Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 64 Ex-President Jefferson

IT was cold, blustery March weather as Thomas Jefferson, private citizen, rumbled out of Washington in his coach, piled high with baggage, with an extra horse for riding ted by one of his servants. What his thoughts were at this end of an era cannot easily be determined. As the coach bumped along over half-frozen ruts or sank in places into the mud beneath, did they review the long years of service he was leaving behind or fix themselves wholly on the anonymity ahead? From the greatest man in the country--and, by some, the most hated and vilified--he had, in the short space of an hour, receded into the shadows and a new star had risen to become the cynosure of all eyes.

But whatever thoughts might have buzzed and swarmed in his mind, the weather and the excessively bad condition of the roads soon compelled him to concentrate on the journey itself. The coach slogged and slithered in the mud and he shifted to his horse. The skies grew sullen and a blinding snowstorm accompanied him on the last lap of his journey and enveloped his beloved mountain as he toiled up to the summit. Once before, on his wedding day, he had brought his bride home in a heavy snow; but the snow then was clean and his spirits had been young and eager. Now, it was wet and disagreeable, and he was old and alone. Nevertheless, as he reached the welcoming buildings, the blazing hearth arid the bosom of his family, he could exult at least that his "vis vitae" was still unimpaired.1

Of his immediate family, his wife had long been gone, and the death of Maria was still an open wound. Only Martha remained, trailing behind her a brood of active children. Martha's son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, relieved Jefferson later in tile of the general management of his affairs. Maria's legacy was young Francis Eppes, on whose education his grandfather was to take considerable pains.

The first few days in Monticello were devoted to settling himself in what was now to be his permanent abiding place, to receiving the welcomehome addresses of his neighbors and the more distant and more formal, but still gratifying, adulations that poured in from all over the country.2 The Republicans knew they had lost their greatest leader, and some of them were uneasy over the new chief who had taken his place. It is true the Federalists shed no tears over his passing, but they obtained no satisfaction over the thought of four years or more of Madison.

There were other notes as well Mingled with sorrow at his passing, and deftly interwoven in the strands, were solicitations that Jefferson exercise

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