Story of Thomas Jefferson - J. W. McSpadden
A great grief now came upon Thomas Jefferson. For months his wife had been ill and he had been at home to watch over her. With the coming of September, 1782, the dimming light of her life went gently out. Her husband's only comfort in this time of suffering was little ten-year-old Martha, the eldest of the three daughters left him.
Sometime after his loss, Congress asked Jefferson to join the commissioners in Paris who were trying to make the treaty of peace there. He was only too glad to enter into some work for his country that could help him to bear his sorrow, so he accepted. But before he sailed away for France the news came that the work, of the commissioners had been finished.
Still, the country was not content to allow so useful a man to stay at home. Within three weeks of his going back to Monticello, the legislature of Virginia once again elected him to Congress. His friend and former law student James Monroe and three others were also chosen to serve the state. November found him once more busy in Congress where until nearly summer he took a leading part.
"I see," said one member of that body to another as they met one day in the lobby, "I see that Thomas Jefferson has had the honor of handing to Congress Virginia's deeds to that wonderful northwestern territory. It's a vast region and a noble gift to the country."
"A wonderful region!" echoed the other. "And the noblest thing about the gift, to my mind, is the ordinance Jefferson has written to govern it. I hope it will pass. He's striking another blow against slavery—and he a rich slave-holder, too!"
The other shook his head.
"Slave-holder, yes, but he's lost a great deal by the war. But what is he doing?"
"Why, his bill declares that there shall be no slavery after the year 1800 in the new states to be made out of this territory. I hope it will pass."
In spite, however, of the hopes of the friends of this measure, Congress did not pass it. The defeat of Jefferson's slavery provision for the territories doubtless made possible the terrible Civil War that came upon our country long years after he lay quiet beneath the trees at Monticello.
Another matter that concerns us all to-day was his idea regarding the money to be coined by the new United States. Up to that time the coins of various foreign countries such as England, Spain, France and even Arabia were in use in the states, a fact that probably caused some confusion. Congress thought it would be wise to have a table of values of these coins. Gouverneur Morris made such a list and then suggested that a dollar should be used as an American coin which should be worth one thousand, four hundred and forty times as much as a small silver unit. This plan seemed very unwieldy to Thomas Jefferson, who thought it over and devised another based on the decimal system, which now makes our money so convenient and easy to count.
Jefferson had long wanted to visit Europe, and now, at last, came the time when he was to go. Congress once more appointed him to serve his country abroad. This time it was to help Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who were trying to make treaties of trade for us with various other countries.
The finding of a ship and taking passage for a voyage was not an easy thing in those days. Great liners did not ply between the New and Old Worlds, and a person wishing to cross had to gain news of the sailing dates of merchant ships or to catch the little monthly "packets" as they were called.
At Boston his party heard of a vessel called the Ceres that was soon to sail for London. In this they succeeded in taking passage. Thirty-two days after leaving Boston they found themselves in Paris. Little Martha was getting better of an illness and ready to look with wondering eyes on this new French world. Her father and his secretary, William Short, were already charmed with the beauties of the gay French capital.
For five years Thomas Jefferson represented America in Europe. With the coming of the first spring his duties were enlarged. Benjamin Franklin went home, John Adams left Paris for England, and he was made our direct representative in France, a position the most delightful in the world for a man of his disposition.
While he was in Europe his book, "Notes on Virginia," which contained a great deal of valuable information about America, was printed in both English and French. A great many copies were bought and read in Paris, and people there thought much of the famous author who represented his country.
But a thing of e'en greater influence was the printing of his Act for Freedom of Religion. It seemed wonderful and glorious to the greatest minds of the day and a strange and new idea, that every person should be allowed to believe in whatever seemed to his own mind to be right; that nobody ought to have the right to say what religion any other person must believe, and no government the power to compel its people to belong to any one church.
Many and of different kinds were the labors of the American minister plenipotentiary, as he was called. The sending of news of all important affairs of trade, politics, invention, science and whatever might be of help to America or its citizens kept him very busy. His keen and eager wish to have for his own country all that was best in the Old World was the cause of the introduction into our southern states of the finest rice in the world. This he secured in Italy. He tried hard to introduce the olive, too, but was not successful, although he sent many plants across the ocean to the South. Whenever he could get a valuable plant, seed, nut or root, he sent it home for trial.
His work was of great value not only to American farmers but also to France, for he secured valuable plants for that country from the New World. In the winter of 1788-1789, when the people of Paris were suffering from the terrible cold and famine, it was through an appeal of Jefferson's that over thirty thousand barrels of flour from America were sent them.
In the midst of his first few weeks in Paris the sad news came to him that baby Lucy, two years old, had died.
"I cannot be any longer separated from my other little one," he thought sorrowfully. "I will send for her to come to us here."
So, when all the troublesome arrangements of sailing ships and travel were made, to Paris came the little Maria, called Polly by those, who loved her.
With his two little girls by his side, Jefferson was well content to remain in France for so long a time as his country might require his services.