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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Sidenote The Father of Democracy In America


"The Father of Democracy"]

In America, the people of the United States commemorated the semi-centennial of their independence. The Fourth of July, the date of the declaration of American independence, was the great day of celebration. The day became noted in American history by the simultaneous death of two patriots: Jefferson and Adams. Thomas Jefferson's greatest achievements, as recorded by himself on his gravestone at Monticello, were his part in the declaration of American independence, in the establishment of religious freedom and in the foundation of the University at Virginia. He was the most philosophic statesman of his time in America. Much of the subsequent history of the United States was but the development of Jefferson's political ideas. His public acts and declarations foreshadowed the policies of his most worthy successors. The essentials of the Monroe Doctrine, of the emancipation of slaves, as well as of the doctrine of State rights and of American expansion, can all be traced back to him. Thus he has come to be venerated by one of the two great political parties of America as "The Father of Democracy."

[Sidenote: Jefferson's principles]

[Sidenote: Third term discountenanced]

Jefferson's principles were stated in his first inaugural address: "Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or

political; peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments and all their rights as the most competent of administrations for our domestic concerns; the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as a sheet anchor of peace at home and safety abroad.... The supremacy of civil over military authority; economy in public expense, honest payment of public debts; the diffusion of information; freedom of religion; freedom of the press and freedom of the person, under the protection of the habeas corpus and trial by jury." When Jefferson's second term as President came to an end he retired from the White House poorer than he had entered it. A third term was declined by him with these words: "To lay down a public charge at the proper period is as much a duty as to have borne it faithfully. If some termination to the services of a chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution or supplied by practice, this office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance." Together with Washington's similar action, this established a custom which has since been followed in the North American Republic.

[Sidenote: John Adams's career]

Jefferson's predecessor, John Adams, who died on the same day, though likewise a model President, was less fortunate in his career. His administration was a struggle almost from beginning to end. The troubles with France, though not attaining the dignity of international warfare, presented all the difficulties of such a war. Adams's extreme measures against domestic danger, as embodied in his "alien and sedition laws," were unfortunate. They were in fact an infringement of the rights of free speech and personal liberty, and were with justice denounced as unconstitutional and un-American. His departure from the American Bill of Rights among other things effectually prevented his re-election as President. His wisest closing act was the appointment of John Marshall to the Chief Justiceship of the American Supreme Court.

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