Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 




The Modern Era

1789 - 1914


In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.
 

 


 


Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.

 

 


The United States: Beginnings and Rise to World Power
 


1789-1917
 

 

The United States, spiritually still strongly rooted in the European tradition, strove to develop its own identity. A foreign policy of isolationism, manifested in the Monroe Doctrine, was implemented. During the 19th century, the territory of the United States increased through the purchase and annexation of land. After 1828 the differences between the Southern and Northern states became increasingly apparent, particularly over the issue of slave ownership. The Civil War from 1861 to 1865 traumatized the young country. Nevertheless, the Union was preserved with the North's victory. After the Civil War, the country's economic and technological ascent began. The entry of the United States into World War I in 1917 signaled the abandonment of isolationism.

 


Founding Years
 

In the early years, there was intense debate over the sociopolitical orientation of the young republic. The unfortunate involvement of the United States in European disputes led to the isolationist policy of the Monroe Doctrine, which was formulated in 1823.

 

After the 13 original states ratified the US constitution in 1787, two years after it had been drafted in Philadelphia, George Washington was elected the first president, with John Adams as vice president, serving a term from 1789 until 1797.

The political options open to the young nation were explored during the first years. Two positions developed: a course toward a strong national government that would promote industry and commerce, advocated by Alexander Hamilton and others and later adopted by the Federalist party; or an agriculturally oriented America with strong individual states, an idea endorsed by the Democratic party headed by Thomas Jefferson. In 1794 farmers were forced to accept a federal excise tax on whisky.
While Washington had promoted a policy of noninterference, the question of whether to ally with France or England arose during the presidency of John Adams (1797-1801). The question was whether to tolerate the Royal Navy stopping and searching United States ships and pressing American seamen into the Navy.

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) bought the vast stretch of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains—the Louisiana Purchase— from France, doubling the territory of the United States.

In foreign affairs, the United States became embroiled in the war between Napoleon and Great Britain, leading to war against the British under President Madison. The experience led to James Monroe's (1817—1825) declaration of the Monroe Doctrine on December 2,1823, stating that the United States would neither interfere in European conflicts nor tolerate colonization attempts by European powers in the Americas. With the economic upswing after the War of 1812 came the development of the Midwestern territories by farmers searching for new land. This precipitated continuing conflicts with the Indian tribes which had been driven north or settled in reservations.

 

 

George Washington

1793

"'Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

 
 


 

 

 

The Supreme Court

The young United States endeavored to follow the separation of powers advocated by the French philosopher Montesquieu.

John Marshall, who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835, repeatedly restricted the presumption of authority of presidents Jefferson and Madison.

In the case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803, he succeeded in establishing the right of the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of federal laws and, when necessary, to nullify them.

 

 


 

 

 


Founding Fathers of the United States

 

 

 

 

 


George Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton,
Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, John Marshall, George Mason

 

 

 

Founding Fathers

United States history
Main
the most prominent statesmen of America’s Revolutionary generation, responsible for the successful war for colonial independence from Great Britain, the liberal ideas celebrated in the Declaration of Independence, and the republican form of government defined in the United States Constitution. While there are no agreed-upon criteria for inclusion, membership in this select group customarily requires conspicuous contributions at one or both of the foundings of the United States: during the American Revolution, when independence was won, or during the Constitutional Convention, when nationhood was achieved.

Although the list of members can expand and contract in response to political pressures and ideological prejudices of the moment, the following 10, presented alphabetically, represent the “gallery of greats” that has stood the test of time:

George Washington, John Adams
, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, John Marshall, and  George Mason.

There is a nearly unanimous consensus that George Washington was the Foundingest Father of them all.
 

The debate
Within the broader world of popular opinion in the United States, the Founding Fathers are often accorded near mythical status as demigods who occupy privileged locations on the slopes of some American version of Mount Olympus. Within the narrower world of the academy, however, opinion is more divided. In general, scholarship at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st has focused more on ordinary and “inarticulate” Americans in the late 18th century, the periphery of the social scene rather than the centre. And much of the scholarly work focusing on the Founders has emphasized their failures more than their successes, primarily their failure to end slavery or reach a sensible accommodation with the Native Americans.

The very term Founding Fathers has also struck some scholars as inherently sexist, verbally excluding women from a prominent role in the founding. Such influential women as Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and Mercy Otis Warren made significant contributions that merit attention, despite the fact that the Founding Fathers label obscures their role.

As a result, the Founding Fathers label that originated in the 19th century as a quasi-religious and nearly reverential designation has become a more controversial term in the 21st. Any assessment of America’s founding generation has become a conversation about the core values embodied in the political institutions of the United States, which are alternatively celebrated as the wellspring of democracy and a triumphant liberal legacy or demonized as the source of American arrogance, racism, and imperialism.

For at least two reasons, the debate over its Founders occupies a special place in America’s history that has no parallel in the history of any European nation-state. First, the United States was not founded on a common ethnicity, language, or religion that could be taken for granted as the primal source of national identity. Instead, it was founded on a set of beliefs and convictions, what Thomas Jefferson described as self-evident truths, that were proclaimed in 1776 and then embedded in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. To become an American citizen is not a matter of bloodlines or genealogy but rather a matter of endorsing and embracing the values established at the founding, which accords the men who invented these values a special significance. Second, the American system of jurisprudence links all landmark constitutional decisions to the language of the Constitution itself and often to the “original intent” of the framers. Once again, this legal tradition gives the American Founders an abiding relevance in current discussions of foreign and domestic policy that would be inconceivable in most European countries.

Finally, in part because so much always seems to be at stake whenever the Founding Fathers enter any historical conversation, the debate over their achievement and legacy tends to assume a hyperbolic shape. It is as if an electromagnetic field surrounds the discussion, driving the debate toward mutually exclusive appraisals. In much the same way that adolescents view their parents, the Founders are depicted as heroic icons or despicable villains, demigods or devils, the creators of all that is right or all that is wrong with American society. In recent years the Founder whose reputation has been tossed most dramatically across this swoonish arc is Thomas Jefferson, simultaneously the author of the most lyrical rendition of the American promise to the world and the most explicit assertion of the supposed biological inferiority of African Americans.

Since the late 1990s a surge of new books on the Founding Fathers, several of which have enjoyed surprising commercial and critical success, has begun to break free of the hyperbolic pattern and generate an adult rather than adolescent conversation in which a sense of irony and paradox replaces the old moralistic categories. This recent scholarship is heavily dependent on the massive editorial projects, ongoing since the 1960s, that have produced a level of documentation on the American Founders that is more comprehensive and detailed than the account of any political elite in recorded history.

While this enormous avalanche of historical evidence bodes well for a more nuanced and sophisticated interpretation of the founding generation, the debate is likely to retain a special edge for most Americans. As long as the United States endures as a republican government established in the late 18th century, all Americans are living the legacy of that creative moment and therefore cannot escape its grand and tragic implications. And because the American Founders were real men, not fictional legends like Romulus and Remus of Rome or King Arthur of England, they will be unable to bear the impossible burdens that Americans reflexively, perhaps inevitably, need to impose upon them.


The achievement
Given the overheated character of the debate, perhaps it is prudent to move toward less contested and more factual terrain, where it is possible to better understand what the fuss is all about. What, in the end, did the Founding Fathers manage to do? Once both the inflated and judgmental rhetorics are brushed aside, what did they achieve?

At the most general level, they created the first modern nation-state based on liberal principles. These include the democratic principle that political sovereignty in any government resides in the citizenry rather than in a divinely sanctioned monarchy; the capitalistic principle that economic productivity depends upon the release of individual energies in the marketplace rather than on state-sponsored policies; the moral principle that the individual, not the society or the state, is the sovereign unit in the political equation; and the judicial principle that all citizens are equal before the law. Moreover, this liberal formula has become the preferred political recipe for success in the modern world, vanquishing the European monarchies in the 19th century and the totalitarian regimes of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union in the 20th century.

More specifically, the Founding Fathers managed to defy conventional wisdom in four unprecedented achievements: first, they won a war for colonial independence against the most powerful military and economic power in the world; second, they established the first large-scale republic in the modern world; third, they invented political parties that institutionalized the concept of a legitimate opposition; and fourth, they established the principle of the legal separation of church and state, though it took several decades for that principle to be implemented in all the states. Finally, all these achievements were won without recourse to the guillotine or the firing squad, which is to say without the violent purges that accompanied subsequent revolutions in France, Russia, and China. This was the overarching accomplishment that the British philosopher Alfred Lord North Whitehead had in mind when he observed that there were only two instances in the history of Western civilization when the political elite of an emerging empire behaved as well as one could reasonably expect: the first was Rome under Augustus, and the second was the United States under the Founding Fathers.


The failure
Slavery was incompatible with the values of the American Revolution, and all the prominent members of the Revolutionary generation acknowledged that fact. In three important areas they acted on this conviction: first, by ending the slave trade in 1808; second, by passing legislation in all the states north of the Potomac River, which put slavery on the road to ultimate extinction; and third, by prohibiting the expansion of slavery into the Northwest Territory. But in all the states south of the Potomac, where some nine-tenths of the slave population resided, they failed to act. Indeed, by insisting that slavery was a matter of state rather than federal jurisdiction, the Founding Fathers implicitly removed the slavery question from the national agenda. This decision had catastrophic consequences, for it permitted the enslaved population to grow in size eightfold (from 500,000 in 1775 to 4,000,000 in 1860), mostly by natural reproduction, and to spread throughout all the southern states east of the Mississippi River. And at least in retrospect, the Founders’ failure to act decisively before the slave population swelled so dramatically rendered the slavery question insoluble by any means short of civil war.

There were at least three underlying reasons for this tragic failure. First, many of the Founders mistakenly believed that slavery would die a natural death, that decisive action was unnecessary because slavery would not be able to compete successfully with the wage labour of free individuals. They did not foresee the cotton gin and the subsequent expansion of the “Cotton Kingdom.” Second, all the early efforts to place slavery on the national agenda prompted a threat of secession by the states of the Deep South (South Carolina and Georgia were the two states that actually threatened to secede, though Virginia might very well have chosen to join them if the matter came to a head), a threat especially potent during the fragile phase of the early American republic. While most of the Founders regarded slavery as a malignant cancer on the body politic, they also believed that any effort to remove it surgically would in all likelihood kill the young nation in the cradle. Finally, all conversations about abolishing slavery were haunted by the spectre of a free African American population, most especially in those states south of the Potomac where in some locations blacks actually outnumbered whites. None of the Founding Fathers found it possible to imagine a biracial American society, an idea that in point of fact did not achieve broad acceptance in the United States until the middle of the 20th century.

Given these prevalent convictions and attitudes, slavery was that most un-American item, an inherently intractable and insoluble problem. As Jefferson so famously put it, the Founders held “the wolfe by the ears” and could neither subdue him nor afford to let him go. Virtually all the Founding Fathers went to their graves realizing that slavery, no matter how intractable, would become the largest and most permanent stain on their legacy. And when Abraham Lincoln eventually made the decision that, at terrible cost, ended slavery forever, he did so in the name of the Founders. (See also Sidebar: The Founding Fathers and Slavery.)

The other tragic failure of the Founders, almost as odious as the failure to end slavery, was the inability to implement a just policy toward the indigenous inhabitants of the North American continent. In 1783, the year the British surrendered control of the eastern third of North America in the Peace of Paris, there were approximately 100,000 American Indians living between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. The first census (1790) revealed that there were also 100,000 white settlers living west of the Alleghenies, swelling in size every year (by 1800 they would number 500,000) and moving relentlessly westward. The inevitable collision between these two peoples posed the strategic and ultimately moral question: How could the legitimate rights of the Indian population be reconciled with the demographic tidal wave building to the east?

In the end, they could not. Although the official policy of Indian removal east of the Mississippi was not formally announced and implemented until 1830, the seeds of that policy—what one historian has called “the seeds of extinction”—were planted during the founding era, most especially during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801–09).

One genuine effort to avoid that outcome was made in 1790 during the presidency of George Washington. The Treaty of New York with the Creek tribes of the early southwest proposed a new model for American policy toward the Indians, declaring that they should be regarded not as a conquered people with no legal rights but rather as a collection of sovereign nations. Indian policy was therefore a branch of foreign policy, and all treaties were solemn commitments by the federal government not subject to challenge by any state or private corporation. Washington envisioned a series of American Indian enclaves or homelands east of the Mississippi whose borders would be guaranteed under federal law, protected by federal troops, and bypassed by the flood of white settlers. But, as it soon became clear, the federal government lacked the resources in money and manpower to make Washington’s vision a reality. And the very act of claiming executive power to create an Indian protectorate prompted charges of monarchy, the most potent political epithet of the age. Washington, who was accustomed to getting his way, observed caustically that nothing short of “a Chinese Wall” could protect the Native American tribes from the relentless expansion of white settlements. Given the surging size of the white population, it is difficult to imagine how the story could have turned out differently.


The explanations
Meanwhile, the more mythical rendition of the Founders, which continues to dominate public opinion outside the groves of academe, presumes that their achievements dwarf their failures so completely that the only question worth asking is: How did they do it? More specifically, how did this backwoods province on the western rim of the Atlantic world, far removed from the epicentres of learning and culture in London and Paris, somehow produce thinkers and ideas that transformed the landscape of modern politics?

Two historical explanations have been offered, each focusing on the special conditions present in Revolutionary America favourable to the creation of leadership. The first explanation describes the founding era as a unique moment that was “postaristocratic” and “predemocratic.” In the former sense, American society was more open to talent than England or the rest of Europe, where hereditary bloodlines were essential credentials for entry into public life. The Founders comprised what Jefferson called “a natural aristocracy,” meaning a political elite based on merit rather than genealogy, thus permitting men of impoverished origins such as Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, who would have languished in obscurity in London, to reach the top tier. In the latter (i.e., predemocratic) sense, the Founders were a self-conscious elite unburdened by egalitarian assumptions. Their constituency was not “the people” but “the public,” which they regarded as the long-term interest of the citizenry that they—the Founders—had been chosen to divine. Living between the assumptions of an aristocratic and a democratic world without belonging fully to either, the Founders maximized the advantages of both.

The second explanation focuses on the crisis-driven pressures that forced latent talent to the surface. When Jefferson concluded the Declaration of Independence by proclaiming that all the signers of the document were wagering “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” on the cause, he was engaging in more than a rhetorical flourish. For example, when Washington departed Mount Vernon for Philadelphia in May 1775, he presumed that the British would burn his estate to the ground once war was declared. An analogous gamble was required in 1787–88 to endorse the unprecedented viability of a large-scale American republic. The founding era, according to this explanation, was a propitious all-or-nothing moment in which only those blessed with uncommon conviction about the direction in which history was headed could survive the test. The severe and unforgiving political gauntlet the Founders were required to run eliminated lukewarm patriots and selected for survival only those leaders with the hard residue of unalloyed resolve.

This was probably what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he cautioned the next generation of aspiring American leaders to avoid measuring themselves against the Founders. They had the incalculable advantage, Emerson observed, of being “present at the creation” and thus seeing God “face to face.” All who came after them could only see him secondhand.


A diverse collective
Thus far the identity, achievements, and failures of the Founding Fathers have been considered as if they were the expression of a composite personality with a singular orientation. But this is wildly misleading. The term Founding Fathers is a plural noun, which in turn means that the face of the American Revolution is a group portrait. To be sure, Washington was primus inter pares within the founding generation, generally regarded, then and thereafter, as “the indispensable figure.” But unlike subsequent revolutions in France, Russia, and China, where a single person came to embody the meaning of the revolutionary movement—Napoleon I, Vladimir Ilich Lenin/Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong—the revolutionary experience in the United States had multiple faces and multiple meanings that managed to coexist without ever devolving into a unitary embodiment of authority. If one of the distinctive contributions of the American political tradition was a pluralistic conception of governance, its primal source was the pluralistic character of the founding generation itself.

All the Founders agreed that American independence from Great Britain was nonnegotiable and that whatever government was established in lieu of British rule must be republican in character. Beyond this elemental consensus, however, there was widespread disagreement, which surfaced most dramatically in the debate over ratification of the Constitution (1787–88). Two prominent Founders, Patrick Henry and George Mason, opposed ratification, claiming that the Constitution created a central government that only replicated the arbitrary power of the British monarchy and Parliament. The highly partisan politics of the 1790s further exposed the several fault lines within the founding elite. The Federalists, led by Washington, John Adams, and Hamilton, were opposed by the Republicans, led by Jefferson and James Madison. They disagreed over the proper allocation of federal and state power over domestic policy, the response to the French Revolution, the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States, and the bedrock values of American foreign policy. These disagreements often assumed a hyperbolic tone because nothing less than the “true meaning” of the American Revolution seemed at stake. In what became the capstone correspondence of the Revolutionary generation, Adams and Jefferson both went to their Maker on July 4, 1826, arguing quite poignantly about their incompatible versions of the Revolutionary legacy.

The ideological and even temperamental diversity within the elite leadership group gave the American founding a distinctly argumentative flavour that made all convictions, no matter how cherished, subject to abiding scrutiny that, like history itself, became an argument without end. And much like the doctrine of checks and balances in the Constitution, the enshrinement of argument created a permanent collision of juxtaposed ideas and interests that generated a dynamic and wholly modern version of political stability.


Religion and posterity
Although the Declaration of Independence mentioned “Nature’s God” and the “Creator,” the Constitution made no reference to a divine being, Christian or otherwise, and the First Amendment explicitly forbade the establishment of any official church or creed. There is also a story, probably apocryphal, that Franklin’s proposal to call in a chaplain to offer a prayer when a particularly controversial issue was being debated in the Constitutional Convention prompted Hamilton to observe that he saw no reason to call in foreign aid. If there is a clear legacy bequeathed by the Founders, it is the insistence that religion is a private matter in which the state should not interfere.

In recent decades Christian advocacy groups, prompted by motives that have been questioned by some, have felt a powerful urge to enlist the Founding Fathers in their respective congregations. But recovering the spiritual convictions of the Founders, in all their messy integrity, is not an easy task. Once again, diversity is the dominant pattern. Franklin and Jefferson were Deists, Washington harboured a pantheistic sense of Providential destiny, John Adams began as a Congregationalist and ended as a Unitarian, and Hamilton was a lukewarm Anglican for most of his life but embraced a more actively Christian posture after his son died in a duel. (See also Sidebar: The Founding Fathers, Deism, and Christianity.)

One quasi-religious conviction they all shared, however, was a discernible obsession with living on in the memory of posterity. One reason the modern editions of their papers are so monstrously large is that most of the Founders were compulsively fastidious about preserving every scrap of paper they wrote or received, all as part of a desire to leave a written record that would assure their secular immortality in the history books. (When John Adams and Jefferson discussed the possibility of a more conventional immortality, they tended to describe heaven as a place where they could resume their ongoing argument on earth.) Adams, irreverent to the end, declared that if it could ever be demonstrated conclusively that no future state existed, his advice to every man, woman, and child was to “take opium.” The only afterlife that the Founders considered certain was in the memory of subsequent generations, which is to say us. In that sense, this very introduction is a testimonial to their everlasting life.

Joseph J. Ellis

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

George Washington



+1 president of United States
byname Father of His Country

born February 22 [February 11, Old Style], 1732, Westmoreland county, Virginia [U.S.]
died December 14, 1799, Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.

Overview
American Revolutionary commander-in-chief (1775–83) and first president of the U.S. (1789–97).

Born into a wealthy family, he was educated privately. In 1752 he inherited his brother’s estate at Mount Vernon, including 18 slaves; their ranks grew to 49 by 1760, though he disapproved of slavery. In the French and Indian War he was commissioned a colonel and sent to the Ohio Territory. After Edward Braddock was killed, Washington became commander of all Virginia forces, entrusted with defending the western frontier (1755–58). He resigned to manage his estate and in 1759 married Martha Dandridge Custis (1731–1802), a widow. He served in the House of Burgesses (1759–74), where he supported the colonists’ cause, and later in the Continental Congress (1774–75). In 1775 he was elected to command the Continental Army. In the ensuing American Revolution, he proved a brilliant commander and a stalwart leader, despite several defeats. With the war effectively ended by the capture of Yorktown (1781), he resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon (1783). He was a delegate to and presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention (1787) and helped secure ratification of the Constitution in Virginia. When the state electors met to select the first president (1789), Washington was the unanimous choice. He formed a cabinet to balance sectional and political differences but was committed to a strong central government. Elected to a second term, he followed a middle course between the political factions that later became the Federalist Party and the Democratic Party. He proclaimed a policy of neutrality in the war between Britain and France (1793) and sent troops to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion (1794). He declined to serve a third term (thereby setting a 144-year precedent) and retired in 1797 after delivering his “Farewell Address.” Known as the “father of his country,” he is universally regarded as one of the greatest figures in U.S. history.

Main
American general and commander in chief of the colonial armies in the American Revolution (1775–83) and subsequently first president of the United States (1789–97). (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Washington’s father, Augustine Washington, had gone to school in England, had tasted seafaring life, and then settled down to manage his growing Virginia estates. His mother was Mary Ball, whom Augustine, a widower, had married early the previous year. Washington’s paternal lineage had some distinction; an early forebear was described as a “gentleman,” Henry VIII later gave the family lands, and its members held various offices. But family fortunes fell with the Puritan revolution in England, and John Washington, grandfather of Augustine, migrated in 1657 to Virginia. The ancestral home at Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, is maintained as a Washington memorial. Little definite information exists on any of the line until Augustine. He was an energetic, ambitious man who acquired much land, built mills, took an interest in opening iron mines, and sent his two oldest sons to England for schooling. By his first wife, Jane Butler, he had four children; by his second wife, Mary Ball, he had six. Augustine died April 12, 1743.

