Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 57 Trouble with Europe

FOR the second time Thomas Jefferson walked quietly to the Capitol building, accompanied by militia and troops of admiring citizens, and took the oath of office as President of the United States. For a second time he read his Inaugural Address in a voice half-audible and unheard by a large part of his audience.1

It was quite a different occasion from that first appearance. Now no one feared he knew not what; everyone felt assured that the re-elected President would proceed along the lines he had already laid down, and that no violent convulsions of nature or of man were to be expected.

Jefferson himself realized the difference, and noted on the draft of his address: "The former one was an exposition of the principles on which I though it my duty to administer the government. The second then should naturally be a conte rendue, or a statement of facts, shewing that I have conformed to those principles. The former was promise: this is performance."2

Therefore, as was fitting for a day of triumph and an era of almost universal good feeling, the address was largely retrospective and an account of a stewardship well done. Nothing was to be permitted to interfere with the harmony of the occasion, or to point to ominous clouds on the horizon.

Abroad, he declared. "we have endeavored to cultivate the friendship of all nations"; at home, "the suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses, enabled us to discontinue our internal taxes. . . . What farmer," he exclaimed, "what mechanic, what laborer, ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?" And, when the public debt was finally extinguished, he hoped that a proper Constitutional amendment would permit the revenues thus liberated to be distributed among the States and applied by them "to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great objects within each state." Not, it must be noted, to be employed by the federal government for these or any other purpose.

He turned next to the congenial topic of Louisiana, perhaps the most brilliant success of his entire administration. Some had feared its acquisition, he remarked complacently, and thought such an undue extension of territory would endanger the Union. "But who can limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively?" he inquired, with a side glance at Montesquieu's heresy, "The larger our association, the less it will be shaken by local passions,"

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