Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Jefferson's intellectual character. - His marriage.- His political pamphlet. Jefferson was admitted as a student-at-law in the office of George Wythe, the intimate friend of Governor Fauquer, at whose table our subject became a welcome guest.

“Mr. Jefferson," said Wirt, in his eulogy on Adams and Jefferson, " by birth, belonged to the aristocracy: but the idle and voluptuous life which marked that order had no charms for a mind like his. He relished better the strong, unsophisticated, and racy character of the yeomanry, and attached himself, of choice, to that body. He was a republican and a philanthropist, from the earliest dawn of his character. He read with a sort of poetic illusion which identified him with every scene which his author spread before him. Enraptured with the brighter ages of republican Greece and Rome, he had followed with an aching heart the march of history, which had told him of the desolation of those fairest portions of the earth ; and had read, with dismay and indignation, of that swarm of monarchies, the progeny of the Scandinavian hive, under which genius and liberty were now everywhere crushed. He loved his own country with a passion not less intense, deep, and holy, than that of his great compatriot, John Adams; and with this love he combined an expanded philanthropy which encircled the globe. From the working of the strong energies within him, there arose an early vision, too, which cheered his youth and accompanied him through life — the vision of emancipated man throughout the world."

In 1765, while yet a student, Jefferson heard the celebrated speech of Patrick Henry against the stamp-act; and fired by its doctrines, he at once stood forth the avowed champion of American freedom. So manifest were his talents, that in 1769 he was elected a member of the Virginia legislature, and became at once active and popular there.* He filled that station until the period of the Revolution, when he was called to the performance of more exalted duties in the national council.

He was married in January, 1772, to Mrs. Martha Skelton, a wealthy widow of twenty-three, who was the daughter of John Wayles, an eminent Virginia lawyer.

When the system of committees of correspondence was established in 1773, Mr. Jefferson was a member of the first committee in Virginia, and was very active with his pen. In 1774, his powerfully-written pamphlet was published, called “A Summary View of the Rights of British America." It was addressed to the king, and was published in England ander the auspices of Edmund Burke.t

* He made strong but unsuccessful efforts in the Virginia assembly for the emancipation of the slaves.

This pamphlet gave great offence to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, who threatened to prosecute him for high-treason. And because his associates in the Virginia as sembly sustained Jefferson, Dunmore dissolved it. They assembled in a private capacity, and drew up a remonstrance, which had a powerful effect upon the people. . The governor perceived that his acts were futile, and be allowed the matter to rest.

Draughts the Declaration of Independence. — Appointed to revise the laws of Virginia. He was elected a delegate to represent Virginia in the continental Congress of 1775, and for several years he was one of the most efficient members of that body. He soon became distinguished among the men of talents there, although comparatively young; and when, in the succeeding year, a committee was appointed to draught a DeclaraTION OF INDEPENDENCE, he was chosen one of the members. Although the youngest member of the committee, he was requested by the others to draw up the instrument, which he did, and his draught was adopted, with a very few verbal amendments, on the 4th of July, 1776. This instrument forms an everlasting monument to his memory, and gives by far a wider range to the fame of his talents and patriotism than eloquent panegyric or sculptured epitaph.

During the summer of 1776, he was elected to a seat in the Virginia assembly, and, desirous of serving his own state, he resigned his seat in Congress, and returned to Virginia. He was soon after appointed a joint-commissioner with Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane, for negotiating treaties with France, but circumstances caused him to decline the acceptance of the proffered honor, and he continued in Virginia during the remaining period of the Revolution, actively engaged in the service of his state. He received a third election to Congress, but declined it, and was succeeded by Benjamin Harrison, the father of the late president.

From the early part of 1777 to the middle of 1779, Mr. Jefferson was assiduously employed, conjointly with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, on a commission for revising the laws of Virginia. The duty was a most arduous one : and to Mr. Jefferson belongs the imperishable honor of being the first to propose, in the legislature of Virginia, the laws forbidding the importation of slaves; converting estates tail* into fee simple; annulling the rights of primogeniture ;t establishing schools for general education ; and confirming the rights of freedom in religious opinion.

