Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 49 Making Haste Slowly

IT was May, 1801, before the roster of jefferson's Cabinet was complete and in good working order. He made one more major appointment, outside the Cabinet--Gideon Granger of Connecticut as Postmaster General. Granger was very much the politician, and knew the New England situation thoroughly. He made many trips through the eastern states and consistently reported to jefferson on men, personalities and political conditions. The idea that there is some inherent connection between carrying the mails and the management of political campaigns seems to be of ancient vintage.

It was Gallatin's special province to take care of financial affairs, and such was the recognition of his knowledge and skill in this difficult department that none of the others ventured suggestions to him on anything but leading principles. Foreign affairs, however, even though Madison was the titular head, was considered the department of government in which everyone had sufficient knowledge for his opinion to matter. jefferson followed Washington's course in the handling of his Cabinet--he would lay before its members questions in writing for them to answer; and he sought as much as possible to follow the majority decision.

One of the first matters that engaged his attention in the foreign field was the renewed piratical activities of the Bashaw of Tripoli. He had strong and definite ideas on the proper method of treating with the Barbary Powers. Whatever caution he exercised in dealing with other Powers, this was one group against whom he advocated the most abrupt and forcible measures.

On May 15, 1801, he posed two questions to the newly assembled Cabinet: "Shall the squadron now at Norfolk be ordered to cruise in the Mediterranean?" and "What shall be the object of the cruise?" The very tenor of the questions indicated precisely what answers jefferson expected.

While all agreed that the cruise should be made and that it would be manifestly directed against Tripoli, there was some divergence of opinion as to what the exact function of the belligerent gesture ought to be. Levi Lincoln thought the warships should be used to repel attacks on American shipping, but not to take the offensive. Gallatin agreed, hewing to the constitutional line that any other course would constitute war, which only Congress had the power to declare. Dearborn and Madison demanded that the purpose of the voyage be openly declared to the nation and the world

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