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ART. I.-The Life of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, with parts of his Correspondence never before published, and Notices of his opinions on questions of civil government, national policy, and constitutional law. By GEORGE TUCKER, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Virginia. Two vols. 8vo. Philadelphia, Carey, Lea and Blanchard. 1837.
"It was the fate of Thomas Jefferson to be at once more loved and praised by his friends, and more hated and reviled by his adversaries, than any of his compatriots." Such is the first sentence in the preface to the book before us, and if the statement which it contains be true, the inquiry naturally suggests itself, why, of all his contemporaries, Mr. Jefferson should have enjoyed the peculiar love, or felt the peculiar hatred of those who knew him? If it could with propriety be said that the times, in which he lived, furnished no other individual of equal merit, our question perhaps would be one of easy solution; for it might be said, distinguished worth at once begets regard and provokes envy; pre-eminent superiority is apt to make both enemies and friends. But when it is remembered that others, whose abilities and patriotic exertions were not inferior to his, also bore their parts in the transactions of those times; one cannot help asking why it is, that, after the exacerbations of party feeling have subsided, and men have ceased to look on events and their actors through the distorting mists of political
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prejudice, the fate of Mr. Jefferson should still be so strikingly different from that of his companions? The grave has closed over other men of the revolution, as worthy, as distinguished, as prominent as he was: their memories are consecrated in the grateful recollection of their countrymen; they are not the subjects of that unenviable notoriety which marks them out as the victims of a peculiar hatred, though they enjoyed an affection as fervent and devoted, as was ever lavished on Mr. Jefferson by his most idolatrous admirer. And this is true of men of both the political parties of a former day. Was the first president of the United States less conspicuous or less useful than the third? Was the third an abler or a better man than the fourth? How then does it happen that George Washington and James Madison have escaped the dangerous eulogies of a too zealous friendship, and the bitter revilings of a relentless animosity, while Thomas Jefferson, as our author informs us, suffered from both?
Whence is it that at the present day, so many are ready to lift their voices in condemnation of Mr. Jefferson, while no man whispers a syllable against the name of George Washington? Why is it that of all the men who figured largely in the early history of our existence as an independent nation, scarcely one has been arraigned, as Mr. Jefferson has, at the bar of the public? A particular charge may indeed at times have been preferred against some one or other of his contemporaries; they may have been not entirely guiltless, though political animosity greatly exaggerated the enormity of the alleged crime: but time rolled on, and as men's minds cooled, they made all necessary and charitable allowances, and the accusations are now for the most part forgotten. But not so with Mr. Jefferson. The charges against him have not been permitted thus to hide themselves in the usually safe recess of tedious and unread documentary history. They have been dragged to light, and presented in a form more attractive to the general reader: books have been written (not by literary adventurers) but by men of name, of which, he and his delinquencies have formed the fruitful theme. The lapse of time has not shielded him; "the maledictions of his enemies, (says professor Tucker) have of late years, been more frequent and loud than the commendations of his friends." Now this is true, and for this there must be
Mr. Jefferson in his high and palmy state" was a demigod, the popular voice was on his side. We well remember, when, by some, it was deemed but little short of treason to doubt his purity, or question his political sagacity. It was then in
his power to reward obsequiousness and endow servility; that time however could not last for ever. He retired, and a retired statesman always experiences the desertion of a large body of time-serving followers; his trumpeters, not disbanded, but enlisted in the cause of his successor, lost indeed no power of lungs; but such mercenaries always give to the air the name of him who furnishes the silver of which their instruments are made, and in their noisy clamor no one could hear the name or the voice of their deserted master:-in some degree he was lost sight of; a new oracular sibyl was on the tripod ; and it became less and less treasonable every day to question the inspiration of his predecessor. The voice of those who never idolized him now began to be heard, and the consequence was one, which, but for the self-love natural to man, Mr. Jefferson might have anticipated. It was one of his favorite dogmas, that though popular opinion may at first be frequently wrong, yet men will at last reach a correct conclusion; time and information, therefore, are all that is necessary to develop the true characters of public men, and bring them to their proper level. This process, we think, has been silently going on in his case; and if, in our day, his memory is less respected than that of some of his equally able contemporaries, it is simply because, upon a fair analysis of his character, the men of our day have found less to love and admire in him, than they find in his compatriots.
We confess that we are of the number of those who desire that a proper estimate of his character should be formed by our countrymen. He wielded at one time an influence more powerful than that of any man, save one, who ever occupied our presidential chair. It was an influence not confined to questions of domestic or foreign policy; reaching beyond matters of government, it sometimes gamboled in the regions of natural science, stalked in graver dignity over the less inviting field of jurisprudence, or pronounced ex cathedra decisions on topicks of religion and morals. This influence, whether for good or evil, was for many years habitually exerted: it has left, we believe, bitter fruits behind it, and it is high time to inquire how far it was deserved. This inquiry is rendered the more proper by the appearance of the work on our table: professor Tucker expresses the hope that his book will be received, by the young men of our country, as a faithful exposition of Mr. Jefferson's character. For ourselves, honestly believing that the author has failed in his effort to be impartial, that his book does not represent the subject of it correctly, we hold it to be a duty we owe to our young countrymen, respectfully, but fearlessly to say so.
We enter upon the task in no spirit of vindictive bitterness toward the memory of the ex-president. That he hath "done the state some service" it would be at once stupid and ungrateful to deny. We thank him therefore in common with the strong men of other days, for achievements of which we are now reaping the benefits:-we would not rob him of a leaf from laurels to which he is entitled; but having said thus much, we add, that we will not strip others of their well-earned wreaths, to decorate him.
Of Mr. Jefferson's political career it is not our purpose to speak particularly; as a statesman, we leave him in the hands of those, who deem it of more importance to study the politician than the man; to his public acts, therefore, we shall refer no further than they may be necessary to illustrate the qualities of his head and his heart; and in doing this, the truth may perchance incidentally appear, that private virtue is one of the ingredients requisite to make the good statesman. Of the defects of moral character in the third president, the book before us says almost nothing, for it is little else, save decided eulogy or elaborate defence. Now, far be it from us to say that professor Tucker was called on to give the most conspicuous notoriety to the errors and failings of Mr. Jefferson: his duty as a biographer did not require this at his hands; but as he had faults, we think that the public had a right to expect something more than that they should be either entirely overlooked, or barely hinted at, or accompanied invariably by an apology. To have frankly acknowledged those faults and pointed out their consequences, would have given more weight and influence to the redeeming qualities which our author might find in the character of Mr. Jefferson. The lives of distinguished men are as beacon lights to those who come after them, but they are false lights, if they do not tell the whole truth; and therefore we now proceed to the duty bringing forward a portion of that, which, in the book before us, has been kept out of sight, or but obscurely revealed.
Mr. Jefferson then, in the first place, was avowedly, not a believer in Christianity. We mention this fact first, because we have no hesitation in saying, that in our view, the rejection of Revelation was at the foundation of his defects. We believe that the only remedy for the natural wickedness of our race, is to be found in Christianity: it alone has satisfactorily and philosophically explained the cause and the cure of our tendency to evil rather than to good. He therefore who seeks a remedy elsewhere, will fail to discover it :-admit that in many cases he can distinguish the wrong from the right, yet something more is wanting than this mere power of discrimina