Minister of France
In May 1784, Congress sent Jefferson to France to join John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in negotiating European treaties of commerce. The next year, Franklin resigned as minster to France, and Jefferson succeeded him in Paris. Yet he came as close as anyone could to replacing the honored Franklin. The United States was suffering from a weak central authority under the Articles of Confederation. Jefferson found himself seriously handicapped by what he described as “the nonpayment of our debts and the want of energy in our government”. But he did work out several commercial agreements.
At the time, revolution was approaching in France. French reformers regarded Jefferson as a champion of liberty because of his political writings and his legal reforms in Virginia. The Marquis de Lafayette, who had fought for American independence and other moderates often sought his advice. Jefferson tried to keep out of French politics. But he did draft a proposed Charter of Rights to be presented to the King. This document and his other suggestions urged moderation because Jefferson felt that the French weren’t yet ready for a representative government of the American type. Jefferson was in Paris at the beginning of the French Revolution. He sympathized with the revolution, feeling it was similar in purpose to the American Revolution. Jefferson had taken his daughter Martha to France with, and Mary joined them in 1787. Both girls attended a convent school in Paris. Jefferson traveled widely in Europe. He broadened his knowledge of many subjects, especially architecture and farming. He applied for a leave in 1789 and sailed for home in October. He wanted to settle his affairs in America and to take his daughters band home. Jefferson expected to return to represent the United States in France.
During Jefferson’s staying in France, Americans at home were busy reorganizing the government. Statesman assembled in a convention in 1787 and drew up what became the Constitution of the United States. Jefferson’s friend James Madison sent him a draft, which he approved. But he objected strongly to the lack of a bill of rights and wrote letters urging one. Soon after the Constitution went into effect, Madison introduced the 10 amendments that became the Bill of Rights
Secretary of State
Jefferson arrived in the United States in November 1789.
A letter from President George Washington awaited him, asking Jefferson to be Secretary of State in the new government.
Jefferson received this invitation “with real regret”, but finally yielded to Washington’s urging.
Jefferson and Hamilton
A sharp difference of opinion soon arose between Jefferson and the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton though, younger than Jefferson had gained prominence as a spokesman for the Constitution. Although of humble origin, the New Yorker distributed the common people. Hamilton believed that the United States would be best governed by an aristocracy of the rich and well-born. Jefferson with his faith in the people, disagreed with Hamilton. Hamilton’s financial program embodied many of his principles, and brought these differences into the open. Jefferson supported Hamilton’s plan for funding all the debts of the previous national governments. He reluctantly agreed that Congress should also accept responsibility for the debts taken on by the States during the Revolutionary War. This proposal aroused considerable opposition especially in Virginia and other Southern States that had paid off much of their debt. These states didn’t want to pay the debts of other states. Some Southern members of Congress agreed to vote for paying the State debts in return for having the national capital located in the South. Jefferson helped carry out this compromise, and the capital was located in the District of Columbia.
But Jefferson opposed Hamilton’s plans to encourage shipping and manufacturing. Jefferson wanted the United States to remain a nation of farmers. Hamilton’s proposed national bank also alarmed Jefferson. He feared that such a bank would encourage financial speculation and hurt farming interests. Jefferson also thought it would gave the government too much power. Washington asked his Cabinet to submit opinions on the Constitutionality of a national bank. Jefferson developed his strict construction theory, which held that the government should assume only the powers expressly given it by the Constitution. Hamilton replied with his loose interpretation of the Constitution, declaring that the government could assume all powers not expressly denied it. Washington favored Hamilton in domestic affairs and approved the bank.
The differences between Jefferson and Hamilton grew into a bitter personal feud. Neither man believed in the honesty or good faith of the other. Hamilton went so far as to call Jefferson a “contemptible hypocrite”. Their conflicting points of view led to the development of the first political parties. The Federalists adopted Hamilton’s principles. Jefferson led the Democratic-Republicans.
Washington supported most of Jefferson’s policies in foreign relations. Jefferson urged recognition of the new revolutionary government of France. But he supported Washington’s proclamation of neutrality, and agreed on demanding the recall of Citizen Genet. Jefferson tried to persuade the British to abandon their forts in the North West Territory. He also worked for free navigation of the Mississippi River.
Jefferson joined his fellow Cabinet members in urging Washington to accept a second term as President. But he himself was heartily weary of office and wanted to escape the “hated occupation of politics”. Jefferson finally persuaded Washington to accept his resignation. In January 1794, Jefferson returned to Monticello. He hoped to find happiness “in the society of my neighbors and my books, in the whole some occupations of my farm and my affairs owing account to myself alone of my hours and actions.”
In 1796, his Democratic-Republican supporters nominated him as a Candidate for President to run against John Adams, the Federalist Candidate. Adams received 71 electoral votes, the second largest number. By the law of the time, he became Vice President.