Childhood and youth
Little is known of George Washington’s early childhood, spent largely on the Ferry Farm on the Rappahannock River, opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia. Mason L. Weems’s stories of the hatchet and cherry tree and of young Washington’s repugnance to fighting are apocryphal efforts to fill a manifest gap. He attended school irregularly from his 7th to his 15th year, first with the local church sexton and later with a schoolmaster named Williams. Some of his schoolboy papers survive. He was fairly well trained in practical mathematics—gauging, several types of mensuration, and such trigonometry as was useful in surveying. He studied geography, possibly had a little Latin, and certainly read some of The Spectator and other English classics. The copybook in which he transcribed at 14 a set of moral precepts, or Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, was carefully preserved. His best training, however, was given him by practical men and outdoor occupations, not by books. He mastered tobacco growing and stock raising, and early in his teens he was sufficiently familiar with surveying to plot the fields about him.

At his father’s death, the 11-year-old boy became the ward of his eldest half brother, Lawrence, a man of fine character who gave him wise and affectionate care. Lawrence inherited the beautiful estate of Little Hunting Creek, which had been granted to the original settler, John Washington, and which Augustine had done much since 1738 to develop. Lawrence married Anne (Nancy) Fairfax, daughter of Colonel William Fairfax, a cousin and agent of Lord Fairfax and one of the chief proprietors of the region. Lawrence also built a house and named the 2,500-acre (1,000-hectare) holding Mount Vernon in honour of the admiral under whom he had served in the siege of Cartagena. Living there chiefly with Lawrence (though he spent some time near Fredericksburg with his other half brother, Augustine, called Austin), George entered a more spacious and polite world. Anne Fairfax Washington was a woman of charm, grace, and culture; Lawrence had brought from his English school and naval service much knowledge and experience. A valued neighbour and relative, George William Fairfax, whose large estate, Belvoir, was about 4 miles (6 km) distant, and other relatives by marriage, the Carlyles of Alexandria, helped form George’s mind and manners.

The youth turned first to surveying as a profession. Lord Fairfax, a middle-aged bachelor who owned more than 5,000,000 acres (2,000,000 hectares) in northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, came to America in 1746 to live with his cousin George William at Belvoir and to look after his properties. Two years later he sent to the Shenandoah Valley a party to survey and plot his lands to make regular tenants of the squatters moving in from Pennsylvania. With the official surveyor of Prince William county in charge, Washington went along as assistant. The 16-year-old lad kept a disjointed diary of the trip, which shows skill in observation. He describes the discomfort of sleeping under “one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice Fleas & c”; an encounter with an Indian war party bearing a scalp; the Pennsylvania-German emigrants, “as ignorant a set of people as the Indians they would never speak English but when spoken to they speak all Dutch”; and the serving of roast wild turkey on “a Large Chip,” for “as for dishes we had none.”

The following year (1749), aided by Lord Fairfax, Washington received an appointment as official surveyor of Culpeper county, and for more than two years he was kept almost constantly busy. Surveying not only in Culpeper but also in Frederick and Augusta counties, he made journeys far beyond the Tidewater region into the western wilderness. The experience taught him resourcefulness and endurance and toughened him in both body and mind. Coupled with Lawrence’s ventures in land, it also gave him an interest in western development that endured throughout his life. He was always disposed to speculate in western holdings and to view favourably projects for colonizing the West, and he greatly resented the limitations that the crown in time laid on the westward movement. In 1752 Lord Fairfax determined to take up his final residence in the Shenandoah Valley and settled there in a log hunting lodge, which he called Greenway Court after a Kentish manor of his family’s. There Washington was sometimes entertained and had access to a small library that Fairfax had begun accumulating at Oxford.

The years 1751–52 marked a turning point in Washington’s life, for they placed him in control of Mount Vernon. Lawrence, stricken by tuberculosis, went to Barbados in 1751 for his health, taking George along. From this sole journey beyond the present borders of the United States, Washington returned with the light scars of an attack of smallpox. In July of the next year, Lawrence died, making George executor and residuary heir of his estate should his daughter, Sarah, die without issue. As she died within two months, Washington at age 20 became head of one of the best Virginia estates. He always thought farming the “most delectable” of pursuits. “It is honorable,” he wrote, “it is amusing, and, with superior judgment, it is profitable.” And, of all the spots for farming, he thought Mount Vernon the best. “No estate in United America,” he assured an English correspondent, “is more pleasantly situated than this.” His greatest pride in later days was to be regarded as the first farmer of the land.

He gradually increased the estate until it exceeded 8,000 acres (3,000 hectares). He enlarged the house in 1760 and made further enlargements and improvements on the house and its landscaping in 1784–86. He also tried to keep abreast of the latest scientific advances.

For the next 20 years the main background of Washington’s life was the work and society of Mount Vernon. He gave assiduous attention to the rotation of crops, fertilization of the soil, and the management of livestock. He had to manage the 18 slaves that came with the estate and others he bought later; by 1760 he had paid taxes on 49 slaves—though he strongly disapproved of the institution and hoped for some mode of abolishing it. At the time of his death, more than 300 slaves were housed in the quarters on his property. He had been unwilling to sell slaves lest families be broken up, even though the increase in their numbers placed a burden on him for their upkeep and gave him a larger force of workers than he required, especially after he gave up the cultivation of tobacco. In his will, he bequeathed the slaves in his possession to his wife and ordered that upon her death they be set free, declaring also that the young, the aged, and the infirm among them “shall be comfortably cloathed & fed by my heirs.” Still, this accounted for only about half the slaves on his property. The other half, owned by his wife, were entailed to the Custis estate, so that on her death they were destined to pass to her heirs. However, she freed all the slaves in 1800 after his death.

For diversion Washington was fond of riding, fox hunting, and dancing, of such theatrical performances as he could reach, and of duck hunting and sturgeon fishing. He liked billiards and cards and not only subscribed to racing associations but also ran his own horses in races. In all outdoor pursuits, from wrestling to colt breaking, he excelled. A friend of the 1750s describes him as “straight as an Indian, measuring six feet two inches in his stockings”; as very muscular and broad-shouldered but, though large-boned, weighing only 175 pounds; and as having long arms and legs. His penetrating blue-gray eyes were overhung by heavy brows, his nose was large and straight, and his mouth was large and firmly closed. “His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid horseman.” He soon became prominent in community affairs, was an active member and later vestryman of the Episcopal church, and as early as 1755 expressed a desire to stand for the Virginia House of Burgesses.


Prerevolutionary military and political career » Early military career
Traditions of John Washington’s feats as Indian fighter and Lawrence Washington’s talk of service days helped imbue George with military ambition. Just after Lawrence’s death, Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie appointed George adjutant for the southern district of Virginia at £100 a year (November 1752). In 1753 he became adjutant of the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore. Later that year, Dinwiddie found it necessary to warn the French to desist from their encroachments on Ohio Valley lands claimed by the crown. After sending one messenger who failed to reach the goal, he determined to dispatch Washington. On the day he received his orders, October 31, 1753, Washington set out for the French posts. His party consisted of a Dutchman to serve as interpreter, the expert scout Christopher Gist as guide, and four others, two of them experienced traders with the Indians. Theoretically, Great Britain and France were at peace. Actually, war impended, and Dinwiddie’s message was an ultimatum: the French must get out or be put out.

The journey proved rough, perilous, and futile. Washington’s party left what is now Cumberland, Maryland, in the middle of November and, despite wintry weather and impediments of the wilderness, reached Fort LeBoeuf, at what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania, 20 miles (32 km) south of Lake Erie, without delay. The French commander was courteous but adamant. As Washington reported, his officers “told me, That it was their absolute Design to take possession of the Ohio, and by God they would do it.” Eager to carry this alarming news back, Washington pushed off hurriedly with Gist. He was lucky to have gotten back alive. An Indian fired at them at 15 paces but missed. When they crossed the Allegheny River on a raft, Washington was jerked into the ice-filled stream but saved himself by catching one of the timbers. That night he almost froze in his wet clothing. He reached Williamsburg, Virginia, on January 16, 1754, where he hastily penned a record of the journey. Dinwiddie, who was labouring to convince the crown of the seriousness of the French threat, had it printed, and when he sent it to London, it was reprinted in three different forms.

The enterprising governor forthwith planned an expedition to hold the Ohio country. He made Joshua Fry colonel of a provincial regiment, appointed Washington lieutenant colonel, and set them to recruiting troops. Two agents of the Ohio Company, which Lawrence Washington and others had formed to develop lands on the upper Potomac and Ohio rivers, had begun building a fort at what later became Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dinwiddie, ready to launch into his own war, sent Washington with two companies to reinforce this post. In April 1754 the lieutenant colonel set out from Alexandria with about 160 men at his back. He marched to Cumberland only to learn that the French had anticipated the British blow; they had taken possession of the fort of the Ohio Company and had renamed it Fort Duquesne. Happily, the Indians of the area offered support. Washington therefore struggled cautiously forward to within about 40 miles (60 km) of the French position and erected his own post at Great Meadows, near what is now Confluence, Pennsylvania. From this base, he made a surprise attack (May 28, 1754) upon an advance detachment of 30 French, killing the commander, Coulon de Jumonville, and nine others and taking the rest prisoners. The French and Indian War had begun.

Washington at once received promotion to a full colonelcy and was reinforced, commanding a considerable body of Virginia and North Carolina troops, with Indian auxiliaries. But his attack soon brought the whole French force down upon him. They drove his 350 men into the Great Meadows fort (Fort Necessity) on July 3, besieged it with 700 men, and, after an all-day fight, compelled him to surrender. The construction of the fort had been a blunder, for it lay in a waterlogged creek bottom, was commanded on three sides by forested elevations approaching it closely, and was too far from Washington’s supports. The French agreed to let the disarmed colonials march back to Virginia with the honours of war, but they compelled Washington to promise that Virginia would not build another fort on the Ohio for a year and to sign a paper acknowledging responsibility for “l’assassinat” of de Jumonville, a word that Washington later explained he did not rightly understand. He returned to Virginia, chagrined but proud, to receive the thanks of the House of Burgesses and to find that his name had been mentioned in the London gazettes. His remark in a letter to his brother that “I have heard the bullets whistle; and believe me, there is something charming in the sound” was commented on humorously by the author Horace Walpole and sarcastically by King George II.

The arrival of General Edward Braddock and his army in Virginia in February 1755, as part of the triple plan of campaign that called for his advance on Fort Duquesne and in New York Governor William Shirley’s capture of Fort Niagara and Sir William Johnson’s capture of Crown Point, brought Washington new opportunities and responsibilities. He had resigned his commission in October 1754 in resentment of the slighting treatment and underpayment of colonial officers and particularly because of an untactful order of the British war office that provincial officers of whatever rank would be subordinate to any officer holding the king’s commission. But he ardently desired a part in the war; “my inclinations,” he wrote a friend, “are strongly bent to arms.” When Braddock showed appreciation of his merits and invited him to join the expedition as personal aide-de-camp, with the courtesy title of colonel, he therefore accepted. His self-reliance, decision, and masterfulness soon became apparent.

At table he had frequent disputes with Braddock, who, when contractors failed to deliver their supplies, attacked the colonials as supine and dishonest while Washington defended them warmly. His freedom of utterance is proof of Braddock’s esteem. Braddock accepted Washington’s unwise advice that he divide his army, leaving half of it to come up with the slow wagons and cattle train and taking the other half forward against Fort Duquesne at a rapid pace. Washington was ill with fever during June but joined the advance guard in a covered wagon on July 8, begged to lead the march on Fort Duquesne with his Virginians and Indian allies, and was by Braddock’s side when on July 9 the army was ambushed and bloodily defeated.

In this defeat Washington displayed the combination of coolness and determination, the alliance of unconquerable energy with complete poise, that was the secret of so many of his successes. So ill that he had to use a pillow instead of a saddle and that Braddock ordered his body servant to keep special watch over him, Washington was, nevertheless, everywhere at once. At first he followed Braddock as the general bravely tried to rally his men to push either forward or backward, the wisest course the circumstances permitted. Then he rode back to bring up the Virginians from the rear and rallied them with effect on the flank. To him was largely due the escape of the force. His exposure of his person was as reckless as Braddock’s, who was fatally wounded on his fifth horse; Washington had two horses shot out from under him and his clothes cut by four bullets without being hurt. He was at Braddock’s deathbed, helped bring the troops back, and was repaid by being appointed, in August 1755, while still only 23 years old, commander of all Virginia troops.

But no part of his later service was conspicuous. Finding that a Maryland captain who held a royal commission would not obey him, he rode north in February 1756 to Boston to have the question settled by the commander in chief in America, Governor Shirley, and, bearing a letter from Dinwiddie, had no difficulty in carrying his point. On his return he plunged into a multitude of vexations. He had to protect a weak, thinly settled frontier nearly 400 miles (650 km) in length with only some 700 ill-disciplined colonial troops, to cope with a legislature unwilling to support him, to meet attacks on the drunkenness and inefficiency of the soldiers, and to endure constant wilderness hardships. It is not strange that in 1757 his health failed and in the closing weeks of that year he was so ill of a “bloody flux” (dysentery) that his physician ordered him home to Mount Vernon.

In the spring of 1758 he had recovered sufficiently to return to duty as colonel in command of all Virginia troops. As part of the grand sweep of several armies organized by British statesman William Pitt, the Elder, General John Forbes led a new advance upon Fort Duquesne. Forbes resolved not to use Braddock’s road but to cut a new one west from Raystown, Pennsylvania. Washington disapproved of the route but played an important part in the movement. Late in the autumn the French evacuated and burned Fort Duquesne, and Forbes reared Fort Pitt on the site. Washington, who had just been elected to the House of Burgesses, was able to resign with the honorary rank of brigadier general.

Although his officers expressed regret at the “loss of such an excellent Commander, such a sincere Friend, and so affable a Companion,” he quit the service with a sense of frustration. He had thought the war excessively slow. The Virginia legislature had been niggardly in voting money; the Virginia recruits had come forward reluctantly and had proved of poor quality—Washington had hanged a few deserters and flogged others heavily. Virginia gave him less pay than other colonies offered their troops. Desiring a regular commission such as his half brother Lawrence had held, he applied in vain to the British commander in North America, Lord Loudoun, to make good a promise that Braddock had given him. Ambitious for both rank and honour, he showed a somewhat strident vigour in asserting his desires and in complaining when they were denied. He returned to Mount Vernon somewhat disillusioned.


Revolutionary leadership » Head of the colonial forces
The choice of Washington as commander in chief of the military forces of all the colonies followed immediately upon the first fighting, though it was by no means inevitable and was the product of partly artificial forces. The Virginia delegates differed upon his appointment. Edmund Pendleton was, according to John Adams, “very full and clear against it,” and Washington himself recommended General Andrew Lewis for the post. It was chiefly the fruit of a political bargain by which New England offered Virginia the chief command as its price for the adoption and support of the New England army. This army had gathered hastily and in force about Boston immediately after the clash of British troops and American minutemen at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. When the second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, one of its first tasks was to find a permanent leadership for this force. On June 15, Washington, whose military counsel had already proved invaluable on two committees, was nominated and chosen by unanimous vote. Beyond the considerations noted, he owed being chosen to the facts that Virginia stood with Massachusetts as one of the most powerful colonies; that his appointment would augment the zeal of the Southern people; that he had gained an enduring reputation in the Braddock campaign; and that his poise, sense, and resolution had impressed all the delegates. The scene of his election, with Washington darting modestly into an adjoining room and John Hancock flushing with jealous mortification, will always impress the historical imagination; so also will the scene of July 3, 1775, when, wheeling his horse under an elm in front of the troops paraded on Cambridge common, he drew his sword and took command of the army investing Boston. News of Bunker Hill had reached him before he was a day’s journey from Philadelphia, and he had expressed confidence of victory when told how the militia had fought. In accepting the command, he refused any payment beyond his expenses and called upon “every gentleman in the room” to bear witness that he disclaimed fitness for it. At once he showed characteristic decision and energy in organizing the raw volunteers, collecting provisions and munitions, and rallying Congress and the colonies to his support.

The first phase of Washington’s command covered the period from July 1775 to the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776. In those eight months he imparted discipline to the army, which at maximum strength slightly exceeded 20,000; he dealt with subordinates who, as John Adams said, quarrelled “like cats and dogs”; and he kept the siege vigorously alive. Having himself planned an invasion of Canada by Lake Champlain, to be entrusted to General Philip Schuyler, he heartily approved of Benedict Arnold’s proposal to march north along the Kennebec River in Maine and take Quebec. Giving Arnold 1,100 men, he instructed him to do everything possible to conciliate the Canadians. He was equally active in encouraging privateers to attack British commerce. As fast as means offered, he strengthened his army with ammunition and siege guns, having heavy artillery brought from Fort Ticonderoga, New York, over the frozen roads early in 1776. His position was at first precarious, for the Charles River pierced the centre of his lines investing Boston. If the British general, Sir William Howe, had moved his 20 veteran regiments boldly up the stream, he might have pierced Washington’s army and rolled either wing back to destruction. But all the generalship was on Washington’s side. Seeing that Dorchester Heights, just south of Boston, commanded the city and harbour and that Howe had unaccountably failed to occupy it, he seized it on the night of March 4, 1776, placing his Ticonderoga guns in position. The British naval commander declared that he could not remain if the Americans were not dislodged, and Howe, after a storm disrupted his plans for an assault, evacuated the city on March 17. He left 200 cannons and invaluable stores of small arms and munitions. After collecting his booty, Washington hurried south to take up the defense of New York.

Washington had won the first round, but there remained five years of the war, during which the American cause was repeatedly near complete disaster. It is unquestionable that Washington’s strength of character, his ability to hold the confidence of army and people and to diffuse his own courage among them, his unremitting activity, and his strong common sense constituted the chief factors in achieving American victory. He was not a great tactician: as Jefferson said later, he often “failed in the field”; he was sometimes guilty of grave military blunders, the chief being his assumption of a position on Long Island, New York, in 1776 that exposed his entire army to capture the moment it was defeated. At the outset he was painfully inexperienced, the wilderness fighting of the French war having done nothing to teach him the strategy of maneuvering whole armies. One of his chief faults was his tendency to subordinate his own judgment to that of the generals surrounding him; at every critical juncture, before Boston, before New York, before Philadelphia, and in New Jersey, he called a council of war and in almost every instance accepted its decision. Naturally bold and dashing, as he proved at Trenton, Princeton, and Germantown, he repeatedly adopted evasive and delaying tactics on the advice of his associates; however, he did succeed in keeping a strong army in existence and maintaining the flame of national spirit. When the auspicious moment arrived, he planned the rapid movements that ended the war.

One element of Washington’s strength was his sternness as a disciplinarian. The army was continually dwindling and refilling, politics largely governed the selection of officers by Congress and the states, and the ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-paid forces were often half-prostrated by sickness and ripe for mutiny. Troops from each of the three sections, New England, the middle states, and the South, showed a deplorable jealousy of the others. Washington was rigorous in breaking cowardly, inefficient, and dishonest men and boasted in front of Boston that he had “made a pretty good sort of slam among such kind of officers.” Deserters and plunderers were flogged, and Washington once erected a gallows 40 feet (12 metres) high, writing, “I am determined if I can be justified in the proceeding, to hang two or three on it, as an example to others.” At the same time, the commander in chief won the devotion of many of his men by his earnestness in demanding better treatment for them from Congress. He complained of their short rations, declaring once that they were forced to “eat every kind of horse food but hay.”

The darkest chapter in Washington’s military leadership was opened when, reaching New York in April 1776, he placed half his army, about 9,000 men, under Israel Putnam, on the perilous position of Brooklyn Heights, Long Island, where a British fleet in the East River might cut off their retreat. He spent a fortnight in May with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, then discussing the question of independence; though no record of his utterances exists, there can be no doubt that he advocated complete separation. His return to New York preceded but slightly the arrival of the British army under Howe, which made its main encampment on Staten Island until its whole strength of nearly 30,000 could be mobilized. On August 22, 1776, Howe moved about 20,000 men across to Gravesend Bay on Long Island. Four days later, sending the fleet under command of his brother Admiral Richard Howe to make a feint against New York City, he thrust a crushing force along feebly protected roads against the American flank. The patriots were outmaneuvered, defeated, and suffered a total loss of 5,000 men, of whom 2,000 were captured. Their whole position might have been carried by storm, but, fortunately for Washington, General Howe delayed. While the enemy lingered, Washington succeeded under cover of a dense fog in ferrying the remaining force across the East River to Manhattan, where he took up a fortified position. The British, suddenly landing on the lower part of the island, drove back the Americans in a clash marked by disgraceful cowardice on the part of troops from Connecticut and others. In a series of actions, Washington was forced northward, more than once in danger of capture, until the loss of his two Hudson River forts, one of them with 2,600 men, compelled him to retreat from White Plains across the river into New Jersey. He retired toward the Delaware River while his army melted away, until it seemed that armed resistance to the British was about to expire.


Presidency » Postrevolutionary politics
Viewing the chaotic political condition of the United States after 1783 with frank pessimism and declaring (May 18, 1786) that “something must be done, or the fabric must fall, for it is certainly tottering,” Washington repeatedly wrote his friends urging steps toward “an indissoluble union.” At first he believed that the Articles of Confederation might be amended. Later, especially after the shock of Shays’s Rebellion, he took the view that a more radical reform was necessary but doubted as late as the end of 1786 that the time was ripe. His progress toward adoption of the idea of a federal convention was, in fact, puzzlingly slow. Although John Jay assured him in March 1786 that breakup of the nation seemed near and opinion for a constitutional convention was crystallizing, Washington remained noncommittal. But, despite long hesitations, he earnestly supported the proposal for a federal impost, warning the states that their policy must decide “whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered a blessing or a curse.” And his numerous letters to the leading men of the country assisted greatly to form a sentiment favourable to a more perfect union. Some understanding being necessary between Virginia and Maryland regarding the navigation of the Potomac, commissioners from the two states had met at Mount Vernon in the spring of 1785; from this seed sprang the federal convention. Washington approved in advance the call for a gathering of all the states to meet in Philadelphia in May 1787 to “render the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” But he was again hesitant about attending, partly because he felt tired and infirm, partly because of doubts about the outcome. Although he hoped to the last to be excused, he was chosen one of Virginia’s five delegates.