Congress having resolved not to suffer the prisoners captured at Sar atoga, under Burgoyne, to leave the United States until the convention entered into by Gates and Burgoyne should be ratified by the British government, they were divided and sent to the different states, to be provided for during the interval. A division of them was sont, early in 1779, into the interior of Virginia, near the residence of Mr. Jefferson,

• A law entitled fee tail was adopted in the time of Edward I. of England, and at the time in question extended to all the English colonies. It restrained the alienation of lands and tepements by one to whom they had been given, with a limitation to a particular class of beirs. A fee-simple estate is one in which the owner has absolute power to dispose of it as be pleases; and if in his possession when he dies, it descends to bis heirs-general.

+ This right belonged to the eldest son, who succeeded to the estate of his ancestor, to the exclusion of his brothers and sisters. This is still the law in England.

Elected governor of Virginia. — Attempt of the British to capture him. – Elected again to Congress. and his benevolent feelings were strongly exhibited by his sympathy for these enemies of his country. The prisoners were in great distress, and Mr. Jefferson and his friends did all in their power to alleviate their sufferings. An apprehended scarcity of provisions determined Governor Patrick Henry to remove them to another part of the state, or out of it entirely. At this the officers and men were greatly distressed, and Mr. Jefferson wrote a touching appeal to the governor in their behalf, and they were allowed to remain.

In June, 1779, Mr. Jefferson succeeded Mr. Henry as governor of Virginia, and the close of his administration was a period of great difficulty and danger. His state became the theatre of predatory warfare, the infamous Arnold having entered it with British and tory troops, and commenced spreading desolation with fire and sword along the James river. Richmond, the capital, was partly destroyed, and Jefferson and his council narrowly escaped capture. He tried, but in vain, to get possession of the person of Arnold, but the wily traitor was too cautious for him.

Very soon after his retirement to private life, Tarleton, who attempted to capture the members of the legislature convened at Charlottesville, a short distance from Jefferson's residence, came very near taking him prisoner. Jefferson had sent his family away in his carriage, and remained to attend to some matters in his dwelling, when he saw the cayalry ascending a hill toward his house. He mounted a fleet horse, dashed through the woods, and reached his family in safety.

M. de Marbois, secretary of the French legation in the United States, having questioned Mr. Jefferson respecting the resources, &c., of his native state, he wrote in 1781 his celebrated work entitled “ Notes on Virginia.” The great amount of information which it contains, and the simple perspicuity of its style, made its author exceedingly popular in Europe as a writer and man of science, in addition to his character as a statesman.

In 1782, he was appointed a minister plenipotentiary to assist others in negotiating a treaty of peace with Great Britain; but information of the preliminaries having been signed, reached Congress before his departure, and he did not go. He was soon after elected a delegate to Congress, and was chairman of the committee, in 1783, to whom the treaty with Great Britain was referred. On their report, the treaty was unanimously ratified.

* The officers and soldiers were very grateful to Mr. Jefferson, and when they were about to depart for England, the officers united in a letter of thanks to him. Mr. Jefferson, in reply, disclaimed the performance of any great service to them, and said : “ Opposed as we happen to be in our sentiments of duty and honor, and anxious for contrary events, I shall, neverthe. less, sincerely rejoice in every circumstance of happiness and safety which may attend you personally."

Sent às minister to France. — Appointed secretary of state.- Elected president of the United States

In 1784, he wrote an essay on coinage and currency for the United States, and to him we are indebted for the convenient denominations of our federal currency, the dollar as a unit, and the system of decimals,

In May of this year, he was appointed, with Adams and Franklin, a minister to negotiate treaties of commerce with foreign nations. In company with his eldest daughter, he reached Paris in August. Dr. Franklin having obtained leave to return horne, Mr. Jefferson was appointed to succeed him as minister at the French court, and he remained in France until October, 1789. While there, he became popular among the literati, and his society was courted by the leading writers of the day.

