Abbildungen der Seite

tures. In 1774, he published his “Summary View of the Rights of British America," a powerful pamphlet, addressed to the king of Great Britain, in which he set forth the true relations between the mother-country and colonies, as claimed by the people of this country. This pamphlet was republished in England, under the auspices of Edmund Burke.

In 1775, he was elected one of the delegates to represent Virginia in the continental Congress, of which body he was for several years one of the most active members. The Virginia delegates having, in pursuance of instructions from their provincial convention, moved a resolution in favor of the independence of the colonies, that question was taken up in Congress, and, after debate, referred to a committee of five, of whom Mr. Jefferson was chosen chairman. The committee, whose names are given in our biography of Mr. Adams, requested Mr. Jefferson to prepare the Declaration of Independence. To this he consented, although then one of the youngest members of Congress, and his draught of that paper which is the principal monument of his fame, was accepted by the committee and by Congress, with few amendments, and finally adopted on the 4th of July, 1776.

The new state government of Virginia having been organized the same year, while Mr. Jefferson was in Congress, and he having been elected a member of the legislature, where he thought he could be useful in framing the laws required under a republican form of government, he resigned his place in Congress, and took his seat in the Virginia legislature, in October. In this station he acted as one of a commission for revising the laws of the commonwealth.

Among the laws proposed by him, and adopted, were those prohibiting the future importation of slaves; for abolishing the law of primogeniture, and providing for the equal partition of inheritances; for establishing religious freedom; and for a system of general education ; which last measure was never carried into practice in the state.

The benevolence of Mr. Jefferson's character is shown in a transaction which took place in 1779. Congress had deemed it prudent to retain in this country the British troops who were captured at Saratoga on the surrender of Burgoyne, until the British government ratified the agreement of their commanding officer. These troops were removed into the interior of the county, and Charlottesville, in Virginia, in the immediate vicinity of Mr. Jefferson's residence, was selected for their residence. There they were sent in the early part of 1779, although the barracks were in an unfinished state, the provisions for their sustenance insufficient, and the roads in a bad condition. Mr. Jefferson and some of his neighbors did all in their power to alleviate the distresses of the troops, and the circumstances of their captivity. After arrangements were made for their accommodation, the governor and council, in consequence of the representations of persons who apprehended a scarcity of provisions,

determined, as they were authorized to do by Congress, to remove the prisoners to another state, or to some other part of Virginia. This intention was heard by the officers and men with distress, and with regret by Mr. Jefferson and his neighbors. He therefore addressed a letter to Governor Henry, in which he stated, in earnest and feeling language, the inhumanity and impolicy of the proposed measure. This appeal was successful, and the troops were suffered to remain at Charlottesville. From the British officers Mr. Jefferson received many letters of thanks for his kindness and hospitality, which they did not forget in his subsequent visit to Europe. When the time arrived for their leaving Virginia to return to England, the officers united in a letter of renewed thanks and respectful farewell to him. In his reply Mr. Jefferson said: “ The little attentions you are pleased to magnify so much, never deserved a mention or thought. Opposed as we happen to be, in our sentiments of duty and honor, and anxious for contrary events, I shall, nevertheless, sincerely rejoice in every circumstance of happiness and safety which may attend you personally."

On the first of June, 1779, Mr. Jefferson was elected by the legislature to succeed Patrick Henry, the first republican governor of Virginia. Af ter holding the office two years, he retired to private life, and soon after.ward he narrowly escaped capture by a company of 250 British cavalry. who were sent into the interior for the purpose of surprising and making prisoners the members of assembly at Charlottesville. No one was taken, and Mr. Jefferson, when pursued, escaped on his horse, through the woods at Carter's mountain. He was the same year elected a member of the legislature.

In 1781, Mr. Jefferson wrote his “ Notes on Virginia,” in reply to cer. tain questions addressed to him by M. de Marbois, the secretary of legation from France in the United States, embracing a general view of its geography, natural productions, statistics, government, history, and laws This little work, which has been very generally admired for its style and variety of information, was soon after published, both in French and English.

He had, in 1776, declined the appointment of commissioner, with Franklin and Deane, to negotiate treaties with France. In 1782, Congress appointed him a minister plenipotentiary, to join those who were in Europe, to negotiate a treaty of peace with Great Britain, but intelligence having been received that preliminaries had been signed, Congress dispensed with his leaving the United States.

Having been again elected a delegate to Congress, in 1783, he was chairman of the committee to whom the treaty of peace with Great Britain was referred ; and on the report of this committee the treaty was unanimously ratified. In 1784, he wrote notes on the establishment of a coinage for the United States, and proposed a different money unit from

that suggested by Robert Morris, the continental financier, and of his assistant, Gouverneur Morris. To Mr. Jefferson we are indebted for the dollar as the unit, and our present system of coins and decimals.

As a member of Congress, Mr. Jefferson made but few speeches. He remarks: "I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia, before the revolution, and during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question."

He was appointed by Congress, in May, 1784, with Adams and Franklin, a minister plenipotentiary to negotiate treaties of commerce with foreign nations. In July he sailed from Boston for Europe, with his eldest daughter, and joined the other commissioners, at Paris, in August. Negotiations were only successful with Prussia and Morocco. In March, 1785, Mr. Jefferson was appointed by Congress to succeed Dr. Franklin as minister at the French court, and remained in France until October, 1789.

