on me. 5. The army is undergoing a chaste reformation. 6. The navy will be reduced to the legal establishment by the last of this month [May, 1801]. 7. Agencies in every department will be revised. 8. We shall push you to the uttermost in economizing. 9. A very early recommendation has been given to the Postmaster-General to employ no printer, foreigner, or Revolutionary Tory in any of his offices." Mr. Jefferson appointed James Madison Secretary of State; Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War; and Levi Lincoln, Attorney-General. He retained Mr. Adams's Secretaries of the Treasury and Navy, until the following autumn, when Albert Gallatin, a naturalized foreigner, was appointed to the first-named office, and Robert Smith, to the second. The President early resolved to reward his political friends, when he came to "revise" the "agencies in every department." Three days after his inauguration, he wrote to Colonel Monroe: "I have firmly refused to follow the counsels of those who have desired the giving of offices to some of the Federalist leaders in order to reconcile. I have given, and will give, only to Republicans, under existing circumstances." The doctrine, ever since acted upon, that "to the victor belongs the spoils," was then practically promulgated from the fountain-head of government patronage; and with a Cabinet wholly Democratic when Congress met in December, 1800, and with the minor offices filled with his political friends, Mr. Jefferson began his Presidential career of eight years' duration. In his inaugural address, he had said: "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Federalists--we are all Republicans." Vigor and enlightened views marked his course; and even his political opponents were compelled to confess his forecast and sound judgement in regard to the national policy.

The machinery of the government was now adjusted to an easy-working condition. The treasury was never so full nor the revenue so abundant; and Jefferson was enabled to signalize his accession to office by the repeal of the Excise Law and other obnoxious acts. There were omens of peace abroad, and these promised calmness and prosperity at home. Bonaparte had, in the space of about ten years, as First Consul, brought nearly all Europe trembling at his feet. The old thrones shook in his presence, and when he whispered peace, the nations listened eagerly. The geographical lines of dominions, on the map of Europe, had been changed by his conquests. Only England now remained an armed opponent of the Corsican ruler of France, for by treaties and otherwise, he had conciliated the others; and because of her mischievous doctrines, practically enforced, concerning the freedom of neutrals, the Armed Neutrality of 1780 was revived. Bonaparte threatened her island domain with invasion, and the tramp of a conquering army on the soil of her East India possessions; England arose in her might and defied Europe, and her ships continued to be seen

"Riding without a rival on the sea."


Our Republic had been growing rapidly in political and moral strength, and by the expansion of its domain. During Mr. Jefferson's first term, one State (Ohio) and two Territories (Indiana and Illinois) had been formed out of the free Northwestern Territory. Ohio was organized as an independent territory in the year 1800, and in the fall of 1802, it was admitted into the Union as a State. At that time there was great excitement in the country west of the Alleghany Mountains, in consequence of a violation of the treaty made with Spain in 1795, by the governor of Louisiana, in closing the port of New Orleans against the commerce of our Republic. There was a proposition before Congress for taking forcible possession of that region, when it was ascertained that by a secret treaty Spain had retroceded Louisiana to France. Negotiations were immediately begun for the purchase of that domain from France, by the United States. Robert R. Livingston, the American minister at the court of the First Consul, found very little difficulty in making a bargain with Bonaparte, for the latter wanted money and desired to injure England by strengthening her rivals. He sold that magnificent domain, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico northward to the present State of Minnesota, and from the Mississippi westward toward the Pacific Ocean, for the sum of fifteen million dollars. The bargain was made in the spring of 1803, and in the fall the country, which added nine hundred thousand square miles to our territory, was taken possession of by the United States. When the bargain was closed, Bonaparte said, prophetically: "This accession of territory strengthens forever the power of the United States; and I have just given to England a maritime rival that will sooner or later humble her pride." Out of that domain have been carved some of our most opulent States and Territories.

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