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Presidency of Thomas Jefferson

Updated: 2017-08-31T04:54Z
Jefferson (1800)

The presidency of Thomas Jefferson began on March 4, 1801, when he was inaugurated as the third President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1809. Jefferson assumed the office after defeating incumbent President John Adams in the 1800 presidential election. The election was a realigning election in which the Democratic-Republican Party swept the Federalist Party out of power, ushering in a generation of Democratic-Republican dominance in American politics. After two terms, Jefferson was succeeded by Secretary of State James Madison, also of the Democratic-Republican Party.

In domestic affairs Jefferson sought to put the principles of republicanism into action. He set out to limit the size of government by reducing taxes and the national debt. He established a military academy, used the Navy to protect merchant ships from Barbary pirates in North Africa, and developed a plan to protect U.S. ports from foreign invasion by the use of small gunboats (a plan that proved useless when war came in 1812). He also authorized the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Territory and the Pacific Northwest. During his second term, Jefferson's attention was also focused on the trial of then former Vice President Burr for treason, which resulted in an acquittal, and on the issue of slavery, specifically the importation of slaves from abroad. In 1806, he denounced the international slave trade as a "violation of human rights" and called upon Congress to criminalize it. Congress responded by approving the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves the following year.

In foreign affairs, the major developments were the acquisition of the gigantic Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, an embargo against trade with both Great Britain and France, and worsening relations with Britain as the United States tried to remain neutral in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars that engulfed Europe. The war's effects reached throughout the Atlantic. While remaining "neutral," from early 1802 Jefferson allowed contraband goods and arms to reach Saint-Domingue during its slave rebellion and refused financial credit to France, aiding the slave and mulatto resistance that achieved independence in 1804. After that, however, with France removed and Congressional resistance high, he refused to recognize Haiti, and embargoed trade with it, causing severe difficulties for the second nation to attain independence in the Western Hemisphere. Rising tensions between the United States and Great Britain were of major concern to Jefferson during his second term, as the two nations were engaged in a trade war after the Royal Navy began humiliating the American Navy by impressing sailors from American ships into its service. Jefferson rejected war and instead used economic threats and embargoes that hurt the U.S. more than Britain. With unrest in the Northeast escalating, the embargo was dropped as Jefferson left office.

Jefferson is typically ranked by historians in the top five of all U.S. presidents.

Election of 1800

Electoral College map
1800 Electoral College Vote results by state explicitly indicating the number of votes received by top two candidates in each

Jefferson ran for president in the 1796 election, but finished second in the electoral vote to John Adams; under the rules then in place, Jefferson's second place finish made him the Vice President of the United States. Jefferson grew increasingly hostile to Adams during the latter's presidency. Working closely with Aaron Burr of New York, Jefferson rallied his party, attacking the new taxes especially, and ran for the Presidency again in 1800. Under the election system in force at the time, the members of the Electoral College were permitted to vote for two names for President. The Democratic-Republicans had planned for one of its electors to abstain from casting his second vote for Burr, which would have given Jefferson one more electoral vote than Burr and thus, assuming a Democratic-Republican victory, would have made the former president and the latter vice president. The plan, however, was mishandled. Each elector who voted for Jefferson also voted for Burr, resulting in a tied electoral vote. Jefferson and Burr both finished with 73 electoral votes, while Adams won 65 electoral votes and the other Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, won 64 electoral votes. The House of Representatives held a contingent election on February 17, 1801, deciding whether Jefferson or Burr would acceded to the presidency. Jefferson was elected President on the thirty-six ballot over Burr, who became Vice President. Jefferson owed his election victory to the South's inflated number of Electors, which counted slaves as part of the population for representation under the three-fifths compromise.[1][2] Jefferson regarded his victory as "America's Second Revolution," and he hoped to transform the country by limiting government and weakening the power of elites.[3]

Jefferson's first inauguration, on March 4, 1801, was first to be held in the nation's new capital, Washington, D.C.[4] That morning an artillery company on Capitol Hill had fired shots to welcome the daybreak, and in a first for a newspaper, Jefferson gave a copy of his speech to the National Intelligencer for it to be published and available right after delivery.[5] He delivered a 1721 word speech in the United States Capitol's Senate Chamber. He was not a strong speaker, and the audience could barely catch his words, which called for national unity. The speech was widely reprinted and celebrated by Democratic-Republicans across the country as a clear statement of the party's principles.[6] The presidential oath of office was administered by Chief Justice John Marshall.[4] Outgoing President Adams had left the capital earlier that day, and did not attend the ceremony.[7]



