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ART. IV.—THOMAS JEFFERSON.
1 Jefferson's Complete Works; being his Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports,
Messages, Addresses, and other Writings, Originaland Private, from Original
Manuscripts. Nine vols. Taylor & Maury: Washington, D. C. 2. The Life of Thomas Jefferson, by HENRY S. RANDALL, LL.D. Derby & Jackson. 3. The Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster ; edited by FLETCHER WEBSTER.
Two vols, Boston : Little, Brown & Co. FOREMOST among the men of his times, and we think the best representative, on the whole, of the ideas then working among the masses, was Thomas Jefferson. We have been led, equally by his ancient reputation, and by the still prevalent authority of his name, to a special examination of his life and character, and the results we propose to embody in the present article. Of the volumes before us, we shall refer chiefly to those first on the list, because we have long held the doctrine, that nowhere else does a man reveal himself so thoroughly as in his private correspondence. These are nine in number, of some six hundred pages each, and containing many of his letters to confidential friends, written at all periods of his life. The first contains his autobiography, written at the age of seventyseven; a fac-simile of the Declaration of Independence as he originally drafted it; his early correspondence with youthful friends, and a number of letters, private and official, to various persons, among whom are Washington, Madison, Monroe, John Adams, General Greene, Paul Jones, John Jay, Lafayette, Elbridge Gerry, and most of the distinguished men of that day. The other eight volumes are taken up with letters, addresses, his Notes on Virginia, the celebrated Anas, and shrewd comments on various subjects, from growing tobacco and raising sheep, to governing nations and solving man's destiny. His life, by Judge Randall, is to be completed in three volumes; the first only is before us, though we believe the second has also appeared. This brings Mr. Jefferson's life down to his entrance into Washington's cabinet as Secretary of State, in 1790. The work is generally well executed; but there is little of value in it which we do not find expressed in Mr. Jefferson's own words in the volumes above mentioned. For this reason, we shall probably have no occasion to refer to it, though we may make some use of its materials in working up the text. The third work needs no explanation; we shall use it for only a single, though lengthy and valuable quotation.
Mr. Jefferson was born of respectable parentage, in 1743, among the mountainous regions of Albemarle county, Virginia. His father was a man of great strength and courage, of Scotch descent, and especially noted for all that acuteness of judgment conceded to his countrymen. “He traced his pedigree far back in England and Scotland,” says Mr. Jefferson, and adds, with truly republican accent, " to wbich let every one ascribe the faith and merit he chooses." Thomas, the eldest son, was early put to books, for which, even then, he manifested a great fondness. At the early age of seventeen he was regularly matriculated in William and Mary College, where he subsequently graduated with honor, and soon after commenced his clerkship at law in Williamsburg, under the direction of George Wythe, then one of the most considerable lawyers in Virginia. Like other young men, he had his love affairs, which ultimately solidified into matrimony. While in Williamsburg, it appears that his attentions were about equally divided between Coke on Littleton, and Miss Rebecca Burwell, though he subsequently married a Mrs. Martha Skelton, a young widow of twenty-three. Like most men of spirit in those times, he took an ardent part in the exciting politics of the day, and in 1769, but two years after his admission to the bar, was returned to the General Assembly of Virginia. Here he soon distinguished himself as an active working member, though possessed of little oratory, for which he was physically disqualified. His voice was naturally weak, and when he spoke soon became husky; in after years he quitted the forum altogether, exchanging the tongue for the pen. Here he greatly excelled, as his voluminous papers abundantly show; indeed, as a writer he has seldom been equalled in the three great requisites of style—perspicuity, accuracy and force. His large information, his keen knowledge of mankind, his practical cast of character, and signal ability with the pen, eminently fitted him for drafting the documents issuing from the various deliberative bodies through which he successively passed. This was his sphere; he had the discernment early to perceive it, and to abandon the more showy grace of oratory for the more substantial one of composition. Lord Bacon, we believe it is, somewhere makes the remark, that there are but two ways of securing immortality, one by performing deeds worthy to be written, and the other by writing of such deeds. Jefferson did both, and, if Bacon be authority, is therefore doubly immortal. From the Colonial Legislature he passed into the Continental Congress, where he was not only a prominent but leading member, and though speaking but seldom himself, yet furnishing much of the matter for the speeches of others. As author of the Declaration of Independence, the most thorough, compact, and vigorous state paper our age has produced, his fame is secure at least for centuries, if not forever. He was now employed two years with Mr. Pendleton and Mr. Wythe, in the codification of the Laws of Virginia. This laborious and thankless work concluded, he was elected governor, next to the Legislature, and then to Congress again. Subsequently he was sent to Europe as Minister Plenipotentiary; on his return he was appointed Secretary of State under the administration of Washington, then elected vice-president under the elder Adams, and lastly became our third president for two successive terms. Afterward, when he had retired to private life, he was appointed a Visitor and Rector of the University of Virginia. With this brief resumé of his public services, extending through a period of sixty-one years, let us try to sketch his character.