Washington arrived in Philadelphia on May 13, the day before the opening of the Constitutional Convention, and as soon as a quorum was obtained he was unanimously chosen its president. For four months he presided over the convention, breaking his silence only once upon a minor question of congressional apportionment. Although he said little in debate, no one did more outside the hall to insist on stern measures. “My wish is,” he wrote, “that the convention may adopt no temporizing expedients, but probe the defects of the Constitution to the bottom, and provide a radical cure.” His weight of character did more than any other single force to bring the convention to an agreement and obtain ratification of the instrument afterward. He did not believe it perfect, though his precise criticisms of it are unknown. But his support gave it victory in Virginia, where he sent copies to Patrick Henry and other leaders with a hint that the alternative to adoption was anarchy, declaring that “it or dis-union is before us to chuse from.” He received and personally circulated copies of The Federalist. When ratification was obtained, he wrote to leaders in the various states urging that men staunchly favourable to it be elected to Congress. For a time he sincerely believed that, the new framework completed, he would be allowed to retire again to privacy. But all eyes immediately turned to him for the first president. He alone commanded the respect of both the parties engendered by the struggle over ratification, and he alone would be able to give prestige to the republic throughout Europe. In no state was any other name considered. The electors chosen in the first days of 1789 cast a unanimous vote for him, and reluctantly—for his love of peace, his distrust of his own abilities, and his fear that his motives in advocating the new government might be misconstrued all made him unwilling—he accepted.

On April 16, after receiving congressional notification of the honour, he set out from Mount Vernon, reaching New York City in time to be inaugurated on April 30 (see primary source document: First Inaugural Address). His journey northward was a celebratory procession as people in every town and village through which he passed turned out to greet him, often with banners and speeches, and in some places with triumphal arches. He came across the Hudson River in a specially built barge decorated in red, white, and blue. The inaugural ceremony was performed on Wall Street, near the spot now marked by John Quincy Adams Ward’s statue of Washington. A great crowd broke into cheers as, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall, he took the oath administered by Chancellor Robert Livingston and retired indoors to read Congress his inaugural address. Washington was clad in a brown suit of American manufacture, but he wore white stockings and a sword after the fashion of European courts.

Martha was as reluctant as her husband to resume public life. But a month later she came from Mount Vernon to join him. She, too, was greeted wildly on her way. And when Washington crossed the Hudson to bring her to Manhattan, guns boomed in salute. The Washingtons, to considerable public criticism, traveled about in a coach-and-four like monarchs. Moreover, during his presidency, Washington did not shake hands, and he met his guests on state occasions while standing on a raised platform and displaying a sword on his hip. Slowly, feeling his way, Washington was defining the style of the first president of a country in the history of the world. The people, too, were adjusting to a government without a king. Even the question of how to address a president had to be discussed. It was decided that in a republic the simple salutation “Mr. President” would do.


Cabinet of President George Washington
The table provides a list of cabinet members in the administration of President George Washington.

Cabinet of President George Washington
April 30, 1789-March 3, 1793
State Thomas Jefferson
Treasury Alexander Hamilton
War Henry Knox
Attorney General Edmund Jennings Randolph
March 4, 1793-March 3, 1797
State Thomas Jefferson
Edmund Jennings Randolph (from January 2, 1794)
Timothy Pickering (from August 20, 1795)
Treasury Alexander Hamilton
Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (from February 2, 1795)
War Henry Knox
Timothy Pickering (from January 2, 1795)
James McHenry (from February 6, 1796)
Attorney General Edmund Jennings Randolph
William Bradford (from January 29, 1794)
Charles Lee (from December 10, 1795)

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

John Adams



president of United States

born October 30 [October 19, Old Style], 1735, Braintree [now in Quincy], Massachusetts [U.S.]
died July 4, 1826, Quincy

Main
early advocate of American independence from Great Britain, major figure in the Continental Congress (1774–77), author of the Massachusetts constitution (1780), signer of the Treaty of Paris (1783), first American ambassador to the Court of St. James (1785–88), first vice president (1789–97) and second president (1797–1801) of the United States. Although Adams was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most significant statesmen of the revolutionary era, his reputation faded in the 19th century, only to ascend again during the last half of the 20th century. The modern edition of his correspondence prompted a rediscovery of his bracing honesty and pungent way with words, his importance as a political thinker, his realistic perspective on American foreign policy, and his patriarchal role as founder of one of the most prominent families in American history.

Early life
Adams was the eldest of the three sons of Deacon John Adams and Susanna Boylston of Braintree, Massachusetts. His father was only a farmer and shoemaker, but the Adams family could trace its lineage back to the first generation of Puritan settlers in New England. A local selectman and a leader in the community, Deacon Adams encouraged his eldest son to aspire toward a career in the ministry. In keeping with that goal, Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. For the next three years, he taught grammar school in Worcester, Massachusetts, while contemplating his future. He eventually chose law rather than the ministry and in 1758 moved back to Braintree, then soon began practicing law in nearby Boston.

In 1764 Adams married Abigail Smith, a minister’s daughter from neighbouring Weymouth. Intelligent, well-read, vivacious, and just as fiercely independent as her new husband, Abigail Adams became a confidante and political partner who helped to stabilize and sustain the ever-irascible and highly volatile Adams throughout his long career. The letters between them afford an extended glimpse into their deepest thoughts and emotions and provide modern readers with the most revealing record of personal intimacy between husband and wife in the revolutionary era (see Abigail’s letter to John: Doubts About Independence). Their first child, Abigail Amelia, was born in 1765. Their first son, John Quincy, arrived two years later. Two other sons, Thomas Boylston and Charles, followed shortly thereafter. (Another child, Susanna, did not survive infancy.)

By then Adams’s legal career was on the rise, and he had become a visible member of the resistance movement that questioned Parliament’s right to tax the American colonies. In 1765 Adams wrote “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” which justified opposition to the recently enacted Stamp Act—an effort to raise revenue by requiring all publications and legal documents to bear a stamp—by arguing that Parliament’s intrusions into colonial affairs exposed the inherently coercive and corrupt character of English politics. Intensely combative, full of private doubts about his own capacities but never about his cause, Adams became a leading figure in the opposition to the Townshend Acts (1767), which imposed duties on imported commodities (i.e., glass, lead, paper, paint, and tea). Despite his hostility toward the British government, in 1770 Adams agreed to defend the British soldiers who had fired on a Boston crowd in what became known as the Boston Massacre. His insistence on upholding the legal rights of the soldiers, who in fact had been provoked, made him temporarily unpopular but also marked him as one of the most principled radicals in the burgeoning movement for American independence. He had a penchant for doing the right thing, most especially when it made him unpopular.


Continental Congress
In the summer of 1774, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts delegation that joined the representatives from 12 of 13 colonies in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress. He and his cousin, Samuel Adams, quickly became the leaders of the radical faction, which rejected the prospects for reconciliation with Britain. His Novanglus essays, published early in 1775, moved the constitutional argument forward another notch, insisting that Parliament lacked the authority not just to tax the colonies but also to legislate for them in any way. (Less than a year earlier, Thomas Jefferson had made a similar argument against parliamentary authority in A Summary View of the Rights of British America.)

By the time the Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, Adams had gained the reputation as “the Atlas of independence.” Over the course of the following year, he made several major contributions to the patriot cause destined to ensure his place in American history. First, he nominated George Washington to serve as commander of the fledging Continental Army. Second, he selected Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. (Both decisions were designed to ensure Virginia’s support for the revolution.) Third, he dominated the debate in the Congress on July 2–4, 1776, defending Jefferson’s draft of the declaration and demanding unanimous support for a decisive break with Great Britain. Moreover, he had written Thoughts on Government, which circulated throughout the colonies as the major guidebook for the drafting of new state constitutions (see primary source document: The Foundation of Government).

Adams remained the central figure of the Continental Congress for the following two years. He drafted the Plan of Treaties in July 1776, a document that provided the framework for a treaty with France and that almost inadvertently identified the strategic priorities that would shape American foreign policy over the next century. He was the unanimous choice to head the Board of War and Ordnance and was thereby made in effect a one-man war department responsible for raising and equipping the American army and creating from scratch an American navy. As the prospects for a crucial wartime alliance with France improved late in 1777, he was chosen to join Benjamin Franklin in Paris to conduct the negotiations. In February 1778 he sailed for Europe, accompanied by 10-year-old John Quincy.


Foreign service
By the time Adams arrived in Paris, the treaty creating an alliance with France had already been concluded. He quickly returned home in the summer of 1779, just in time to join the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. The other delegates, acknowledging his constitutional expertise, simply handed him the job of drafting what became the Massachusetts constitution (1780), which immediately became the model for the other state constitutions and—in its insistence on a bicameral legislature and the separation of powers—a major influence on the Constitution of the United States.

The Congress then ordered Adams to rejoin Franklin in Paris to lead the American delegation responsible for negotiating an end to the war with Britain. This time he took along his youngest son, Charles, as well as John Quincy, leaving Abigail to tend the farm and the other two children in Braintree. Not until 1784, almost five years later, was the entire family reunited in Paris. By then Adams had shown himself an unnatural diplomat, exhibiting a level of candour and a confrontational style toward both English and French negotiators that alienated Franklin, who came to regard his colleague as slightly deranged. Adams, for his part, thought Franklin excessively impressed with his own stature as the Gallic version of the American genius and therefore inadequately attuned to the important differences between American and French interests in the peace negotiations. The favourable terms achieved in the Peace of Paris (1783) can be attributed to the effective blend of Franklin’s discretion and Adams’s bulldog temperament. Adams’s reputation for emotional explosions also dates from this period. Recent scholarly studies suggest that he might have suffered from a hyperthyroid condition subsequently known as Graves’ disease.

In 1784 Jefferson arrived in Paris to replace Franklin as the American minister at the French court. Over the next few months, Jefferson became an unofficial member of the Adams family, and the bond of friendship between Adams and Jefferson was sealed, a lifelong partnership and rivalry that made the combative New Englander and the elegant Virginian the odd couple of the American Revolution. Jefferson also visited the Adams family in England in 1785, after Adams had assumed his new post as American ambassador in London. The two men also joined forces, though Adams as the senior figure assumed the lead, in negotiating a $400,000 loan from Dutch bankers that allowed the American government to consolidate its European debts.


Political philosophy
Because he was the official embodiment of American independence from the British Empire, Adams was largely ignored and relegated to the periphery of the court during his nearly three years in London. Still brimming with energy, he spent his time studying the history of European politics for patterns and lessons that might assist the fledgling American government in its efforts to achieve what no major European nation had managed to produce—namely, a stable republican form of government.

The result was a massive and motley three-volume collection of quotations, unacknowledged citations, and personal observations entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787). A fourth volume, Discourses on Davila (1790), was published soon after he returned to the United States. Taken together, these lengthy tomes contained Adams’s distinctive insights as a political thinker. The lack of organization, combined with the sprawling style of the Defence, however, made its core message difficult to follow or fathom. When read in the context of his voluminous correspondence on political issues, along with the extensive marginalia he recorded in the several thousand books in his personal library, that message became clearer with time.

Adams wished to warn his fellow Americans against all revolutionary manifestos that envisioned a fundamental break with the past and a fundamental transformation in human nature or society that supposedly produced a new age. All such utopian expectations were illusions, he believed, driven by what he called “ideology,” the belief that imagined ideals, so real and seductive in theory, were capable of being implemented in the world. The same kind of conflict between different classes that had bedeviled medieval Europe would, albeit in muted forms, also afflict the United States, because the seeds of such competition were planted in human nature itself. Adams blended the psychological insights of New England Puritanism, with its emphasis on the emotional forces throbbing inside all creatures, and the Enlightenment belief that government must contain and control those forces, to construct a political system capable of balancing the ambitions of individuals and competing social classes.

His insistence that elites were unavoidable realities in all societies, however, made him vulnerable to the charge of endorsing aristocratic rule in America, when in fact he was attempting to suggest that the inevitable American elite must be controlled, its ambitions channeled toward public purposes. He also was accused of endorsing monarchical principles because he argued that the chief executive in the American government, like the king in medieval European society, must possess sufficient power to check the ravenous appetites of the propertied classes. Although misunderstood by many of his contemporaries, the realistic perspective Adams proposed—and the skepticism toward utopian schemes he insisted upon—has achieved considerable support in the wake of the failed 20th-century attempts at social transformation in the communist bloc. In Adams’s own day, his political analysis enjoyed the satisfaction of correctly predicting that the French Revolution would lead to the Reign of Terror and eventual despotism by a military dictator.


Vice presidency and presidency
Soon after his return to the United States, Adams found himself on the ballot in the presidential election of 1789. He finished second to Washington (69 votes to 34 votes), which signaled three political realities: first, his standing as a leading member of the revolutionary generation was superseded only by that of Washington himself; second, his combative style and his recent political writings had hurt his reputation enough to preclude the kind of overwhelming support Washington enjoyed; third, according to the electoral rules established in the recent ratified Constitution, he was America’s first vice president.

This meant that Adams was the first American statesman to experience the paradox of being a heartbeat away from maximum power while languishing in the political version of a cul-de-sac. Adams himself described the vice presidency as “the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of man contrived or his Imagination conceived.” His main duty was to serve as president of the Senate, casting a vote only to break a tie. During his eight years in office, Adams cast between 31 and 38 such votes, more than any subsequent vice president in American history. He steadfastly supported all the major initiatives of the Washington administration, including the financial plan of Alexander Hamilton, the Neutrality Proclamation (1793), which effectively ended the Franco-American Alliance of 1778, the forceful suppression of an insurrection in western Pennsylvania called the Whiskey Rebellion (1794), and the Jay Treaty (1795), a highly controversial effort to avoid war with England by accepting British hegemony on the high seas. When Washington announced his decision not to seek a third term in 1796, Adams was the logical choice to succeed him.

In the first contested presidential election in American history, Adams won a narrow electoral majority (71–68) over Jefferson, who thereby became vice president (see primary source document: Inaugural Address). Adams made an initial effort to bring Jefferson into the cabinet and involve him in shaping foreign policy, but Jefferson declined the offer, preferring to retain his independence. This burdened the Adams presidency with a vice president who was the acknowledged head of the rival political party, the Republicans (subsequently the Democratic-Republicans). Additional burdens included: inheritance of Washington’s cabinet, whom Adams unwisely decided to retain, and whose highest loyalty was to Washington’s memory as embodied in Hamilton; a raging naval conflict with the French in the Caribbean dubbed the “quasi-war”; and the impossible task of succeeding—no one could replace—the greatest hero of the revolutionary era.

Despite Washington’s plea for a bipartisan foreign policy in his farewell address (1796), the “quasi-war” produced a bitter political argument between Federalists, who preferred war with France to alienating Britain, and Democratic-Republicans, who viewed France as America’s only European ally and the French Revolution as a continuation of the American Revolution on European soil. Adams attempted to steer a middle course between these partisan camps, which left him vulnerable to political attacks from both sides. In 1797 he sent a peace delegation to Paris to negotiate an end to hostilities, but when the French directory demanded bribes before any negotiations could begin, Adams ordered the delegates home and began a naval buildup in preparation for outright war. The Federalist-dominated Congress called for raising a 30,000-man army, which Adams agreed to reluctantly. If Adams had requested a declaration of war in 1798, he would have enjoyed widespread popularity and virtually certain reelection two years later. Instead, he acted with characteristic independence by sending yet another, and this time successful, peace delegation to France against the advice of his cabinet and his Federalist supporters. The move ruined him politically but avoided a costly war that the infant American republic was ill-prepared to fight. It was a vintage Adams performance, reminiscent of his defense of British soldiers after the Boston Massacre, which was also principled and unpopular.

If ending the “quasi-war” with France was Adams’s major foreign policy triumph, his chief domestic failure was passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798), which permitted the government to deport foreign-born residents and indict newspaper editors or writers who published "false, scandalous, and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States." A total of 14 indictments were brought against the Republican press under the sedition act, but the crudely partisan prosecutions quickly became infamous persecutions that backfired on the Federalists. Although Adams had signed the Alien and Sedition Acts under pressure from the Federalists in Congress, he shouldered most of the blame both at the time and in the history books. He came to regard the sedition act as the biggest political blunder of his life.

The election of 1800 again pitted Adams against Jefferson. Adams ran ahead of the Federalist candidates for Congress, who were swept from office in a Republican landslide. However, thanks to the deft maneuvering of Aaron Burr, all 12 of New York’s electoral votes went to Jefferson, giving the tandem of Jefferson and Burr the electoral victory (73–65). Jefferson was eventually elected president by the House of Representatives, which chose him over Burr on the 36th ballot. In his last weeks in office, Adams made several Federalist appointments to the judiciary, including John Marshall as chief justice of the United States. These “midnight judges” offended Jefferson, who resented the encroachment on his own presidential prerogatives. Adams, the first president to reside in the presidential mansion (later called the White House) in Washington, D.C., was also the first—and one of the very few—presidents not to attend the inauguration of his successor. On March 4, 1801, he was already on the road back to Quincy.


Retirement
At age 65 Adams did not anticipate a long retirement. The fates proved more generous than he expected, providing him with another quarter century to brood about his career and life, add to the extensive marginalia in his books, settle old scores in his memoirs, watch with pride when John Quincy assumed the presidency, and add to his already vast and voluminous correspondence. In an extensive exchange of letters with Benjamin Rush, the Philadelphia physician and patriotic gadfly, Adams revealed his preoccupation with fame and developed his own theory of the role ambition plays in motivating man to public service. Along the way he placed on the record his own candid and often critical portraits of the other vanguard members of the revolutionary generation.

In 1812, thanks in part to prodding from Rush, he overcame his bitterness toward Jefferson and initiated a correspondence with his former friend and rival that totaled 158 letters. Generally regarded as the most intellectually impressive correspondence between American statesmen in all of American history, the dialogue between Adams and Jefferson touched on a host of timely and timeless subjects: the role of religion in history, the aging process, the emergence of an American language, the French Revolution, and the party battles of the 1790s. Adams put it most poignantly to Jefferson: “You and I ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.”

More than the elegiac tone of the letters, the correspondence dramatized the contradictory impulses generated by the American Revolution and symbolized by the two aging patriarchs. Adams was the realist, the skeptic, the principled pessimist. Jefferson was the idealist, the romantic, the pragmatic optimist. As if according to a script written by providence, the “Sage of Quincy” and the “Sage of Monticello” died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary to the day of the Declaration of Independence.

(For additional writings by Adams, see The Meaning of the American Revolution; On the Importance of Property for the Suffrage; and Party Divisions in America.)

Joseph J. Ellis


Cabinet of President John Adams
The table provides a list of cabinet members in the administration of President John Adams.

Cabinet of President John Adams
March 4, 1797-March 3, 1801
State Timothy Pickering
John Marshall (from June 6, 1800)
Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Samuel Dexter (from January 1, 1801)
War James McHenry
Samuel Dexter (from June 12, 1800)
Navy Benjamin Stoddert (from June 18, 1798)
Attorney General Charles Lee

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

Samuel Adams



American politician

born Sept. 27 [Sept. 16, Old Style], 1722, Boston
died Oct. 2, 1803, Boston

Main
politician of the American Revolution, leader of the Massachusetts “radicals,” who was a delegate to the Continental Congress (1774–81) and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was later lieutenant governor (1789–93) and governor (1794–97) of Massachusetts.

Early career
A second cousin of John Adams, second president of the United States, Samuel Adams was graduated from Harvard College in 1740 and briefly studied law; he failed in several business ventures. As a tax collector in Boston, he neglected to collect the public levies and to keep proper accounts, thus exposing himself to suit.

Although unsuccessful in conducting personal or public business, Adams took an active and influential part in local politics. By the time the English Parliament passed the Sugar Act (1764) taxing molasses for revenue, Adams was a powerful figure in the opposition to British authority in the Colonies. He denounced the act, being one of the first of the colonials to cry out against taxation without representation. He played an important part in instigating the Stamp Act riots in Boston that were directed against the new requirement to pay taxes on all legal and commercial documents, newspapers, and college diplomas.


Commitment to American independence
His influence was soon second only to James Otis, the lawyer and politician who gained prominence by his resistance to the revenue acts. Elected to the lower house of the Massachusetts general court from Boston, Adams served in that body until 1774, after 1766 as its clerk. In 1769 Adams assumed the leadership of the Massachusetts radicals. There is some reason to believe that he had committed himself to American independence a year earlier. John Adams may have erred in ascribing this extreme stand to his cousin at so early a time, but certainly Samuel Adams was one of the first American leaders to deny Parliament’s authority over the Colonies; and he was also one of the first—certainly by 1774—to establish independence as the proper goal.

John Adams described his cousin as a plain, modest, and virtuous man. But in addition, Samuel Adams was a propagandist who was not overscrupulous in his attacks upon British officials and policies, and a passionate politician as well. In innumerable newspaper letters and essays over various signatures, he described British measures and the behaviour of royal governors, judges, and customs men in the darkest colours. He was a master of organization, arranging for the election of men who agreed with him, procuring committees that would act as he wished, and securing the passage of resolutions that he desired.