The Jefferson Cabinet
PresidentThomas Jefferson1801–1809
Vice PresidentAaron Burr1801–1805
George Clinton1805–1809
Secretary of StateLevi Lincoln Sr.1801
James Madison1801–1809
Secretary of TreasurySamuel Dexter1801
Albert Gallatin1801–1809
Secretary of WarHenry Dearborn1801–1809
Attorney GeneralLevi Lincoln Sr.1801–1804
John Breckinridge1805–1806
Caesar A. Rodney1807–1809
Secretary of the NavyBenjamin Stoddert1801
Robert Smith1801–1809

By July 1801, Jefferson had assembled his Cabinet, which consisted of Secretary of State James Madison, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, Attorney General Levi Lincoln Sr., and Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith. After his decision to pursue the presidency in the contingent election, Burr was excluded from any role in the Jefferson administration. Jefferson sought to make collective decisions with his Cabinet, and each member's opinion was elicited before Jefferson made major decisions.[8]

Patronage and the Federalists

When Adams took office in 1796, he carried many of Washington's supporters over into his new administration. As a result, there was little change in the federal government when the first national transition of power occurred. With Jefferson's election in 1800, there was a transfer of power between parties, not simply a transition. As president, Jefferson had the power of appointment to fill many government positions that had long been held by Federalists. It was widely anticipated that this use of patronage was the privilege of a new party when it assumed power. Jefferson resisted the call of his fellow Democratic-Republicans to remove all Federalists from their appointed positions. Instead he felt that it was his right to replace the top government officials, including the cabinet. He also settled on a policy of replacing any Federalist appointee who engaged in misconduct or partisan behavior, with all new appointees being members of the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson's refusal to call for a complete replacement of federal appointees under the spoils system was followed by his successors until the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828.[9]

Judicial appointments

In the final days of his presidency, Adams had appointed numerous federal judges after the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1801, which established the several circuit courts. The act and Adams's subsequent appointments entrenched Federalist officeholders in the judiciary, and Democratic-Republicans were outraged by the appointment of these "midnight judges." Now in control of Congress and the presidency, Jefferson and his allies saw no need for the circuit courts and desired to weaken the Federalist influence on the court, so they sought to abolish the positions. Federalists were vehemently opposed to this plan, arguing that Congress did not have the power to abolish judgeships that were occupied. Despite these objections, the Democratic-Republicans passed the Judiciary Act of 1802. The act largely restored the judicial structure established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Jefferson administration also refused to deliver judicial commissions to some Adams appointees who had won Senate confirmation but had not yet formally taken office. One such appointee, William Marbury, sued Secretary of State Madison to compel him to deliver the judicial commissions. In the 1803 Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, the court ruled against Marbury, but also established the precedent of judicial review, thereby strengthening the judicial branch.[10]

Still unhappy with Federalist power on the bench, the Democratic-Republicans impeached district court Judge John Pickering and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Criticizing the impeachment proceedings an attack on judicial independence, Federalist congressmen strongly opposed both impeachments. Pickering, who frequently presided over cases while drunk, was convicted by the Senate in 1804. However, the impeachment proceedings of Chase proved more difficult. Chase had frequently expressed his skepticism of democracy, predicting that the nation would "sink into mobocracy," but he had not shown himself to be incompetent in the same way that Pickering had. Several Democratic-Republican Senators joined the Federalists in opposing Chase's removal, and Chase would remain on the court until his death in 1811. Though Federalists would never regain the political power they had held during the 1790s, the Marshall Court continued to reflect Federalist ideals until the 1830s.[11]

Jefferson appointed three persons to the Supreme Court during his presidency:[12]

He also appointed seven United States circuit court judges and nine United States district court judges.

