Thomas Jefferson

Postwar Republican Leader

In 1783–84 he was again in the Continental Congress, where he drafted a plan for a decimal system of coinage and drew up a proposed ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory, which, although not then adopted, was the basis for the Ordinance of 1787. In 1785 he succeeded Franklin as minister to France, and witnessed the beginning (1789) of the French Revolution, to which he was sympathetic. His unsuccessful attempt, with John Adams, to negotiate a trade treaty with England left him convinced of that country's essential selfishness. On his return he became (1790) Secretary of State.

Though absent when the Constitution was drafted and adopted, Jefferson gave his support to a stronger central government and to the Constitution, particularly with the addition of the Bill of Rights. He failed to realize the power that conservatives had attained in his absence, and he did not seem aware at first of the threat to agrarian interests posed by measures advocated by Alexander Hamilton. He would call himself neither a Federalist nor an Anti-Federalist, and was anxious to secure unity and cooperation in the new government.

Jefferson did not begin to differ with Hamilton until they clashed as to the way to persuade England to release the Northwest Territory forts, still held in violation of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Jefferson favored the application of economic pressure by forbidding imports from England, but Hamilton objected, fearing that the resulting loss of revenue would endanger his plans for the nation's financial structure. Jefferson next opposed Hamilton by declaring against his Bank of the United States scheme on the ground that the Constitution did not specifically authorize it, rejecting the doctrine of "implied powers," invoked by Hamilton's supporters. In both these encounters Hamilton, to Jefferson's chagrin, emerged the victor.

Fearing a return to monarchist ideals, if not to actual monarchy, Jefferson became virtual leader of the Anti-Federalist forces. He drew to himself a group of like-minded men who began to call themselves Republicans—a group to which the present Democratic party traces its origin. An organization was developed, and the National Gazette, edited by Philip Freneau, was established (1791) to disseminate Republican sentiments.

Jefferson and Hamilton, from being suspicious of each other, became openly antagonistic, and President George Washington was unable to reconcile them. In 1793, Jefferson left the cabinet. Later he bitterly criticized Jay's Treaty, which compromised the issues with Great Britain in ways outlined by Hamilton.

Jefferson's party was able to elect him Vice President in 1796, when that office was still filled by the person who ran second in the presidential race. He took little part in the administration but presided over the Senate and wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801). His followers kept up their agitation and under Jefferson's direction extended the party's following both territorially and numerically, while the Federalists drifted into dissension. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts immensely stimulated newspaper discussion, and Jefferson drafted, in protest against these laws, the Kentucky Resolutions (see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions), the first statement of the states' rights interpretation of the Constitution.

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