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On the morning of March 4, 1801, Mr. Jefferson tied his horse to the fence and walked alone into the Capitol to take the oath of office as President. Mr. Madison was not present at that perfunctory ceremony, the death of his aged father detaining him at home. He soon after, however, assumed the duties of the station to which Mr. Jefferson had called him, and there he remained till he took the presidential office, in his turn, eight years afterward.

The new dynasty entered upon its course under happy circumstances. There was, of course, much to fear from the condition of affairs in Europe; for the United States must needs be in a perilous position so long as the struggle for supremacy continued between France and England, and that would be while Napoleon could command an army. But the danger of war with France was no longer imminent, since Mr. Adams had wisely re?stablished friendly relations, though many of the leading Federalists believed it was at the cost of ruin to his own party. English aggressions upon American commerce had for the moment ceased, as[243] fourteen years afterward they ceased altogether, when the provocation disappeared with the permanent establishment of peace in Europe. In the temporary lull of the tempest the sun shone out of a serene sky, and the land was blessed with quiet and prosperity. "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none," the President said in his inaugural address, were among "the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape its administration." The condition of the country was in accord with the thought and may even have suggested it. "We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists," said Jefferson in his inaugural: it was meant, however, as an avowal of a tolerant belief in the patriotism of both parties, rather than, as has sometimes been supposed, an assertion that party lines, so clearly drawn in the election, were at length obliterated. But hardly a year had passed before this seemed to be almost literally true. One after another, States hitherto Federal, both at the North and at the South, went over in their state elections to the Republican or Democratic party; till, with the exception of Delaware, there was not a single Federal State outside of New England; and even in that stronghold one State, Rhode Island, had marched off with the majority. "Everywhere," wrote Madison in October, "the progress of the public sentiment mocks the cavils and clamors of the malignant adversaries of the administration."

[244]If it may not be asserted that this overthrow of the Federal rule was fortunate at that juncture,—as nothing is more idle in history than speculation upon what might have been,—it may at least be said that Jefferson's administration for his first four years was a happy one for his country and acceptable to his countrymen. None since Washington's has ever been so popular; and no other, except Lincoln's, has ever been so successful. Nor can it be said of it that it was a happy period because it is without a history; for it included acts of moment, accepted then with an approbation and enthusiasm which time has justified. Not less shallow is that view of his character and of those years of his administration, taken by many of his contemporaries, who neither loved nor respected him, and who attributed his success and his popularity to his good fortune. This was a favorite and easy way, among his political opponents, of explaining a disagreeable fact. Parton notes in his Life that C. C. Pinckney could only understand Jefferson's hold upon public confidence as "the infatuation of the people." John Quincy Adams said: "Fortune has taken a pleasure in making Jefferson's greatest weaknesses and follies issue more successfully than if he had been inspired with the profoundest wisdom." "When the people," said Gouverneur Morris, "have been long enough drunk, they will get sober; but while the frolic lasts, to reason with them is useless." There has been more than one occasion of late years, and[245] in more than one place, where this may be truly said of popular political enthusiasm; but it was not true of that which prevailed for the first four years of this century; and Mr. Adams's sarcasm can hardly fail to recall the fact that when Mr. Jefferson, in his second term, was really guilty of a great folly in adhering to a prolonged embargo, it was Mr. Adams who committed one of the few follies of his own life in abandoning his party to give his support to the President's blunder.

