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Thomas Jefferson Essay Sample

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Thomas Jefferson Essay Sample

“The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their (peace and liberty) attainment. They should be the creed of our politician faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; 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”. (Thomas Jefferson; Inaugural Address).

Thomas Jefferson has been described as a thoroughgoing democrat with a rank ext only to Lincoln. Throughout his political career and personal life, he remained an incarnation of cherished American ideals of democracy, equality, freedom and fraternity. He was pone of the first commoners to become the President of United States. He had his own philosophy of government. He considered that United States was a model for the world because the true conditions of human society existed here. According to him the American Republic was not merely a political entity but it was a social institute that encompassed every sphere of American life.

Early Life:

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743,[1] at Shadwell plantation in western Virginia. (Dumas, 1962) He was the eldest of three sisters and one brother. His early education was at a preparatory school in the vicinity of plantation where he resided with his family. He graduated from William and Mary College, Williamsburg in 1762, later on studied law and started practice in 1762.
He remained a very demanding lawyer due to his legal sagacity. These years of his life are eventful and full of activity as for a youthful countryside attorney; he had to travel across various districts of Virginia. During these legal expeditions he met his future wife, twenty-three-year-old Martha Wayles Skelton,[2] a well-off widow who was a daughter of well-known Virginia lawyer. They married on January 1, 1772. At that time their only abode was a desolate single-room brick house at Jefferson’s Virginia plantation[3]. Within a short period of two years, this house became an epitome of architectural innovation and artistic and intellectual richness.

 

            During these years, Jefferson participated in political activities from the very commencement of his legal practice and remained member of colonial House of Burgesses for six years (1769-1775). As a member of Virginia House of Burgesses, Jefferson helped planning and organizing the Virginia Committee of Correspondence. In an era of hostility and resentment against colonialism, this committee stood for a dissident group of political activist that worked to resist British colonial rule. Further, he crafted “Summary View of the Rights of British America” in 1774 that rendered him great fame and he was identified strong supporter of American independence.

            He attended the Continental Congresses as delegate from Virginia and helped in Second Continental Congress to draft the declaration of Independence. Jefferson served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1776 to 1779. During the war of Independence, he served as Governor of Virginia. His only notable contribution is transfer of state capital to Richmond. He further represented America in France for four years (1785-1789) and negotiated on bilateral commercial treaties. He also served as Secretary of State under Washington administration in the first national government.

Jefferson became president after the defeat of Adams, a federalist. With his accession, the era of aristocrats was over and a new era of Democrats set in. The chief features of his presidency were as follow;

Faith in Common Man:

Jefferson has full faith in the ability of the common man and believed that political power should not be the exclusive privilege of the rich few alone. As the government existed to protect the rights of all sections of society, all sections must have a share in its administration. In fact, Jefferson considered government merely an instrument for promoting the common welfare.

Faith in Laissez Faire Theory:

Jefferson favored the Laissez Faire and held that the best government was that which governed the least. That was the reason he wanted the Federal government to perform minimum functions. However, Jefferson avoided extreme measures during his presidency.

Measures to make Judiciary Impartial:

When Jefferson became president, the judiciary was wholly manned by Federalists who enforced the Sedition Act with full vigor. In 1803, Chief Justice Marshall asserted the right of the Supreme Court to invalidate the acts of Congress in Marbury vs. Madison. All this convinced Jefferson that something had to be done to curb the excessive and partially used powers of judiciary.

Earlier impeachment proceedings had been instituted against Associate Justice Chase of Supreme Court on the ground that he had made offensive comments against the Republicans and had excessively punished the offenders under Sedition Act. However the charges of high crimes and misdemeanors could not be proved against Chase and he was acquitted. [4]

            Jefferson got a measure passed from the Congress by which additional districts courts and circuit courts of appeal were created. It may be noted that earlier Congress had passed a law to this effect in 1801 but it was repealed the next year. Jefferson appointed judges of his own party to these courts. According to Professor Parkes; “Jefferson’s attack on the Court did accomplish one important objective—judges henceforth were more careful to show a proper impartiality and to refrain from the direct participation in the political conflicts” (Parkes 155)

Economic Reforms:

            President Jefferson had pledged himself to reduce the national debt; repeal of internal taxes, a cut in expenditure on the defence and a congressional system of appropriations for specific purposes. Galatin, Jefferson’s secretary of Treasury tried to carry out these pledges in actual practice and prepared a financial program. This program emphasized that the best way to keep government light and simple was to keep it poor.

Repeal of internal Taxes:

As the excise imposed by Hamilton proved unpopular and the collection of taxes entailed huge expenses, so Galatin repealed the same. He also repealed some of other unpopular internal taxes by an Act of April, 1802.