During the crisis over the Townshend duties (1767–70), the import taxes on previously duty-free products proposed by Cabinet Minister Charles Townshend, Adams was unable to persuade the Massachusetts colonists to take extreme steps, partly because of the moderating influence of Otis. British troops sent to Boston in 1768, however, offered a fine target for this propaganda, and Adams saw to it that they were portrayed in the colonial newspapers as brutal soldiery oppressing citizens and assailing their wives and daughters. He was one of the leaders in the town meeting that demanded and secured the removal of the troops from Boston after some British soldiers fired into a mob and killed five Americans. When news came that the Townshend duties, except for that on tea, had been repealed, his following dwindled. Nevertheless, during the years 1770–73, when other colonial leaders were inactive, Adams revived old issues and found new ones; he was responsible for the foundation (1772) of the committee of correspondence of Boston that kept in contact with similar bodies in whose establishment he also had a hand in other towns. These committees later became effective instruments in the fight against the British.

The passage by Parliament of the Tea Act of 1773, which granted the East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the Colonies, gave Adams ample opportunity to exercise his remarkable talents. Although he did not participate in the Boston Tea Party, he was undoubtedly one of its planners. He was again a leading figure in the opposition of Massachusetts to the execution of the Intolerable (Coercive) Acts passed by the British Parliament in retaliation for the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor; and as a member of the First Continental Congress, which spoke for the 13 Colonies, he insisted that the delegates take a vigorous stand against Britain. A member of the provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774–75, he participated in making preparations for warfare should Britain resort to arms. When the British troops marched out of Boston to Concord, Adams and the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, were staying in a farmhouse near the line of march; and it has been said that the arrest of the two men was one of the purposes of the expedition. But the troops made no effort to find them, and British orders called only for destruction of military supplies gathered at Concord. When Gen. Thomas Gage issued an offer of pardon to the rebels some weeks later, however, he excepted Adams and Hancock.


Membership in Continental Congress
As a member of the Continental Congress, in which he served until 1781, Adams was less conspicuous than he was in town meetings and the Massachusetts legislature, for the congress contained a number of men as able as he. He and John Adams were among the first to call for a final separation from Britain, both signed the Declaration of Independence, and both exerted considerable influence in the congress.

Adams was a member of the convention that framed the Massachusetts constitution of 1780 and also sat in the convention of his state that ratified the Federal Constitution. He was at first an anti-Federalist who opposed the ratification of the Constitution for fear that it would vest too much power in the federal government, but he finally abandoned his opposition when the Federalists promised to support a number of future amendments, including a bill of rights. He was defeated in the first congressional election. Returning to political power as a follower of Hancock, he was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1789 to 1793 and governor from 1794 to 1797. When national parties developed, he affiliated himself with the Democratic Republicans, the followers of Thomas Jefferson. After being defeated as a presidential elector favouring Jefferson in 1796, he retired to private life.

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

Benjamin Franklin



American author, scientist, and statesman
also called Ben Franklin, pseudonym Richard Saunders

born Jan. 17 [Jan. 6, Old Style], 1706, Boston, Mass. [U.S.]
died April 17, 1790, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.

Main
American printer and publisher, author, inventor and scientist, and diplomat. One of the foremost of the Founding Fathers, Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers, represented the United States in France during the American Revolution, and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He made important contributions to science, especially in the understanding of electricity, and is remembered for the wit, wisdom, and elegance of his writing.

Early life (1706–23)
Franklin was born the 10th son of the 17 children of a man who made soap and candles, one of the lowliest of the artisan crafts. In an age that privileged the firstborn son, Franklin was, as he tartly noted in his Autobiography, “the youngest Son of the youngest Son for five Generations back.” He learned to read very early and had one year in grammar school and another under a private teacher, but his formal education ended at age 10. At 12 he was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. His mastery of the printer’s trade, of which he was proud to the end of his life, was achieved between 1718 and 1723. In the same period he read tirelessly and taught himself to write effectively.

His first enthusiasm was for poetry, but, discouraged with the quality of his own, he gave it up. Prose was another matter. Young Franklin discovered a volume of The Spectator—featuring Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele’s famous periodical essays, which had appeared in England in 1711–12—and saw in it a means for improving his writing. He read these Spectator papers over and over, copied and recopied them, and then tried to recall them from memory. He even turned them into poetry and then back into prose. Franklin realized, as all the Founders did, that writing competently was such a rare talent in the 18th century that anyone who could do it well immediately attracted attention. “Prose writing” became, as he recalled in his Autobiography, “of great Use to me in the Course of my Life, and was a principal Means of my Advancement.”

In 1721 James Franklin founded a weekly newspaper, the New-England Courant, to which readers were invited to contribute. Benjamin, now 16, read and perhaps set in type these contributions and decided that he could do as well himself. In 1722 he wrote a series of 14 essays signed “Silence Dogood” in which he lampooned everything from funeral eulogies to the students of Harvard College. For one so young to assume the persona of a middle-aged woman was a remarkable feat, and Franklin took “exquisite Pleasure” in the fact that his brother and others became convinced that only a learned and ingenious wit could have written these essays.

Late in 1722 James Franklin got into trouble with the provincial authorities and was forbidden to print or publish the Courant. To keep the paper going, he discharged his younger brother from his original apprenticeship and made him the paper’s nominal publisher. New indentures were drawn up but not made public. Some months later, after a bitter quarrel, Benjamin secretly left home, sure that James would not “go to law” and reveal the subterfuge he had devised.


Youthful adventures (1723–26)
Failing to find work in New York City, Franklin at age 17 went on to Quaker-dominated Philadelphia, a much more open and religiously tolerant place than Puritan Boston. One of the most memorable scenes of the Autobiography is the description of his arrival on a Sunday morning, tired and hungry. Finding a bakery, he asked for three pennies’ worth of bread and got “three great Puffy Rolls.” Carrying one under each arm and munching on the third, he walked up Market Street past the door of the Read family, where stood Deborah, his future wife. She saw him and “thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward ridiculous Appearance.”

A few weeks later he was rooming at the Reads’ and employed as a printer. By the spring of 1724 he was enjoying the companionship of other young men with a taste for reading, and he was also being urged to set up in business for himself by the governor of Pennsylvania, Sir William Keith. At Keith’s suggestion, Franklin returned to Boston to try to raise the necessary capital. His father thought him too young for such a venture, so Keith offered to foot the bill himself and arranged Franklin’s passage to England so that he could choose his type and make connections with London stationers and booksellers. Franklin exchanged “some promises” about marriage with Deborah Read and, with a young friend, James Ralph, as his companion, sailed for London in November 1724, just over a year after arriving in Philadelphia. Not until his ship was well out at sea did he realize that Governor Keith had not delivered the letters of credit and introduction he had promised.

In London Franklin quickly found employment in his trade and was able to lend money to Ralph, who was trying to establish himself as a writer. The two young men enjoyed the theatre and the other pleasures of the city, including women. While in London, Franklin wrote A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain (1725), a Deistical pamphlet inspired by his having set type for William Wollaston’s moral tract, The Religion of Nature Delineated. Franklin argued in his essay that since human beings have no real freedom of choice, they are not morally responsible for their actions. This was perhaps a nice justification for his self-indulgent behaviour in London and his ignoring of Deborah, to whom he had written only once. He later repudiated the pamphlet, burning all but one of the copies still in his possession.

By 1726 Franklin was tiring of London. He considered becoming an itinerant teacher of swimming, but, when Thomas Denham, a Quaker merchant, offered him a clerkship in his store in Philadelphia with a prospect of fat commissions in the West Indian trade, he decided to return home.


Achievement of security and fame (1726–53)
Denham died, however, a few months after Franklin entered his store. The young man, now 20, returned to the printing trade and in 1728 was able to set up a partnership with a friend. Two years later he borrowed money to become sole proprietor.

His private life at this time was extremely complicated. Deborah Read had married, but her husband had deserted her and disappeared. One matchmaking venture failed because Franklin wanted a dowry of £100 to pay off his business debt. A strong sexual drive, “that hard-to-be-govern’d Passion of Youth,” was sending him to “low Women,” and he thought he very much needed to get married. His affection for Deborah having “revived,” he “took her to Wife” on Sept. 1, 1730. At this point Deborah may have been the only woman in Philadelphia who would have him, for he brought to the marriage an illegitimate son, William, just borne of a woman who has never been identified. Franklin’s common-law marriage lasted until Deborah’s death in 1774. They had a son, Franky, who died at age four, and a daughter, Sarah, who survived them both. William was brought up in the household and apparently did not get along well with Deborah.

Franklin and his partner’s first coup was securing the printing of Pennsylvania’s paper currency. Franklin helped get this business by writing A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency (1729), and later he also became public printer of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Other moneymaking ventures included the Pennsylvania Gazette, published by Franklin from 1729 and generally acknowledged as among the best of the colonial newspapers, and Poor Richard’s almanac, printed annually from 1732 to 1757. Despite some failures, Franklin prospered. Indeed, he made enough to lend money with interest and to invest in rental properties in Philadelphia and many coastal towns. He had franchises or partnerships with printers in the Carolinas, New York, and the British West Indies. By the late 1740s he had become one of the wealthiest colonists in the northern part of the North American continent.

As he made money, he concocted a variety of projects for social improvement. In 1727 he organized the Junto, or Leather Apron Club, to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy and to exchange knowledge of business affairs. The need of Junto members for easier access to books led in 1731 to the organization of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Through the Junto, Franklin proposed a paid city watch, or police force. A paper read to the same group resulted in the organization of a volunteer fire company. In 1743 he sought an intercolonial version of the Junto, which led to the formation of the American Philosophical Society. In 1749 he published Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsilvania; in 1751 the Academy of Philadelphia, from which grew the University of Pennsylvania, was founded. He also became an enthusiastic member of the Freemasons and promoted their “enlightened” causes.

Although still a tradesman, he was picking up some political offices. He became clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature in 1736 and postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. Prior to 1748, though, his most important political service was his part in organizing a militia for the defense of the colony against possible invasion by the French and the Spaniards, whose privateers were operating in the Delaware River.

In 1748 Franklin, at age 42, had become wealthy enough to retire from active business. He took off his leather apron and became a gentleman, a distinctive status in the 18th century. Since no busy artisan could be a gentleman, Franklin never again worked as a printer; instead, he became a silent partner in the printing firm of Franklin and Hall, realizing in the next 18 years an average profit of over £600 annually. He announced his new status as a gentleman by having his portrait painted in a velvet coat and a brown wig; he also acquired a coat of arms, bought several slaves, and moved to a new and more spacious house in “a more quiet Part of the Town.” Most important, as a gentleman and “master of [his] own time,” he decided to do what other gentlemen did—engage in what he termed “Philosophical Studies and Amusements.”

In the 1740s electricity was one of these curious amusements. It was introduced to Philadelphians by an electrical machine sent to the Library Company by one of Franklin’s English correspondents. In the winter of 1746–47, Franklin and three of his friends began to investigate electrical phenomena. Franklin sent piecemeal reports of his ideas and experiments to Peter Collinson, his Quaker correspondent in London. Since he did not know what European scientists might have already discovered, Franklin set forth his findings timidly. In 1751 Collinson had Franklin’s papers published in an 86-page book titled Experiments and Observations on Electricity. In the 18th century the book went through five English editions, three in French, and one each in Italian and German.

Franklin’s fame spread rapidly. The experiment he suggested to prove the identity of lightning and electricity was apparently first made in France before he tried the simpler but more dangerous expedient of flying a kite in a thunderstorm. But his other findings were original. He created the distinction between insulators and conductors. He invented a battery for storing electrical charges. He coined new English words for the new science of electricity—conductor, charge, discharge, condense, armature, electrify, and others. He showed that electricity was a single “fluid” with positive and negative or plus and minus charges and not, as traditionally thought, two kinds of fluids. And he demonstrated that the plus and minus charges, or states of electrification of bodies, had to occur in exactly equal amounts—a crucial scientific principle known today as the law of conservation of charge (see charge conservation).

Theodore Hornberger
Gordon S. Wood


Public service (1753–85)
Despite the success of his electrical experiments, Franklin never thought science was as important as public service. As a leisured gentleman, he soon became involved in more high-powered public offices. He became a member of the Philadelphia City Council in 1748, justice of the peace in 1749, and in 1751 a city alderman and a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. But he had his sights on being part of a larger arena, the British Empire, which he regarded as “the greatest Political Structure Human Wisdom ever yet erected.” In 1753 Franklin became a royal officeholder, deputy postmaster general, in charge of mail in all the northern colonies. Thereafter he began to think in intercolonial terms. In 1754 his “Plan of Union” for the colonies was adopted by the Albany Congress, which was convened at the beginning of the French and Indian War and included representatives from the Iroquois Confederacy. The plan called for the establishment of a general council, with representatives from the several colonies, to organize a common defense against the French. Neither the colonial legislatures nor the king’s advisers were ready for such union, however, and the plan failed. But Franklin had become acquainted with important imperial officials, and his ambition to succeed within the imperial hierarchy had been whetted.

In 1757 he went to England as the agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly in order to get the family of William Penn, the proprietors under the colony’s charter, to allow the colonial legislature to tax their ungranted lands. But Franklin and some of his allies in the assembly had a larger goal of persuading the British government to oust the Penn family as the proprietors of Pennsylvania and make that colony a royal province. Except for a two-year return to Philadelphia in 1762–64, Franklin spent the next 18 years living in London, most of the time in the apartment of Margaret Stevenson, a widow, and her daughter Polly at 36 Craven Street near Charing Cross. His son, William, now age 27, and two slaves accompanied him to London. Deborah and their daughter, Sally, age 14, remained in Philadelphia.

Before he left for London, Franklin decided to bring his Poor Richard’s almanac to an end. While at sea in 1757, he completed a 12-page preface for the final 1758 edition of the almanac titled “Father Abraham’s Speech” and later known as the The Way to Wealth. In this preface Father Abraham cites only those proverbs that concern hard work, thrift, and financial prudence. The Way to Wealth eventually became the most widely reprinted of all Franklin’s works, including the Autobiography.

This time Franklin’s experience in London was very different from his sojourn in 1724–26. London was the largest city in Europe and the centre of the burgeoning British Empire, and Franklin was famous; consequently, he met everyone else who was famous, including David Hume, Captain James Cook, Joseph Priestley, and John Pringle, who was physician to Lord Bute, the king’s chief minister. In 1759 Franklin received an honorary degree from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, which led to his thereafter being called “Dr. Franklin.” Another honorary degree followed in 1762 from the University of Oxford. Everyone wanted to paint his portrait and make mezzotints for sale to the public. Franklin fell in love with the sophistication of London and England; by contrast, he disparaged the provinciality and vulgarity of America. He was very much the royalist, and he bragged of his connection with Lord Bute, which enabled him in 1762 to get his son, William, then age 31, appointed royal governor of New Jersey.

Reluctantly, Franklin had to go back to Pennsylvania in 1762 in order to look after his post office, but he promised his friends in London that he would soon return and perhaps stay forever in England. After touring the post offices up and down North America, a trip of 1,780 miles (2,900 km), he had to deal with an uprising of some Scotch-Irish settlers in the Paxton region of western Pennsylvania who were angry at the Quaker assembly’s unwillingness to finance military protection from the Indians on the frontier. After losing an election to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1764, Franklin could hardly wait to get back to London. Deborah stayed in Philadelphia, and Franklin never saw her again.

He soon had to face the problems arising from the Stamp Act of 1765, which created a firestorm of opposition in America. Like other colonial agents, Franklin opposed Parliament’s stamp tax, asserting that taxation ought to be the prerogative of the colonial legislatures. But once he saw that passage of the tax was inevitable, he sought to make the best of the situation. After all, he said, empires cost money. He ordered stamps for his printing firm in Philadelphia and procured for his friend John Hughes the stamp agency for Pennsylvania. In the process, he almost ruined his position in American public life and nearly cost Hughes his life.

Franklin was shocked by the mobs that effectively prevented enforcement of the Stamp Act everywhere in North America. He told Hughes to remain cool in the face of the mob. “A firm Loyalty to the Crown and faithful Adherence to the Government of this Nation…,” he said, “will always be the wisest Course for you and I to take, whatever may be the Madness of the Populace or their blind Leaders.” Only Franklin’s four-hour testimony before Parliament denouncing the act in 1766 saved his reputation in America. The experience shook Franklin, and his earlier confidence in the wisdom of British officials became punctuated by doubts and resentments. He began to feel what he called his “Americanness” as never before.

During the next four or five years Franklin sought to bridge the growing gulf between the colonies and the British government. Between 1765 and 1775 he wrote 126 newspaper pieces, most of which tried to explain each side to the other. But, as he said, the English thought him too American, while the Americans thought him too English. He had not, however, given up his ambition of acquiring a position in the imperial hierarchy. But in 1771 opposition by Lord Hillsborough, who had just been appointed head of the new American Department, left Franklin depressed and dispirited; in a mood of frustration, nostalgia, and defiance, he began writing his Autobiography, which eventually became one of the most widely read autobiographies ever published.

In recounting the first part of his life, up to age 25—the best part of the Autobiography, most critics agree—Franklin sought to soothe his wounds and justify his apparent failure in British politics. Most important, in this beginning part of his Autobiography, he in effect was telling the world (and his son) that, as a free man who had established himself against overwhelming odds as an independent and industrious artisan, he did not have to kowtow to some patronizing, privileged aristocrat.

When the signals from the British government shifted and Hillsborough was dismissed from the cabinet, Franklin dropped the writing of the Autobiography, which he would not resume until 1784 in France following the successful negotiation of the treaty establishing American independence. Franklin still thought he might be able to acquire an imperial office and work to hold the empire together. But he became involved in the affair of the Hutchinson letters—an affair that ultimately destroyed his position in England. In 1772 Franklin had sent back to Boston some letters written in the 1760s by Thomas Hutchinson, then lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, in which Hutchinson had made some indiscreet remarks about the need to abridge American liberties. Franklin naively thought that these letters would somehow throw blame for the imperial crisis on native officials such as Hutchinson and thus absolve the ministry in London of responsibility. This, Franklin believed, would allow his friends in the ministry, such as Lord Dartmouth, to settle the differences between the mother country and her colonies, with Franklin’s help.

The move backfired completely, and on Jan. 29, 1774, Franklin stood silent in an amphitheatre near Whitehall while being viciously attacked by the British solicitor-general before the Privy Council and the court, most of whom were hooting and laughing. Two days later he was fired as deputy postmaster. After some futile efforts at reconciliation, he sailed for America in March 1775.

Although upon his arrival in Philadelphia Franklin was immediately elected to the Second Continental Congress, some Americans remained suspicious of his real loyalties. He had been so long abroad that some thought he might be a British spy. He was delighted that the Congress in 1776 sent him back to Europe as the premier agent in a commission seeking military aid and diplomatic recognition from France. He played on the French aristocracy’s liberal sympathies for the oppressed Americans and extracted not only diplomatic recognition of the new republic but also loan after loan from an increasingly impoverished French government. His image as the democratic folk genius from the wilderness of America preceded him, and he exploited it brilliantly for the American cause. His face appeared everywhere—on medallions, on snuffboxes, on candy boxes, in rings, in statues, in prints; women even did their hair à la Franklin. Franklin played his role to perfection. In violation of all protocol, he dressed in a simple brown-and-white linen suit and wore a fur cap, no wig, and no sword to the court of Versailles, the most formal and elaborate court in all of Europe. And the French aristocracy and court loved it, caught up as they were with the idea of America.

Beset with the pain of gout and a kidney stone, and surrounded by spies and his sometimes clumsy fellow commissioners—especially Arthur Lee of Virginia and John Adams of Massachusetts, who disliked and mistrusted him—Franklin nonetheless succeeded marvelously. He first secured military and diplomatic alliances with France in 1778 and then played a crucial role in bringing about the final peace treaty with Britain in 1783 (see Peace of Paris). In violation of their instructions and the French alliance, the American peace commissioners signed a separate peace with Britain. It was left to Franklin to apologize to the comte de Vergennes, Louis XVI’s chief minister, which he did in a beautifully wrought diplomatic letter.

No wonder the eight years in France were the happiest of Franklin’s life. He was doing what he most yearned to do—shaping events on a world stage. At this point, in 1784, he resumed work on his Autobiography, writing the second part of it, which presumes human control over one’s life.


Last years (1785–90)
In 1785 Franklin reluctantly had to come to America to die, even though all his friends were in France. Although he feared he would be “a stranger in my own country,” he now knew that his destiny was linked to America.

His reception was not entirely welcoming. The family and friends of the Lees in Virginia and the Adamses in Massachusetts spread stories of his overweening love of France and his dissolute ways. The Congress treated him shabbily, ignoring his requests for some land in the West and a diplomatic appointment for his grandson. In 1788 he was reduced to petitioning the Congress with a pathetic “Sketch of the Services of B. Franklin to the United States,” which the Congress never answered. Just before his death in 1790, Franklin retaliated by signing a memorial requesting that the Congress abolish slavery in the United States. This memorandum provoked some congressmen into angry defenses of slavery, which Franklin exquisitely mocked in a newspaper piece published a month before he died.

Upon his death the Senate refused to go along with the House in declaring a month of mourning for Franklin. In contrast to the many expressions of French affection for Franklin, his fellow Americans gave him one public eulogy—and that was delivered by his inveterate enemy the Rev. William Smith, who passed over Franklin’s youth because it seemed embarrassing.

Following the publication of the Autobiography in 1794, Franklin’s youth was no longer embarrassing. In the succeeding decades, he became the hero of countless early 19th-century artisans and self-made businessmen who were seeking a justification of their rise and their moneymaking. They were the creators of the modern folksy image of Franklin, the man who came to personify the American dream.


