Story of Thomas Jefferson - J. W. McSpadden

President Jefferson

The work of Washington's little cabinet of four was very difficult and important. The idea of being but parts of one nation was a new one to the states, and their people were very jealous lest something be done to take away the liberty they had so long fought for. Systems of doing things had to be invented, and the country raised in the eyes of the world from a little partnership of rebellious colonies to a steady and responsible government, whose people held together, made and obeyed their own laws, and paid the debts the war had brought upon them.

It was natural that two sorts of opinions should be held. One was that the states should be more or less independent of the nation, themselves handle most of their own affairs, and pay their own war debts. The other was that the states should give up much of their freedom to a government by the nation, which should pay all war debts and manage most important affairs. The people who held the former opinions were very democratic, or republican, in their ideas; believed in the rights of the common people; wished for a simple and inexpensive national government, and did not care for so much style and show as the others thought fitting. The second party believed that a supreme national government should be formed, and also that a certain amount of formal ceremony, with titles like Your Excellency, Your Honor, Esquire, and more or less imitation of English court manners should be the rule. The one stood for the mass of the people; the other for a privileged and powerful few.

It did not take long to find out who was the leader of those who upheld the rights of the plain people. Thomas Jefferson was soon known as the man who stood always for what were called "the rights of man." Alexander Hamilton, the gifted young Secretary of the Treasury, led the other side. Jefferson's followers came to be known as democrats, and he is still spoken of as the founder of the Democratic Party; although the first political significance of this title has passed away.

This first term of Washington and his cabinet was anything but easy. Important questions were always coming up to cause trouble. Such, for instance, was the matter of the nation's taking over the debts of the states; of the choice of a place for the national capital, and, when war between England and France raged fiercely, of what action the United States ought to take. Naturally, many of the people were for France and against England, while others felt that it would be better to stand by our old mother. While still others said that we should be neutral.

So it went. Every decision was full of difficulties and dangers. The wisdom of all the great statesmen of the time was needed to steer the new ship of state among the rocks and shoals on every hand.

The nation did assume the state debts. The place for the capital was chosen and later named Washington. The United States kept itself free from taking part with either France or England.

Thomas Jefferson's duties did not end with foreign affairs. He was called upon to act as Postmaster-General; to superintend the laying out of the new District of Columbia and its buildings; to head the new Patent Office, and various other new and important things. While he was head of the Patent Office, Eli Whitney sent in his model of the cotton-gin.

Tired out, at length, of being always away from the home he cared for so dearly, and of the labors that seemed only to bring never-ending strife, Jefferson persuaded the President to accept his resignation.

Monticello again welcomed him. Here he watched his crops; sent to Scotland for a new threshing machine; put into use the plow he had invented, which had won a gold medal from France; and was once more happy to be at home. But the rest was only temporary. Public life was to claim him again before long.

In November, 1796, he was elected Vice-President. John Adams, the federalist, was chosen to take the chair of the great chief, Washington. Until the spring of 1801, after the close of the century that had held the Declaration of Independence and the war that won American freedom, Thomas Jefferson held the second place in the government of the country.

May, 1800, found him and Aaron Burr candidates against Adams and Pinckney for the presidency. As the months went by, the new federal center, Washington, a little village in the wilderness to which the capital of the nation was removed in June, was all agog with the excitement of the coming election. But the election, when it did come, only served to bring further excitement, for it resulted in a tie vote between Jefferson and Burr. This then left it to the House of Representatives to decide by vote which of these two should be the President and which the Vice-President.

It was not until the thirty-sixth ballot, after seven days of strife and struggle among the representatives, that Thomas Jefferson was elected third President of the United States. While he held this office, John Page became governor of Virginia.