The Writings of Thomas Jefferson - Vol. 17

The Writings of Thomas Jefferson - Vol. 17

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The Writings of Thomas Jefferson - Vol. 17

The Writings of Thomas Jefferson - Vol. 17

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Excerpt

Aside from the official documents drawn by Jefferson in connection with his political positions, he left, at his death, among his voluminous manuscripts, a mass of material that he had prepared for special or private purposes. Of such the Miscellaneous Papers are composed together with rough drafts and extempore notes made for future elaboration, and evidently for some final and effective use. The papers presented under this head cover a period of nearly half a century, from the time Jefferson was Governor of Virginia right up to the year of his death. At the beginning of this series will be found the extracts from Jefferson's diary during the years 1780-81—excerpts he selected to vindicate his conduct as Executive of his State during the invasion of Virginia under Benedict Arnold. Jefferson retired from the Governorship of Virginia amid a storm of criticism and censure and determined never to fill another public office. Subsequently, however, he was mollified by the apology extended by the Legislature for the obloquy cast upon him, and accepted a reappointment to Congress. Due to his efforts there are the humane measures, promulgated in the Instructions to American Ministers for negotiating commercial treaties with European nations.

These "Instructions" are followed by a group of unclassified papers written while Jefferson was Minister to France. At the close of this group we have daily memoranda jotted down by Jefferson on trips made in the early spring through the southern part of France and northern section of Italy; chiefly interesting as exhibiting the minuteness of his observation and his examination of anything in the line of agricultural, mechanical or industrial improvements that might prove of value to his country.

Many of these Miscellaneous Papers were written while Jefferson was Secretary of State, and bear evidence of his powers as a diplomat in maintaining peaceful relations with war-waging foreign countries. They also present his successful arguments in securing the right to navigate the Mississippi—one of the first steps to reveal the importance and worth of the Louisiana territory.

Probably one of the most interesting papers in the entire collection is the draft of the famous Kentucky Resolutions from the pen of Jefferson while Vice-President. These Resolutions were drawn as a protest against the Alien and Sedition Laws as "palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution." They were passed with some changes by the Kentucky Legislature on November 14, 1798. Jefferson's authorship of these Resolutions was kept a secret for many years. In 1821 he wrote a brief history of their inception in a letter to the son of his friend, Colonel W. C. Nicholas. He says in this letter: "At the time when the republicans of our country were so much alarmed at the proceedings of the Federal ascendancy in Congress, in the Executive and Judiciary departments, it became a matter of serious consideration how head could be made against their enterprises on the Constitution. The leading republicans in Congress found themselves of no use there, browbeaten as they were by a bold and overwhelming majority. They concluded to retire from that field, take a stand in their State legislatures, and endeavor there to arrest their progress. The Alien and Sedition Laws furnished the particular occasion. The sympathy between Virginia and Kentucky was more cordial and more intimately confidential than between any other two States of republican policy. Mr. Madison came into the Virginia Legislature. I was then in the Vice-Presidency, and could not leave my station; but your father, Colonel W. C. Nicholas, and myself, happening to be together, the engaging coöperation of Kentucky in an energetic protestation against the constitutionality of those laws became a subject of consultation. Those gentlemen pressed me strongly to sketch resolutions for that purpose, your father undertaking to introduce them to that legislature, with a solemn assurance which I strictly required, that it should not be known from what quarter they came. I drew and delivered them to him, ana in keeping their origin secret be fulfilled his pledge of honor."

There are at least two remaining numbers of the Miscellaneous Papers which will awaken the interest of even the casual reader. Namely the scheme for organizing agricultural societies devised by Jefferson in his retirement at Monticello, in 1811, as an early expression of such a project; and the construction of a plan for establishing elementary schools in the form of a bill outlining a system of education incorporating principles not improved upon in this day of eclectic and synthetic instruction. Attention is called to the fact that this farreaching, educational thesis of Jefferson is given for the first time in its entirety in the present edition of his Writings. The Congressional edition of 1853 gave it in part, while the Ford collection of 1892 omitted it altogether.

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