Thomas Jefferson

From Main Street Museum Catalog Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Thomas Jefferson (April 13,[1] 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He served as the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and was elected the second Vice President of the United States under John Adams (1797–1801). A proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights who motivated American colonists to break from Great Britain and form a new nation, he produced formative documents and nation-building decisions at both the state and national level. ... After leaving office in April 1805, Burr traveled west and conspired with Louisiana Territory governor James Wilkinson, beginning a large-scale recruitment for a military expedition.[183] Other plotters included Ohio Senator John Smith and an Irishman named Harmon Blennerhassett.[183] Burr discussed a number of plots—seizing control of Mexico or Spanish Florida, or forming a secessionist state in New Orleans or the Western U.S. Historians remain unclear as to his true goal.[184][j]

In the fall of 1806, Burr launched a military flotilla carrying about 60 men down the Ohio River. Wilkinson renounced the plot, apparently from self-interested motives; he reported Burr's expedition to Jefferson, who immediately ordered Burr's arrest.[183][186][187] On February 13, 1807, Burr was captured in Louisiana's Bayou Pierre wilderness and sent to Virginia to be tried for treason.[182]

Burr's 1807 conspiracy trial became a national issue.[188] Jefferson attempted to preemptively influence the verdict by telling Congress that Burr's guilt was "beyond question", but the case came before his longtime political foe John Marshall, who dismissed the treason charge. Burr's legal team at one stage subpoenaed Jefferson, but Jefferson refused to testify, making the first argument for executive privilege. Instead, Jefferson provided relevant legal documents.[189] After a three-month trial, the jury found Burr not guilty, while Jefferson denounced his acquittal.[190][191][k][192] Jefferson subsequently removed Wilkinson as territorial governor but retained him in the U.S. military. Historian James N. Banner criticized Jefferson for continuing to trust Wilkinson, a "faithless plotter".[187]

Chesapeake–Leopard Affair and Embargo Act Main article: Chesapeake–Leopard Affair

HMS Leopard (right) firing upon USS Chesapeake The British conducted raids on American shipping and kidnapped seamen in 1806–07; thousands of Americans were thus impressed into the British naval service. In 1806, Jefferson issued a call for a boycott of British goods; on April 18, Congress passed the Non-Importation Acts, but they were never enforced. Later that year, Jefferson asked James Monroe and William Pinkney to negotiate with Great Britain to end the harassment of American shipping, though Britain showed no signs of improving relations. The Monroe–Pinkney Treaty was finalized but lacked any provisions to end impressment, and Jefferson refused to submit it to the Senate for ratification.[193]

The British ship HMS Leopard fired upon the USS Chesapeake off the Virginia coast in June 1807, and Jefferson prepared for war.[194] He issued a proclamation banning armed British ships from U.S. waters. He presumed unilateral authority to call on the states to prepare 100,000 militia and ordered the purchase of arms, ammunition, and supplies, writing, "The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation [than strict observance of written laws]". The USS Revenge was dispatched to demand an explanation from the British government; it also was fired upon. Jefferson called for a special session of Congress in October to enact an embargo or alternatively to consider war.[195]

In December, news arrived that Napoleon had extended the Berlin Decree, globally banning British imports. In Britain, King George III ordered redoubling efforts at impressment, including American sailors. But the war fever of the summer faded; Congress had no appetite to prepare the U.S. for war. Jefferson asked for and received the Embargo Act, an alternative that allowed the U.S. more time to build up defensive works, militias, and naval forces. Later historians have seen irony in Jefferson's assertion of such federal power. Meacham claims that the Embargo Act was a projection of power which surpassed the Alien and Sedition Acts, and R.B. Bernstein writes that Jefferson "was pursuing policies resembling those he had cited in 1776 as grounds for independence and revolution".[196]

A turtle biting a man carrying a barrel to a waiting ship A political cartoon showing merchants dodging the "Ograbme", which is "Embargo" spelled backwards (1807) Secretary of State James Madison supported the embargo with equal vigor to Jefferson,[197] while Treasury Secretary Gallatin opposed it, due to its indefinite time frame and the risk that it posed to the policy of American neutrality.[198] The U.S. economy suffered, criticism grew, and opponents began evading the embargo. Instead of retreating, Jefferson sent federal agents to secretly track down smugglers and violators.[199] Three acts were passed in Congress during 1807 and 1808, called the Supplementary, the Additional, and the Enforcement acts.[194] The government could not prevent American vessels from trading with the European belligerents once they had left American ports, although the embargo triggered a devastating decline in exports.[194]

Most historians consider Jefferson's embargo to have been ineffective and harmful to American interests.[200] Appleby describes the strategy as Jefferson's "least effective policy", and Joseph Ellis calls it "an unadulterated calamity".[201] Others, however, portray it as an innovative, nonviolent measure which aided France in its war with Britain while preserving American neutrality.[202] Jefferson believed that the failure of the embargo was due to selfish traders and merchants showing a lack of "republican virtue." He maintained that, had the embargo been widely observed, it would have avoided war in 1812.[203]

In December 1807, Jefferson announced his intention not to seek a third term. He turned his attention increasingly to Monticello during the last year of his presidency, giving Madison and Gallatin almost total control of affairs.[204] Shortly before leaving office in March 1809, Jefferson signed the repeal of the Embargo. In its place, the Non-Intercourse Act was passed, but it proved no more effective.[194] The day before Madison was inaugurated as his successor, Jefferson said that he felt like "a prisoner, released from his chains".[205]