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Page 9

Thomas Jefferson

1743-1826

On the second election of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency, the vice presidency was transferred from Mr. Burr to George Clinton, of New-York. A merited odium had settled upon Mr. Burr in consequence of his unprincipled duel with General Hamilton, in which the latter gentleman had fallen a victim to murderous revenge. From this time, Mr. Burr sunk, as it was thought, into final obscurity; but his future conduct showed, that, while unobserved by his fellow citizens, he had been achieving a project, which, but for the sagacity and effective measures of Mr. Jefferson, might have led even to a dissolution of the union.

In the autumn of 1806, the movements of Mr. Burr first attracted the notice of government. He had purchased and was building boats on the Ohio, and engaging men to descend that river. His declared purpose was to form a settlement on the banks of the Washita, in Louisiana; but the character of the man, the nature of his preparations, and the incautious disclosures of his associates, led to the suspicion that his true object was either to gain possession of New-Orleans, and to erect into a separate government the country watered by the Mississippi and its branches, or to invade, from the territories of the United States, the rich Spanish province of Mexico.

From the first moment of suspicion, he was closely watched by the agents of the government. At Natchez, while on his way to New-Orleans, he was cited to appear before the supreme court of the Mississippi Territory. But he had so enveloped his projects in secrecy, that sufficient evidence to convict him could not be produced, and he was discharged. Hearing, however, that several persons, suspected of being his accomplices, had been arrested at New-Orleans and else where, he fled in disguise from Natchez, was apprehended on the Tombigbee, and conveyed a prisoner to Richmond. Two indictments were found against him, one charging him with treason against the United States, the other with preparing and commencing an expedition against the dominions of Spain.

In August, 1807, he was tried upon those indictments before John Marshall, the chief justice of the United States. Full evidence of his guilt not being exhibited, he was acquitted by the jury. The people, however, believed him guilty; and by their desertion and contempt he was reduced to a condition of the most abject wretchedness. The ease with which his plans were defeated, demonstrated the strength of the government; and his fate will ever be an impressive warning to those who, in a free country, listen to the suggestions of criminal ambition.

While these domestic troubles were, in a measure, agitating the country, questions of still greater importance were engaging the attention of the government in respect to our foreign relations. War was at this time waging between England and France. America, taking advantage of the belligerent state of these kingdoms, was advantageously employing herself, as a neutral power, in carrying from port to port the productions of France and her dependent kingdoms, and also to the ports of those kingdoms the manufactures of England.

Great Britain, at this time, and indeed from the peace of 1783, had claimed a right to search for and seize her seamen, even on board of neutral vessels while traversing the ocean. In the exercise of this pretended right, many unlawful seizures were made, against which Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, had successively remonstrated in vain. Added to this, the Americans were molested in the carrying trade, their vessels being seized by British cruisers while transporting ,to the continent the products of the French colonies, and condemned by the English courts as lawful prizes. In May, 1806, were issued the British orders in council, by which several European ports, under the control of France, were declared to be in a state of blockade, although not invested with a British fleet, and American vessels, in attempting to enter those ports, were captured and condemned.

As a measure retaliatory to the above orders in council, the French emperor issued a decree at Berlin, in 1806, declaring the British islands in a state of blockade. In consequence of these measures of the two belligerents, the commerce of the United States severely suffered, and their merchants were loud in their demands on the government for redress and protection.

In June, 1807, an act was committed which raised the indignation of the whole American people, and concentrated upon the British government the whole weight of popular indignation. This was an attack upon the frigate Chesapeake, just as she was leaving her port, for a distant service, by order of a British admiral, in consequence of which three of her men were killed, and four taken away. This outrage occasioned an immediate proclamation on the part of Mr. Jefferson, requiring all British armed vessels immediately to depart from the waters of the United States, and forbidding all such to enter. Instructions were forwarded to the American minister at the court of Great Britain, to demand satisfaction for the insult, and security against future aggression. Congress was summoned to meet, and to decide upon the further measures which should be adopted.

In the mean time, the British government promptly disavowed the act of the officer, by whom the above outrage had been committed, and offered reparation for the injuries done, which some time after was carried into effect.

From this time, the conduct of the belligerents was such, in respect to each other, as to bear oppressively upon the American nation, leaving the government of the latter no other alternative, but abject submission, or decided retaliation. In respect to the latter course, two measures only could be adopted, a declaration of war, or a suspension of the commerce of the United States. The latter alternative was adopted, and on the twenty-second of December, 1807, an act passed both houses of congress, laying a general embargo.

In respect to the policy of the embargo, the most prominent feature in the administration of Mr. Jefferson, different opinions prevailed among the American people. By the administration, it was acknowledged to be only an experiment; which, while it showed the spirit of the nation, and operated with no inconsiderable severity upon the interests of the belligerents, left the way open to negotiations, or, if necessary to actual war.

Before the result of that system of measures which had been recommended by Mr. Jefferson was fully known, the period arrived when a new election to the presidency was to take place. As Mr. Jefferson had reached the age of sixty-five years, forty of which had almost uninterruptedly been devoted to the arduous duties of public life, he was desirous, at the close of his then presidential term, of ending his political career.

Having formed this determination, he alluded to it in a message to congress, in the following language:

"Availing myself of this, the last occasion which will occur of addressing the two houses of the legislature at their meeting, I cannot omit the expression of my sincere gratitude for the repeated proofs of confidence manifested to me by themselves, and their predecessors, since my call to the administration, and the many indulgences experienced at their hands. The same grateful acknowledgments are due to my fellow-citizens generally, whose support has been my great encouragement, under all embarrassments. In the transactions of their business, I cannot have escaped error. It is incident to our imperfect nature. But I may say with truth, my errors have been of the understanding, not of intention; and that the advancement of their rights and interests has been the constant motive of every measure. On these considerations, I solicit their indulgence, Looking forward with anxiety to their future destinies, I trust, that in their steady character, unshaken by difficulties, in their love of liberty, obedience to law, and support of public authorities, I see a sure guarantee of the permanence of our republic; and retiring from the charge of their affairs, I carry with me the consolation of a firm persuasion, that heaven has in store for our beloved country, long ages to come of prosperity and happiness."

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Last modified January 2, 2004