Domestic affairs

Debt and revenue

Upon assuming office, Jefferson confronted an $83 million national debt.[13] He began dismantling Hamilton's Federalist fiscal system with help from Secretary of Treasury Albert Gallatin.[14] Jefferson's administration eliminated the whiskey excise and other taxes after closing "unnecessary offices" and cutting "useless establishments and expenses".[15][16] They attempted to disassemble the national bank and its effect of increasing national debt, but were dissuaded by Gallatin.[17] Jefferson shrank the Navy, deeming it unnecessary in peacetime.[18] Instead, he incorporated a fleet of inexpensive gunboats used only for defense with the idea that they would not provoke foreign hostilities.[15] After two terms, he had lowered the national debt from $83 million to $57 million.[13]

Lewis and Clark and other expeditions

In October 1805, Jefferson's Corps of Discovery meet the Chinook tribe on the Columbia River, Painting by Charles Marion Russell, 1905

After the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson now needed to have this mostly unknown part of the continent explored and mapped, for expanding westward settlement and trade. Influenced of members of the American Philosophical Society, two years into his presidency he persuaded Congress to fund an expedition. In 1804 he appointed his personal secretary Meriwether Lewis, along with William Clark, as its leaders, dubbing it the Corps of Discovery. The expedition returned with a wealth of scientific and geographical knowledge.[19][20]

Conferring with Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin about requesting funds for the expedition, Jefferson was advised to make a request via a secret message, due to poor relations with the opposition party in Congress.[21][22]

Jefferson was influenced by exploration accounts of both Captain James Cook's A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784), and Le Page du Pratz'z The History of Louisiana ... (1763). He considered it important for the United States to establish a claim of "Discovery" to the Pacific Northwest and Oregon territory by documenting and establishing an American presence there before Europeans made any claims.[23] Hoping to find a long-sought-for Northwest Passage to the Pacific Jefferson believed such a passage would greatly promote commerce and trade for the country.[24] Knowledge of the western continent was limited to what had been learned from trappers, traders, and explorers. Jefferson chose Lewis to lead the expedition rather than someone with only the best scientific credentials because of Lewis' military experience in the woods and "familiarity with the Indian manners and character, requisite for this undertaking." In the months leading up to the expedition, Jefferson tutored Lewis in the sciences of mapping, botany, natural history, mineralogy, and astronomy/navigation. Lewis demonstrated a marked capacity to learn.[19] In his library at Monticello Jefferson possessed the largest collection of books in the world on the subject of the geography and natural history of the North American continent, along with an impressive collection of maps, and gave Lewis full access to that library.[25] Jefferson also introduced Lewis to the American Philosophical Society and connected him with Caspar Wistar, the famed botanist Benjamin Smith Barton, and mathematics professor Robert Patterson, and Dr. Benjamin Rush all of whom offered their expertise to Lewis, Jefferson, and his proposed expedition.[26][27][28] Lewis and Clark recruited a company of 45 men and spent a winter preparing near St. Louis.[29]

Detailed map drawn by Clark showing route taken by the expedition from the Missouri River to Pacific Ocean depicting rivers, mountains and locations of Indian tribes.

Guided by Sacagawea and various Native-American tribes along the way, the expedition, traveling on the Columbia River, reached the Pacific Ocean by November 1805. After the winter thaw the expedition began their return trip on March 22, 1806, and returned to St. Louis on September 23 that year, successfully adding a wealth of scientific and geographical knowledge of the vast territory, along with knowledge of the many Indian tribes, including the Chinooks, with whom Jefferson hoped to develop trade.[30] The expedition was considered a success with the loss of only one life because of illness. The duration of this perilous expedition lasted from May 1804 to September 1806,[31] and it led the way for the Oregon Trail.[32] Two months after the expedition's end Jefferson made his first public statement to Congress giving a one sentence summary about its success before asserting the justification for the expenses involved.[24] At the conclusion of the Expedition the American Philosophical Society ultimately became the repository for many of its findings, including seeds, fossils, plant, and other specimens along with the original journals and logs that were authored by Lewis, Clark, and other members of the expedition.[33][34]

In addition to the Corps of Discovery, Jefferson organized three other western exploration expeditions including the William Dunbar and George Hunter expedition on the Ouachita River (1804–1805), the Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis expedition (1806) on the Red River, and the Zebulon Pike expedition (1806–1807) into the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest.[35] All of the exploration expeditions sent out under Jefferson's presidency produced valuable information about the American frontier and wilderness.[35]

National military academy

Jefferson strongly felt the need for a national military university, producing an officer engineering corps for a national defense based on the advancement of the sciences, rather than having to rely on foreign sources for top grade engineers with questionable loyalty.[36] He signed the Military Peace Establishment Act on March 16, 1802, thus founding the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Act documented in 29 sections a new set of laws and limits for the military.[37]

