1902 Encyclopedia > Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
3rd President of the United States

THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826), the third president of the United States, and the most conspicuous apostle of Democracy in America, was born April 2, 1743, at Shadwell, Albemarle county, in the State of Virginia, a region of which his father Peter Jefferson, an obscure and unlettered planter, was the third or fourth settler.

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Thomas Jefferson

At the early age of five years Thomas was sent to an school, and from that time until he finished his studies at William and Mary’s College in 1762 appears to have enjoyed superior educational advantages, and to have turned them all to good account. He carried with him from college, at nineteen, a tolerably thorough reading knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and French languages, to which he added a familiarity with the higher mathematics and natural sciences only possessed at his age by men who have, as he had, a rare natural faculty for the prosecution of those studies. Soon after leaving college he entered the law office of Mr George Wythe, then at the head of the Virginia bar, and withal, Jefferson being judge, "the best Latin and Greek scholar in the State." In Mr Wythe he found a "faithful and beloved mentor in youth and most affectionate friend through life." In 1767, after five years’ close application to the study of his profession, he was admitted to the bar. The death of his father in 1757 left Thomas, who was the eldest son, heir to the estate on which he was born, and which yielded him an income of about £400 a year, a sum in those days sufficient to gratify all his tastes, and to give him, as he matured, the position of an independent country gentleman. At the time of his admission to the bar he is described by his contemporaries as 6 feet 2 inches in height, slim, erect as an arrow, with angular features, a very ruddy complexion, an extremely delicate skin, full deep-set hazel eyes, and sandy hair, an expert musician (the violin being his favourite instrument), a good dancer, a dashing rider, and a proficient in all manly exercises. He was, and continued through life, frank, earnest, cordial, and sympathetic in his manner, full of confidence in men, and sanguine in his views of life.

Though mostly known to fame as a statesman, Jefferson’s success as a lawyer showed that the bar had no rewards which were not fairly within his reach. He had sixty-eight cases before the chief court of the province the first year of his practice, and nearly twice that number the second. In the fourth, his register shows that he was employed in four hundred and thirty cases. During the eight years that he continued in active practice his income had enabled him to live like a gentleman, and to add a few hundred acres to his landed estate from time to time, until his inheritance of 1900 acres had become, in 1774, 5000 acres, and all paid for. But, while fired with the Virginian passion of the period for acquiring land, Jefferson does not appear to have shared the passion which usually accompanied it, of multiplying slaves to clear and till it. He was one of the first of English-speaking statesmen with foresight enough to discover the thunders with which the dark cloud of slavery was charged, and with courage enough to warn his countrymen against them. It does not appear that he ever acquired any slaves by purchase and as an investment.

In 1767 Governor Fauquier, the colonial governor of Virginia, died. The arrival of the new governor, Baron de Botetourt, in October 1768, was followed, according to usage, by the dismissal of the House of Burgesses, and a new election was ordered. Jefferson, offering himself as a candidate, was elected from the county of Albemarle, and continued to be annually re-elected until the House of Burgesses was closed by the revolution. His public career began, like that of some of the greatest parliamentarians before him, in a mortifying failure. In conformity with a usage brought from the mother country of selecting one of the younger members to draft the reply to the governor’s speech, this complimentary duty was devolved upon Jefferson. He confined himself too closely for the taste of the committee to the language of the resolutions which he was expected to amplify and glorify. His address was rejected, and the duty of preparing a substitute was confided to another member. This humiliation doubtless had some share in giving to his pen the parliamentary distinction usually won only by the tongue; for he was no orator -- indeed, though one of the foremost members of several deliberative bodies in his time, he can fairly be said to have never made a speech.

Jefferson’s legislative duties were not destined to detain him long from his profession. The king having abandoned the policy of levying internal taxes, and directed instead that a duty upon certain leading articles of foreign commerce should be levied at the custom-houses in the colonies, in the spring of 1769 a messenger arrived at Williamsburg, then the seat of government of Virginia, announcing to the House of Burgesses the firm resolve of Massachusetts to resist these duties by all constitutional means, and asking the concurrence and co-operation of Virginia. On the third day of the session of the House of Burgesses four resolutions were adopted with substantial unanimity, in harmony with those adopted by Massachusetts. The first declared against taxation without representation; the second, that the colonies may concur and co-operate in seeking redress of grievances; the third, that sending accused persons away from their country for trial is an inexpressible complexity of wrong; the fourth, that they should send an address on these topics to the "father of all his people," beseeching his "royal interposition." On the following day, and without waiting for an official copy of these resolutions to reach him, Governor Botetourt dissolved the House of Burgesses.

