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Page 8

Thomas Jefferson

1743-1826

On the fourth of March, 1801, Mr. Jefferson, agreeable to the constitution, took the oath of office, in the presence of both houses of congress, on which occasion he delivered his inaugural address.

In this address, after expressing his diffidence in his powers satisfactorily to discharge the duties of the high and responsible office assigned him, he proceeded to state the principles by which his administration would be governed. These were, "Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political: peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none: the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administration for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies: the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigour, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home, and safety abroad: a jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution, where peaceable remedies are unprovided: absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotisms: a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them: the supremacy of the civil over the military authority: economy in the public expense, that labour may be lightly burthened: the honest payment of our debts, and sacred preservation of the public faith: encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its hand-maid: the diffusion of information, and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason: freedom of religion: freedom of the press: and freedom of person, under the protection of the habeas corpus: and trial by juries impartially selected.—These principles," added Mr. Jefferson, "should be the creed of our political faith; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."

To enter into a minute detail of the administration of Mr. Jefferson, would neither comport with the duties of a biographer, nor with the limits which must necessarily be prescribed to the present sketch. At a future day, more distant by far than the present, when the remembrance of political asperities shall have passed away, can exact justice be done to Mr. Jefferson and his administration. That he was a distinguished man, distinguished as a statesman, none can deny. But as the measures of his administration were called in question, in respect to their policy, and as the day of excitement has scarcely passed by, it is deemed more judicious to leave the subject to the research and deliberation of the future historian, than, in this place, to attempt to settle questions, about which there was, while he lived, and still may exist, an honest difference of opinion.

On the meeting of congress in December, 1801, Mr. Jefferson, varying from the practice of the former presidents, communicated a message to congress, instead of delivering a speech in person. The change in this respect thus introduced was obviously so popular and acceptable, that it has been adopted on every subsequent similar occasion.

The principal acts which characterized the first term of Mr. Jefferson's career, were, a removal from responsible and lucrative offices of a great portion of those whose political opinions were opposed to his own; the abolition of the internal taxes; a reorganization of the judiciary; an extension of the laws relative to naturalization; the purchase of Louisiana, and the establishment of commercial and friendly relations with various western tribes of Indians.

On the occurrence of a new presidential election, in 1805, the administration of Mr. Jefferson had been so acceptable, that he was re-elected by a majority, not of eight votes, as in the former instance, but by one hundred and forty-eight. Inspired with new zeal by this additional proof of confidence which his fellow-citizens had given him, he took occasion, in his second inaugural address, to assert his determination to abide by those principles upon which he had administered the government, and the approbation of which, on the part of the people, he read in their re-election of him to the same exalted station. In concluding his inaugural address, he took occasion to observe: "I do not fear that any motives of interest may lead me astray; I am sensible of no passion which could seduce me knowingly from the path of justice; but the weaknesses of human nature, and the limits of my own understanding, will produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests; I shall need, therefore, all the indulgence I have heretofore experienced; the want of it will certainly not lessen with increasing years. I shall need, too, the favour of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power."

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Last modified January 2, 2004