Constitutional amendments

States admitted to the Union

One new state, Ohio, was admitted to the Union while Jefferson was in office. The exact date upon which Ohio became a state is unclear. On April 30, 1802 the 7th Congress had passed an act "authorizing the inhabitants of Ohio to form a Constitution and state government, and admission of Ohio into the Union." (Sess. 1, ch. 40, 2 Stat. 173) On February 19, 1803 the same Congress passed an act "providing for the execution of the laws of the United States in the State of Ohio." (Sess. 2, ch. 7, 2 Stat. 201) Neither act, however, set a formal date of statehood. An official statehood date for Ohio was not set until 1953, when the 83rd Congress passed a Joint resolution "for admitting the State of Ohio into the Union", (Pub.L. 83–204, 67 Stat. 407, enacted August 7, 1953) which designated March 1, 1803, as that date.[39] It was the first state created from the Northwest Territory.

Foreign affairs

Barbary War

Map. Barbary Coast of North Africa 1806.
The Barbary Coast of North Africa 1806. The map left is Morocco at Gibraltar, the center map is Tunis; right, Tripoli stretches east

The First Barbary War was the only declared war that occurred during Jefferson's two terms as president and it marked the first war the United States engaged in on foreign soil and seas. With the government still recovering from the political division that occurred under John Adams, Jefferson's focus was on political reconciliation between the rival Republicans and Federalists. Subsequently, Jefferson made no statements regarding foreign policy during his inauguration speech and gave no indication that he would soon be embarking on a war in North Africa against the Barbary Corsairs.[40]

For decades, North African pirates had been capturing American merchant ships, pillaging valuable cargoes and enslaving crew members, demanding huge ransoms for their release.[41] Before independence, American merchant ships were protected from the Barbary pirates by the naval and diplomatic influence of Great Britain—protection which came to end after the colonies won their independence.[42] After the American Revolution began, American ships were protected by the 1778 alliance with France.[43] After Jefferson, took office, he refused the demands of Tripoli for further tribute, resulting in a declaration of war by Tripoli.[44]

On May 15, 1801, Jefferson's cabinet voted unanimously to send three frigates and a schooner to the Mediterranean with orders to make a show of force but opt for peace; if a state of war existed they could use their own discretion. The frigates were the USS Philadelphia, USS President, and the USS Essex along with the schooner USS Enterprise, and became the first American naval squadron to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Under the command of Commodore Richard Dale, the squadron sailed into the Mediterranean on July 1 where it stopped at Gibraltar for supplies and information. Here Dale learned that Tripoli had already declared war upon the United States.[45] Jefferson and the young American navy forced Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli which ultimately moved it out of the war. Jefferson also ordered five separate naval bombardments of Tripoli, which restored peace in the Mediterranean for a while,[46] although Jefferson continued to pay the remaining Barbary States until the end of his presidency.[47]

Louisiana Purchase

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase totaled 827,987 square miles (2,144,480 square kilometres), doubling the size of the United States.

Many Americans, particularly those in the west, had hoped to annex the Spanish province of Louisiana since the United States had won its own independence. These hopes were temporarily dashed when Napoleon pressured Spain to transfer the province to France in the 1801 Treaty of Aranjuez. Napoleon hoped to re-establish the French colonial empire in North America, and the purchase threatened to reignite the tensions of the recently concluded Quasi-War. However, the continued insurrection in Saint-Domingue and renewed hostilities between France and Britain eventually convinced Napoleon to give up on his idea of re-establishing French control in North America.[48]

In 1802, Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert Livingston to Paris in hopes of purchasing the city of New Orleans and adjacent coastal areas. To the surprise of the American delegation, Napoleon offered to sell the entire territory for $15 million. Most contemporaries thought that this was an exceptional opportunity, apart from any Constitutional reservations.[49] Secretary of State James Madison gave his assurances that the purchase was well within even the strictest interpretation of the Constitution, the Senate quickly ratified the treaty, and the House immediately authorized funding.[50] The purchase, concluded in December 1803, marked the end of French ambitions in North America and ensured American control of the Mississippi River.[51] The purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States, and Treasury Secretary Gallatin was forced to borrow from foreign banks to finance the payment to France.[52] Jefferson first asked Lafayette then subsequently Jefferson twice asked Monroe to become the governor, and finally William Claiborne was appointed to the post.[53]

Burr conspiracy

Aaron Burr mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804.