Thus in five days terminated for the present Jefferson’s career as a legislator. But, though brief and crowned with no results to satisfy his ambition, history does not pronounce his first experience as a legislator inglorious, for it was illustrated by an effort, which was not the less honourable to him because it was unsuccessful, to ameliorate the condition of the African bondmen in Virginia. The law of those days forbade the manumission of a slave, except upon the condition that he was immediately sent out of the State. Jefferson desired the repeal of this law. His efforts were not only unsuccessful, but they developed such a state of feeling upon the subject as to bring into grand relief the courage which even at that early day ventured to propose such a measure.

The day after the House of Burgesses dispersed, its members met a public hall in the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, and following the example of Massachusetts, resolved, with a near approach to unanimity -- (1) to be more saving and industrious; (2) never to buy any article taxed by parliament for revenue, except low qualities of paper which they could not dispense with, nor (3) to import any article from Britain or in British ships if they could help it, until the offensive Act was repealed; and (4) to save all their lambs for wool. Every man who signed the agreement was re-elected, and every man who refused lost his election.

On February 1, 1770, while Jefferson and his mother were absent from home, his house was burned down. He had, however, already began clearing the grounds and preparing for the erection of a new residence at Monticello, which occupied no inconsiderable portion of his time and thoughts for the next two years, and which was destined to become, for more than half a century, the most distinguished seat of private hospitality in America. On the 1st of January 1772 he married Martha Skelton, a widowed daughter of a wealthy neighbour and associate at the bar of Williamsburg, of large fortune in lands and slaves. The lady was very handsome, childless, fond of music, twenty-three; she proved to him a loving and devoted wife, and was the centre of a domestic circle the joys of which seemed only to be intensified and consecrated by the distractions of his public life.

In the spring of 1773 Jefferson was appointed by the House of Burgesses a member of "a Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry for the Dissemination of Intelligence between the Colonies." The appointment of this committee responded to the necessity then beginning to be felt by all the colonies of making common cause against the pretensions of the Crown, and looked to a convention in which their united purposes might find expression. The resolutions which gave birth to this committee provoked an immediate dissolution of the House, but its members were all re-elected.

Soon after they had resumed their sittings in the following spring, news reached them of what is known in history as "The Boston Port Bill," by which the chief port of Massachusetts was to be closed to commerce on the 1st if June of that year (1774). The House of Burgesses thereupon set apart that day for fasting, humiliation, and prayer, thereby provoking from the governor another dissolution, May 20, 1774. This immediately led to the selection of delegates from the several counties to meet at Williamsburg in August, to consider the state of the colony, and to provide for an annual congress of the colonies. Jefferson was chosen a delegate to the State Convention, but, owing to sudden indisposition which overtook him on his way, was unable to attend. His influence there, however, was not to be wanting, for much of the interval between the dissolution of the House and the meeting of the Convention was devoted to the consideration and preparation of a series of instructions for the deputies who were to be sent to the General Congress, which was to meet at Philadelphia in September. In these instructions, which he had intended himself to propose, could he have been present, he maintained "that the relation between Great Britain and these colonies was exactly the same as that of England and Scotland after the accession of James and until the Union, and the same as her present relations with Hanover -- having the same executive chief, but no other necessary political connexion; and that over emigration to this country gave no more rights over us than the emigration of the Danes and Saxons gave to the present authorities of the mother country over England."

These instructions, though too radical then for the purpose for which they were designed, were laid upon the table of the delegates, read by many, published in a pamphlet entitled A Summary View of the Rights of America, and extensively circulated. It ran through edition after edition in England, after receiving such modifications (attributed to the pen of Burke) as adapted it to the purposes of the Opposition; and it procured for its author, to use his own language, "the honour of having his names inserted in a long list of proscriptions enrolled in a bill of attainder commenced in one of the two Houses of Parliament, but suppressed in embryo by the hasty course of events." This paper placed Jefferson among the leaders, if not at the head of the revolutionary movement in America -- events rapidly ripening in the public mind its novel and startling doctrines. The Declaration of Independence two years later, of which he asked that his tombstone should testify as the greatest achievement of his life, was but a perfected transcript of the Summary View.

