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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Sketch of Jefferson

By Charles Jared Ingersoll (1782–1862)

[Born in Philadelphia, Penn., 1782. Died there, 1862. Inchiquin, the Jesuit’s Letters. 1810.]

MR. JEFFERSON was a man of an original cast of mind—a freethinker on all subjects. With abundant experience in diplomacy and politics, he was a master in intrigue. Though commonly too much governed by events, his system was nevertheless well settled; his mind penetrating, his judgment clear, and he looked into events deeply and dispassionately. His enemies will not allow him to be anything but a philosopher: his friends extol him as a sage. The tempestuous sea of liberty was his proper element, on which he ventured to a dangerous latitude, but without at least any personal misfortune. His manners were easy, though not elegant, his address unassuming and agreeable. His colloquial talents were considerable, and he understood perfectly the art of managing an unwieldy majority of the representatives—an art, without which a President of the United States will always be a cipher. He lived in one corner of a half-finished, half-furnished palace, plain even to peculiarity in his appearance and establishment, accessible to everybody at all times, affecting the utmost republican simplicity, and as carefully subversive of common forms, as most men in his situation would have been carefully observant of them. His conversation was free, his entertainments sociable; and though all ostentation was avoided, it is said few men understood the elegant arts of society better than he did. He was well read in books, but better in mankind. Geography and natural philosophy were his favorite studies: and being industrious, temperate, and methodical, he never wanted leisure for these pursuits, notwithstanding numerous official avocations, a most extensive correspondence, and the distractions of a perpetual liability to unceremonious visits. But though geography and natural history are beholden to his researches and patronage, politics at last swallowed up all his ideas. As respected emolument and power he was moderate and disinterested. His conduct towards individuals, however, was too often marked by vindictiveness and duplicity, and the statesman frequently sunk in the politician. As sagacity was his strongest talent, insincerity was his most prominent defect. When he might have been re-elected President, he retired to his farm; and, whatever were his motives to this resignation, it certainly was in conformity with the principles he had always professed….

His policy was extremely republican and imperturbably pacific. Whatever may be the permanent effect of his measures on the welfare of America, and whatever may have been their immediate effect on the spirit and character of the American people, they were at any rate systematic and original. If they were experiments, they were tried on a great scale, and peace was their end. It seemed to be his ambition, and the invariable aim of his policy, to prove to the world that wars are not necessary to the preservation of peace, that a republican polity is susceptible of the utmost freedom without anarchy, and of combining with excessive liberty the utmost executive vigor, without incurring a despotism. For seven years of his administration, all his efforts appeared to aim at the diminution of his own authority, and the reduction of government, which he effected to such a degree, as to leave the people at last almost without any sensation of it. He had no talents for war, no pretensions to military fame. For the trophies of peace he contended, and withdrew before they could fade on his brow. His administration was original, pacific, and mostly prosperous. It remains for a few years to come to pass judgment on its wisdom. Probably it will be least approved where he seemed anxious it should be most, in its rudest democratic features; inasmuch as all extremes endanger the system they are intended to improve. The reign of Numa, the administration of Cardinal Fleury, and most other eras of extraordinary peace have been succeeded by destructive wars. Time will show whether this first of national blessings was purchased by Mr. Jefferson at too dear a price.