On July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr mortally wounded Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton, George Washington's former Secretary of Treasury, in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey.[54] Hamilton had been a key factor in Burr's defeat in running in the 1804 New York gubernatorial election.[54] Hamilton had made callous remarks regarding Burr. Believing his honor had been offended, Burr had challenged Hamilton to a duel in which Hamilton was mortally wounded. Burr was indicted for Hamilton's murder in New York and New Jersey causing him to flee to Georgia, although he remained President of the Senate during Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase's impeachment trial. The two Burr indictments were "quietly allowed to die".[54] President Jefferson casually acknowledged Hamilton in a letter to his daughter three days after Hamilton's funeral. Hamilton had been Jefferson's primary political enemy for fourteen years.[55]

After Aaron Burr was disgraced in the duel of 1804 and his own presidential ambitions were ended, he was reported by the British Ambassador as wanting to "effect a separation of the western part of the United States [at the Appalachian Mountains]". Jefferson believed that to be so by November 1806, because Burr had been rumored to be variously plotting with some western states to secede for an independent empire, or to raise a filibuster to conquer Mexico. At the very least, there were reports of Burr's recruiting men, stocking arms, and building boats. New Orleans seemed especially vulnerable, but at some point, the American general there, James Wilkinson, a double agent for the Spanish, decided to turn on Burr. Jefferson issued a proclamation warning that there were U.S. citizens illegally plotting to take over Spanish holdings. Though Burr was nationally discredited, Jefferson feared for the very Union. In a report to Congress January 1807, Jefferson declared Burr's guilt "placed beyond question". By March 1807, Burr was arrested in New Orleans and placed on trial for treason in Richmond, Virginia, with Chief Justice John Marshall presiding. On June 13, Jefferson was subpoenaed by Burr to release documents that favored Burr's defense.[56] Jefferson stated he had no loyalty to Burr and only released a few documents Burr had requested having invoked executive privilege.[56] Jefferson refused to appear at Burr's trial.[56] The weak government case led to Burr's acquittal, but with his reputation ruined he was never able to mount another adventure.[57]

Florida and Haiti

The Prairie Dog is an anti-Jefferson satire, relating to Jefferson's covert negotiations for the purchase of West Florida from Spain in 1804.

Jefferson wanted to follow up the acquisition of the Louisiana territory with the acquisition of Florida. Jefferson thought that Florida could be acquired as readily as Louisiana, but did not realize the different circumstances with Spain. He issued vague threats while offering to purchase the land, but Spain would not consider his offers.[58] Jefferson claimed jurisdiction over West Florida, but Spain ignored that. After early 1802, when he learned that Napoleon intended to regain a foothold in Saint-Domingue and Louisiana, Jefferson proclaimed neutrality in relation to the slave rebellion there. The US allowed war contraband to "continue to flow to the blacks through usual U.S. merchant channels and the administration would refuse all French requests for assistance, credits, or loans."[59] When Jefferson's concerns related to the balance of power in the Caribbean, the "geopolitical and commercial implications" of Napoleon's plans outweighed his fears of a slave-led nation.[60]

After the rebels in Saint-Domingue proclaimed independence from France in the new republic of Haiti in 1804, Jefferson refused to recognize Haiti as the second independent republic in the Americas.[61] In part he hoped to win Napoleon's support over the Florida issue.[62] American slaveholders had been frightened and horrified by the slave massacres of the planter class during the rebellion and after, and a southern-dominated Congress was "hostile to Haiti."[63] They feared its success would encourage slave revolt in the American South. Historian Tim Matthewson notes that Jefferson "acquiesced in southern policy, the embargo of trade and nonrecognition, the defense of slavery internally and the denigration of Haiti abroad."[64] Historian George Herring suggests that, for reasons of race and diplomatic expediency, Jefferson ceded to the British the wealth of the sugar island trade and moral leadership in the western hemisphere.[65] Haiti, the first republic outside of the United States in the western hemisphere, was deprived of United States recognition until 1862. According to the historian George Herring, "the Florida diplomacy reveals him [Jefferson] at his worst. His lust for land trumped his concern for principle."[65]

In this case, unlike that of the Louisiana Territory, the dynamics of European politics worked against Jefferson. Napoleon had played Washington against Madrid to see what he could get, but by 1805 Spain was his ally. Spain had no desire to cede Florida, part of its leverage against an expanding America. Revelations of the bribe which Jefferson offered to France over the matter provoked outrage and weakened Jefferson's hand, and he subsequently gave up on Florida.[66]