Though there were many changes in Mr. Jefferson's cabinet in the course of eight years, they were not the result of dissensions. Yet he was, perhaps, more an absolute President than any other man who has ever held that position. He sought and listened to counsel, no doubt; but taking it was another matter. He certainly did not take it if it did not suit him; and if it was not likely to suit him, he was in no hurry to ask for it. It was in his own fertile brain, not in the suggestions of others, that important measures had their birth. That trait in his character which phrenologists have named secretiveness largely governed his actions. It was natural for him to bring things about quietly and skillfully by setting others to do what he wanted done, without himself being seen, though sometimes there was no other motive than the mere gratification of secretiveness. He preferred often to suggest measures quietly to congressmen rather than to Congress, though the result in either case might be the same.[246] At other times, where the end to be attained was of great importance and he was absolutely sure only of himself, he boldly took the responsibility, as he did in the purchase of Louisiana, and in the suppression of the Monroe-Pinckney treaty with England in his second term. It is not surprising, therefore, that Madison's part, during the eight years of Jefferson's presidency, is found to be more a secondary one than is usual with a secretary of state, or than was usual with him. He was in perfect accord with his chief, who held always in the highest esteem his knowledge and judgment, and sought, no doubt, his sound and moderate advice when he thought he needed advice from anybody. But Madison's influence is less visible in Jefferson's administration than in Washington's, when he was in the opposition. Washington, where he doubted his own ability to decide a question and felt the need of enlightenment, was accustomed to call in Madison, though he did not always accept his friend's conclusions. It was rarely that Jefferson was troubled with any doubt of his own judgment in the discussion or decision of any question that might come before him.

The most important measure of his administration was peculiarly his own, and when once determined upon it was pushed to a conclusion with vigor and courage. Nobody doubts now, or has doubted since the abolition of slavery, that the purchase of Louisiana was an act of sound statesmanship. Jefferson did not foresee that the acqui[247]sition of that fertile territory would stimulate a domestic trade in slaves, as profitable to the slave-breeding as to the slave-consuming States; or that, as slavery increased and brought prosperity and power to a class, there would grow up an oligarchy, resting on ownership in negroes, which, within sixty years, would have to be uprooted at an enormous cost. But his aim was to secure the peaceful possession of the Mississippi territory on both its banks, as a permanent settlement of a question which, so long as it remained open, was a perpetual menace of war with one or another European power. That danger would always involve the possibility of the Appalachian range becoming the western boundary of the United States; in which case the valley of the Mississippi, and the vast region west of it, would fall into the power of an alien people. So far was plain to Mr. Jefferson; but the result of the rebellion of 1861 proves that he was wiser than he knew when he acquired the territory stretching to the Sabine and the foot of the Rocky Mountains for the occupation of a free people.

It is not necessary to repeat here the story of the purchase. The news of it reached Washington in July and was received with enthusiasm. That there was no warrant in the Constitution for an acquisition of territory by purchase was manifest; and Mr. Jefferson's opponents were not in the least backward in heaping reproaches and ridicule upon the great champion of strict construction, who had[248] no hesitation in violating the Constitution when it seemed to him wise to do so. Both the President and his secretary frankly met the accusation by acknowledging its entire justice; but at the same time they put in, as a sufficient defense, the plea of the general welfare. This did not abate the ridicule, though the argument was a hard one for the Federalists to withstand; for it could not be forgotten that it was on this ground that Hamilton, as secretary of the treasury, had justified the imposition of certain taxes, and the Republicans had maintained that the plain limitations of the Constitution could not be overstepped on such a plea, even for the general good. Jefferson was so sensitive to this constitutional objection that he proposed to meet it by an amendment to the Constitution; but it was soon evident that the unwritten law of manifest destiny did not need the appeal to the ballot-box. "The grumblers," Jefferson wrote to a friend soon after the news of the treaty was received, "gave all the credit of the acquisition to the accident of war." "They would see," he added, in records on file, "that though we could not say when war would arise, yet we said with energy what would take place when it should arise." He only meant by this, probably, that from the beginning of his administration he had been prepared to take advantage of circumstances when war should break out again between England and France, as it was evident enough to the whole world that it must break out sooner or later. That the particu[249]lar conjunction of circumstances, however, would occur that did occur, could not have been foreseen. Jefferson could have had no prescience that Spain would reconvey Louisiana to France; that Napoleon would enter at once upon extensive preparations for colonization on the banks of the Mississippi; and that he would be willing to relinquish this important step in his great scheme of a universal Latin Empire, that he might devote himself to the necessary preliminary work of subduing his most formidable enemy of the rival race. But it is Jefferson's best title to fame that he was ready to take advantage of this conjunction of incidents at exactly the right moment. Doubtless the progress of civilization would have been essentially the same had he never been born. But having been born it fell to him to contribute largely to the events that have distributed the race speaking the English tongue the most widely over the globe, and to exercise a powerful influence upon the age. It does not detract from the merit of his act, however, that he by no means saw all its importance, nor even dreamed of its consequences. The region beyond the Mississippi, he thought, might be made useful as a refuge for Indian tribes of the East; but he neither saw nor could see then that the purchase of Louisiana was the essential though only the preliminary step toward the occupation of the continent to the Pacific by the English race. The expedition of Lewis and Clarke, which he sent out the next year, was in the interest of science,[250] and especially of geography, rather than of any possible settlement of that distant region. Indeed, he said that if the new acquisition of territory were wisely managed, so as to induce the eastern Indians to cross the great river, the result would be the "condensing, instead of scattering, our population." But "man proposes and God disposes."