During his absence the constitution had been formed, and under it Washington had been elected and inaugurated president of the United States. His visit home was under leave of absence, but Washington offered him a seat in his cabinet as secretary of state, and gave him his choice to remain in that capacity or return to France. He chose to remain, and he was one of the most efficient aids to the president during the stormy period of his first administration. He differed in opinion with Washington respecting the kindling revolution in France, but he agreed with him on the question of the neutrality of the United States. His bold avowal of democratic sentiments, and his expressed sympathies with the struggling populace of France in their aspirations for republicanism, made him the leader of the democratic party here, opposed to the federal administration of Washington," and in 1793 he resigned his seat in the cabinet.

In 1796, he was the republican candidate for president, in opposition to John Adams. Mr. Adams succeeded, and Mr. Jefferson was elected vice-president. In 1800, he was again nominated for president, and received a majority of votes over Mr. Adams. Aaron Burr was on the ticket with him, and received an equal number of votes ; but on the thirty-sixth balloting, two of Burr's friends withdrew, and Mr. Jefferson was elected.

Mr. Jefferson was inaugurated at Washington on the 4th of March, 1801, and chose his cabinet from among his political friends. It was His policy respecting appointments to office.--Important acts of Congress. confidently expected by the federalists that he would cause a general removal from office of all opposed to his political views, but in this, to a great extent, they were disappointed. His appointments were from his own party ranks, but his removals were very few: and he announced his intention, as soon as the alleged abuses in this respect of the former administration should be corrected, to make the test-questions for office, “Is he honest ? Is he capable ? Is he faithful to the constitution ?" He was severely censured for his course in withholding some commissions issued by Mr. Adams, but he was sustained in his views by the supreme court. The film of party prejudice was too impervious for his political opponents to perceive honest motives or correct actions in him; and even now that film exists, and it is difficult to judge fairly of the orthodoxy of his views on questions of national policy. It is left for the experience of another generation to form a correct judgment.

* In 1791, Washington asked his opinion respecting a national bank, a bill for which had been passed by Congress and approved by Washington. He gave his opinion in writing, and strongly objected to the measure, as being unconstitutional.

+ At that time, the candidate receiving the next highest number of votes to the one elected president, was vice-president. The constitution on that point has since been altered. During the time he was vice-president, he wrote a manual for the senate, which is still the standard of parliamentary rule in Congress and other bodies.

James Madison was chosen secretary of state ; Henry Dearborn, of Massachusetts, secretary of war; and Levi Lincoln, of Massachusetts, attorney-general. Mr. Adams's secretaries of the treasury and the navy were continued in office a short time. Before the meeting of * In 1798, a law was passed making the time of residence for an alien, before he could be naturalized, fourteen years. The act in question made it five years.

The seventh Congress assembled in December, 1801, and the political parties were nearly equally divided, although the democrats were in the majority in both houses. Instead of delivering his communication to Congress in person, as usual, Mr. Jefferson transmitted a message in writing, which course has been ever since pursued as the most convenient and also most republican in its character. During the session, the law establishing circuit courts was repealed, and several judges appointed by Mr. Adams were deprived of office. An act was also passed for apportioning representatives by the census of 1800, the ratio being one representative for thirty-three thousand inhabitants; for fixing the military peace establishment, which provided for a military academy at West Point, on the Hudson river; for regulating trade with the Indian tribes ; for discontinuing duties on articles of domestic manufacture; for establishing a uniform system of naturalization ;* for redeeming the public debt by an annual appropriation of seven millions and three hundred thousand dollars to the sinking-fund; and for the formation of a portion of the northwest territory into a state. The state was admitted into the Union soon after, and called Ohio. Various suggestions of the president in relation to the curtailment of the public expenses were concurred in.

During the second session (1802–'3), very few important acts were passed, except one concerning the prohibition of the importation of slaves under certain circumstances; and another authorizing the executive to call upon the several states for troops when necessary.t Congress in December, Albert Gallatin, of Pennsylvania, was appointed secretary of the treasury, and Robert Smith, of Maryland, secretary of the navy.

+ This act was passed in consequence of some apprehensions of war with Spain, growing out of disputes concerning the southwestern boundary-line of the United States. Louisiana

E

« ZurückWeiter »