Native American relations

In keeping with his Enlightenment thinking, President Jefferson adopted an assimilation policy towards American Indians known as his "civilization program" which included securing peaceful U.S. Indian treaty alliances and encouraging agriculture. Jefferson advocated that Indian tribes should make federal purchases by credit holding their lands as collateral for repayment. Various tribes accepted Jefferson's policies, including the Shawnees led by Black Hoof, the Creek, and the Cherokees.[67] However, Jefferson dreamed of a transcontinental nation, and he became increasingly skeptical of assimilation efforts. As his presidency continued, Jefferson prioritized white settlement of the western territories over peaceful assimilation.[68]

When Jefferson assumed power, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa were leading raids against American settlements in the Ohio Valley, with munitions provided by British traders in Canada. Attempting to form a confederation of Indian people in the Northwest Territory, the two brothers would be a continual source of irritation to westward settlers. The Indian Nations followed Tenskwatawa (the Shawnee Prophet and the brother of Tecumseh, who had a vision of purifying his society by expelling the "children of the Evil Spirit" (the American settlers).[69] The success of the Indians gave Britain hope that it could create an Indian satellite nation in parts of the American territory.[70] The raids became a major cause of the later War of 1812.[71]

Slave trade

During his presidential term, Jefferson was disappointed that the younger generation was making no move to abolish slavery; he largely avoided the issue until 1806. He did succeed in convincing Congress to block the foreign importation of slaves into the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.[72] The President immediately instructed the Navy to concentrate its efforts on stopping the smuggling of slaves into Louisiana.[73]

Seeing that in 1808 the twenty-year constitutional ban on ending the international slave trade would expire, in December 1806 in his presidential message to Congress, he called for a law to ban it. He denounced the trade as "violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, in which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe." Jefferson signed the new law and the international trade became illegal in January 1808. The legal trade had averaged 14,000 slaves a year; illegal smuggling at the rate of about 1000 slaves a year continued for decades.[74] "The two major achievements of Jefferson's presidency were the Louisiana Purchase and the abolition of the slave trade," according to historian John Chester Miller.[75]

Relations with European Powers and the Embargo Act

In Jefferson's second term, the Napoleonic Wars broke out in Europe as Great Britain and France battled for international supremacy. Initially following Washington's Neutrality Act, Jefferson did not commit the United States to either side and continued to trade with both nations. Needing sailors, the British Royal Navy seized hundreds of American ships and impressed 6,000 sailors from them, angering Americans.[76] The British also issued the Orders in Council which barred any trade with the European continent. Napoleon responded with the Berlin Decree in 1806 and the Milan Decree in 1807, both of which effectively cut Europe from British trade and threaten seizure of neutral ships. Jefferson became increasingly agitated with both nations as American neutrality was ignored. Tensions flared when the Chesapeake-Leopard Incident took place off the coast of Virginia. A British warship, The Leopard ordered the American ship The Chesapeake to submit to a search. The American captain refused and shots were exchanged leaving three men dead and eighteen wounded.[77] Public outrage demanded that Jefferson take action.[78]

In response, Jefferson decided on economical Warfare; Congress passed the Embargo Act in 1807. The act was designed to force Britain and France into respecting US neutrality by cutting off all American shipping to either nation. Almost immediately the Americans began to turn to smuggling in order to ship goods to Europe.[79] Jefferson was forced to call out the military and expand the power of the federal government by patrolling the American coast, cutting off trade routes to Canada, seizing the ships of suspected smugglers, and ordering that no ship could be loaded without the approval of a customs officer and the military. The effects of the Embargo Act backfired on the Republicans. New England, which depended on trade for economic survival, turned again to the Federalist Party. Jefferson lost many supporters who resented the intrusion into their personal lives by the national government. Even Britain and France scoffed at the Act as neither economy was severely damaged due to smuggling. By the time Jefferson surrendered the presidency to James Madison in 1808, his reputation was severely damaged by his support of the Embargo Act.[80]

Most historians consider Jefferson's embargo to have been ineffective and harmful to American interests.[81] Appleby describes the strategy as Jefferson's "least effective policy", and Joseph Ellis calls it "an unadulterated calamity".[82] Others, however, portray it as an innovative, nonviolent measure which aided France in its war with Britain while preserving American neutrality.[83] Jefferson believed that the failure of the embargo was due to selfish traders and merchants showing a lack of "republican virtue." He maintained that, had the embargo been widely observed, it would have avoided war in 1812.[84]