1. He was thoroughly republican, and therefore, as we have elsewhere said, we consider him the best representative man of his times, if not of our history; for with him republicanism was a leading, intense, and controlling sentiment. It was scarcely so with any other great man of his times. Washington loved the Republic, and resolved to give it the aid of all his splendid and weighty character; in his own words, as recorded by Jefferson, he declared he “would spend the last drop of his blood"* to give it a fair trial; but, conservative by nature, even he despaired of the ability of the people to govern themselves. John Adams, of greater attainments than Jefferson, and perhaps greater genius, though of far less practical wisdom, admitted frankly his doubts of the masses and his love of an aristocracy;t while Hamilton, wise in most of his projects and great in everything, was an avowed monarchist. Hamilton went so far as to prepare the draught of a circular letter,” to be sent to various persons of consequence, soliciting their co-operation in the establishment of a monarchical government. But in the teeth of such opposition, Jefferson declared his full faith in the integrity and ability of the people, proclaimed himself their defender, and baring his arm for the battle, fought like a Hercules in vindication of his cherished principles. Hear him in the utterance of those sublime propositions upon which the Revolution was staked, and fought, and also won:
* We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED ; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE to alter
• Vol. ri, p. 97 ; vol. ix, p. 96. † Vol. vi, p. 160, 264–260; vol. ix, p. 96. I Vol. vii, p. 389-90; vol. ix, 26, 47, 69, 96, 122.
or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
These sonorous sentences were bugle blasts, well calculated to arouse the nation, and the nations, and they could not and cannot but make kings and tyrants tremble on their thrones. Solemnly affirming the sovereignty of the people, they went home to the hearts and the consciences of the American colonists; they constituted their battle-cry on many a well-fought battle-field; and the future historian will recognize them as the cabalistic words from which resulted a national development already marvelous, in less than a century from the nation's genesis, and destined to become the most magnificent the world ever saw. But hear him further:
“ Societies exist under three forms, sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments, wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case of England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. Under government of force, as is the case in all other monarchies, and in most of the other republics. To have an idea of the curse of existence under these last, they must be seen. It is a government of wolves over sheep. It is a problem not clear in my mind, that the first condition is not the best ; but I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population. The second state has a great deal of good in it. The mass of mankind under that enjoy a precious degree of liberty and hap piness. It has its evils too; the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. But weigh this against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing. Malo periculosam libertatim quam quietam servitutem. Even this evil is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary to the political world as storms in the physical.”—Vol. ii, p. 105.
There is a vast deal of wisdom condensed in these rough paragraphs, indeed the results of a lifetime of observation and reflection. And again, in commenting on Hume, whom he styles “the great apostle of toryism,” but who could not be otherwise than treacherous also to liberty, when he had renounced his allegiance to Christianity; Hume, in Chapter 159, in speaking of the reign of the Stuarts, says: " The commons established a principle which is noble in itself, and seems specious, but is belied by all history and experience, that the people are the origin of all just power.” To this Jefferson interrogates indignantly, almost fiercely:
“ And where else will this degenerate son of science, this traitor to his fellow men, find the origin of just powers, if not in the majority of society ? Will it be in the minority> or in an individual of that minority ?"-Vol. vii, p. 356.
Here is a rigid statement in a nutshell of the old cause of The People vs. Kings. The matter in controversy could hardly be compressed into a smaller compass. It is the short argument of a master advocate. The triad of questions winds up with a climacteric twitch, like the clinching of a well-driven rivet. He makes short work of Mr. Hume's stilted sophism.
As a natural consequence of his strong love of republicanism, he had an equally strong hatred of monarchism. At the close of the Revolution there was a large party in our country devoted to monarchy. We have already alluded to Adams and Hamilton; these were but the outspoken leaders of thousands of men, no doubt sincere in their views, but who were utterly opposed to the establishment of a republic, because of its alleged turbulence and commotions. How just these allegations were, we have elsewhere hinted; they were to be expected, when we reflect that the charges come from historians, who were generally the paid creatures of kings, and dependent on monarchy, not only for their subsistence, but also for their lives. What republics have had fair play, have ultimately been subverted by kings; through all the past, with slight exception, tyrants have had their hands at the throats of the people, or have whipped them along like dogs; and therefore, when we remember how, in every age, genius and talent have cringed at the feet of power, we repeat it is to be expected that historians would pronounce vox populi to be vox diaboli, though its divine intonations assured them that it was in reality the voice of God. The time for such false histories is past. A new era has dawned upon mankind. Freedom, with its beneficent and vivifying influences, is abroad in the earth, to extinguish error, to confound prejudice, and to rebuke despots, unclouding brains, and unshackling pens.
What Mr. Jefferson thought of monarchies, may be seen by the following passages, written by him from Europe just previous to the adoption of the Federal Constitution :
“ With all the defects of our constitution, whether general or particular, the comparison of our governments with those of Europe, is like a comparison of heaven and hell. England, like the earth, may be allowed to take the intermediate station. And yet I hear there are people among you who think the experience of our governments has already proved that republican governments will not answer.”
And then he adds, in a keen sarcasm : “ Send those gentry here to count the blessings of monarchy!”—Vol. ii,
Again he writes, about the same time:
“ I was such an enemy to monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries, which may not be traced to their king as its source, nor a good which is not derived from the small fibers of republicanism existing among them. I can further say, with safety, there is not a crowned