Assessment
Franklin was not only the most famous American in the 18th century but also one of the most famous figures in the Western world of the 18th century; indeed, he is one of the most celebrated and influential Americans who has ever lived. Although one is apt to think of Franklin exclusively as an inventor, as an early version of Thomas Edison, which he was, his 18th-century fame came not simply from his many inventions but, more important, from his fundamental contributions to the science of electricity. If there had been a Nobel Prize for Physics in the 18th century, Franklin would have been a contender. Enhancing his fame was the fact that he was an American, a simple man from an obscure background who emerged from the wilds of America to dazzle the entire intellectual world. Most Europeans in the 18th century thought of America as a primitive, undeveloped place full of forests and savages and scarcely capable of producing enlightened thinkers. Yet Franklin’s electrical discoveries in the mid-18th century had surpassed the achievements of the most sophisticated scientists of Europe. Franklin became a living example of the natural untutored genius of the New World that was free from the encumbrances of a decadent and tired Old World—an image that he later parlayed into French support for the American Revolution.

Despite his great scientific achievements, however, Franklin always believed that public service was more important than science, and his political contributions to the formation of the United States were substantial. He had a hand in the writing of the Declaration of Independence, contributed to the drafting of the Articles of Confederation—America’s first national constitution—and was the oldest member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that wrote the Constitution of the United States of America in Philadelphia. More important, as diplomatic representative of the new American republic in France during the Revolution, he secured both diplomatic recognition and financial and military aid from the government of Louis XVI and was a crucial member of the commission that negotiated the treaty by which Great Britain recognized its former 13 colonies as a sovereign nation. Since no one else could have accomplished all that he did in France during the Revolution, he can quite plausibly be regarded as America’s greatest diplomat.

Equally significant perhaps were Franklin’s many contributions to the comfort and safety of daily life, especially in his adopted city of Philadelphia. No civic project was too large or too small for his interest. In addition to his lightning rod and his Franklin stove (a wood-burning stove that warmed American homes for more than 200 years), he invented bifocal glasses, the odometer, and the glass harmonica (armonica). He had ideas about everything—from the nature of the Gulf Stream to the cause of the common cold. He suggested the notions of matching grants and Daylight Saving Time. Almost single-handedly he helped to create a civic society for the inhabitants of Philadelphia. Moreover, he helped to establish new institutions that people now take for granted: a fire company, a library, an insurance company, an academy, and a hospital.

Probably Franklin’s most important invention was himself. He created so many personas in his newspaper writings and almanac and in his posthumously published Autobiography that it is difficult to know who he really was. Following his death in 1790, he became so identified during the 19th century with the persona of his Autobiography and the Poor Richard maxims of his almanac—e.g., “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”—that he acquired the image of the self-made moralist obsessed with the getting and saving of money. Consequently, many imaginative writers, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and D.H. Lawrence, attacked Franklin as a symbol of America’s middle-class moneymaking business values. Indeed, early in the 20th century the famous German sociologist Max Weber found Franklin to be the perfect exemplar of the “Protestant ethic” and the modern capitalistic spirit. Although Franklin did indeed become a wealthy tradesman by his early 40s, when he retired from his business, during his lifetime in the 18th century he was not identified as a self-made businessman or a budding capitalist. That image was a creation of the 19th century. But as long as America continues to be pictured as the land of enterprise and opportunity, where striving and hard work can lead to success, then that image of Franklin is the one that is likely to endure.

Gordon S. Wood

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

Alexander Hamilton



+1 United States statesman

born January 11, 1755/57, Nevis, British West Indies
died July 12, 1804, New York, New York, U.S.

Main
New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787), major author of the Federalist papers, and first secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789–95), who was the foremost champion of a strong central government for the new United States. He was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Early life
Hamilton’s father was James Hamilton, a drifting trader and son of Alexander Hamilton, the laird of Cambuskeith, Ayrshire, Scotland; his mother was Rachel Fawcett Lavine, the daughter of a French Huguenot physician and the wife of John Michael Lavine, a German or Danish merchant who had settled on the island of St. Croix in the Danish West Indies. Rachel probably began living with James Hamilton in 1752, but Lavine did not divorce her until 1758.

In 1765 James Hamilton abandoned his family. Destitute, Rachel set up a small shop, and at the age of 11 Alexander went to work, becoming a clerk in the countinghouse of two New York merchants who had recently established themselves at St. Croix. When Rachel died in 1768, Alexander became a ward of his mother’s relatives, and in 1772 his ability, industry, and engaging manners won him advancement from bookkeeper to manager. Later, friends sent him to a preparatory school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and in the autumn of 1773 he entered King’s College (later Columbia) in New York. Intensely ambitious, he became a serious and successful student, but his studies were interrupted by the brewing revolt against Great Britain. He publicly defended the Boston Tea Party, in which Boston colonists destroyed several tea cargoes in defiance of the tea tax. In 1774–75 he wrote three influential pamphlets, which upheld the agreements of the Continental Congress on the nonimportation, nonconsumption, and nonexportation of British products and attacked British policy in Quebec. Those anonymous publications—one of them attributed to John Jay and John Adams, two of the ablest of American propagandists—gave the first solid evidence of Hamilton’s precocity.


American Revolution
In March 1776, through the influence of friends in the New York legislature, Hamilton was commissioned a captain in the provincial artillery. He organized his own company and at the Battle of Trenton, when he and his men prevented the British under Lord Cornwallis from crossing the Raritan River and attacking George Washington’s main army, showed conspicuous bravery. In February 1777 Washington invited him to become an aide-de-camp with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In his four years on Washington’s staff he grew close to the general and was entrusted with his correspondence. He was sent on important military missions and, thanks to his fluent command of French, became liaison officer between Washington and the French generals and admirals.

Eager to connect himself with wealth and influence, Hamilton married Elizabeth, the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, the head of one of New York’s most distinguished families. Meantime, having tired of the routine duties at headquarters and yearning for glory, he pressed Washington for an active command in the field. Washington refused, and in early 1781 Hamilton seized upon a trivial quarrel to break with the general and leave his staff. Fortunately, he had not forfeited the general’s friendship, for in July Washington gave him command of a battalion. At the siege of Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown in October, Hamilton led an assault on a British stronghold.


Early political activities
In letters to a member of Congress and to Robert Morris, the superintendent of finance, Hamilton analyzed the financial and political weaknesses of the government. In November 1781, with the war virtually over, he moved to Albany, where he studied law and was admitted to practice in July 1782. A few months later the New York legislature elected him to the Continental Congress. He continued to argue in essays for a strong central government, and in Congress from November 1782 to July 1783 he worked for the same end, being convinced that the Articles of Confederation were the source of the country’s weakness and disunion.

In 1783 Hamilton began to practice law in New York City. He defended unpopular loyalists who had remained faithful to the British during the Revolution in suits brought against them under a state law called the Trespass Act. Partly as a result of his efforts, state acts disbarring loyalist lawyers and disfranchising loyalist voters were repealed. In that year he also won election to the lower house of the New York legislature, taking his seat in January 1787. Meanwhile, the legislature had appointed him a delegate to the convention in Annapolis, Maryland, that met in September 1786 to consider the commercial plight of the Union. Hamilton suggested that the convention exceed its delegated powers and call for another meeting of representatives from all the states to discuss various problems confronting the nation. He drew up the draft of the address to the states from which emerged the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in May 1787. After persuading New York to send a delegation, Hamilton obtained a place for himself on the delegation.

Hamilton went to Philadelphia as an uncompromising nationalist who wished to replace the Articles of Confederation with a strong centralized government, but he did not take much part in the debates. He served on two important committees, one on rules in the beginning of the convention and the other on style at the end of the convention. In a long speech on June 18, he presented his own idea of what the national government should be. Under his plan, the national government would have had unlimited power over the states. Hamilton’s plan had little impact on the convention; the delegates went ahead to frame a constitution that, while it gave strong power to a federal government, stood some chance of being accepted by the people. Since the other two delegates from New York, who were strong opponents of a Federalist constitution, had withdrawn from the convention, New York was not officially represented, and Hamilton had no power to sign for his state. Nonetheless, even though he knew that his state wished to go no further than a revision of the Articles of Confederation, he signed the new constitution as an individual.

Opponents in New York quickly attacked the Constitution, and Hamilton answered them in the newspapers under the signature Caesar. Since the Caesar letters seemed not influential, Hamilton turned to another classical pseudonym, Publius, and to two collaborators, James Madison, the delegate from Virginia, and John Jay, the secretary of foreign affairs, to write The Federalist, a series of 85 essays in defense of the Constitution and republican government that appeared in newspapers between October 1787 and May 1788. Hamilton wrote at least two-thirds of the essays, including some of the most important ones that interpreted the Constitution, explained the powers of the executive, the senate, and the judiciary, and expounded the theory of judicial review (i.e., the power of the Supreme Court to declare legislative acts unconstitutional and, thus, void). Although written and published in haste, The Federalist was widely read, had a great influence on contemporaries, became one of the classics of political literature, and helped shape American political institutions. In 1788 Hamilton was reappointed a delegate to the Continental Congress from New York. At the ratifying convention in June, he became the chief champion of the Constitution and, against strong opposition, won approval for it.


Hamilton’s financial program
When President Washington in 1789 appointed Hamilton the first secretary of the Treasury, Congress asked him to draw up a plan for the “adequate support of the public credit.” Envisaging himself as something of a prime minister in Washington’s official family, Hamilton developed a bold and masterly program designed to build a strong union, one that would weave his political philosophy into the government. His immediate objectives were to establish credit at home and abroad and to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states. He outlined his program in four notable reports to Congress (1790–91).

In the first two, Reports on the Public Credit, which he submitted on January 14, 1790, and December 13, 1790, he urged the funding of the national debt at full value, the assumption in full by the federal government of debts incurred by the states during the Revolution, and a system of taxation to pay for the assumed debts. His motive was as much political as economic. Through payment by the central government of the states’ debts, he hoped to bind the men of wealth and influence, who had acquired most of the domestically held bonds, to the national government. But such powerful opposition arose to the funding and assumption scheme that Hamilton was able to push it through Congress only after he had made a bargain with Thomas Jefferson, who was then secretary of state, whereby he gained Southern votes in Congress for it in exchange for his own support in locating the future national capital on the banks of the Potomac.

Hamilton’s third report, the Report on a National Bank, which he submitted on December 14, 1790, advocated a national bank called the Bank of the United States and modeled after the Bank of England. With the bank, he wished to solidify the partnership between the government and the business classes who would benefit most from it and further advance his program to strengthen the national government. After Congress passed the bank charter, Hamilton persuaded Washington to sign it into law. He advanced the argument that the Constitution was the source of implied as well as enumerated powers and that through implication the government had the right to charter a national bank as a proper means of regulating the currency. This doctrine of implied powers became the basis for interpreting and expanding the Constitution in later years. In the Report on Manufactures, the fourth, the longest, the most complex, and the most farsighted of his reports, submitted on December 5, 1791, he proposed to aid the growth of infant industries through various protective laws. Basic to it was his idea that the general welfare required the encouragement of manufacturers and that the federal government was obligated to direct the economy to that end. In writing his report, Hamilton had leaned heavily on The Wealth of Nations, written in 1776 by the Scottish political economist Adam Smith, but he revolted against Smith’s laissez-faire idea that the state must keep hands off the economic processes, which meant that it could provide no bounties, tariffs, or other aid. The report had greater appeal to posterity than to Hamilton’s contemporaries, for Congress did nothing with it.


Establishment of political parties
A result of the struggle over Hamilton’s program and over issues of foreign policy was the emergence of national political parties. Like Washington, Hamilton had deplored parties, equating them with disorder and instability. He had hoped to establish a government of superior persons who would be above party. Yet he became the leader of the Federalist Party, a political organization in large part dedicated to the support of his policies. Hamilton placed himself at the head of that party because he needed organized political support and strong leadership in the executive branch to get his program through Congress. The political organization that challenged the Hamiltonians was the Republican Party (later Democratic-Republican Party) created by James Madison, a member of the House of Representatives, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. In foreign affairs the Federalists favoured close ties with England, whereas the Republicans preferred to strengthen the old attachment to France. In attempting to carry out his program, Hamilton interfered in Jefferson’s domain of foreign affairs. Detesting the French Revolution and the egalitarian doctrines it spawned, he tried to thwart Jefferson’s policies that might aid France or injure England and to induce Washington to follow his own ideas in foreign policy. Hamilton went so far as to warn British officials of Jefferson’s attachment to France and to suggest that they bypass the secretary of state and instead work through himself and the president in matters of foreign policy. This and other parts of Hamilton’s program led to a feud with Jefferson in which the two men attempted to drive each other from the cabinet.

When war broke out between France and England in February 1793, Hamilton wished to use the war as an excuse for jettisoning the French alliance of 1778 and steering the United States closer to England, whereas Jefferson insisted that the alliance was still binding. Washington essentially accepted Hamilton’s advice and in April issued a proclamation of neutrality that was generally interpreted as pro-British.

At the same time, British seizure of U.S. ships trading with the French West Indies and other grievances led to popular demands for war against Great Britain, which Hamilton opposed. He believed that such a war would be national suicide, for his program was anchored on trade with Britain and on the import duties that supported his funding system. Usurping the power of the State Department, Hamilton persuaded the president to send John Jay to London to negotiate a treaty. Hamilton wrote Jay’s instructions, manipulated the negotiations, and defended the unpopular treaty Jay brought back in 1795, notably in a series of newspaper essays he wrote under the signature Camillus; the treaty kept the peace and saved his system.


Out of the cabinet
Lashed by criticism, tired and anxious to repair his private fortune, Hamilton left the cabinet on January 31, 1795. His influence, as an unofficial adviser, however, continued as strong as ever. Washington and his cabinet consulted him on almost all matters of policy. When Washington decided to retire, he turned to Hamilton, asking his opinion as to the best time to publish his farewell. With his eye on the coming presidential election, Hamilton advised withholding the announcement until a few months before the meeting of the presidential electors. Following that advice, Washington gave his Farewell Address in September 1796. Hamilton drafted most of the address, and some of his ideas were prominent in it. In the election, Federalist leaders passed over Hamilton’s claims and nominated John Adams for the presidency and Thomas Pinckney for the vice presidency. Because Adams did not appear devoted to Hamiltonian principles, Hamilton tried to manipulate the electoral college so as to make Pinckney president. Adams won the election, and Hamilton’s intrigue succeeded only in sowing distrust within his own party. Hamilton’s influence in the government continued, however, for Adams retained Washington’s cabinet, and its members consulted Hamilton on all matters of policy, gave him confidential information, and in effect urged his policies on the president.

When France broke relations with the United States, Hamilton stood for firmness, though not immediate war; however, after the failure of a peace mission that President Adams had sent to Paris in 1798, followed by the publication of dispatches insulting to U.S. sovereignty, Hamilton wanted to place the country under arms. He even believed that the French, with whom the United States now became engaged in an undeclared naval war, might attempt to invade the country. Hamilton sought command of the new army, though Washington would be its titular head. Adams resisted Hamilton’s desires, but in September 1798 Washington forced him to make Hamilton second in command of the army, the inspector general, with the rank of major general. Adams never forgave Hamilton for this humiliation. Hamilton wanted to lead his army into Spain’s Louisiana and the Floridas and other points south but never did. Through independent diplomacy, Adams kept the quarrel from spreading and at the order of Congress disbanded the provisional army. Hamilton resigned his commission in June 1800. Meantime Adams had purged his cabinet of those he regarded as “Hamilton’s spies.”

In retaliation, Hamilton tried to prevent Adams’s reelection. In October 1800 he privately circulated a personal attack on Adams, The Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq., President of the United States. Aaron Burr of New York, the Republican candidate for vice president and Hamilton’s political enemy, obtained a copy and had it published. Hamilton was then compelled to acknowledge his authorship and to bring his quarrel with Adams into the open, a feud that revealed an irreparable schism in the Federalist Party. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr won the election, but, because both had received the same number of electoral votes, the choice between them for president was cast into the House of Representatives. Hating Jefferson, the Federalists wanted to throw the election to Burr. Hamilton helped to persuade them to select Jefferson instead. By supporting his old Republican enemy, who won the presidency, Hamilton lost prestige within his own party and virtually ended his public career.


The Burr quarrel
In 1801 Hamilton built a country house called the Grange on Manhattan island and helped found a Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the policies of which reflected his ideas. Through the Post he hailed the purchase of Louisiana in 1803, even though New England Federalists had opposed it. Some of them talked of secession and in 1804 began to negotiate with Burr for his support. Almost all the Federalists but Hamilton favoured Burr’s candidacy for the governorship of New York state. Hamilton urged the election of Burr’s Republican opponent, who won by a close margin, but it is doubtful that Hamilton’s influence decided the outcome. In any event, Hamilton and Burr had long been enemies, and Hamilton had several times thwarted Burr’s ambitions. In June 1804, after the election, Burr demanded satisfaction for remarks Hamilton had allegedly made at a dinner party in April in which he said he held a “despicable opinion” of Burr. Hamilton held an aversion to dueling, but as a man of honour he felt compelled to accept Burr’s challenge. The two antagonists met early in the morning of July 11 on the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, where Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, had died in a duel three years before. Burr’s bullet found its mark, and Hamilton fell. Hamilton left his wife and seven children heavily in debt, which friends helped to pay off.


Assessment
Hamilton was a man both of action and of ideas, but all his ideas involved action and were directed toward some specific goal in statecraft. Unlike Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, he did not have a broad inquisitive mind, nor was he speculative in his thinking in the philosophical sense of seeking intangible truths. He was ambitious, purposeful, a hard worker, and one of America’s administrative geniuses. In foreign policy he was a realist, believing that self-interest should be the nation’s polestar; questions of gratitude, benevolence, and moral principle, he held, were irrelevant.

What renders him fascinating to biographers are the streaks of ambition, jealousy, and impulsiveness that led him into disastrous personal clashes—the rupture with Washington in 1781, which luckily did him no harm; an adulterous affair in 1791, which laid him open to blackmail; the assault on Adams that doomed Federalist prospects in 1800; and perhaps even the duel in which he died. The union of a mind brilliantly tuned to the economic future with the temperament of a Hotspur is rare.

Most of all, Hamilton was one of America’s first great nationalists. He believed in an indivisible nation where the people would give their loyalty not to any state but to the nation. Although a conservative, he did not fear change or experimentation. The conservatism that led him to denounce democracy as hostile to liberty stemmed from his fear that democracy tended to invade the rights of property, which he held sacred. His concern for property was a means to an end. He wished to make private property sacred because upon it he planned to build a strong central government, one capable of suppressing internal disorders and assuring tranquillity. His economic, political, military, and diplomatic schemes were all directed toward making the Union strong. Hamilton’s most enduring monument was the Union, for much of it rested on his ideas.

Alexander DeConde
Ed.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

Thomas Jefferson



president of United States

born April 2 [April 13, New Style], 1743, Shadwell, Virginia [U.S.]
died July 4, 1826, Monticello, Virginia, U.S.

Overview
Third president of the U.S. (1801–09).

He was a planter and became a lawyer in 1767. While a member of the House of Burgesses (1769–75), he initiated the Virginia Committee of Correspondence (1773) with Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry. In 1774 he wrote the influential A Summary View of the Rights of British America, stating that the British Parliament had no authority to legislate for the colonies. A delegate to the Second Continental Congress, he was appointed to the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence and became its primary author. He was elected governor of Virginia (1779–81) but was unable to organize effective opposition when British forces invaded the colony (1780–81). Criticized for his conduct, he retired, vowing to remain a private citizen. Again a member of the Continental Congress (1783–85), he drafted the first of the Northwest Ordinances for dividing and settling the Northwest Territory. In 1785 he succeeded Benjamin Franklin as U.S. minister to France. Appointed the first secretary of state (1790–93) by George Washington, he soon became embroiled in a bitter conflict with Alexander Hamilton over the country’s foreign policy and their opposing interpretations of the Constitution. Their divisions gave rise to political factions and eventually to political parties. Jefferson served as vice president (1797–1801) under John Adams but opposed Adams’s signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798); the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, adopted by the legislatures of those states in 1798 and 1799 as a protest against the Acts, were written by Jefferson and James Madison. In the presidential election of 1800 Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of votes in the electoral college; the decision was thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives, which chose Jefferson on the 36th ballot. As president, Jefferson attempted to reduce the powers of the embryonic federal government and to eliminate the national debt; he also dispensed with a great deal of the ceremony and formality that had attended the office of president to that time. In 1803 he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the land area of the country, and he authorized the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In an effort to force Britain and France to cease their molestation of U.S. merchant ships during the Napoleonic Wars, he signed the Embargo Act. In 1809 he retired to his plantation, Monticello, where he pursued his interests in science, philosophy, and architecture. He served as president of the American Philosophical Society (1797–1815), and in 1819 he founded and designed the University of Virginia. In 1812, after a long estrangement, he and Adams were reconciled and began a lengthy correspondence that illuminated their opposing political philosophies. They died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Though a lifelong slaveholder, Jefferson was an anomaly among the Virginia planter class for his support of gradual emancipation. In January 2000 the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation accepted the conclusion, supported by DNA evidence, that Jefferson had fathered at least one child with Sally Hemings, one of his house slaves.

