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Page 6

Thomas Jefferson


In the year 1781, Mr. Jefferson composed his "Notes on Virginia," a work which grew out of a number of questions, proposed to him by M. De Marbois, the secretary of the French legation in the United States. It embraced a general view of the geography of Virginia, its natural productions, statistics, government, history, and laws. In 1787, Mr. Jefferson published the work, under his own signature. It attracted much attention in Europe, as well as in America; dispelled many misconceptions respecting this continent, and gave its author a place among men distinguished for science. It is still admired, and will long be admired, for the happy simplicity of its style, and for the extent and variety of its information.

In 1782, Mr. Jefferson received the appointment of minister plenipotentiary, to join commissioners already in Europe, to settle the conditions of peace between the United States and Great Britain. Before his embarkation, however, intelligence was received, that the preliminaries of peace had been signed. The necessity of his mission being removed, congress dispensed with his leaving America.

In November, 1783, he again took his seat in the continental congress; but in May following was appointed minister plenipotentiary to act abroad in the negotiations of commercial treaties, in conjunction with Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams. In the month of July, Mr. Jefferson sailed for France, and joined the other commissioners at Paris, in August.

Although ample powers had been imparted to the commissioners, they were not as successful in forming commercial treaties as had been expected. It was of great importance to the United States to effect a treaty of this kind with Great Britain, and for this purpose Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams proceeded to London. In this important object they failed, owing, probably, to the hostile feelings which the ministry indulged towards America, and to the wounded pride which still rankled in their breasts; and, moreover, to a selfish policy which they had adopted in respect to their navigation system, by which they intended to increase their own navigation at the expense of other nations, and especially of the United States. The only treaties which the commissioners were at this time able to negotiate, were with Morocco and Prussia.

In 1785, Mr. Jefferson was appointed to succeed Doctor Franklin as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Versailles. The duties of this station he continued to perform until October, 1789, when he obtained leave to retire, just on the eve of that tremendous revolution which has so much agitated the world in our times.

The discharge of Mr. Jefferson's diplomatic duties while abroad, "was marked by great ability, diligence, and patriotism; and while he resided at Paris, in one of the most interesting periods, his character for intelligence, his love of knowledge, and of the society of learned men, distinguished him in the highest circles of the French capital. No court in Europe had, at that time, in Paris, a representative commanding or enjoying higher regard, for political knowledge, or for general attainment, titan the minister of this then infant republic."

During his residence in France, Mr. Jefferson found leisure to visit both Holland and Italy. In both countries he was received with the respect and attention due to his official station, as the minister of a rising republic, and as a man of learning and science.

In the year 1789, he returned to his native country. His talents and experience recommended him to President Washington for the first office in his gift. He was accordingly placed at the head of the department of state, end immediately entered on the arduous duties of that important station.

Soon after Mr. Jefferson entered on the duties of this office, congress directed him to prepare and report a plan for establishing a uniform system of currency, weights, and measures. This was followed, at a subsequent day, by reports on the subject of tonnage duties payable by France, and on the subject of the cod and whale fisheries. Each of these reports displayed the usual accuracy, information, and intelligence of the writer.

Towards the close of the year 1791, the relation of the United States to several countries abroad became embarrassing, and gave occasion to Mr. Jefferson to exercise those talents of a diplomatic character, with which he was pre-eminently endowed. "His correspondence with the ministers of other powers residing here, and his instructions to our own diplomatic agents abroad, are among our ablest state papers. A thorough knowledge of the laws and usages of nations, perfect acquaintance with the immediate subject before him, great felicity, and still greater facility, in writing show themselves in whatever effort his official situation called on him to make. It is believed, by competent judges, that the diplomatic intercourse of the government of the United States, from the first meeting of the continental congress in 1774 to the present time, taken together, would not suffer, in respect to the talent with which it has been conducted, by comparison with any thing which other and older states can produce; and to the attainment of this respectability and distinction, Mr. Jefferson has contributed his full part."

On the sixteenth of December, 1793, Mr. Jefferson communicated his last official report to congress, on the nature and extent of the privileges and restrictions on the commerce of the United States in foreign countries, and the measures which he deemed important to be adopted by the United States, for the improvement of their commerce and navigation.

This report, which has ever been considered as one of primary importance, gave rise to a long and interesting discussion in the national legislature. In regard to the measures recommended in the report, a wide difference prevailed in congress, among the two great parties, into which that body had become obviously and permanently divided. Indeed, it may be said to have been this report, which finally separates the statesmen of the country into two great political parties, which have existed almost to the present time.

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Last modified January 2, 2004