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II-Thomas Jefferson-Time Treated Him Kindly
J. G. DE ROULHAC HAMILTON
HROUGH all the years of his brilliant and successful political career Thomas Jefferson longed for the quiet delights of home. At each interval in his public service he turned his face joyfully toward Monticello, and with each recall his pleasure was marred by regret for the lost domesticity.
In 1776, while on the threshold of the career which was to give him immortality in history, he wrote John Randolph, "My first wish is a restoration of our just rights; my second a return to the happy period, when . . . I may withdraw myself totally from the public stage and pass the rest of my days in domestic ease and tranquillity, banishing every desire of hearing what passes in the world."
From France, more than a decade later he wrote his daughter: "To your sister and yourself I look to render the evening of my life serene and contented. Its morning has been crowded with loss after loss till I have nothing left but you."
In 1793, retiring from the State Department, he wrote a friend, "I am then to be liberated from the hated occupation of politics and to remain in the bosom of my family, my farm and my books."
And finally in 1809 he wrote
Dupont de Nemours: "Within a few days I retire to my family, my books and farms; and having gained the harbor myself, I shall look on my friends still buffeting the storm with anxiety indeed, but not with envy. Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power. Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions."
In the interval of these letters he filled with honor, success and public applause, every office of high importance in the gift of his state and country, founded a great political party and formulated its principles, and successfully made the tenets of the political faith thus expressed the foundation-stones of American political doctrine. Few men ever had a better right to enjoy public life, and yet it is beyond doubt that through all these years his heart and mind were always filled with avid longing for the life he thus described. His natural tastes, his love of home and family, his passion for the country and for the soil, were chiefly respon
sible, but an important factor was his shyness and his almost feminine shrinking from the storms of American politics. He was tired, too, deadly tired, of being the "Rawhead and Bloody-bones" of Federalism and the clergy. He wanted quiet, peace and leisure. He was getting old and he longed for tranquillity which he declared to be "the summum bonum of age."
He was happier in his exit from public life than was John Adams. Hated and slandered as he had been, he had not been betrayed in his own house, he had not met defeat and he had not been the victim of disappointment. To which fortunate circumstances may be added the fact of his possession of a disposition naturally sunny and a temperament uniformly optimistic. And so, happily, he turned over the conduct of affairs to a successor of his own choosing, a devoted and lifelong friend and neighbor who came nearer carrying out the policies of his predecessor than did any other handpicked president in our history-and joyfully turned toward Monticello. He did not exactly shake the dust, or more properly the mud, of Washington off his feet as Adams had done, but he took precious good care that no more ever got on. He crossed for the last time the boundary line of Virginia to be as long as he lived America's greatest citizen. There is tragedy in the fact that John Adams, who deserved it, did not share with him this distinction.
To Monticello Jefferson came like one released from prison. There he found his daughter Martha with her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, and their numerous family.
His delight in them, but for its youthful quality, would have been somewhat pathetic. He loved children and young people and from the time he reached home until his death he found, perhaps, his greatest pleasure in his grandchildren and presently his great-grandchildren. "Among these," he wrote John Adams in 1820, "I live like a patriarch of old."
Home began to make him over. He came weary with the storms of the preceding two years, but soon his step grew light and elastic and he was "as busy as a bee in a molasses barrel," buzzing about, arranging his books and papers, going over the place planning improvements for the future, humming or singing old and favorite songs, radiant as a boy on a vacation.
To be at Monticello was in itself a delight. It was the very apple of its master's eye. Built through thirty years, after his own plans and conforming to his own tastes and habits, it was in every way comfortable and, superbly situated, it satisfied a craving for beauty which in Jefferson was ever strong. Set in a plantation of nearly six thousand acres, it was the most impressive estate in that part of Virginia.
To this plantation and his other, Poplar Forest in Bedford County, Jefferson now turned for occupation and livelihood. He did it with no unwillingness. Long before this he had declared that "those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God," and he still believed it. He had always been interested in agriculture and he was convinced that by the application of system and scientific knowledge it could be made
highly profitable. That it had at that time largely ceased to be profitable, he attributed partly to the fact of his long absence from home and partly to Non-intercourse and Embargo which had dealt him with other planters a terrible blow.
But financial difficulties piled up and he seemed doomed to poverty. What the Embargo had begun, the War of 1812 finished, and the last chance of overcoming those difficulties disappeared. He was not entirely unaware of its meaning. Writing to Adams of the war he said:
"To me this state of things brings a sacrifice of all tranquillity and comfort through the residue of life. For although the debility of age disables me from the services and sufferings of the field, yet, by the total annihilation in value of the produce which was to give me subsistence and independence, I shall be like Tantalus up to the shoulders in water, yet dying with thirst. We can make indeed enough to eat, drink and clothe ourselves; but nothing for our salt, iron, groceries and taxes which must be paid in money. For what can we raise for the market? Wheat? we can only give it to our horses, as we have been doing ever since harvest. Tobacco? it is not worth the pipe it is smoked in. Some say whiskey; but all mankind must become drunkards to consume it. But although we feel, we shall not shrink."
When the war was over the situation did not improve but Jefferson's persistent optimism prevented his realizing the full seriousness of the case. He persistently kept accounts but they did not lessen extravagance or open-handed generosity. As a
matter of fact he could not live otherwise than extravagantly so long as he virtually kept a free hotel, and to make any change would have been in his eyes, a grave violation of an ideal of hospitality which he held sacred.