Main
draftsman of the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the nation’s first secretary of state (1789–94), second vice president (1797–1801), and, as the third president (1801–09), the statesman responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. An early advocate of total separation of church and state, he also was the founder and architect of the University of Virginia and the most eloquent American proponent of individual freedom as the core meaning of the American Revolution. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Long regarded as America’s most distinguished “apostle of liberty,” Jefferson has come under increasingly critical scrutiny within the scholarly world. At the popular level, both in the United States and abroad, he remains an incandescent icon, an inspirational symbol for both major U.S. political parties, as well as for dissenters in communist China, liberal reformers in central and eastern Europe, and aspiring democrats in Africa and Latin America. His image within scholarly circles has suffered, however, as the focus on racial equality has prompted a more negative reappraisal of his dependence upon slavery and his conviction that American society remain a white man’s domain. The huge gap between his lyrical expression of liberal ideals and the more attenuated reality of his own life has transformed Jefferson into America’s most problematic and paradoxical hero. The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated to him on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Early years
Albermarle county, where he was born, lay in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in what was then regarded as a western province of the Old Dominion. His father, Peter Jefferson, was a self-educated surveyor who amassed a tidy estate that included 60 slaves. According to family lore, Jefferson’s earliest memory was as a three-year-old boy “being carried on a pillow by a mounted slave” when the family moved from Shadwell to Tuckahoe. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was descended from one of the most prominent families in Virginia. She raised two sons, of whom Jefferson was the eldest, and six daughters. There is reason to believe that Jefferson’s relationship with his mother was strained, especially after his father died in 1757, because he did everything he could to escape her supervision and had almost nothing to say about her in his memoirs. He boarded with the local schoolmaster to learn his Latin and Greek until 1760, when he entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

By all accounts he was an obsessive student, often spending 15 hours of the day with his books, 3 hours practicing his violin, and the remaining 6 hours eating and sleeping. The two chief influences on his learning were William Small, a Scottish-born teacher of mathematics and science, and George Wythe, the leading legal scholar in Virginia. From them Jefferson learned a keen appreciation of supportive mentors, a concept he later institutionalized at the University of Virginia. He read law with Wythe from 1762 to 1767, then left Williamsburg to practice, mostly representing small-scale planters from the western counties in cases involving land claims and titles. Although he handled no landmark cases and came across as a nervous and somewhat indifferent speaker before the bench, he earned a reputation as a formidable legal scholar. He was a shy and extremely serious young man.

In 1768 he made two important decisions: first, to build his own home atop an 867-foot- (264-metre-) high mountain near Shadwell that he eventually named Monticello and, second, to stand as a candidate for the House of Burgesses. These decisions nicely embodied the two competing impulses that would persist throughout his life—namely, to combine an active career in politics with periodic seclusion in his own private haven. His political timing was also impeccable, for he entered the Virginia legislature just as opposition to the taxation policies of the British Parliament was congealing. Although he made few speeches and tended to follow the lead of the Tidewater elite, his support for resolutions opposing Parliament’s authority over the colonies was resolute.

In the early 1770s his own character was also congealing. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton (Martha Jefferson), an attractive and delicate young widow whose dowry more than doubled his holdings in land and slaves. In 1774 he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was quickly published, though without his permission, and catapulted him into visibility beyond Virginia as an early advocate of American independence from Parliament’s authority; the American colonies were tied to Great Britain, he believed, only by wholly voluntary bonds of loyalty to the king.

His reputation thus enhanced, the Virginia legislature appointed him a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in the spring of 1775. He rode into Philadelphia—and into American history—on June 20, 1775, a tall (slightly above 6 feet 2 inches [1.88 metres]) and gangly young man with reddish blond hair, hazel eyes, a burnished complexion, and rock-ribbed certainty about the American cause. In retrospect, the central paradox of his life was also on display, for the man who the following year was to craft the most famous manifesto for human equality in world history arrived in an ornate carriage drawn by four handsome horses and accompanied by three slaves.


Declaring independence
Jefferson’s inveterate shyness prevented him from playing a significant role in the debates within the Congress. John Adams, a leader in those debates, remembered that Jefferson was silent even in committee meetings, though consistently staunch in his support for independence. His chief role was as a draftsman of resolutions. In that capacity, on June 11, 1776, he was appointed to a five-person committee, which also included Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a formal statement of the reasons why a break with Great Britain was justified. Adams asked him to prepare the first draft, which he did within a few days. He later claimed that he was not striving for “originality of principle or sentiment,” only seeking to provide “an expression of the American mind”; that is, putting into words those ideas already accepted by a majority of Americans. This accurately describes the longest section of the Declaration of Independence, which lists the grievances against George III. It does not, however, describe the following 55 words, which are generally regarded as the seminal statement of American political culture:

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.

On July 3–4 the Congress debated and edited Jefferson’s draft, deleting and revising fully one-fifth of the text. But they made no changes whatsoever in this passage, which over succeeding generations became the lyrical sanction for every liberal movement in American history. At the time, Jefferson himself was disconsolate that the Congress had seen fit to make any changes in his language. Nevertheless, he was not regarded by his contemporaries as the author of the Declaration, which was seen as a collective effort by the entire Congress. Indeed, he was not known by most Americans as the principal author until the 1790s. (See primary source document: Declaration of Independence.)

He returned to Virginia in October 1776 and immediately launched an extensive project for the reform of the state’s legal code to bring it in line with the principles of the American Revolution. Three areas of reform suggest the arc of his political vision: first, he sought and secured abolition of primogeniture, entail, and all those remnants of feudalism that discouraged a broad distribution of property; second, he proposed a comprehensive plan of educational reform designed to assure access at the lowest level for all citizens and state support at the higher levels for the most talented; third, he advocated a law prohibiting any religious establishment and requiring complete separation of church and state. The last two proposals were bitterly contested, especially the statute for religious freedom, which was not enacted until 1786. (See primary source documents: An American Education for American Youth, The Education of Women, and The Sphere of Religion.)

Taken together, these legal reforms capture the essence of Jefferson’s political philosophy, which was less a comprehensive body of thought than a visionary prescription. He regarded the past as a “dead hand” of encrusted privileges and impediments that must be cast off to permit the natural energies of individual citizens to flow freely. The American Revolution, as he saw it, was the first shot in what would eventually became a global battle for human liberation from despotic institutions and all coercive versions of government.

At the end of what was probably the most creative phase of his public career, personal misfortune struck in two successive episodes. Elected governor of Virginia in 1779, he was caught off-guard by a surprise British invasion in 1780 against which the state was defenseless. His flight from approaching British troops was described in the local press, somewhat unfairly, as a cowardly act of abdication. (Critics would recall this awkward moment throughout the remainder of his long career.) Then, in September 1782, his wife died after a difficult delivery in May of their third daughter. These two disasters caused him to vow that he would never again desert his family for his country.


American in Paris
The vow was sincere but short-lived. Jefferson agreed, albeit reluctantly, to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress in December 1782, where his major contribution was to set forth the principle that territories in the West should not be treated as colonies but rather should enter the Union with status equal to the original states once certain conditions were met. Then, in 1784, recognizing the need to escape the memories of Martha that haunted the hallways at Monticello, he agreed to replace Franklin as American minister to France; or, as legend tells the story, he agreed to succeed Franklin, noting that no one could replace him.

During his five-year sojourn in Paris, Jefferson accomplished very little in any official sense. Several intractable conditions rendered his best diplomatic efforts futile: the United States was heavily in debt owing to the recent war, so few European nations were interested in signing treaties of amity and commerce with the infant American republic; the federal government created under the Articles of Confederation was notoriously weak, so clear foreign policy directives proved impossible; Great Britain already enjoyed a monopoly, controlling more than 80 percent of America’s foreign trade, so it had no incentive to negotiate commercial treaties on less favourable terms; and France was drifting toward a cataclysmic political crisis of its own, so relations with the upstart new nation across the Atlantic were hardly a high priority.

As a result, Jefferson’s diplomatic overtures to establish a market for American tobacco and to reopen French ports to whale oil produced meagre results, his efforts to create an alliance of American and European powers to contest the terrorism of the Barbary pirates proved stillborn, and his vision of open markets for all nations, a world without tariffs, seemed excessively visionary. His only significant achievement was the negotiation of a $400,000 loan from Dutch bankers that allowed the American government to consolidate its European debts, but even that piece of diplomacy was conducted primarily by John Adams, then serving as American minister to the Court of St. James’s in London.

But the Paris years were important to Jefferson for personal reasons and are important to biographers and historians for the new light they shed on his famously elusive personality. The dominant pattern would seem to be the capacity to live comfortably with contradiction. For example, he immersed himself wholeheartedly in the art, architecture, wine, and food of Parisian society but warned all prospective American tourists to remain in America so as to avoid the avarice, luxury, and sheer sinfulness of European fleshpots. He made a point of bringing along his elder daughter, Martha (called Patsy as a girl), and later sent for his younger daughter, Maria (called Polly), all as part of his genuine devotion as a single parent. But he then placed both daughters in a convent, wrote them stern lecturelike letters about proper female etiquette, and enforced a patriarchal distance that was in practice completely at odds with his theoretical commitment to intimacy.

With women in general his letters convey a message of conspicuous gallantry, playfully flirtatious in the manner of a male coquette. The most self-revealing letter he ever wrote, “a dialogue between the head and the heart,” was sent to Maria Cosway, an Anglo-Italian beauty who left him utterly infatuated. Jefferson and Cosway, who was married to a prominent if somewhat degenerate English miniaturist, spent several months in a romantic haze, touring Parisian gardens, museums, and art shows together, but whether Jefferson’s head or heart prevailed, either in the letter or in life, is impossible to know. Meanwhile, there is considerable evidence to suggest, but not to prove conclusively, that Jefferson initiated a sexual liaison with his attractive young mulatto slave Sally Hemings in 1788, about the time his torrid affair with Cosway cooled down—this despite his public statements denouncing blacks as biologically inferior and sexual relations between the races as taboo. (See Sidebar: “Tom and Sally”: the Jefferson-Hemings paternity debate.)

During the latter stages of Jefferson’s stay in Paris, Louis XVI, the French king, was forced to convene the Assembly of Notables in Versailles to deal with France’s deep financial crisis. Jefferson initially regarded the assembly as a French version of the Constitutional Convention, then meeting in Philadelphia. Much influenced by moderate leaders such as the Marquis de Lafayette, he expected the French Revolution to remain a bloodless affair that would culminate in a revised French government, probably a constitutional monarchy along English lines. He remained oblivious to the resentments and volatile energies pent up within French society that were about to explode in the Reign of Terror, mostly because he thought the French Revolution would follow the American model. He was fortunate to depart France late in 1789, just at the onset of mob violence.


Slavery and racism
Even before his departure from France, Jefferson had overseen the publication of Notes on the State of Virginia. This book, the only one Jefferson ever published, was part travel guide, part scientific treatise, and part philosophical meditation. Jefferson had written it in the fall of 1781 and had agreed to a French edition only after learning that an unauthorized version was already in press. Notes contained an extensive discussion of slavery, including a graphic description of its horrific effects on both blacks and whites, a strong assertion that it violated the principles on which the American Revolution was based, and an apocalyptic prediction that failure to end slavery would lead to “convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race.” It also contained the most explicit assessment that Jefferson ever wrote of what he believed were the biological differences between blacks and whites, an assessment that exposed the deep-rooted racism that he, like most Americans and almost all Virginians of his day, harboured throughout his life.

To his critics in later generations, Jefferson’s views on race seemed particularly virulent because of his purported relationship with Sally Hemings, who bore several children obviously fathered by a white man and some of whom had features resembling those of Jefferson. The public assertion of this relationship was originally made in 1802 by a disreputable journalist interested in injuring Jefferson’s political career. His claim was corroborated, however, by one of Hemings’s children in an 1873 newspaper interview and then again in a 1968 book by Winthrop Jordan revealing that Hemings became pregnant only when Jefferson was present at Monticello. Finally, in 1998, DNA samples were gathered from living descendants of Jefferson and Hemings. Tests revealed that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of some of Hemings’s children. What remained unclear was the character of the relationship—consensual or coercive, a matter of love or rape, or a mutually satisfactory arrangement. Jefferson’s admirers preferred to consider it a love affair and to see Jefferson and Hemings as America’s preeminent biracial couple. His critics, on the other hand, considered Jefferson a sexual predator whose eloquent statements about human freedom and equality were hypocritical.

In any case, coming as it did at the midpoint of Jefferson’s career, the publication of Notes affords the opportunity to review Jefferson’s previous and subsequent positions on the most volatile and therefore most forbidden topic in the revolutionary era (see primary source document: On Accommodating African Americans). Early in his career Jefferson had taken a leadership role in pushing slavery onto the political agenda in the Virginia assembly and the federal Congress. In the 1760s and ’70s, like most Virginia planters, he endorsed the end of the slave trade. (Virginia’s plantations were already well stocked with slaves, so ending the slave trade posed no economic threat and even enhanced the value of the existent slave population.) In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he included a passage, subsequently deleted by the Continental Congress, blaming both the slave trade and slavery itself on George III. Unlike most of his fellow Virginians, Jefferson was prepared to acknowledge that slavery was an anomaly in the American republic established in 1776. His two most practical proposals came in the early 1780s: a gradual emancipation scheme by which all slaves born after 1800 would be freed and their owners compensated, and a prohibition of slavery in all the territories of the West as a condition for admission to the Union. By the time of the publication of Notes, then, Jefferson’s record on slavery placed him among the most progressive elements of southern society. Rather than ask how he could possibly tolerate the persistence of slavery, it is more historically correct to wonder how this member of Virginia’s planter class had managed to develop such liberal convictions.

Dating the onset of a long silence is inevitably an imprecise business, but by the time of his return to the United States in 1789 Jefferson had backed away from a leadership position on slavery. The ringing denunciations of slavery presented in Notes had generated controversy, especially within the planter class of Virginia, and Jefferson’s deep aversion to controversy made him withdraw from the cutting edge of the antislavery movement once he experienced the sharp feelings it aroused. Moreover, the very logic of his argument in Notes exposed the inherent intractability of his position. Although he believed that slavery was a gross violation of the principles celebrated in the Declaration of Independence, he also believed that people of African descent were biologically inferior to whites and could never live alongside whites in peace and harmony. They would have to be transported elsewhere, back to Africa or perhaps the Caribbean, after emancipation. Because such a massive deportation was a logistical and economic impossibility, the unavoidable conclusion was that, though slavery was wrong, ending it, at least at present, was inconceivable. That became Jefferson’s public position throughout the remainder of his life.

It also shaped his personal posture as a slave owner. Jefferson owned, on average, about 200 slaves at any point in time, and slightly over 600 over his lifetime. To protect himself from facing the reality of his problematic status as plantation master, he constructed a paternalistic self-image as a benevolent father caring for what he called “my family.” Believing that he and his slaves were the victims of history’s failure to proceed along the enlightened path, he saw himself as the steward for those entrusted to his care until a better future arrived for them all. In the meantime, his own lavish lifestyle and all the incessant and expensive renovations of his Monticello mansion were wholly dependent on slave labour. Whatever silent thoughts he might have harboured about freeing his slaves never found their way into the record. (He freed only five slaves, all members of the Hemings family.) His mounting indebtedness rendered all such thoughts superfluous toward the end, because his slaves, like all his possessions, were mortgaged to his creditors and therefore not really his to free.


Party politics
Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789 to serve as the first secretary of state under President George Washington. He was entering the most uncharted waters in American history. There had never been an enduring republican government in a nation as large as the United States, and no one was sure if it was possible or how it would work. The Constitution ratified in 1788 was still a work-in-progress, less a blueprint that provided answers than a framework for arguing about the salient questions. And because Jefferson had been serving in France when the constitutional battles of 1787–88 were waged in Philadelphia and then in the state ratifying conventions, he entered the volatile debates of the 1790s without a clear track record of his constitutional convictions. In truth, unlike his friend and disciple James Madison, Jefferson did not think primarily in constitutional categories. His major concern about the new Constitution was the absence of any bill of rights. He was less interested in defining the powers of government than in identifying those regions where government could not intrude (see primary source documents: On the New Constitution and On the Omission of a Bill of Rights).

During his tenure as secretary of state (1790–93), foreign policy was his chief responsibility. Within the cabinet a three-pronged division soon emerged over American policy toward the European powers. While all parties embraced some version of the neutrality doctrine, the specific choices posed by the ongoing competition for supremacy in Europe between England and France produced a bitter conflict. Washington and Adams, who was serving as vice president, insisted on complete neutrality, which in practice meant tacking back and forth between the two dominant world powers of the moment. Alexander Hamilton pushed for a pro-English version of neutrality—chiefly commercial ties with the most potent mercantile power in the world. Jefferson favoured a pro-French version of neutrality, arguing that the Franco-American treaty of 1778 obliged the United States to honour past French support during the war for independence, and that the French Revolution embodied the “spirit of ’76” on European soil. Even when the French Revolution spun out of control and began to devour its own partisans, Jefferson insisted that these bloody convulsions were only temporary excesses justified by the larger ideological issues at stake.

This remained his unwavering position throughout the decade. Even after he retired from office late in 1793, he issued directives from Monticello opposing the Neutrality Act (1793) and the Jay Treaty (1795) as pacts with the British harlot and betrayals of our French brethren. Serving as vice president during the Adams presidency (1797–1801), Jefferson worked behind the scenes to undermine Adams’s efforts to sustain strict neutrality and blamed the outbreak of the “quasi-war” with France in 1797–98 on what he called “our American Anglophiles” rather than the French Directory. His foreign-policy vision was resolutely moralistic and highly ideological, dominated by a dichotomous view of England as a corrupt and degenerate engine of despotism and France as the enlightened wave of the future.

Jefferson’s position on domestic policy during the 1790s was a variation on the same ideological dichotomy. As Hamilton began to construct his extensive financial program—to include funding the national debt, assuming the state debts, and creating a national bank—Jefferson came to regard the consolidation of power at the federal level as a diabolical plot to subvert the true meaning of the American Revolution. As Jefferson saw it, the entire Federalist commitment to an energetic central government with broad powers over the domestic economy replicated the arbitrary policies of Parliament and George III, which the American Revolution had supposedly repudiated as monarchical and aristocratic practices, incompatible with the principles of republicanism. Jefferson sincerely believed that the “principles of ’76” were being betrayed by a Federalist version of the “court party,” whose covert scheme was to install monarchy and a pseudo-aristocracy of bankers and “monocrats” to rule over the American yeomanry.

All the major events of the decade—the creation of a national bank, the debate over the location of a national capital, the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, the passage of the Jay Treaty, and, most notoriously, the enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts—were viewed through this ideological lens. By the middle years of the decade two distinctive political camps had emerged, calling themselves Federalists and Republicans (later Democratic-Republicans). Not that modern-day political parties, with their mechanisms for raising money, selecting candidates, and waging election campaigns, were fully formed at this stage. (Full-blooded political parties date from the 1830s and ’40s.) But an embryonic version of the party structure was congealing, and Jefferson, assisted and advised by Madison, established the rudiments of the first opposition party in American politics under the Republican banner.

The partnership between Jefferson and Madison, labeled by subsequent historians as “the great collaboration,” deserves special attention. John Quincy Adams put it nicely when he observed that “the mutual influence of these two mighty minds on each other is a phenomenon, like the invisible and mysterious movements of the magnet in the physical world.” Because the notion of a legitimate opposition to the elected government did not yet exist, and because the term party remained an epithet that was synonymous with faction, meaning an organized effort to undermine the public interest, Jefferson and Madison were labeled as traitors by the Federalist press. They were, in effect, inventing a modern form of political behaviour before there was any neutral vocabulary for talking about it. Jefferson’s own capacity to live comfortably with contradictions served him well in this context, since he was creating and leading a political party while insisting that parties were evil agents. In 1796 he ran for the presidency against Adams, all the while claiming not to know that he was even a candidate. Most negative assessments of Jefferson’s character date from this period, especially the charge of hypocrisy and duplicity.

The highly combustible political culture of the early republic reached a crescendo in the election of 1800, one of the most fiercely contested campaigns in American history. (See primary source document: Jefferson and Liberty.) The Federalist press described Jefferson as a pagan and atheist, a treasonable conspirator against the duly elected administrations of Washington and Adams, a utopian dreamer with anarchistic tendencies toward the role of government, and a cunning behind-the-scenes manipulator of Republican propaganda. All these charges were gross exaggerations, save the last. Always operating through intermediaries, Jefferson paid several journalists to libel Adams, his old friend but current political enemy, and offered the vice presidency to Aaron Burr in return for delivering the electoral votes of New York. In the final tally the 12 New York votes made the difference, with the tandem of Jefferson and Burr winning 73 to 65. A quirk in the Constitution, subsequently corrected in the Twelfth Amendment, prevented electors from distinguishing between their choice of president and vice president, so Jefferson and Burr tied for the top spot, even though voter preference for Jefferson was incontestable. The decision was thrown into the House of Representatives where, after several weeks of debate and backroom wheeling and dealing, Jefferson was elected on the 36th ballot.


Presidency
There was a good deal of nervous speculation whether the new American nation could survive a Jefferson presidency. The entire thrust of Jefferson’s political position throughout the 1790s had been defiantly negative, rejecting as excessive the powers vested in the national government by the Federalists. In his Virginia Resolutions of 1798, written in protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts, he had described any projection of federal authority over the domestic policy of the states as a violation of “the spirit of ’76” and therefore a justification for secession from the Union. (This became the position of the Confederacy in 1861.) His Federalist critics wondered how he could take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States if his primary goal as president was to dismantle the federal institutions created by that very document. As he rose to deliver his inaugural address on March 4, 1801, in the still-unfinished Capitol of the equally unfinished national capital on the Potomac, the mood was apprehensive. The most rabid alarmists had already been proved wrong, since the first transfer of power from one political regime to another had occurred peacefully, even routinely. But it was still very much an open question whether, as Lincoln later put it, “any nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure” in the absence of a central government along Federalist lines.

The major message of Jefferson’s inaugural address was conciliatory. Its most famous line (“We are all republicans—we are all federalists”) suggested that the scatological party battles of the previous decade must cease. He described his election as a recovery of the original intentions of the American Revolution, this after the hostile takeover of those “ancient and sacred truths” by the Federalists, who had erroneously assumed that a stable American nation required a powerful central government. In Jefferson’s truly distinctive and original formulation, the coherence of the American republic did not require the mechanisms of a powerful state to survive or flourish. Indeed, the health of the emerging American nation was inversely proportional to the power of the federal government, for in the end the sovereign source of republican government was voluntary popular opinion, “the people,” and the latent energies these liberated individuals released when unburdened by government restrictions.

