Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural, and Political Tolerance

Thomas Jefferson

My Country – Thomas Jefferson and We Are All Federalists

On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States. The day began with the discharge of a cannon from the Washington artillery company. At noon, “dressed as a plain citizen, without any distinctive badge of office, the President-Elect walked up Capitol Hill for the ceremony.” Both Presidents Washington and Adams wore a ceremonial sword.

As he entered the chamber to the salute of military officers, the members of the House and Senate rose. Approximately 1,140 people, not counting Congress, attended. Chief Justice John Marshall administered the oath of office. More artillery blasts continued to punctuate every important moment – as this was the first transfer of power between political parties.

Just a few months ago, President Obama spoke about the election of President Trump. He stated, “Because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.” Additionally, he threw out a line that became the central argument for Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural. “We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first.”

Thomas Jefferson

The Election of 1800

When the states’ electoral votes in the 1800 election, Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams but he did not win the presidency. Instead, he tied with Aaron Burr, his Republican running mate. How it worked was according to the Constitution, each elector cast two votes. The candidate with the majority of votes became President and the second place finisher became Vice President. The Federalists decided prior to the election that one of the electors would cast their second vote for someone would would receive one vote.

But the Democratic-Republican electors failed to achieve this plan. So, the running mates of Jefferson and Burr each had 73 votes. This meant that the election went to the House of Representatives. But the House had to decide the Presidency based on the previous House because the new congressional terms started on the same date as the President. And the Federalist, who just lost the President, now had to choose the President. But they had to choose between the two Democratic-Republicans since they came in 1 and 2.

Hamilton Electors

And this is where the famous Hamilton Electors came into being. Alexander Hamilton, no fan of Aaron Burr at this point, had a powerful voice in the Federalist Party and could sway the election. If you want to know what happens between Hamilton and Burr, I hear a musical exists. Hamilton told his colleagues to vote for Thomas Jefferson “because he was “by far not so dangerous a man” as Burr; in short, he would much rather have someone with wrong principles than someone devoid of any.”

We also heard about Hamilton Electors to the run up to this inauguration. People wanted the electors to vote for a less dangerous man. They didn’t and we are where we are.

But this election divided our very new country.

Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural

Thomas Jefferson wanted to heal the divide of our country. Again, this is something we hear with almost every election. I recommend reading the entire address.

However, focusing on political tolerance and the recent election, notice how Jefferson positions the populace. People have fought against despots and intolerance. We derived a system of liberty that he himself defined in The Declaration of Independence. And now, he graciously took on the role of President.

having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonising spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others; and should divide opinions as to measures of safety; but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.

We are all republicans: we are all federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.

An Almanac of Liberty

Justice Douglas focuses on the political tolerance message in the speech. Jefferson noted that all Americans have the same principle. Only when those among us wish to dissolve the Union or change its form of government should the populace fight back. Ironically, I would argue Americans from David Frum to Evan McMullin to Sen. Al Franken are doing just that.

General Principles of Liberty According to Jefferson

Jefferson laid out his fundamental beliefs and philosophy of our government. Most likely, there is a year worth of writing in this list.

About to enter, fellow citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend every thing dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape its administration.I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations.

  • 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 in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies
  • The preservation of the General government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home, and safety abroad
  • A jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided
  • Absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of the despotism
  • A well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them
  • The supremacy of the civil over the military authority
  • Economy in the public expence, that labor may be lightly burthened
  • The honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith
  • Encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid
  • The diffusion of information, and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason
  • Freedom of religion; freedom of the press; and freedom of person, under the protection of the Habeas Corpus
  • And trial by juries impartially selected.

Legacy of the First Inaugural Address

Margaret Bayard Smith, who shaped much of the Jefferson legacy, wrote

I have this morning witnessed one of the most interesting scenes, a free people can ever witness. The change of administrations, which in every government and in every age have most generally been epochs of confusion, villainy and bloodshed, in this our happy country take place without any species of distraction, or disorder. This day one of the most amiable and worthy men [has] taken that seat to which he was called by the voice of his country.

Conclusion

Thomas Jefferson’s memorial has always been my first stop when I go to DC. I enjoy the walk around the tidal basin. And I love to walk up those grand stairs to see the writer of the Declaration of Independence. Obviously, he was not a perfect man as a slave owner and a sexual predator. But his philosophy of this nation and what liberty stands for continues to root my own. As we continue to resist and fight back at this administration that appears to want to destroy much of the liberty Jefferson wrote about. We outgrew the nation that Jefferson imagined. We became more than the agricultural hub that had artillery blasting during an inauguration. Instead, we became the center of commerce across the globe. And we achieved this by remembering the rights of minorities, by opening up our borders, and by educating our people.

Daily Briefing

  • Redistricting has become the last aspect of political life where no one cares, but it affects everyone. Georgia has tried to reconfigure their state districts due to shifting populations to continue having Republican control at 66/33 instead of 55/45 as the state shift more Democratic. Democracy in action.
  • Never in my life do I remember having to concern ourselves with the President’s temperament. But here we are.
  • Who now leads the Russia investigation? Ironically, it is a Republican who has worked for the Justice Department as a US Attorney since George W. Bush.
  • “If Republicans in Congress follow through on their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, millions of people will lose access to essential health services.” That must be the America conservatives want. Additionally, tens of thousands of those people are HIV positive. Even better!
  • How does Finland fend off Putin? Yes, that Finland.

Daily Distraction

In today’s America, one of the worst things you can say, according to the culture press, is that you like Billy Joel. And I have almost every Billy Joel album on vinyl. At least, I have all of the albums that matter from the 1970s and early 1980s. Last night, I spent the last hour of my day listening to Turnstiles. The entire album centered about Billy Joel’s move from Los Angeles back to New York because he did not have a great time out west. The first song says Goodbye to Hollywood.

You may have noticed that this blog has a subtitle, or you may not have. The subtitle, “Either Sadness or Euphoria” comes from the song Summer Highland Falls. The first time I heard the song was on the album Songs from the Attic, Joel’s live album. The song explores everything about my college days because I really could not define my own happiness. And then Prelude/Angry Young Man amps up Side 2 of the album.

I have no idea why I like Billy Joel when most of the time I listen to weird indie rock. But whenever I want to just sing, I put on one of his albums and belt away. If you like Billy Joel or even if you only know Piano Man and Uptown Girl, listen to Turnstiles. He’s not just lame pop music.

One Sentence Story

After the Kentucky game ended, everyone appears to come outside to play basketball to mimic.

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