Jeffersonian democracy

After the American Revolution, many Federalists hoped that society would remain largely as it had been during the colonial era, but Jefferson wanted to upend the social order.[85] In what historians later call Jeffersonian democracy, the new president set out an agenda that was marked by his belief in agrarianism and strict limits on the national government. In a world in which few believed in democracy or egalitarianism, Jefferson's belief in political equality for white men stood out from many of the other Founding Fathers of the United States, who continued to believe that the rich and powerful should lead society.[86]

Jeffersonian democracy brought about two revolutions in American political life. It increased the turnout percentages of eligible voters, and it increased the numbers enfranchised to vote. Prior to the 1790s, campaigning was considered interference with each citizen’s right to think and vote independently. Without competition for office, voter turnouts were often low, sometimes fewer than 5 percent of eligible men.[87] By the 1790s and the emergence of the First Party System, voter participation was up to 20 percent. With two party competition, turnout "took on an importance it had never quite had before”, with turnout up to 80 percent of the enlarged white male electorate.[88]

Under pressure from Jeffersonian Republicans, states achieved universal white manhood suffrage by eliminating property requirements. By 1825 only three had not, Rhode Island, Virginia and Louisiana. Expanding suffrage and appeals to ordinary people meant that increasingly ordinary people became government officials, especially in the North.[89] At the same time, states such as New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky for the first time placed racial restrictions on voting, and New Jersey in 1807 closed a loophole that allowed some widows to vote. Wood says, "by the standards of the early nineteenth century America possessed the most popular electoral politics in the world."[90] In reaction, even Federalists began to adopt partisan techniques such as party organization, newspapers and auxiliary societies. They created networks of caucuses and committees state by state reaching to county level, determined to mobilize public opinion to court popular favor. American politics was forever transformed.[91]

Historians have long portrayed the contest between Jefferson and Hamilton as iconic for the politics, political philosophy, economic policies and future direction of the United States. For example, in the 1920s Claude Bowers, a historian and Democrat, wrote a best-seller that pitted good versus evil in Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America (1925). The Jeffersonian position—called Jeffersonian democracy—won out in 1800 and Hamilton's Federalism died out (except on the Supreme Court of John Marshall). The historian Sean Wilentz in 2010 identified a scholarly trend in Hamilton's favor:

"In recent years, Hamilton and his reputation have decidedly gained the initiative among scholars who portray him as the visionary architect of the modern liberal capitalist economy and of a dynamic federal government headed by an energetic executive. Jefferson and his allies, by contrast, have come across as naïve, dreamy idealists. At best according to many historians, the Jeffersonians were reactionary utopians who resisted the onrush of capitalist modernity in hopes of turning America into a yeoman farmers' arcadia. At worst, they were proslavery racists who wish to rid the West of Indians, expand the empire of slavery, and keep political power in local hands—all the better to expand the institution of slavery and protect slaveholders' rights to own human property."[92]

Election of 1804

Electoral College map
1804 Electoral College vote

Like both of his predecessor, Jefferson ran for a second term. The election of 1804 was the first to held after the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, which instituted the current electoral system in which separate electoral votes are cast for the presidency and vice presidency. With Burr having little chance at re-nomination, the party's congressional nominating caucus chose Governor George Clinton of New York as Jefferson's running mate. The Federalists nominated Charles Cotesworth Pinckney for president and Rufus King for vice president. The Federalists made attacks on Jefferson's alleged atheism, his support for democratization, and his affair with Sally Hemings the centerpiece of their campaign, arguing that Jefferson's affair with an enslaved woman was hypocritical given his continuing support for slavery. The Democratic-Republicans enjoyed a marked advantage in party organization, while the Federalists and their ethos of government-by-the-elite were becoming increasingly unpopular. Jefferson won every state except for Connecticut and Delaware, taking 162 of the 174 electoral votes.[93]

Election of 1808

Secretary of State James Madison defeated Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in the 1808 presidential election