Jefferson was the leading spirit in the succeeding sessions of the Virginia Convention; he was one of a committee of thirteen appointed to report a plan for arming Virginia; he was named a delegate to the General Congress, where he took his seat eight days after Colonel George Washington had been appointed by Congress commander-in-chief of the armies of the colonies; and he was placed upon the committee to draw up a statement of the causes which had impelled the colonies to take up arms against the mother country, and upon another committee to report on Lord North’s conciliatory proposition." In the winter of 1775-6 disastrous news arrived from England. The king in opening parliament had denounced the colonists as rebels, and recommended decisive coercive measures against them; and this was promptly followed by a law authorizing the confiscation of American vessels and cargoes, and those of all nations found trading in American ports, and the impressment of American crews into the British navy. This measure and the large vote by which it was passed instantly crystallized the colonies, and on the 11th June 1776 Congress appointed Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston to prepare a Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson at the request of his associates prepared a draft of the Declaration, which, after two or three verbal corrections by them, was taken up for consideration in the House on the 2nd of July. In the debate on the Declaration Jefferson took no part, "thinking it a duty to be on that occasion a passive auditor of the opinions of others, more impartial judges than he could be of its merits." Two or three expressions had been used which gave offence to some members: The words "Scotch and other foreign auxiliaries" were resented by some delegates of Scottish birth; and the strictures on the king’s repeated veto of colonial laws repealing the law which permitted the slave trade were disapproved by some of the southern delegates.

On the evening of the 4th of July 1776 the Declaration was reported back from the committee of the whole House, and agreed to. Circumstances have given an historical importance to this document somewhat disproportioned to its merits as a statement of the grievances of the colonies; for it seemed to be the weapon that dismembered a great empire, and that give birth to a nation of unlimited possibilities; it gave guarantees for the fame of its author which are possessed by no other production of an American pen; for more than a century it has been read to assembled multitudes in every considerable town in the United States on the anniversary of its adoption; and its style and sentiments have been the model for every people which since that time has sought to assert for itself the right of self-government.

Jefferson continued to participate actively in the efforts to organize the government of the confederation, and prepare it for the life and death struggle which was impending, until the 2nd of September, when he resigned, to take his seat in the legislature of Virginia, to which he had been elected, and where he thought his services would be most needed. "When I left Congress in ’76," he says in his autobiography, "it was in the persuasion that our whole code must be reviewed, adapted to our republican form of government, and, now that we had no negatives of councils, governors, or kings to restrain us from doing right, that it be corrected in all its parts with a single eye to reason and the good of those for whose government it was framed."

To this task he now devoted himself. Of the various measures introduced in furtherance of this purpose he says: "I considered four, passed or reported, as forming a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient or future aristocracy, and a foundation laid for a government truly republican." These were -- the repeal of the laws of entail, the abolition of primogeniture and equal partition of inheritances, the restoration of the rights of conscience and relief of the people from taxation for the support of a religion not theirs, and a system of general education. He tried to add to these, but without success, the introduction of trial by jury into the courts of chancery, and to provide for the gradual emancipation of the slaves. He did, however, introduce a bill, which passed without opposition, forbidding importation of slaves into the State -- the only important change effected in the slave system of Virginia during the revolutionary period.

The importance he attached to his work in Virginia at this time he showed by resigning seat in Congress, and by declining the appointment tendered him by Congress in 1776, to go with the Franklin to Paris, to assist in negotiating treatise of commerce and alliance with France.

In the third year of the war (1779), and just as the darkest and most threatening clouds were gathering over Virginia, Jefferson was elected governor. The enemy had decided to carry the war into the south. The commonwealth was almost defenseless, all her military resources having been exhausted in sustaining Washington’s policy of driving the enemy out of the north. Arnold entered Richmond, recently become the capital, on the 5th of January 1781, and ravaged the place. The legislature, which had taken refuge at Charlottesville, were pursued and dispersed by Tarleton, who immediately sent a party to capture Jefferson at Monticello. He narrowly escaped, his pursuers being in sight of him as he mounted his horse and rode off to join his family. Though Monticello was spared by Tarleton’s order, Jefferson’s estate of Elk Hill, on the James river, was less fortunate. It was completely despoiled by the orders of Cornwallis.

