Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

By Merrill D. Peterson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Virginia Reformer

You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government--more than of air, soil, or climate--for themselves or their children! When, before the present epoch, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive?

John Adams, Thoughts on Government, in a Letter from
a Gentleman to his Friend. Philadelphia, 1776.

THE REMAINDER of the story of Jefferson's service in Congress is little more than a footnote to the events that culminated in the Declaration of Independence. Throughout July and August, while his thoughts turned increasingly homeward, he worked in the day- to-day business of Congress. He took copious notes on the beginnings of the two-year-long debate on the Articles of Confederation, but made no significant contribution of his own. He served on numerous committees, among them the first of all congressional investigations, which looked into the failures of the Canadian campaign. Of the several reports he wrote, one at least had lasting importance: it first proposed the Spanish dollar as the standard money unit of the new nation. He communicated with his friends at home, exhorting them to rise above considerations of local defense and to throw the

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