Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV

Betrayal

I laid it down as a law to myself, to take no notice of the thousand calumnies issued against me, but to trust my character to my own conduct, and the good sense and candor of my fellow citizens....

Jefferson to Wilson C. Nicholas, June 13, 1809 1

Jefferson's presidency has been called anticlimactic, as if all the drama of his life had been played out in advance. Once the prize was won and the best of him written into the first inaugural address, little is supposed to have remained to call forth superlatives. His Louisiana Purchase has been described as a fortuitous accident, owing "more to the vagaries of Bonaparte's ambition than to Jefferson's cautious diplomacy." 2 It is true that the good fortune of the Peace of Amiens in 1802 gave him a temporary respite from what he called "the exterminating havoc" of western Europe, enabling him to carry out his cherished plan to reduce the army to 3,000 men and the navy to a handful of frigates. Though a war with Tripoli broke out almost as soon as he became president, he counted it a minor matter of state, handled it with firmness, and did not let it escalate. His major repairs to the damaged republic, his restoration of freedom of the press and of speech, and his aborting of the Hamiltonian trend toward militarism, were all carried out without fanfare. Jefferson was not one to advertise his own virtues.

One of his first acts as president was the freeing of David Brown, who had gone to jail for eighteen months for raising a liberty pole in Dedham, Massachusetts, with the sign:

-339-

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