During his residence in Paris, his society was courted by Condorcet, D'Alembert, Morrellet, and other distinguished literary and scientific men of France; and in the gayety, learning, taste, elegance, and hospitality of Paris, he found the pleasures most congenial to his disposition. In the month of October, 1789, he obtained leave of absence for a short time, and returned to the United States. He arrived at Norfolk on the 23d of November, and on his way home received from President Washington a letter offering him the appointment of secretary of state, at the organization of the federal government under the constitution, which had then recently been adopted. His inclinations were to return to France, as minister, which was left at his option by the president, but he finally concluded to accede to the wishes of Washington that he should accept the seat in his cabinet offered to him. His reports, while secretary of state, on the currency, on weights and measures, on the fisheries, and on commercial restrictions, as well as his correspondence with foreign ministers, gave ample proofs of his ability as a statesman. In 1790, Mr. Jefferson accompanied President Washington on a visit to Rhode Island, after that state had accepted the federal constitution. In 1791, being called on by the president for his opinion on the act passed by Congress establishing a national bank, he made a written communication, objecting to the institution as unconstitutional. The bill was, however, approved by President Washington. On the 31st of December, 1793, Mr. Jefferson resigned his seat in the cabinet, and retired to private life, at Monticello. While holding office under Washington, he had disapproved of many of the measures of his administration, particularly in those which originated with the secretary of the treasury, Hamilton. Between that gentleman and Mr. Jefferson there were irreconcilable differences of opinion on political matters, which caused constant bickerings in the cabinet first formed by Gen

eral Washington. The opposition to the federal administration assumed an organized form under the auspices of Mr. Jefferson. By his advice, the opposition party, which had been called anti-federalists, claimed the name of republicans, while their federal opponents called them democrats, after that name was introduced here from France. The term democrat was seldom used or countenanced by Mr. Jefferson.

In 1796, the political friends of Mr. Jefferson brought him forward as a candidate for president, but as Mr. Adams received the highest number of votes, that gentleman was elected president, and Mr. Jefferson vice-president, for four years from March 4, 1797. During that period, when not presiding in the senate, his time was passed in his favorite retreat at Monticello. He wrote a manual for the senate, which has ever since been the standard guide of Congress, as well as other political bodies, in the rules for transacting business.

In 1800, Mr. Jefferson was again nominated by his party, for president, and received a majority of votes over Mr. Adams. The votes for Mr. Jefferson and Colonel Burr, the republican candidates for president and vicepresident, being equal, the house of representatives, as then required by the constitution, were called upon to decide which should be president. When the election came on in the house, the political opponents of Mr. Jefferson voted for Burr; but on the 36th ballot, the opposition being partially withdrawn, Mr. Jefferson was elected president, and Colonel Burro became, of course, vice-president.

Of the events of Mr. Jefferson's administration we shall speak in another place. He was re-elected president in 1804, and retired finally from public life March 4, 1809. The remaining seventeen years of his life were passed in the tranquillity of Monticello. “ Here," says Mr. Webster, “ he lived as became a wise man. Surrounded by affectionate friends, his ardor in the pursuit of knowledge undiminished, with uncommon health, and unbroken spirits, he was able to enjoy largely the rational pleasures of life, and to partake in that public prosperity which he had so much contributed to produce. His kindness and hospitality, the charm of his conversation, the ease of his manners, the extent of his acquirements, and especially the full store of revolutionary incidents which he possessed, and which he knew when and how to dispense, rendered his abode in a high degree attractive to his admiring countrymen, while his public and scientific character drew toward him every intelligent and educated traveller from abroad."

The correspondence of Mr. Jefferson was extensive through life. In his latter years he renewed his intimacy with Mr. Adams, and the letters between the two ex-presidents which were published, are of the most friendly character.

The principal object in which Mr. Jefferson took an interest in his declining years, was that of a system of education in Virginia, especially in

[ocr errors]

the superintendence of the university of Virginia, which was founded in 1818, through his instrumentality. This institution was located at Charlottesville, at the foot of the mountain on which Monticello is situated, and Mr. Jefferson acted as rector from the time of its foundation until his death.

The pecuniary circumstances of Mr. Jefferson became embarrassed in his old age. He was compelled to dispose of his library, which was purchased by Congress for $23,950, and in 1825 he applied to the legislature of Virginia for leave to dispose of his estate at Monticello by lottery, to prevent its being sacrificed in payment of his debts. His request was granted, but his earthly career was closed before his wishes could be carried into effect. After a short illness, he died the following 4th of July, 1826, the aniversary of that day which fifty years before had been rendered memorable by that declaration of independence which had emanated from his pen. We have mentioned in another place the remarkable .coincidence that his compatriot, John Adams, died on the same day.

In a private memorandum left by Mr. Jefferson, ho desired that a small granite obelisk might be erected over his remains, with the following in'scription :

Here was buried

Author of the Declaration of Independence,
of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom,

And Father of the University of Virginia.

The age of Mr. Jefferson at the time of his death, was a little over eighty-three years. His wife died in 1782, leaving three daughters, one of whom died young, one married John W. Eppes, and the other Thomas M. Randolph, both of Virginia, the latter afterward governor of the state. Mrs. Eppes died in 1804, while Mr. Jefferson was president; Mrs. Randolph survived him.

In person Mr. Jefferson was beyond the ordinary dimensions, being six feet two inches in height, thin, but well formed, erect in his carriage, and imposing in his appearance. His complexion was fair, his hair, originally red, became white and silvery in old age ; his eyes were light blue, sparkling with intelligence, and beaming with philanthropy; his nose was large, his forehead broad, and his whole countenance indicated great sen. sibility and profound thought. His manners were simple and unpolished, yet dignified, and all who approached him were rendered perfectly at ease, both by his republican habits and his genuine politeness. His disposition being cheerful, his conversation was lively and enthusiastic, remarkable for the chastity of his colloquial diction and the correctness of his phraseology. He disliked form and parade, and his dress was remarkably plain, and often slovenly. Benevolence and liberality were prominent traits of

« ZurückWeiter »