Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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JEFFERSON, Thomas, vice-president of the United States 1797-1801, and president 1801-9, was born at Shadwell, Va., April 2, 1743; and died at Monticello, Va., July 4, 1826. He was graduated at William and Mary college in 1762, was admitted to the bar in 1767, was a member of the house of burgesses 1769-74 (see REVOLUTION) and of the continental congress 1775-8 (see DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE), and was governor of Virginia 1779-81. He served as minister, first to Europe in general and then to France, 1784-9, and became secretary of state at the formation of the constitution. (See ADMINISTRATIONS, I.) His subsequent public career is a part of the history of the party which he founded. (See DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY, I.-III)


—An estimate of Jefferson's character and work involves much the same difficulties as in the case of his great rival, Hamilton. (See HAMILTON, ALEXANDER) Each was opposed in his own way to the advance of that curious complication of conflicting forces whose sum makes up American political history, and each has had warm, and often unreasonable, assailants and apologists. But, as Jefferson's maintenance of individual liberty involved an opposition to the development of nationalization in the United States, his private and public character have been subjected to criticism more minute, merciless and bitter than has ever been applied to Hamilton's. His infidelity, his cowardice, his shiftiness, his love of theory and lack of practicality, his bigotry in applying his theories to his opponents and his looseness in applying them to his friends or to himself, and, above all, his responsibility for the doctrine of nullification, have been dealt with by hands more skillful than have ever attacked Hamilton. The country has, in one sense, been growing away from Jefferson and toward Hamilton, so that the latter has always been, and will always be, more sure of a sympathetic criticism from the abler class of critics than the former.


—Jefferson's "infidelity" seems to have early settled down into a mild form of unitarianism, and his letters and those of President John Adams, show that the two were almost entirely at one in all essential points of religious belief. The different treatment of the two men, in this regard, by standard writers, is characteristic. In Adams' case, it is always slurred over as a matter interesting only to himself; in Jefferson's, the language of the orthodox New England clergy of his time is still the canon of criticism. The charge of cowardice rests only on his hurried escape from the British, while governor of Virginia. His responsibility for the doctrine of nullification is elsewhere considered. (See NULLIFICATION.) The charge of shiftiness and other bad qualities above specified rests on a different basis. It is really due to the needlessly high plane on which he set his political theory to work. His doctrine that every broad construction of the doubtful powers of the federal government is a violation of the organic law, is, in brief. illegal, was never recognized by his opponents or maintained in practice by himself or his disciples. The former recognized only expediency or inexpediency as a test of construction; and the latter, whenever they yielded in any degree to the irresistible current of events and relaxed their rule of action, laid themselves open to the charges of bigotry in applying their political theory to their opponents and of looseness in applying it to themselves. (See DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY, VI.)


—Before 1789 Jefferson's political work consisted in his authorship of the act for religious toleration in Virginia, and of the declaration of independence. After 1789 his work consisted in the organization of the democratic-republican party (which see). This last work deserves consideration from several different sides. 1. From the point of view of the individual it was almost wholly beneficent. The individual American citizen is very largely indebted to the spread of Jeffersonian ideas for his unrestricted right of suffrage, his voluntary religious status, and his active individualistic life, free equally from the control of classes and from sympathy with the prejudices of classes, to which Hamilton was strongly addicted. 2. From the point of view of the states its influence was mixed, good and bad. On the one hand, by maintaining between the individual and the national government the shield of a powerful series of state corporations, it protected the individual, simplified the work of the national government, and made its expansion over an enormous territory a possibility and a success. On the other hand, its secondary development was naturally into a state feeling for the sake of the state or of a section, not of the individual. (See STATE SOVEREIGNTY.) On the whole, in spite of the heavy weight of the war of the rebellion in the scale of evil, the good seems to have largely predominated. 3. From the national point of view the influence of Jefferson's work seems at first sight to have been wholly bad. It hampered the efficiency of the national government, indirectly endangered its existence by the development of the excrescence of state sovereignty, and in a variety of ways impeded the growth of a real national feeling. Nevertheless, even in this apparent evil, the good has predominated. If the growth of national feeling has been slower because of the adverse influence of Jeffersonian ideas, it has been all the healthier for it, and will last the longer. Rapid growth implies early decay, and it is almost equally reason for gratitude that the national idea has been established and that it has been established slowly and naturally. Again, while Jefferson's work could never have prevented the final establishment of nationality, it has succeeded in guarding under it the rights of the individual, for which the original Hamiltonian idea had comparatively little regard. (See NATION.) On the whole, the ultimate combination of the two forces could hardly be better stated than in the words of a writer in "The Nation" (cited under HAMILTON, ALEXANDER): "At the present moment Jefferson rules in the manner and after the methods prescribed by Hamilton. Hamilton's theory perished before the advance of democratic principles; but Jefferson utterly failed to destroy the wise system devised by his opponent."


—Jefferson's Works have been twice collected. The best and most comprehensive edition is that of H. A. Washington in nine volumes (1853); the most convenient is that of T. J Randolph, in four volumes (1829). The best Life is that of II. S. Randall (1858); see also Carpenter's Memoirs of Jefferson (1809). Rayner's Life of Jefferson (1834); Tucker's Life of Jefferson (1837); Smuckers' Life and Times of Jefferson (1839); DeWitt's (Church's trans.) Jefferson and the American Democracy (1862); Parton's Life of Jefferson (1874); Abbott's (or Lincoln's) Lives of the Presidents; 1 Statesman's Manual (for his messages): 2 Brougham's Eminent Statesmen (edit 1854), 320, Parker's Historie Americans, 235: Cobb's Miscellanies, 5: Atlantic Monthly. January, 1862; Lippincott's Magazine, September, 1868, National Quarterly Review, March, 1875. The favorable view of Jefferson's work will generally be found in the authorities under DEMOCRATIC REPUBLICAN PARTY; the other side in the authorities cited under FEDERAL PARTY, see also Danvers' Picture of a republican magistrate of the new school (1808); II. Lee's Observations on the Writings of Jefferson (1832); Dwight's Character of Jefferson, as exhibited in his Writings (1839). For his private life see J. E. Cooke's Youth of Jefferson (1854); Pierson Jefferson at Monticello (1862), S. N. Randolph's Domestic Life of Jefferson (1871). and his autobiography in his Works.


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