Jefferson took no active part in the new Administration because it was largely Federalist. As leader of the opposition he strengthened the organization of the Democratic-Republican Party.
He found strong support among small farmers, frontier settlers, and Northern laborers. His returns with Adams grew more and more strained, until the men broke completely in 1800.
Jefferson presided over the senator within dignity and skills to aid deliberations, he wrote his famous Manual of Parliamentary Practice, which is still in use. In 1798, the XYZ Affair aroused great hostility to France. The war hysteria led the Federalist to pass the Alien and Sedition Act.
These laws in effect deprived the Democratic-Republicans of freedom of speech and of the press.
They aroused much opposition, and Jefferson led the attack against them. He prepared a series of resolutions for Virginia.
These Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions set forth the “compact” theory of the judge when this compact had been broken.
They were later used by advocates of nullification and secession.
Election of 1800
The Democratic-Republicans again nominated Jefferson for President in 1800, and named former Senator Aaron Burr of New York for Vice President. The Federalist Party renominated President John Adams and chose diplomat Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina as a running mate.
The Federalists warned Americans that Jefferson was a revolutionary, an anarchist and an unbeliever. The Federalists were divided among themselves. Alexander Hamilton had quarreled with Adams, and wrote a pamphlet attacking him. This party quarrel helped the Democratic-Republicans, as did the unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson won the presidency by receiving 73 electoral votes to 65 for Adams. His followers celebrated with bonfires and patriotic speeches. But their spirits fell when they learned that each Democratic-Republican elector had cast one vote for Jefferson and the other for Burr.
Although they had clearly intended to elect Jefferson to the presidency and Burr to the vice presidency, the result was a tie. Burr was technically also a candidate for President according to the voting procedures of the time. He failed to withdraw his name as a candidate, and the House of Representatives had to settle the election. The Federalists still controlled the House because the newly elected Democratic-Republican Congress hadn’t yet taken office.
Many Federalists members of Congress preferred Burr to Jefferson because they though Burr would be more manageable. But Hamilton distrusted Burr even more than Jefferson. He threw his influence to the support of Jefferson who won the election on the 36th ballot. The final vote occurred on February 17, 1801. Burr became Vice President. This election led to an amendment to the Constitution by which each elector in the Electoral College casts one vote for President and one for Vice President.
Jefferson’s First Administration (1801-1805)
The election of 1800, Jefferson insisted, “was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form”.
He felt that Democratic-Republican victory after 12 years of Federalism would save the nation from tyranny. Jefferson spoke more moderately in his inaugural address than he did during the political campaign. He was the first President to be inaugurated in Washington DC.
Jefferson declared in his speech that “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all republicans, we are all federalists.” Actually, the government continued much as before. Within a short time, the Democratic-Republicans had adopted, or at least accepted, many ideas of the Federalists.
Jefferson, a poor public speaker, was the first President to send his annual message to Congress, rather than deliver it in person. Later Presidents followed this procedure until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of appearing before Congress.
Life in the White House
The so-called “President’s House” was only partly built when Jefferson moved in. He felt somewhat lonely in what he described as “a great stone house, big enough for two emperors, one pope and the grand lama.” He kept a pet mockingbird for company. Jefferson’s wife had been dead for 18 ½ years when he became President. His daughter Martha Randolph served as hostess of the White House from time to time. Jefferson’s most popular hostess was Dolley Madison, the wife of his Secretary of State James Madison.
Jefferson’s grandson, James Randolph, was the first child born in the White House. Jefferson kept a French Steward and chef, but he tried to eliminate some of the formality in White House protocol. He began the practice of having guests shake hands with the President instead of bowing. He also placed dinner guests at a round table so that everyone would feel equally important. Always interested in architecture, Jefferson developed some ideas for the addition of east and west terraces and a north portico to the White House. He employed Benjamin H. Latrobe to carry out these ideas.
Jefferson believed that government should play the smallest possible role in national life. With the help of Secretary of Treasury Albert Gallatin, he began a policy of strict economy. The government sharply reduced department expenditures, especially those for the Army and Navy. It made substantial payments on the national debt. It repealed excise taxes, which had aroused opposition under the Federalists.
The Administration also reversed other Federalist policies. It repealed the Naturalization Act. The Alien Friends Act and the Sedition Act weren’t renewed. The Alien Enemies Act was greatly amended. Jefferson believed that appointments to federal jobs should be based on merit. But Federalists held all the offices and he quickly discovered that vacancies “by death are few, by resignation none.” He removed some Federalists, and appointed Democratic-Republicans to vacancies. By the end of his second term, his party held most federal offices. In effect, Jefferson’s actions foreshadowed the spoils system.