Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

By Merrill D. Peterson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Secretary of State

Amidst the contentions of party, the interests of the public, even the maxims of justice and candour, are sometimes forgotten; and yet those fatal consequences which such a measure of corruption seems to portend, do not unavoidably follow. The public interest is often secure, not because individuals are disposed to regard it as the end of their conduct, but because each, in his place, is determined to preserve his own. Liberty is maintained by the continued differences and oppositions of numbers, not by their concurring zeal in behalf of equitable government. In free states, therefore, the wisest laws are never, perhaps, dictated by the interest and spirit of any order of men: they are moved, they are opposed, or amended, by different hands; and come at last to express that medium and composition which contending parties have forced one another to adopt.

Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 1767.

WHEN JEFFERSON disembarked at Norfolk on November 23, 1789, the newspapers at once informed him of his nomination by President Washington to the high post of Secretary of State in the new government. The honor, unexpected and unwanted, placed Jefferson in a delicate position. Several months before, when Madison sounded him out, he had declared his aversion to any post in the domestic administration, and his determination soon to retire altogether from that "mere mouser of time," public service. He soon realized

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