Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 45 Second Revolution

JEFFERSON quit Monticello on December 21, 1799, and arrived in Philadelphia a week later to resume his duties as Vice-President. This was perhaps the first time in his career that he departed from his home with some willingness and without undue bemoaning of his fate. For this was the first time that he had good reason to feel optimistic about the cause of republicanism in America. The Federalists had overreached themselves. The Alien and Sedition Acts had roused the lovers of liberty and rallied them to the Republican standard. Though the response to the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions had been discouraging, nevertheless a theoretic platform had been solidly built for future political construction. The war hysteria, thanks to Adams's unexpected move, was on the wane and dissension pervaded the Federalist ranks. All in all, the prospects were bright.

The Republican leaders were beginning to gather around Jefferson. The year 1800 was a presidential year, and all strategy was pointed toward the glittering prize. Without question--in spite of the machinations of disgruntled Federalists like Hamilton, Pickering and others--Adams was going to run again. And, without question, it was now generally conceded by the Republicans that Jefferson was to be their standard-bearer in the ensuing election.

But, to ensure victory on the national scene, the local elections in the states were all-important. In many of them, it was the legislature that selected the presidential electors; and even where general elections were held, the peculiar complexion of the local scene determined the choice. Aaron Burr, firmly ensconced as Republican leader in New York City and disputing with old Governor Clinton and his rising young nephew, De Witt Clinton, for the supremacy in the state, paid a flying visit to Jefferson in Philadelphia. The two men discussed the situation in New York. The Republicans there, Burr was convinced, were in the majority, but needed a skillful leader to rally them against the organized Federalists under Hamilton. He did not say so outright; but he believed that he was that leader. He also had a finger in the political pie of New Jersey and Pennsylvania; and outlined a general strategy for the forthcoming local elections in April.

Jefferson listened attentively; though with some qualms over the frankness of the discussion. As a candidate, he did not quite know how to act. Should he not remain aloof from the sordid details of political maneuver-

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