Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 47 President Jefferson

AS the sun rose on March 4, 1801, over the new capital of the United States, there was a decided unanimity of opinion that the events of the day would seal and make permanent the Second American Revolution. Both Federalists and Republicans were convinced that an era had ended, and a new and different one was about to begin. Naturally, the event was viewed with sharply diverse feelings.

On the one hand, the more bitter Federalists foresaw the end of the world, the subversion of orderly government and the trampling of the breechless mob through the streets of the cities; while their even more embittered adherents among the New England clergy prophesied the reign of Antichrist and the death of all religion. The Republicans, however, intoxicated with the wine of victory, hailed the dawn of a new and more glorious era, in which the will of the people would be mighty and prevail, and dark days would vanish forever from the earth.

Jefferson himself was optimistic. "The storm through which we have passed," he wrote, "has been tremendous indeed. The tough sides of our Argosie have been thoroughly tried. Her strength has stood the waves into which she was steered, with a view to sink her. We shall put her on her republican tack, & she will now show by che beauty of her motion the skill of her builders."1

John Marshall, however, whom Adams had appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the closing days of his administration, viewed the future in gloomier vein. "Today the new political year commences," he wrote on the morning of the inauguration. "The new order of things begins. . . . There are some appearances which surprize me. I wish however more than I hope that the public prosperity & happiness may sustain no diminution under democratic guidance. The democrats are divided into speculative theorists & absolute terrorists. With the latter I ara hot disposed to class Mr Jefferson. If he arranges himself with them it is not difficult to foresee that much calamity is in store for our country--if he does not they will soon become his enemies & calumniators."2

But the plain people had no such fears. They saw only the advent of heaven on earth--in which it was bliss to be alive. Lustily they sang the new song struck off for the occasion. Entitled "The People's Friend," the tune rose high:

No more to subtle arts a prey,
Which, fearful of the eye of day,

-659-

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