In 1815 he obtained some relief from the more burdensome of his obligations. As soon as the news reached him of the burning by the British of the Library of Congress, he offered to sell his own very carefully chosen and valuable collection of books to the government as the nucleus of a new one. After some cheap higgling on the part of Congress, the purchase was made, Jefferson receiving for it $23,950, which was considerably less than half its value. This money went at once to his creditors.
He found out before a great while that he could not give the time needed for the direction of the plantation, if indeed he had the required knowledge, and in 1816 he turned over the management of all his farms to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who was able for several years more to avert disaster. But the panic of 1819 dealt another hard blow and a year or so later Jefferson became liable as security for his close friend-and Thomas J. Randolph's father-in-law-Wilson C. Nicholas, for a debt of $20,000. And this was the final stroke. Randolph personally assumed a considerable part of the debts, but in spite of this, ruin was in sight and he finally had to tell Jefferson the truth of the situation. And so the last year of his life was saddened and embittered by the hopeless undertaking of saving Monticello for his daughter and her
children. After much thought he devised the scheme of securing authority from the legislature to sell tickets for a lottery with the Monticello plantation, excluding the house, and the Shadwell and Albemarle farms, as grand prizes. The members of the legislature opposed the plan and Jefferson was informed that the bill could not be passed. He was deeply hurt and utterly hopeless, but the news of his plight had become public and New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore raised by subscription $16,500. Sadly, but gratefully, he accepted it and then at last the legislature authorized the lottery. It hung fire, and when Jefferson died in the same year, his debts exceeded all his assets by more than forty thousand dollars. His grandson later paid the entire amount.
Great as were his financial embarrassments, they did not dominate his years of retirement. His carefree nature saved him from that and most of his years were happy and comparatively unmarred by his evil fortune. The reconciliation with John Adams contributed much to his happiness, as did that with Mrs. Adams which came later in the same year. Jefferson had feared she was hopelessly estranged, but soon she added an affectionate postscript to one of her husband's letters and thereafter their feeling was cordial and they occasionally exchanged letters and more frequently sent friendly and even affectionate messages. At her death Jefferson wrote Adams one of the most beautiful letters of condolence in history, one worthy of a place alongside that of Lincoln's to Mrs. Bixby.
"Monticello, November 13th, 1818. "The public papers, my dear friend, announce the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have
taught me that for ills so immeasurable time and silence are the only medicine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit in the same cerement our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. bless you and support you under your heavy affliction."
This letter indicates, perhaps, more clearly than anything Jefferson ever wrote, the character of his religious beliefs. Like Adams, he thought much of religion during these latter years. While scarcely orthodox, he was deeply and sincerely religious. In the end his views were in substantial agreement with those of the Unitarians and he expressed the hope that ultimately every young man in the country would become a Unitarian. He believed in a personal God, and was a close and devoted student of the life
and teachings of Christ which he accepted fully as he conceived them to be. He was liberal in his views, and detested dogma. He attended church quite regularly, usually the Episcopalian, and in spite of his sharp utterances concerning the clergy as a class, he counted a number of them among his best friends.
In spite of his long years of political activity and the deep interest which he continued to feel in politics, Jefferson was remarkably successful in maintaining a scrupulous detachment from any participation other than that involved in advising and inspiring Madison and Monroe. Both, while in office, constantly sought his judgment as to events and policies. So great was his confidence in these friends that he expressed his willingness "to put his soul and body in their pockets." He was entirely sympathetic with the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, believing that while war was a misfortune, it was an inevitable one. "Every hope of time, patience and the love of peace is exhausted," he wrote Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, "and war or abject submission are the only alternatives left us." He regretted the war chiefly, perhaps, for the changes which he foresaw it would make in the United States. He watched with interest the course of the struggle and, eager for the conquest of Canada, was horrified and depressed at American failures there. But the most cruel blow inflicted on him by the war was the attitude of New England and particularly of Massachusetts.
As far as may be gathered from his letters, Jefferson showed little interest
in the nationalistic legislation of 1816. He was intensely interested in Monroe's advancement to the Presidency, but he had little to say on the subject. Probably he was more concerned with the return home of his friend and neighbor, Madison, in whose companionship he was deeply
The Missouri question, which he compared to "a fire-bell in the night,” and which he considered as, possibly, the "knell of the Union," aroused him. Opposed as he was to slavery, he could see no reason for the excitement in the North. The truth is, of course, that Jefferson's opposition to the peculiar institution was based on his theory of liberty and his belief that no man was good enough to own another human being. The free soil doctrine which underlay the opposition to slavery extension had apparently not occurred to him, or, at least, did not influence him. His views on the agitation were not expressed publicly, for by 1820 he was begging to be kept out of all controversy. He had stopped reading speeches made in Congress, and from 1818 on he took only one newspaper-Ritchie's "Examiner”. which he declared "the best that is published or ever has been published in America," and added in another comment that he read it more for its advertisements than its news since they were much more trustworthy! Jefferson had come far from the time when he believed in the press as a substitute for government.
Monroe consulted him before the preparation of his message of 1823 as to the policy which should be adopted in respect to the Holy Alliance, and also toward Canning's