Reduction of National Debts:

Ever since 1793, the government expenditure had been increasing and there was a growing realization that it must be reduced. In 1793, the total government expenses stood at $13.8 million as against 18 million in 1800. Gallatin prepared a plan for reduction of expenditure. Income from custom duties was increased and expenses on military were reduced.  As a result of all these measures, the national debt came down by 50%. However the war of 1812 demonstrated that some of the measures adopted by Jefferson’s treasury managers were unwise. The non-keeping of fortification and retrenchment of a number of army and naval officers proved disastrous for America during the war.

Purchase of Louisiana:

The territory of Louisiana lay between River Mississippi and the Rocky mountains on the West. This territory was originally belonged to France and was given to Spain in 1763 as a compensation for her losses. This territory was acquired for America by Thomas Jefferson that paved the way for further Westward expansion upto the Pacific Ocean.  The acquisition of Louisiana had far reaching effects on American history. Prof. Elson describes the acquisition of Louisiana as “the greatest diplomatic achievements in the annals of the United States”. (Elson, History of United States of America)

Thomas and Clarks Expedition:

With the acquisition of Louisiana, the long standing desire of Jefferson was fulfilled. Jefferson ordered the exploration of the entire area with a view to carry out the settlement in a regular manner. This expedition, popularly known as Lewis and Clark expedition, consisted of forty men. In addition to these two leaders, there were twenty six soldiers, two interpreters and an Indian woman of Shoshone tribe who acted as a guide and interpreter and few others.

Though Thomas Jefferson was very popular, he had bitter critics too. The federalists despised him as “a man, suspected his methods and hated his political principles”. Hamilton said about Jefferson that “he is crafty and preserving in his objects; that he is not scrupulous about means of success, nor very mindful of the truth, and that he is a contemptible hypocrite”.  However, certain other consider him a man of honor and principles. Though he was the eldest son of his parents and would have inherited the entire property but he abolished the law of primogeniture in Virginia. He was a slave holder but always opposed slavery.[5] He suppressed his date of birth in order to abolish the monarchial practice of celebrating the birth days of public men. All this a testimony to the fact that Jefferson was not a self-seeker but a real democrat. He was a great nationalist too and said in his inaugural address; “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.

In conclusion, we agree with Prof A Whitney Griswold that Jefferson;

“Must share credit for founding our (American) democratic institutions with the philosophers whose ideas he borrowed and adapted. In a political sense he must share it with Franklin, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Marshall and the other founders, some of whom history may judge more effective and practical than he. But for his definition of those institutions, his expression of them in letter and spirit in the critical period of their infancy, history judges him to have represented them more completely than any of his colleagues. (Griswold  227)

 

 

References

American National Biography; Dictionary of American Biography; Jefferson, Thomas.

            The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd, et al. 27 vols. to date.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-. Malone, Dumas. Jefferson and the

Ordeal of Liberty. Boston: Little, Brown, Co., 1962.

Elson. History of United States of America. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1904.

Griswold, A Whitney. The American Democracy in The American Past.

Jefferson, Thomas. First Inaugural Address. Project Avalon. Yale University. 6 Apr. 2007 <http//www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/inaug/jefinau1.htm>.

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. Waldstreicher, David (ed.). New York:

Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to William C. Jarvis. 1820. Online Library of Liberty. 6 Apr. 2007 <http://www.oll.libertyfund.org/Home3/Book.php?recordID=0054.12>.

Parkes, Henry B. United States of America—A History. New York: Knopf, 1953.

Rayner, B.L. Life of Thomas Jefferson. Lilly, Wait, Colman, & Holden: Boston, 1834.

Wiltse, Charles Maurice. The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy. New York:

Hill and Wang, 1960.

[1] An earlier biographer, B. L. Rayner, is of the view that “The date of his birth was unknown to the public until after his decease.” The chief reason behind such concealment of his date of birth is, as Rayner puts it, “The principles which determined him on this subject were the great indelicacy and impropriety of permitting himself to be made the recipient of a homage, so incompatible with the true dignity and independence of the republican character, and the still greater repugnance which he should feel at seeing the birthday honors of the Republic transferred in any degree, to any individual.” (Rayner, 1834).

[2] Although Jefferson courted an 18-year-old Angela McShane, for a short time in 1771 but did not marry her.

[3] Jefferson used to call this settlement as “Monticello”.

[4] However, Jefferson remained hostile to the canon of judicial review due to rulings of Supreme Court in Marbury vs. Madison;

To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem [good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves. (Letter to William C. Jarvis, 1820)

[5] Jefferson view on slavery are better expressed his monumental work “Notes on the State of Virginia. He says;

There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.

(Notes on the State of Virginia, Ch 18.)

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