It was natural that the ineffectual resistance made to the enemy in Virginia should have exposed the governor’s conduct to criticism, for few knew, as he did, that a more effective defence was impossible without weakening the northern army, and totally disarranging the plans upon which the commander-in-chief wisely relied for the ultimate success of the national defence. An investigation of his conduct was threatened; but when it was ascertained that he had been acting in harmony with the policy of Washington, the investigation was not abandoned but the legislature shortly after the expiration of his term of office resolved unanimously "That the thanks of the general assembly to be given to our former governor, Thomas Jefferson, for his impartial upright, and attentive administration while in office. The assembly wish to declare in the strongest manner the high opinion which they entertain of Mr Jefferson’s ability, rectitude, and integrity as chief magistrate in this commonwealth, and mean, by thus publicly avowing their opinion, to obviate and to remove all censure." Jefferson became sensible that in the exhausted condition of Virginia, without money, without equipment, without troops, without any currency except the products of the soil, no governor not a trained soldier could hope to retain the confidence of the people during the crisis, and therefore he determined to decline re-election.

In 1782 he was summoned by Congress to act as one of the plentipotentiaries to negotiate a treaty of peace with the mother country, but the business was found to be so far advanced before he was ready to sail that the appointment was recalled, and we find him at the following winter session occupying his seat in Congress, where, as chairman of the committee to which it was referred, he reported the definitive treaty of peace with England. At the succeeding session he introduced as elaborate report, and secured the adoption of the system of coinage which is still in vogue in the United States. In the same session he drafted the report of a plan for the government of the vast territory lying to the northwest of the Ohio river, which Virginia had ceded to the Federal Government in 1780. Among other provisions which he suggested, and which were adopted, was one the big with a rebellion of far more threatening propositions than that which its author had just assisted in bringing to a successful issue. The clause in question provided "that after the year 1800 of the Christian era there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall be duly convicted to have been personally guilty." It was the attempt to organize the States from this territory in defiance of this restriction that led to the war of 1861, and to the final, though costly, vindication of Jefferson’s sagacity and forecast in 1783.

In 1784, Jefferson was again commissioned by Congress as minister plenipotentiary, this time to assist Franklin and Adams in negotiating treatise of commerce with European states. He joined his associates in Paris in July. The mission upon which he was sent proved somewhat premature. Jefferson, wisely judging that fuller and more correct information about America must precede any successful attempts to deal with European states to advantage, printed at his own expense, and distributed among his friends, some Notes on Virginia, which he had prepared two years before. It was in these notes that the oft-quoted passage occurs; "I tremble for my country when I think that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep for ever; that, considering numbers, nature, and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situations, is among possible events; that it may become probable by supernatural interference. The Almighty has no attribute that can take sides with us in such a contest." A very bad translation of a copy of the Notes which had found its way to France having made its appearance in Paris, Jefferson felt he had no longer any motive for trying to limit their usefulness to the few discreet friends to whom he had addressed them. [Footnote 615-1]

In January 1785 Dr Franklin, after eight years’ residence at the French court, pressed his application to the relieved, and Jefferson was selected, as he gracefully put it in presenting his letters of credence, "to succeed him, for no one could replace him." Jefferson was exceedingly popular as a minister, and was fortunate in securing several important modifications of the French tariff in the interests of American commerce.

In the summer of 1789 Washington, who had been elected president of the United States under the new constitution, gave Jefferson leave of absence, and soon after his arrival in America, "as well from motives of private regard as a conviction of public propriety," tendered him the office of the secretary of the state. Reluctant as Jefferson was to leave Paris, he yielded at once to the wishes of the president, and entered upon the duties of his new office in March 1790.

Alexander Hamilton, who was the head of the Federal party as distinguished from the Democratic, of which Jefferson was the most conspicuous representative, was appointed the secretary of the treasury. They represented the two great schools of political thought which contented for mastery in American politics, not only during Washington’s administration, but for the succeeding sixty years, and until their differences were merged in the graver and more absorbing issues that grew out of the conflict between free and servile labour. Jefferson was an advocate of State sovereignty and of decentralization. He was strongly opposed to the leading features of the British constitution, and in cordial sympathy with the new school of politics which had recently begun to be felt in the government of France. His five years’ residence in that country had greatly strengthened him in these views, and they more or less affected his treatment of all questions that came before him as a cabinet minister. Hamilton’s great fear, on the other hand, was that the central government under the new constitution would be too weak, and he favoured all measures that tended to exalt and strengthen the executive, and to bring the government more in harmony with that of England. Washington very prudently gave the victory to the partisan of neither theory, though his sympathies were supposed to be more frequently with the Federal than with the Republican leader.