In 1804 Jefferson was easily reelected over Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, winning 162 electoral votes to Pinckney’s 14. Initially, at least, his policies as president reflected his desire for decentralization, which meant dismantling the embryonic federal government, the army and navy, and all federal taxation programs, as well as placing the national debt, which stood at $112 million, on the road to extinction. These reforms enjoyed considerable success for two reasons. First, the temporary cessation of the war between England and France for European supremacy permitted American merchants to trade with both sides and produced unprecedented national prosperity. Second, in selecting Albert Gallatin as secretary of the Treasury, Jefferson placed one of the most capable managers of fiscal policy in the most strategic location. Gallatin, a Swiss-born prodigy with impeccable Republican credentials, dominated the cabinet discussions alongside Madison, the ever-loyal Jefferson disciple who served as secretary of state.

Actually there were very few cabinet discussions because Jefferson preferred to do the bulk of business within the executive branch in writing. Crafting language on the page was his most obvious talent, and he required all cabinet officers to submit drafts of their recommendations, which he then edited and returned for their comments. The same textual approach applied to his dealings with Congress. All of his annual messages were delivered in writing rather than in person. Indeed, apart from his two inaugural addresses (see primary source documents: First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address), there is no record of Jefferson delivering any public speeches whatsoever. In part this was a function of his notoriously inadequate abilities as an orator, but it also reflected his desire to make the office of the presidency almost invisible. His one gesture at visibility was to schedule weekly dinners when Congress was in session, which became famous for the quality of the wine, the pell-mell seating arrangements, and informal approach to etiquette—a clear defiance of European-style decorum.

The major achievement of his first term was also an act of defiance, though this time it involved defying his own principles. In 1803 Napoleon decided to consolidate his resources for a new round of the conflict with England by selling the vast Louisiana region, which stretched from the Mississippi Valley to the Rocky Mountains. Although the asking price, $15 million, was a stupendous bargain, assuming the cost meant substantially increasing the national debt. More significantly, what became known as the Louisiana Purchase violated Jefferson’s constitutional scruples. Indeed, many historians regard it as the boldest executive action in American history. But Jefferson never wavered, reasoning that the opportunity to double the national domain was too good to miss. The American West always triggered Jefferson’s most visionary energies, seeing it, as he did, as America’s future, the place where the simple republican principles could be constantly renewed. In one fell swoop he removed the threat of a major European power from America’s borders and extended the life span of the uncluttered agrarian values he so cherished. Even before news that the purchase was approved reached the United States in July 1803, Jefferson dispatched his private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition to explore the new acquisition and the lands beyond, all the way to the Pacific.

If the Louisiana Purchase was the crowning achievement of Jefferson’s presidency, it also proved to be the high point from which events moved steadily in the other direction. Although the Federalist Party was dead as a national force, pockets of Federalist opposition still survived, especially in New England. Despite his eloquent testimonials to the need for a free press, Jefferson was outraged by the persistent attacks on his policies and character from those quarters, and he instructed the attorneys general in the recalcitrant states to seek indictments, in clear violation of his principled commitment to freedom of expression (see primary source document: On Misreporting by the Press). He was equally heavy-handed in his treatment of Aaron Burr, who was tried for treason after leading a mysterious expedition into the American Southwest allegedly designed to detach that region from the United States with Burr crowned as its benevolent dictator. The charges were never proved, but Jefferson demanded Burr’s conviction despite the lack of evidence. He was overruled in the end by Chief Justice John Marshall, who sat as the judge in the trial.

But Jefferson’s major disappointment had its origins in Europe with the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars, which resulted in naval blockades in the Atlantic and Caribbean that severely curtailed American trade and pressured the U.S. government to take sides in the conflict. Jefferson’s response was the Embargo Act (1807), which essentially closed American ports to all foreign imports and American exports. The embargo assumed that the loss of American trade would force England and France to alter their policies, but this fond hope was always an illusion, since the embryonic American economy lacked the size to generate such influence and was itself wrecked by Jefferson’s action. Moreover, the enforcement of the Embargo Act required the exercise of precisely those coercive powers by the federal government that Jefferson had previously opposed. By the time he left office in March 1809, Jefferson was a tired and beaten man, anxious to escape the consequences of his futile efforts to preserve American neutrality and eager to embrace the two-term precedent established by Washington.


Retirement
During the last 17 years of his life Jefferson maintained a crowded and active schedule. He rose with the dawn each day, bathed his feet in cold water, then spent the morning on his correspondence (one year he counted writing 1,268 letters) and working in his garden. Each afternoon he took a two-hour ride around his grounds. Dinner, served in the late afternoon, was usually an occasion to gather his daughter Martha and her 12 children, along with the inevitable visitors. Monticello became a veritable hotel during these years, on occasion housing 50 guests. The lack of privacy caused Jefferson to build a separate house on his Bedford estate about 90 miles (140 km) from Monticello, where he periodically fled for seclusion.

Three architectural projects claimed a considerable share of his attention. Throughout his life Monticello remained a work-in-progress that had the appearance of a construction site. Even during his retirement years, Jefferson’s intensive efforts at completing the renovations never quite produced the masterpiece of neoclassical design he wanted to achieve and that modern-day visitors to Monticello find so compelling. A smaller but more architecturally distinctive mansion at Bedford, called Poplar Forest, was completed on schedule. It too embodied neoclassical principles but was shaped as a perfect octagon. Finally there was the campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, which Jefferson called his “academical village.” Jefferson surveyed the site, which he could view in the distance from his mountaintop, and chose the Pantheon of Rome as the model for the rotunda, the centrepiece flanked by two rows of living quarters for students and faculty. In 1976 the American Institute of Architects voted it “the proudest achievement of American architecture in the past 200 years.” Even the “interior” design of the University of Virginia embodied Jeffersonian principles, in that he selected all the books for the library, defined the curriculum, picked the faculty, and chaired the Board of Visitors. Unlike every other American college at the time, “Mr. Jefferson’s university” had no religious affiliation and imposed no religious requirement on its students. As befitted an institution shaped by a believer in wholly voluntary and consensual networks of governance, there were no curricular requirements, no mandatory code of conduct except the self-enforced honour system, no president or administration. Every aspect of life at the University of Virginia reflected Jefferson’s belief that the only legitimate form of governance was self-governance.

In 1812 his vast correspondence began to include an exchange with his former friend and more recent rival John Adams. The reconciliation between the two patriarchs was arranged by their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, who described them as “the North and South poles of the American Revolution.” That description suggested more than merely geographic symbolism, since Adams and Jefferson effectively, even dramatically, embodied the twin impulses of the revolutionary generation. As the “Sage of Monticello,” Jefferson represented the Revolution as a clean break with the past, the rejection of all European versions of political discipline as feudal vestiges, the ingrained hostility toward all mechanisms of governmental authority that originated in faraway places. As the “Sage of Quincy (Massachusetts),” Adams resembled an American version of Edmund Burke, which meant that he attributed the success of the American Revolution to its linkage with past practices, most especially the tradition of representative government established in the colonial assemblies. He regarded the constitutional settlement of 1787–88 as a shrewd compromise with the political necessities of a nation-state exercising jurisdiction over an extensive, eventually continental, empire, not as a betrayal of the American Revolution but an evolutionary fulfillment of its promise.

These genuine differences of opinion made Adams and Jefferson the odd couple of the American Revolution and were the primary reasons why they had drifted to different sides of the divide during the party wars of the 1790s. The exchange of 158 letters between 1812 and 1826 permitted the two sages to pose as philosopher-kings and create what is arguably the most intellectually impressive correspondence between statesmen in all of American history. Beyond the elegiac tone and almost sculpted serenity of the letters, the correspondence exposed the fundamental contradictions that the American Revolution managed to contain. As Adams so poignantly put it, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.” And because of Adams’s incessant prodding, Jefferson was frequently forced to clarify his mature position on the most salient issues of the era.

One issue that even Adams and Jefferson could not discuss candidly was slavery. Jefferson’s mature position on that forbidden subject represented a further retreat from any leadership role in ending the “peculiar institution.” In 1819, during the debate in Congress over the Missouri Compromise, he endorsed the expansion of slavery into all the western territories, precisely the opposite of the position he had taken in the 1780s. Though he continued to insist that slavery was a massive anomaly, he insisted even more strongly that it was wrong for the federal government to attempt any effort at emancipation. In fact he described any federal intrusion in the matter as a despotic act analogous to George III’s imperial interference in colonial affairs or Hamilton’s corrupt scheme to establish a disguised form of monarchy in the early republic. His letters to fellow Virginians during his last years reflect a conspiratorial mentality toward the national government and a clear preference for secession if threatened with any mandatory plan for abolition.

Apart from slavery, the other shadow that darkened Monticello during Jefferson’s twilight years was debt. Jefferson was chronically in debt throughout most of his life, in part because of obligations inherited from his father-in-law in his wife’s dowry, mostly because of his own lavish lifestyle, which never came to terms with the proverbial bottom line despite careful entries in his account books that provided him with only the illusion of control. In truth, by the 1820s the interest on his debt was compounding at a faster rate than any repayment schedule could meet. By the end, he was more than $100,000—in modern terms several million dollars—in debt. An exception was made in Virginia law to permit a lottery that Jefferson hoped would allow his heirs to retain at least a portion of his property. But the massiveness of his debt overwhelmed all such hopes. Monticello, including land, mansion, furnishings, and the vast bulk of the slave population, was auctioned off the year after his death, and his surviving daughter, Martha, was forced to accept charitable contributions to sustain her family.

Before that ignominious end, which Jefferson never lived to see, he managed to sound one last triumphant note that projected his most enduring and attractive message to posterity. In late June 1826 Jefferson was asked to join the Independence Day celebrations in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of the defining event in his and the nation’s life. He declined, explaining that he was in no condition to leave his mountaintop. But he mustered up one final surge of energy to draft a statement that would be read in his absence at the ceremony. He clearly intended it as his final testament. Though some of the language, like the language of the Declaration itself, was borrowed from others, here was the vintage Jeffersonian vision:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.… All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of men. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others; for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Even as these words were being read in Washington, Jefferson went to his maker in his bed at Monticello at about half past noon on July 4, 1826. His last conscious words, uttered the preceding evening, were “Is it the Fourth?” Always a man given to Herculean feats of self-control, he somehow managed to time his own death to coincide with history. More remarkably, up in Quincy on that same day his old rival and friend also managed to die on schedule. John Adams passed away later in the afternoon. His last words—“Thomas Jefferson still lives”—were wrong at the moment but right for the future, since Jefferson’s complex legacy was destined to become the most resonant and controversial touchstone in all of American history.

(For additional writings by Jefferson, see Debates on Independence; On the Need for a Little Rebellion Now and Then; A Firebell in the Night; On Civil and Natural Rights; A Simple and Inexpensive Government; On Republican Government; The Rulers and the Ruled; On the Censorship of Religious Books; On the Civil and Religious Powers of Government; and On Science and the Perfectibility of Man.)

Joseph J. Ellis


Cabinet of President Thomas Jefferson
The table provides a list of cabinet members in the administration of President Thomas Jefferson.

Cabinet of President Thomas Jefferson
March 4, 1801-March 3, 1805 (Term 1)
State James Madison
Treasury Samuel Dexter
Albert Gallatin (from May 14, 1801)
War Henry Dearborn
Navy Benjamin Stoddert
Robert Smith (from July 27, 1801)
Attorney General Levi Lincoln
March 4, 1805-March 3, 1809 (Term 2)
State James Madison
Treasury Albert Gallatin
War Henry Dearborn
Navy Robert Smith
Attorney General John Breckinridge
Caesar Augustus Rodney (from January 20, 1807)

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

Patrick Henry



American statesman

born May 29 [May 18, Old Style], 1736, Studley [Va.]
died June 6, 1799, Red Hill, near Brookneal, Va., U.S.

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brilliant orator and a major figure of the American Revolution, perhaps best known for his words “Give me liberty or give me death!” which he delivered in 1775. He was independent Virginia’s first governor (serving 1776–79, 1784–86).

Patrick Henry was the son of John Henry, a well-educated Scotsman who served in the colony as a surveyor, colonel, and justice of the Hanover County Court. Before he was 10, Patrick received some rudimentary education in a local school, later reinforced by tutoring from his father, who was trained in the classics. As a youth, he failed twice in seven years as a storekeeper and once as a farmer; and during this period he increased his responsibilities by marriage, in 1754, to Sarah Shelton. The demands of a growing family spurred him to study for the practice of law, and in this profession he soon displayed remarkable ability. Within a few years after his admission to the bar in 1760 he had a large and profitable clientele. He was especially successful in criminal cases, where he made good use of his quick wit, his knowledge of human nature, and his forensic gifts.

Meanwhile, his oratorical genius had been revealed in the trial known as the Parson’s Cause (1763). This suit grew out of the Virginia law, disallowed by King George III, that permitted payment of the Anglican clergy in money instead of tobacco when the tobacco crop was poor. Henry astonished the audience in the courtroom with his eloquence in invoking the doctrine of natural rights, the political theory that man is born with certain inalienable rights.

Two years later, at the capitol in Williamsburg, where he had just been seated as a member of the House of Burgesses (the lower house of the colonial legislature), he delivered a speech opposing the British Stamp Act. The act was a revenue law requiring certain colonial publications and documents to bear a legal stamp. Henry offered a series of resolutions asserting the right of the colonies to legislate independently of the British Parliament, and he supported these resolutions with great eloquence: “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George III…” Here he was interrupted by cries of “Treason! treason!” But he concluded, according to a likely version, “…may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”

During the next decade Henry was an influential leader in the radical opposition to the British government. He was a member of the first Virginia Committee of Correspondence, which aided intercolonial cooperation, and a delegate to the Continental Congresses of 1774 and 1775. At the second Virginia Convention, on March 23, 1775, in St. John’s Church, Richmond, he delivered the speech that assured his fame as one of the great advocates of liberty. Convinced that war with Great Britain was inevitable, he presented strong resolutions for equipping the Virginia militia to fight against the British and defended them in a fiery speech with the famed peroration, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

The resolutions passed, and Henry was appointed commander of the Virginia forces, but his actions were curbed by the Committee of Safety; in reaction, he resigned on Feb. 28, 1776. Henry served on the committee in the Virginia Convention of 1776 that drafted the first constitution for the state. He was elected governor the same year and was reelected in 1777 and 1778 for one-year terms, thereby serving continuously as long as the new constitution permitted. As wartime governor, he gave Gen. George Washington able support, and during his second term he authorized the expedition to invade the Illinois country under the leadership of George Rogers Clark.

After the death of his first wife, Henry married Dorothea Dandridge and retired to life on his estate in Henry county. He was recalled to public service as a leading member of the state legislature from 1780 to 1784 and again from 1787 to 1790. From 1784 to 1786 he served as governor. He declined to attend the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787 and in 1788 was the leading opponent of ratification of the U.S. Constitution at the Virginia Convention. This action, which has aroused much controversy ever since, resulted from his fear that the original document did not secure either the rights of the states or those of individuals, as well as from his suspicion that the North would abandon to Spain the vital right of navigation on the Mississippi River.

Henry was reconciled, however, to the new federal government, especially after the passage of the Bill of Rights, for which he was in great measure responsible. Because of family responsibilities and ill health, he declined a series of offers of high posts in the new federal government. In 1799, however, he consented to run again for the state legislature, where he wished to oppose the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions, which claimed that the states could determine the constitutionality of federal laws. During his successful electoral campaign, he made his last speech, a moving plea for American unity. He died at his home, Red Hill, before he was to have taken the seat.

Robert Douthat Meade

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

James Madison



president of United States

born March 16 [March 5, Old Style], 1751, Port Conway, Virginia [U.S.]
died June 28, 1836, Montpelier, Virginia, U.S.

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fourth president of the United States (1809–17) and one of the Founding Fathers of his country. At the Constitutional Convention (1787), he influenced the planning and ratification of the U.S. Constitution and collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in the publication of the Federalist papers. As a member of the new House of Representatives, he sponsored the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, commonly called the Bill of Rights. He was secretary of state under President Thomas Jefferson when the Louisiana Territory was purchased from France. The War of 1812 was fought during his presidency. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Early life and political activities
Madison was born at the home of his maternal grandmother. The son and namesake of a leading Orange county landowner and squire, he maintained his lifelong home in Virginia at Montpelier, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1769 he rode horseback to the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), selected for its hostility to episcopacy. He completed the four-year course in two years, finding time also to demonstrate against England and to lampoon members of a rival literary society in ribald verse. Overwork produced several years of epileptoid hysteria and premonitions of early death, which thwarted military training but did not prevent home study of public law, mixed with early advocacy of independence (1774) and furious denunciation of the imprisonment of nearby dissenters from the established Anglican Church. Madison never became a church member, but in maturity he expressed a preference for Unitarianism.

His health improved, and he was elected to Virginia’s 1776 Revolutionary convention, where he drafted the state’s guarantee of religious freedom. In the convention-turned-legislature he helped Thomas Jefferson disestablish the church but lost reelection by refusing to furnish the electors with free whiskey. After two years on the governor’s council, he was sent to the Continental Congress in March 1780.

Five feet four inches tall and weighing about 100 pounds, small boned, boyish in appearance, and weak of voice, he waited six months before taking the floor, but strong actions belied his mild demeanour. He rose quickly to leadership against the devotees of state sovereignty and enemies of Franco-U.S. collaboration in peace negotiations, contending also for the establishment of the Mississippi as a western territorial boundary and the right to navigate that river through its Spanish-held delta. Defending Virginia’s charter title to the vast Northwest against states that had no claim to western territories and whose major motive was to validate barrel-of-rum purchases from Indian tribes, Madison defeated the land speculators by persuading Virginia to cede the western lands to Congress as a national heritage.

Following the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781, Madison undertook to strengthen the Union by asserting implied power in Congress to enforce financial requisitions upon the states by military coercion. This move failing, he worked unceasingly for an amendment conferring power to raise revenue and wrote an eloquent address adjuring the states to avert national disintegration by ratifying the submitted article. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, French minister to the United States, wrote that Madison was “regarded as the man of the soundest judgment in Congress.”


The father of the Constitution
Reentering the Virginia legislature in 1784, Madison defeated Patrick Henry’s bill to give financial support to “teachers of the Christian religion.” To avoid the political effect of his extreme nationalism, he persuaded the states-rights advocate John Tyler to sponsor the calling of the Annapolis Convention of 1786, which, aided by Madison’s influence, produced the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

There his Virginia, or large-state, Plan, put forward through Governor Edmund Randolph, furnished the basic framework and guiding principles of the Constitution, earning him the title of father of the Constitution. Madison believed keenly in the value of a strong government in which power was well controlled because it was well balanced among the branches. (See primary source document: A Plurality of Interests and a Balance of Power.) Delegate William Pierce of Georgia wrote that, in the management of every great question, Madison “always comes forward the best informed Man of any point in debate.” Pierce called him “a Gentleman of great modesty—with a remarkable sweet temper. He is easy and unreserved among his acquaintances, and has a most agreeable style of conversation.”

Madison took day-by-day notes of debates at the Constitutional Convention, which furnish the only comprehensive history of the proceedings. To promote ratification he collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in newspaper publication of the Federalist papers (Madison wrote 29 out of 85), which became the standard commentary on the Constitution. His influence produced ratification by Virginia and led John Marshall to say that, if eloquence included “persuasion by convincing, Mr. Madison was the most eloquent man I ever heard.”

Elected to the new House of Representatives, Madison sponsored the first 10 amendments to the Constitution—the Bill of Rights—placing emphasis in debate on freedom of religion, speech, and press. His leadership in the House, which caused the Massachusetts congressman Fisher Ames to call him “our first man,” came to an end when he split with Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton over methods of funding the war debts. Hamilton’s aim was to strengthen the national government by cementing men of wealth to it; Madison sought to protect the interests of Revolutionary veterans.

Hamilton’s victory turned Madison into a strict constructionist of the congressional power to appropriate for the general welfare. He denied the existence of implied power to establish a national bank to aid the Treasury. Later, as president, he asked for and obtained a bank as “almost [a] necessity” for that purpose, but he contended that it was constitutional only because Hamilton’s bank had gone without constitutional challenge. Unwillingness to admit error was a lifelong characteristic. The break over funding split Congress into Madisonian and Hamiltonian factions, with Fisher Ames now calling Madison a “desperate party leader” who enforced a discipline “as severe as the Prussian.” (Madisonians turned into Jeffersonians after Jefferson, having returned from France, became secretary of state.)

In 1794 Madison married a widow, Dolley Payne Todd (Dolley Madison), a handsome, buxom, vivacious Quaker 17 years his junior, who rejected church discipline and loved social activities. Her first husband had died in the yellow fever epidemic the previous year. She periodically served as official hostess for President Jefferson, who was a widower. As Madison’s wife, she became a fixture at soirées, usually wearing a colourful feathered turban and an elegant dress ornamented with jewelry and furs. She may be said to have created the role of First Lady as a political partner of the president, although that label did not come into use until much later. An unpretentious woman, she ate heartily, gambled, rouged her face lavishly, and took snuff. The “Wednesday drawing rooms” that she instituted for the public added to her popularity. She earned the nation’s undying gratitude for rescuing a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in 1814 just ahead of the British troops who put the torch to the White House in the War of 1812.

Madison left Congress in 1797, disgusted by John Jay’s treaty with England, which frustrated his program of commercial retaliation against the wartime oppression of U.S. maritime commerce. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 inspired him to draft the Virginia Resolutions of that year, denouncing those statutes as violations of the First Amendment of the Constitution and affirming the right and duty of the states “to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil.” Carefully worded to mean less legally than they seemed to threaten, they forced him to spend his octogenarian years combating South Carolina’s interpretation of them as a sanction of state power to nullify federal law.

