THE JEFFERSONIAN ERA
The “Revolution of 1800": Thomas Jefferson Is Elected President
1800 Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants, at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder, and waste. And I do verily believe that if the principle were to prevail, of a common law being in force in the United States,... it would become the most corrupt government on earth....
The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very inexpensive one — a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants. Thomas Jefferson, letter to Gideon Granger of Connecticut, in which he spells out his ideas on limited government (August 13, 1800).
1801 If there be a man in the world I ought to hate it is Jefferson.... But the public good must be [more important than] every other consideration. Federalist Alexander Hamilton, on President Thomas Jefferson, leader of the Anti-Federalists.
All... will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and with one mind....
[E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.... We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong, that this government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not.
I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government.
Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the to use of our own faculties, to the acquisition of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence; which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter — with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people?
Still one thing more, fellow citizens — a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.... Pres. Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801).
1803. It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Chief Justice John Marshall, in Marbury v. Madison, claiming the power of judicial review of legislation by the Supreme Court.
The Louisiana Purchase (1804)
1804 [There will be] distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand [the nation]... & cover the whole northern if not the southern continent. Thomas Jefferson, on American expansion
1804 From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank. Robert Livingston, on the Louisiana Purchase
Lewis and Clark
1803 The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, and such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the water of the Pacific Ocean may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce. Pres. Thomas Jefferson, Instructions to Capt. William Clark.
1805 Great joy in camp. We are in view of the ocean, this great Pacific Ocean which we have been so long anxious to see. Capt. Meriwether Lewis, diary entry of November 7, when the Lewis and Clarke expedition reached the Pacific Ocean.
Political Conflicts in Jefferson’s Administration
1804 [Aaron Burr is a] dangerous man... who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government. Former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, on Vice President Burr, who killed Hamilton in a duel in July 1804.
1804 The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves... but for the Legislature and Executive also.., would make the Judiciary a [tyrannical] branch. Pres. Thomas Jefferson, attacking the Supreme Court’s decision in Marbury v. Madison, in a letter to Abigail Adams.
The Embargo Act (1807) and Its Consequences
1807 Our trade is the most powerful weapon we can use in our defense. Editorial in a Republican newspaper supporting Jefferson’s trade embargo with Britain and France.
1807 How much longer are you going to keep this Embargo on to starve us poor people?.... One of my children has already starved to death. Letter attacking Jefferson’s Embargo policy.
1807 You infernal villain. How much longer are you going to keep this... Embargo on to starve us poor people..... You must... afford us some kind of relief.... I wish you could feel as bad as I do. John Lane Jones, unemployed Boston laborer, in a letter to President Jefferson
1807 [The embargo was like] trying to cure the corn by cutting off the toes. John Randolph of Virginia on the Embargo.