“To Close the Circle of Our Felicities”
Throughout his career Thomas Jefferson consistently held up the Declaration of Independence as the preeminent guide of American politics.1 Conversely, his regard for the public and personal relevance of the New Testament, Christianity's paramount guide, changed significantly over time. This change and its subsequent shaping of Jefferson's most important and influential political speech, his First Inaugural, plays a critical role in leading Jefferson to make a light but formal emendation to the model of natural liberty that emerges from the Declaration of Independence. Without dramatic departure from his general commitment to a rights-based, democratic government of limited proportions, Jefferson's first presidential address shows that he came to see a substantially rationalized version of Christian charity as necessary to the stability and happiness of the American republic.
In December of 1789, Jefferson reluctantly accepted George Washington's request to serve as secretary of state and returned home from France. Though cabinet relations during Jefferson's first few months were cordial, consistent with the great pains Washington had taken to establish a harmonious administration, it was not long before Jefferson locked horns with Washington's influential secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson became certain that he saw in Hamilton's actions and counsel—which consistently favored a strong, centralized government over state and local control, big cities and manufacturing concerns over the agrarian interests of rural America, regal pomp and