Jefferson, who believed that incumbents should not serve indefinitely, followed the two-term tradition precedent established by Washington, and declined to seek a third term. Instead, he endorsed his advisor and friend James Madison for the presidency. Jefferson's assertive foreign policy created intra-party criticism from a group led by John Randolph known as the tertium quids.[94] This group formed a strong anti-Madison contingent within the Democratic-Republican Party. They rallied around fellow Virginian James Monroe. At the same time, the administration's embargo diminished Jefferson's support, particularly in the Northeast.[95] Additionally, Vice President Clinton, who had accepted the vice presidential nomination again, announced his own candidacy for President. It took all of Jefferson's prestige and charm to convince dissident Democratic-Republicans not to bolt from the party out of disdain for Madison.[96] In the end, Madison, headed off the intra-party challenges and defeated Federalist nominee Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, winning 122 of the 176 electoral votes in the 1808 election.[97]

See also


  1. ^ Kenneth C. Davis, "An American History Lesson For Pat Buchanan", Huffington Post, July 18, 2009.
  2. ^ Thomas Jefferson, the 'Negro President', Garry Wills on The Tavis Smiley Show, February 16, 2004.
  3. ^ Appleby, pp. 4-5
  4. ^ a b "Inauguration of President Thomas Jefferson, 1801". Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  5. ^ Hayes, Kevin J. (2008). "The First Inaugural Address". The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 978-0-19-530758-0. 
  6. ^ Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, pp. 655–59.
  7. ^ Appleby, pp. 5-6
  8. ^ pp. 37-41
  9. ^ Appleby, pp. 31-39
  10. ^ Appleby, pp. 7-8, 61-63
  11. ^ Appleby, pp. 65-69
  12. ^ "U.S. Senate: Supreme Court Nominations: 1789-Present". Retrieved March 8, 2017. 
  13. ^ a b Meacham, 2012, p. 387.
  14. ^ Peterson, 2002, p. 41.
  15. ^ a b Wood, 2010, p. 293.
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  17. ^ Wills, 2002, pp. 50–51.
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  25. ^ Ambrose, 1996, pp. 54, 80.
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  27. ^ Thomas Jefferson Foundation: Benjamin Smith Barton
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  30. ^ Fritz, 2004, p. 3.
  31. ^ Ambrose, 1996, chap. VI.
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  35. ^ a b Editor's: Trey Berry, Pam Beasley, and Jeanne Clements (2006), The Forgotten Expedition, 1804-1805: The Louisiana Purchase Journals of Dunbar and Hunter, Editors Introduction, p. xi.
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  39. ^ Clearing up the Confusion surrounding Ohio's Admission to Statehood
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  • Adams, Henry. History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson. Library of America edition, (1986). Classic in-depth history.
  • Appleby, Joyce (2003). Thomas Jefferson. Times Books. 
  • Channing, Edward. The Jeffersonian System, 1801–1811 (1906) full text online, older scholarly survey
  • Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power: Party Operations 1801–1809 (1963), highly detailed party history
  • Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. The Process of Government Under Jefferson (1978)
  • McDonald, Forrest. The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1987), intellectual history approach to Jefferson's presidency
  • Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the President: First Term 1801–1805; v. 5: Jefferson the President: Second term, 1805–1809; v.6: The Sage of Monticello (1948–70), the standard scholarly biography; short bio by Malone; a standard scholarly biography
  • Peterson, Merrill D. Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (1986), long, detailed biography by leading scholar; online edition; also excerpt and text search; a standard scholarly biography
  • Peterson, Merrill D. ed. Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography. (1986), long essays by scholars
  • Smelser, Marshall. The Democratic Republic: 1801–1815 (1968), standard scholarly history of presidencies of Jefferson and Madison
  • Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. (2005), broad-scale interpretation of political history

Foreign policy

  • Cogliano, Francis D. Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy (Yale University Press, 2014). 320 pp. online review
  • Kaplan, Lawrence. Jefferson and France (Yale University Press, 1967)
  • Kaplan, Lawrence. Entangling Alliances with None: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Jefferson (Kent State University Press, 1987).
  • LaFeber, Walter. “Jefferson and an American Foreign Policy,” in Jeffersonian Legacies, ed. Peter S. Onuf (1993), pp. 370–91;
  • Rodriguez, Junius, ed. The Louisiana Purchase: An Encyclopedia (2002)
  • Tucker, Robert W. and David C. Hendrickson. Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (1992), best guide to foreign policy excerpt and text search, diplomatic history

External links

U.S. Presidential Administrations
Preceded by
J. Adams
Jefferson Presidency
Succeeded by
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