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Thomas Jefferson

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It was a time of unusual partisanship. George Washington was appalled by it. Today’s squabbles are halcyon by comparison: editors were jailed along with a Congressman for speaking their minds; Jefferson’s Vice President was under indictment for murdering Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist opponent, in a duel; and secession (Northern) was openly contemplated.

Jefferson’s Republicans, ancestors of today’s Democratic Party, believed that the Federalists secretly favored the return of British rule or monarchy in some form. Hamilton and his fellow travelers charged Jefferson with fomenting a “Mobocracy.”

Yet Jefferson ruled and America survived; indeed, it thrived. He did it with reason and the written word (he was a poor orator), and harvested votes with his charm rather than arm-twisting. Sworn political enemies almost always came away from encounters with this accomplished, affable man with at least grudging respect.

From 1801 to 1809 America would double in size, stay out of a war with Britain, become more fiscally and militarily sound, and get to know its continent better thanks to Lewis and Clark as well as to its leader’s inquisitive nature. It was hard to argue with those outcomes, and most Americans didn’t. They elected Jefferson and Jeffersonians for decades to come: Madison, Monroe, and Jackson.

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