The immediate consequences, however, of the acquisition of Louisiana were enough to bring almost universal popularity to the President, especially at the South and West, without any revelation of the future. Nor was the act the less popular because it was an immediate stimulus to the foreign slave trade, partly because at the North that excited but little interest, and partly because at the South it excited a great deal. The abolition societies, it is true, asked that the importation of slaves from Africa into the annexed territory should be forbidden; and an act was passed prohibiting their introduction, except by those persons from other parts of the United States who intended to be actual settlers, and were, therefore, permitted to bring slaves imported previous to 1798. But the law might properly have been entitled An Act for the Encouragement of the Trade in Negroes; and so it seems to have been regarded by the older slave States. South Carolina reopened the trade to Africa, and, as Congress failed to levy the constitutional tax of ten dollars a head, the raw material, so to speak, came in free. The rest could be safely left to the law of supply[251] and demand. Neither South Carolina nor any other State had imported slaves since 1798. The whole slave population, therefore, could be legally taken into Louisiana by actual settlers, and its place supplied in the old States by new importations. The demand regulated the supply, and the supply came from Africa as truly as if the importation had been direct to New Orleans. This was the legal course of trade till 1808; thenceforward it flourished, without the protection of law but in spite of it, so long as it was profitable,—so long, that is, as the natural increase of the eastern negro was insufficient to answer the demand of the south-western market.

But, besides the peaceful extension of the national domain, there was much else in the first four or five years of Jefferson's administration to commend it to his countrymen. His party had nothing to complain of, despite that genial and generous assurance of the inaugural which could not be forgotten,—"we are all Republicans; we are all Federalists;" and the other party had reason to be thankful that, considering, as he said, "a Federalist seldom died, and never resigned," the number was not large who were reminded, by their removal from office, of their unreasonable delay in doing either the one thing or the other. It was only the politicians, however, a class much smaller then than it is now, who were concerned in such matters; the people at large were influenced by other considerations. Credit was given[252] to the President for things that he did not do, as well as for things that he did. It was due to him that the administration was an economical one, but it was through Mr. Gallatin's skillful management of the finances that the old public debt was in process of speedy extinction. Occasional impeachments enlivened the proceedings of Congress, which otherwise were as harmless as they were dull. Jefferson was never so much out of his proper element as in war, yet a successful one was carried on, during his first term, with the Barbary States which put an end for many years to the exactions and outrages which had long been needlessly submitted to. It was a war, however, of only a few naval vessels in the hands of such energetic and brave men, destined to become famous in later years, as Bainbridge, Decatur, Preble, and Barron; and to send off the expedition was about all the government had to do with it. It was easy to keep clear of "entangling alliances," or entanglements of any sort with European powers, so long as they left the commerce of the United States to pursue its peaceful and profitable course without molestation. This both England and France did for several years, and there fell, in consequence, an immense carrying trade into the hands of American merchants, which brought prosperity to the whole country such as was never known before, and was not known again, after it was lost, for near a quarter of a century. All these things made Mr. Jefferson acceptable to the people as[253] almost a heaven-appointed President. If, as John Quincy Adams thought, Fortune delighted to beam upon him with her sunniest smiles, he knew, at least, how best to take advantage of them. While they lasted, his secretary of state sat in their light and warmth, quietly and contentedly busy and in the diligent and faithful discharge of official duty, which could not in those years of prosperous tranquillity be over-burdensome.


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