During eight years as Jefferson’s secretary of state (1801–09), Madison used the words “The President has decided” so regularly that his own role can be discovered only in foreign archives. British diplomats dealing with Madison encountered “asperity of temper and fluency of expression.” Senators John Adair and Nicholas Gilman agreed in 1806 that he “governed the President,” an opinion held also by French minister Louis-Marie Turreau.


Madison’s presidency
Although he was accused of weakness in dealing with France and England, Madison won the presidency in 1808 by publishing his vigorous diplomatic dispatches (see primary source document: First Inaugural Address). Faced with a senatorial cabal on taking office, he made a senator’s lacklustre brother, Robert Smith, secretary of state and wrote all important diplomatic letters for two years before replacing him with James Monroe. Although he had fully supported Jefferson’s wartime shipping embargo, Madison reversed his predecessor’s policy two weeks after assuming the presidency by secretly notifying both Great Britain and France, then at war, that, in his opinion, if the country addressed should stop interfering with U.S. commerce and the other belligerent continued to do so, “Congress will, at the next ensuing session, authorize acts of hostility…against the other.”

An agreement with England providing for repeal of its Orders in Council, which limited trade by neutral nations with France, collapsed because the British minister violated his instructions; he concealed the requirements that the United States continue its trade embargo against France, renounce wartime trade with Britain’s enemies, and authorize England to capture any U.S. vessel attempting to trade with France. Madison expelled the minister’s successor for charging, falsely, that the president had been aware of the violation.

Believing that England was bent on permanent suppression of American commerce, Madison proclaimed nonintercourse with England on November 2, 1810, and notified France on the same day that this would “necessarily lead to war” unless England stopped its impressment of American seamen and seizure of American goods and vessels. One week earlier, unknown to Congress (in recess) or the public, he had taken armed possession of the Spanish province of West Florida, claimed as part of the Louisiana Purchase. He was reelected in 1812, despite strong opposition and the vigorous candidacy of DeWitt Clinton (see primary source document: Second Inaugural Address).

With his actions buried in secrecy, Federalists and politicians pictured Madison as a timorous pacifist dragged into the War of 1812 (1812–15) by congressional War Hawks, and they denounced the conflict as "Mr. Madison’s War." In fact, the president had sought peace but accepted war as inevitable. As wartime commander in chief he was hampered by the refusal of Congress to heed pleas for naval and military development and made the initial error of entrusting army command to aging veterans of the Revolution. The small U.S. Navy sparkled, but on land defeat followed defeat.

By 1814, however, Madison had lowered the average age of generals from 60 to 36 years; victories resulted, ending a war the principal cause of which had been removed by revocation of the Orders in Council the day before the conflict began. Contemporary public opinion in the United States, Canada, England, and continental Europe proclaimed the result a U.S. triumph. Still the country would never forget the ignominy of the president and his wife having to flee in the face of advancing British troops bent on laying waste Washington, D.C., including setting afire the executive mansion, the Capitol, and other public buildings.

The Federalist Party was killed by its opposition to the war, and the president was lifted to a pinnacle of popularity. Madison’s greatest fault was delay in discharging incompetent subordinates, including Secretary of War John Armstrong, who had scoffed at the president’s repeated warnings of a coming British attack on Washington and ignored presidential orders for its defense.

On leaving the presidency, Madison was eulogized at a Washington mass meeting for having won national power and glory “without infringing a political, civil, or religious right.” Even in the face of sabotage of war operations by New England Federalists, he had lived up to the maxim he laid down in 1793 when he had said:

If we advert to the nature of republican government we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people.


Later life
Never again leaving Virginia, Madison managed his 5,000-acre (2,000-hectare) farm for 19 years, cultivating the land by methods regarded today as modern innovations. As president of the Albemarle Agricultural Society, he warned that human life might be wiped out by upsetting the balance of nature, including invisible organisms. He hated slavery, which held him in its economic chains, and worked to abolish it through government purchase of slaves and their resettlement in Liberia, financed by sale of public lands. When his personal valet ran away in 1792 and was recaptured—a situation that usually meant sale into the yellow-fever-infested West Indies—Madison set him free and hired him. Another slave managed one-third of the Montpelier farmlands during Madison’s years in federal office.

Madison participated in Jefferson’s creation of the University of Virginia (1819) and later served as its rector. Excessive hospitality, chronic agricultural depression, the care of aged slaves, and the squandering of $40,000 by and on a wayward stepson made him land-poor in old age. His last years were spent in bed; he was barely able to bend his rheumatic fingers, which nevertheless turned out an endless succession of letters and articles combating nullification and secession—the theme of his final “Advice to My Country.” Henry Clay called him, after George Washington, “our greatest statesman.”


Cabinet of President James Madison
The table provides a list of cabinet members in the administration of President James Madison.

Cabinet of President James Madison
March 4, 1809-March 3, 1813 (Term 1)
State Robert Smith
Treasury Albert Gallatin
War John Smith
William Eustis (from April 8, 1809)
John Armstrong (from February 5, 1813)
Navy Robert Smith
Paul Hamilton (from May 15, 1809)
William Jones (from January 19, 1813)
Attorney General Caesar Augustus Rodney
William Pinkney (from January 6, 1812)
March 4, 1813-March 3, 1817 (Term 2)
State James Monroe
Treasury Albert Gallatin
George Washington Campbell (from February 9, 1814)
Alexander James Dallas (from October 14, 1814)
William H. Crawford (from October 22, 1816)
War John Armstrong
James Monroe (from October 1, 1814)
William H. Crawford (from August 8, 1815)
Navy William Jones
Benjamin Williams Crowninshield (from January 16, 1815)
Attorney General William Pinkney
Richard Rush (from February 11, 1814)


Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

John Marshall



chief justice of United States

born Sept. 24, 1755, near Germantown [now Midland], Va.
died July 6, 1835, Philadelphia, Pa.

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fourth chief justice of the United States and principal founder of the U.S. system of constitutional law. As perhaps the Supreme Court’s most influential chief justice, Marshall was responsible for constructing and defending both the foundation of judicial power and the principles of American federalism. The first of his great cases in more than 30 years of service was Marbury v. Madison (1803), which established the Supreme Court’s right to expound constitutional law and exercise judicial review by declaring laws unconstitutional. His defense of federalism was articulated in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which upheld the authority of Congress to create the Bank of the United States and declared unconstitutional the right of a state to tax an instrument of the federal government. In his ruling on McCulloch, Marshall at once explained the authority of the court to interpret the constitution, the nature of federal-state relations inherent in a federal system of government, and the democratic nature of both the U.S. government and its governing. During his tenure as chief justice, Marshall participated in more than 1,000 decisions, writing more than 500 of them himself.

Youth
Born in a log cabin, John Marshall was the eldest of 15 children of Thomas Marshall, a sheriff, justice of the peace, and land surveyor who came to own some 200,000 acres (80,000 ha) of land in Virginia and Kentucky and who was a leading figure in Prince William county (from 1759 Fauquier county), Va., and Mary Keith Marshall, a clergyman’s daughter whose family was related to both the Randolphs and the Lees (two of Virginia’s most prominent families). Marshall’s childhood and youth were spent in the near-frontier region of Fauquier county, and he later lived in the Blue Ridge mountain area where his father had acquired properties. His schooling was primarily provided by his parents, supplemented only by the instruction afforded by a visiting clergyman who lived with the family for about a year and by a few months of slightly more formal training at an academy in Westmoreland county.


Early career
When political debate with England was followed by armed clashes in 1775, Marshall, as lieutenant, joined his father in a Virginia regiment of minutemen and participated in the first fighting in that colony. Joining the Continental Army in 1776, Marshall served under George Washington for three years in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, his service including the harsh winter of 1777–78 at Valley Forge. He eventually rose to the rank of captain, and when the term of service of his Virginia troops expired in 1779, Marshall returned to Virginia and thereafter saw little active service prior to his discharge in 1781.

Marshall’s only formal legal training was a brief course of lectures he attended in 1780 at William and Mary College given by George Wythe, an early advocate of judicial review. Licensed to practice law in August 1780, Marshall returned to Fauquier county and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782 and 1784. Attending the sessions of the legislature in the state capital at Richmond, he established a law practice there and made the city his home after his marriage to Mary Ambler in January 1783.

For the next 15 years Marshall’s career was marked by increasing stature at the bar of Virginia and within Virginia politics. Although by 1787 he had not achieved a public position that would have sent him as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, he was an active, if junior, proponent of the new Constitution of the United States in the closely contested fight for ratification. That year Marshall was elected to the legislature that would take the first step toward ratification by issuing a call for a convention in Virginia to consider ratifying; he was also elected a delegate to the convention. His principal effort on the floor of the convention was, perhaps prophetically, a defense of the judiciary article. He then used his acknowledged popularity to gain or build the narrow margin by which Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution was won.

Shortly after the new constitution came into force, President Washington offered Marshall appointment as U.S. attorney for Virginia, a post Marshall declined. In 1789, however, he sought and obtained a further term in Virginia’s House of Delegates as a supporter of the national government. As party lines emerged and became defined in the 1790s, Marshall was recognized as one of the leaders of the Federalist Party in Virginia. In 1795 Washington tendered him an appointment as attorney general. This, too, was declined, but Marshall returned to the state legislature as a Federalist leader.

In 1797 Marshall accepted an appointment by Pres. John Adams to serve as a member of a commission, with Elbridge Gerry and Charles C. Pinckney, that unsuccessfully sought to improve relations with the government of France. After the mission, reports were published that disclosed that certain intermediaries, some shadowy figures known as X, Y, and Z (see XYZ Affair), had approached the commissioners and informed them that they would not be received by the French government unless they first paid large bribes; the reports further revealed that these advances had been rebuffed in a memorandum prepared by Marshall. Marshall subsequently became a popular figure, and the conduct of his mission was applauded by one of the earliest American patriotic slogans, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”

Upon his return from France, Marshall declined appointment to the Supreme Court to succeed James Wilson, but he was persuaded by Washington to run for Congress and was elected in 1799 as a Federalist. His service in the House of Representatives was brief, however. His chief accomplishment there was the effective defense of the president against a Republican attack for having honoured a British request under the extradition treaty for the surrender of a seaman charged with murder on a British warship on the high seas.

In May 1800 President Adams requested the resignation of his secretary of war and offered the post to Marshall, and again Marshall declined. Adams then dismissed his secretary of state and offered Marshall the vacant position. In an administration harassed by dissension and with uncertain prospects in the forthcoming election, the appeal of the invitation must have been addressed principally to Marshall’s loyalty. After some initial hesitation, Marshall accepted. In the autumn of 1800, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth resigned because of ill health. Adams, defeated in the November election, tendered reappointment to John Jay, the first chief justice, but Jay declined. Adams then turned to Marshall, and in January 1801 Adams sent to the Senate the nomination of John Marshall to be chief justice. The last Federalist-controlled Senate confirmed the nomination on Jan. 27, 1801. On February 4, Marshall was sworn in, but at Adams’s request Marshall continued to act as secretary of state for the last month of the Adams presidential administration. (Marshall also served briefly, at Jefferson’s request, as secretary of state in Jefferson’s administration.)


Chief justice of the United States
Under Marshall’s leadership for more than 34 years—the longest tenure for any chief justice—the Supreme Court set forth the main structural lines of the government. Initially, there was no consensus as to whether the Constitution had created a federation or a nation, and although judicial decisions could not alone dispel differences of opinion, they could create a body of coherent, authoritative, and disinterested doctrine around which opinion could mass and become effective. To the task of creating such a core of agreement Marshall brought qualities that were admirably adapted for its accomplishment. His own mind had apparently a clear and well-organized concept of the effective government that he believed was needed and was provided by the Constitution. He wrote with a lucidity, a persuasiveness, and a vigour that gave to his judicial opinions a quality of reasoned inevitability that more than offset an occasional lack in precision of analysis. His tenure gave opportunity for the development of a unified body of constitutional doctrine. It was the first aspect of Marshall’s accomplishment that he and the court he headed did not permit this opportunity to pass unrecognized.

Marshall distinguished himself from his colleagues by wearing a plain black robe, in stark contrast to the scarlet and ermine robes worn by the other justices. Prior to Marshall’s appointment, it had been the custom of the Supreme Court, as it was in England, for each justice to deliver an opinion in each significant case. This method may be effective where a court is dealing with an organized and existing body of law, but with a new court and a largely unexplored body of law, it created an impression of tentativeness, if not of contradiction, which lent authority neither to the court nor to the law it expounded. With Marshall’s appointment—and presumably at his instigation—this practice changed. Thereafter, for some years, it became the general rule that there was only a single opinion from the Supreme Court. Indeed, Marshall’s term was marked by great consensus and stability on the court; Marshall only dissented formally once during his tenure, and between 1811 and 1823 the Supreme Court’s personnel did not change—the longest such period in history. This change of practice alone would have contributed to making the court a more effective institution. And when the opinions were cast in the mold of Marshall’s clear and compelling statement, the growth of the court’s authority was assured.

Marbury v. Madison (1803) was the first of Marshall’s great cases and the case that established for the court its power to invalidate federal laws and acts found to be in conflict with the Constitution. The foundation of the case and the significance of its ruling must be understood within the historical and strategic context of the time. Shortly before the expiration of President Adams’s term, the Federalist-controlled Congress created and Adams filled a number of federal judicial positions. The commissions of the judges had been signed and the seal of the United States affixed in the office of the secretary of state (Marshall’s office), but some of them, including that of William Marbury, remained undelivered. (Ironically, Marshall, as secretary of state, was responsible for delivering these appointments.) Offended by what he perceived to be a Federalist court-packing plan, President Jefferson ordered his secretary of state, James Madison, to halt delivery of the remaining commissions.

Marbury unsuccessfully petitioned the Department of State for his commission, and subsequently he instituted suit in the Supreme Court against Madison. Although the matter was not beyond question, the court found that Congress had, under the authority of Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, authorized that such suits be started in the Supreme Court rather than in a lower court. The court faced a dilemma of historic proportions. If it issued a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to deliver the commission, it was clear that such a command would be ignored, thereby undermining the court’s influence for generations, but if it failed to issue the writ the Supreme Court would be seen as cowering in the face of presidential power. Under Marshall’s direction, the Supreme Court altered the issue at hand, and, speaking through Marshall, the court held that Article III of the Constitution did not permit this expansion of the court’s original jurisdiction and that the court could not follow a statute that was in conflict with the Constitution. It thereby confirmed for itself its most controversial power—the function of judicial review, of finding and expounding the law of the Constitution.

Throughout Marshall’s tenure as chief justice, the Supreme Court held only one term each year, lasting about seven or eight weeks (slightly longer after 1827). Each justice, however, also conducted a circuit court—Marshall in Richmond, Va., and Raleigh, N.C. Marshall’s conflict with the Jefferson administration erupted once more in 1807 in Richmond, where Marshall presided at the treason trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr, successfully frustrating President Jefferson’s efforts toward a runaway conviction; as a result, Burr was freed. With hardly more than three months annually engaged in judicial duties (at that time, the court’s docket was much smaller than it is today), Marshall had much time to devote to personal endeavours. In 1807 he completed the five-volume The Life of George Washington. He also served (1812) as chair of a commission charged with finding a land and water route to link eastern and western Virginia, and in 1829 he was part of the Virginia state constitutional convention.

Once the power of judicial review had been established, Marshall and the court followed with decisions that assured that it would be exercised and that the whole body of federal law would be determined, in a unified judicial system with the Supreme Court at its head. Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816) and Cohens v. Virginia (1821) affirmed the Supreme Court’s right to review and overrule a state court on a federal question, and in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) the Supreme Court asserted the doctrine of “implied powers” granted Congress by the Constitution (in this instance, that Congress could create a bank of the United States, even though such a power was not expressly given by the Constitution).

McCulloch v. Maryland well illustrated that judicial review could have an affirmative aspect as well as a negative; it may accord an authoritative legitimacy to contested government action no less significant than its restraint of prohibited or unauthorized action. The ruling, which nearly precipitated a constitutional crisis, upheld the authority of the federal government and denied to the states the right to impose a tax on the federal government. Faced with the daunting task of explaining where the authority of the Congress to create a bank is located in the Constitution, Marshall turned to Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 18, which grants to the federal government the power to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper” for carrying out the powers it was explicitly granted in the Constitution. The ruling infuriated states’ rights advocates, leading several, including judges Spencer Roane and William Brockenbrough, to admonish Marshall and the court through the press. In an unprecedented move, Marshall replied under an assumed name, writing as “A Friend to the Constitution.”

In commerce law Marshall led the court in deciding a number of cases brought in response to the emerging American economy and the government’s attempts to regulate it. Fletcher v. Peck (1810) and the Dartmouth College case (1819) established the inviolability of a state’s contracts, and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) affirmed the federal government’s right to regulate interstate commerce and to override state law in doing so. Many of Marshall’s decisions dealing with specific restraints upon government have turned out to be his less-enduring ones, however, particularly in later eras of increasing governmental activity and control; indeed, it has been in this area that judicial review has evoked its most vigorous critics.

Outside the court, Marshall spent much of his time caring for an invalid wife. He also enjoyed companionship, drinking, and debating with friends in Richmond. In general, for the first 30 years of his service as chief justice, his life was largely one of contentment. In late 1831, at age 76, Marshall underwent the rigours of surgery for the removal of kidney stones and appeared to make a rapid and complete recovery. But the death of his wife on Christmas of that year was a blow from which his spirits did not so readily recover. In 1835 his health declined rapidly, and on July 6 he died in Philadelphia. He was buried alongside his wife in Shockoe Cemetery in Richmond.

Brian P. Smentkowski


Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

George Mason



United States statesman

born 1725, Fairfax County, Va.
died Oct. 7, 1792, Fairfax County, Va., U.S.

Main
American patriot and statesman who insisted on the protection of individual liberties in the composition of both the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions (1776, 1787); he was ahead of his time in opposing slavery and in rejecting the constitutional compromise that perpetuated it.

As a landowner and near neighbour of George Washington, Mason took a leading part in local affairs. He also became deeply interested in Western expansion and was active in the Ohio Company, organized in 1749 to develop trade and sell land on the upper Ohio River. At about the same time, Mason helped to found the town of Alexandria, Va. Because of ill health and family problems, he generally eschewed public office, though he accepted election to the House of Burgesses in 1759. Except for his membership in the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, this was the highest office he ever held—yet few men did more to shape U.S. political institutions.

A leader of the Virginia patriots on the eve of the American Revolution (1775–83), Mason served on the Committee of Safety and in 1776 drafted the state constitution, his declaration of rights being the first authoritative formulation of the doctrine of inalienable rights. Mason’s work was known to Thomas Jefferson and influenced his drafting of the Declaration of Independence. The model was soon followed by most of the states and was also incorporated in diluted form in the federal Constitution. He served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1776 to 1788.

As a member of the Constitutional Convention, Mason strenuously opposed the compromise permitting the continuation of the slave trade until 1808. Although he was a Southerner, Mason castigated the trade as “disgraceful to mankind”; he favoured manumission and education for bondsmen and supported a system of free labour. Because he also objected to the large and indefinite powers vested in the new government, he joined several other Virginians in opposing adoption of the new document. A Jeffersonian Republican, he believed that local government should be kept strong and central government weak. His criticism helped bring about the adoption of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

Soon after the Convention, Mason retired to his home, Gunston Hall.



Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 


Political Reorientation and Expansion
 

Under President Jackson, popular democracy and party dominance began to shape the political system of the United States. President Polk annexed areas in the West, further expanding the territories of the nation, pushing its borders ever further towards the Pacific.

 

The economic crises of the 1820s, after which many farmers found themselves in debt to the banks, was followed by a political U-turn.

1
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) was the first president who was not from the Eastern elite.


1 Andrew Jackson

He pursued a "policy of the common man." In 1832-1836, he destroyed the Second Bank of the United States and developed an aid program for farmers and settlers. His style of "Jacksonian democracy" marked US politics until 1860. It involved the domination of the middle class over the economic elite, the development of the party system, and political dominance of the west and south over the northeast.

Protective tariff laws that had been passed in 1828, over the vehement objection of the Southern states and their spokesman John Calhoun, led to the Nullification Crisis, a controversy over the right of states to negate federal laws. Jackson threatened the South with military intervention and in this way saved the Union.
Starting in 1830 Jackson implemented a ruthless Indian policy.

Indian tribes were forced west to 2 unclaimed territories or were settled in 3 reservations that were constantly encroached upon by the relentless expansion.


2 An Indian reservation, photo, 1906


3 Geronimo, the last Apache chief

Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. Mexico then sent military forces to reestablish its authority. After a series of defeats, including the massacre of American settlers by Mexican troops at the Alamo in San Antonio in March 1836, the Texans finally crushed the Mexican army at San Jacinto.

A period of US weakness ended with the presidency of 4 James K. Polk (1845-1849).


4 James K. Polk

Polk proclaimed that it was the "manifest destiny" of US citizens to inhabit the whole continent, and he pushed the admittance of Texas as a state through Congress in March 1845.

With this, he knowingly provoked a war with Mexico, which began in June 1846.

The US troops were victorious. In February 1848, Mexico was forced to sue for peace, and California and New Mexico were annexed. Furthermore, the government had signed the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain, securing the territory between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific for the United States. The US-Canadian border was set at the 49th parallel.

By 1848, the territory of the United States had doubled once more and gold mines were discovered in California.

The 5 Gold Rush began.

In the Western towns, it was the "law of the gun" that reigned.


5 Gold-digger search for gold in a river

 



People of the Indian Reservation
 

 

 

 

 

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