The most perplexing questions with occupied Jefferson’s attention as secretary of state grew out of the war declared by France in 1793 against Holland and Great Britain. What should be the neutral policy and what were to be insisted upon as the neutral rights of the United States? Upon this question both parties put forth their whole strength. The Republicans, under Jefferson’s lead, pretty generally sympathized with the French, and were inclined to authorize privateers to be fitted out in American ports to cruise against English vessels. This policy was energetically and wisely resisted by the Federalists, who were for peace with all and entangling with none. Jefferson advocated the propriety of receiving a diplomatic representative from the French republic. In this his advice prevailed, and Genest was promptly sent as minister. With more zeal than discretion he proceeded at once to fit out privateers, and empower French consuls in the United States to organize courts of admiralty to condemn prizes. This led to heated discussions in the cabinet, and finally to the recall of Genest.

Partly from discontent with a position in which he did not feel that he enjoyed the absolute, which meant pretty much the exclusive, confidence of the president, and partly because of the embarrassed condition of his private affairs, due mainly to the ravages of war, Jefferson resigned his seat in the cabinet December 31, 1793, and retired to Monticello.

There he remained till the fall of 1796, when he was made vice-president at the election which called John Adams to the presidency. The duties of this position being limited to presiding over the Senate during its sessions, Jefferson spent most of the four years of the official term in improving his estate, and by his counsels directing the policy of the party of which he was the acknowledge leader. The excesses of the reign of Terror had worked a formidable reaction in America against the sympathizers with revolutionists in France. This, with the aggressive policy of the Directory, and the insulting reception given to the American envoys in Paris, for a time paralysed the Republican party.

President Adams, mistaking the reaction there against republicanism, was betrayed into a series of ill-considered measures, which were not long in telling upon the fortunes of his party. Among these measures the most unfortunate perhaps were the alien and the sedition laws, the former empowering the president to expel from the country such aliens as he should deem dangerous, and the latter punishing as seditions , with fine and imprisonment, the printing or uttering malicious charges against the president or Congress. The Republicans commenced an active agitation against the laws throughout the country, which, co-operating with a strong and popular sympathy with the Republican doctrines, finally resulted in the election of Jefferson and Burr, the candidates of the Republican party, as president and vice-president, and the defeat of Adams and Pinckney the candidates of the Federalists. Washington having died only a few months before, this election proved the coup de grace of the Federal party, and established Jeffersonian Republicanism as the permanent policy of the country.

Jefferson entered upon the duties of the presidency on the 4th of March 1801, and was re-elected for the term commencing March 4, 1805, by 143 out of 176 electoral votes. His administration of twice for years was characterized by the simplicity which distinguished his conduct in private life. He eschewed all pomp and ceremony designed artificially to distinguished the president from the people. His dress "was of plain cloth" on the day of his inauguration. Instead of driving to the capital in a coach and six as had been the practice, he rode there on horseback, without a guard or even a servant in his train, dismounted without assistance, and hitched the bridle of his horse to a fence. Instead of opening Congress in the English fashion, with a speech to which a formal reply was expected, he sent his message by a private hand. Court etiquette was practically abolished, and the weekly leave with it. The code of precedence was essentially modified. Titles of honour were not recognized as such. "Excellency," "Honourable," and even "Mr." were distasteful to him. Between the president and governors of States he recognized no difference in rank, each being the supreme head of an independent state. "If it be possible," "to be certainly conscious of anything, I am conscious of feeling no difference between writing to the highest and lowest and lowest being on earth."

In public official station he regarded himself purely as a trustee for the public. He discontinued the practice of sending ministers abroad in Government vessels, nor would he have his birthday celebrated by state balls; he refused to appoint days of fasting and thanksgiving on the ground that they were religious rites, and no recommendation from him, therefore, could make them more or less binding upon the conscience. To secularize and republicanize the Government were the paramount purpose and the distinguishing feature of his administration. His cabinet, of which Madison and Gallatin were the pillars, was in thorough sympathy with Jefferson in his general policy, and its perfect harmony was uninterrupted. He gave his ministers his entire confidence . " If I had the world to choose from," he once said, "I could not change one of my associates to my better satisfaction."

The first important act of his administration was to send four of the six vessels constituting the so-called navy of the republic to the Mediterranean to exterminate the Algerine [Algerian] pirates who for half a century had preyed upon the commence of the world, thus initiating a series of events which in a few years rendered the commerce of the Mediterranean as safe as that of the English Channel.

Possessed with a conviction of the supreme commercial importance of New Orleans, he directed negotiations to be opened with the French Government, which resulted in the purchase for $15,000,000 of the territory of Louisiana, which had been ceded by Spain to France. Though the constitutional power under which this important transaction was consummated was far from clear, neither its validity nor its wisdom was ever seriously questioned; and it is now justly regarded by his countrymen as the crowning achievement of his administration, and none the less meritorious for the responsibility he deliberately assumed in bringing it to pass.

The remainder of his administration derives most of his historic importance from his unsuccessful attempt to convict Aaron Burr, the late vice-president, of having engaged in treasonable projects in the south-west, and from his efforts to maintain, without war, the rights of neutrals on the high seas. Among the less conspicuous though scarcely less important measures of his administration were the careful exploration of the Western Territories; reducing the public debt, and practically extirpating from the country the then not unpopular delusion that a national debt is a national blessing; fortifying the seaports; reorganizing and rearming the militia; diminishing the taxes; and extinguishing the Indians’ titles by fair purchase, and promoting their emigration beyond the Mississippi. On the 4th of March 1809 he retired from the presidency, after an almost continuous public service of over forty years. He was pressed to allow himself to be re-elected for a third term, but refused unconditionally, though the legislatures of five States formally requested him to be a candidate.

Jefferson, whose private fortune had been seriously compromised by the interruption of foreign commerce before and during his administration, and by the expenses incident to his representative position, lived seventeen years after his retirement, and to the last was the most considerable personage in the United States. His immediate successors in the presidency for the next sixteen years were his pupils and devoted personal friends, and rarely ventured upon any important step without the support of his approval. The employments of his closing years were in harmony with the dignified and patriotic purposes of his active life. Nothing that concerned the welfare of the country was a matter of indifference to him. He urged successfully the foundation of a university, and became one of its most difficult efficient trustees. His correspondence during this period is regarded as on of the most interesting and instructive contributions to the early literature of the United States. He had inherited a wonderful constitution and Herculean strength, neither of which did he ever abuse.

In the spring of 1826 the decline of his strength, which had been gradually increasing for two or three years, became more rapid, and on the 4th of July he expired, in the eighty-third year of his age. John Adams, his predecessor in the presidency, by an impressive coincidence, died on the same day, -- the fiftieth anniversary of an event imperishably associated with the names of both and the fortunes of a nation.

See writings, Correspondence, &c., of Thomas Jefferson, edited by A. Washington, 9 vols., New York, 1853-54; Memoir, Correspondence, &c., of Thomas Jefferson, edited by T. J. Randolph, 4 vols., Charlottesville, 1829; George Tucker, Life of Thomas Jefferson, 2 vols., Philadelphia, 1887; Henry Randall, Life of Thomas Jefferson, 3 vols., New York, 1858; James Parton, Life of Thomas Jefferson, Boston, 1874; Sarah N. Randolph, Domestic Life of Thomas Jerfferson, New York, 1871; H. Lee, Observations upon the Writings of Jefferson, Philadelphia, 1839; Cornéils De Witt, Thomas Jefferson, Paris, 1861. (J. BI.)


615-1 Jefferson took a very modest view of this book, and in purely literary point of view he could not afford to take any other; but it was so thoroughly saturated with democratic-republican ideas, of which he was then the most complete living exponent, with the possible exception of Franklin that it was widely and eagerly read, and no doubt did much to relax the old doctrines of divine right and of passive obedience had upon the educated classed of France, and measurably contributed to precipitate the great popular uprising in that kingdom, with which Europe was soon to be convulsed.

The above article was written by John Bigelow; part-editor of Evening Post; editor of The Plebeian and the Democratic Review; U.S. Minister to France, 1865-67; inspected the Panama Canal for the New York Chamber of Commerce; author of a Life of Frémont, Les Etats-Unis d'Amérique en 1863.

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