Celebrating the Bicentennial of the "Bloodless Revolution of 1800": A Prelude to Jefferson’s Presidency
The American Revolution offers no exception to the historical truth that it is easier to start a revolution than to end one. The Revolution did not end in 1776 with independence or in 1783 with
the treaty of peace or, indeed, in 1789 with the establishment of government under the Constitution. The Constitution struck a new balance between the claims of liberty and authority, and it rapidly became the standard of legitimacy for all Americans. But the Constitution neither explained nor executed itself. As men set about the work of breathing life into it, serious disagreements arose, issues of policy escalated into issues of principle, and two great political parties
took form. For the ensuing decade the conflict shook the foundations of government.
At the core of the conflict were competing conceptions of freedom in the American republic, still a precarious experiment with an uncertain future. One party, the Federalists, who had brought the government into being, subordinated freedom to its design for order and stability, while the opposition party, the
Republicans, believed this was a betrayal of the experiment itself. The great issue descended from the American Revolution. It was powerfully reinforced by the French Revolution, begun in the same year as the new government, and raising the same issue in the Atlantic world.
In order to complete the American Revolution, to secure the principles of freedom and self-government, it became necessary in the
eyes of the Republicans to defeat the Federalists. And when they did, they called the victory "the revolution of 1800."
It was, therefore, at the crossroads of politics during a turbulent decade that the American Revolution was decisively, if not finally, played out. The cast of characters was much the same, for the American Revolution, unlike so many others, most especially the French, did
not "consume its own children." The men who attended its birth became its executors in the 1790s, though they divided on the road it should travel; and there is more than symbolic significance in the fact that the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, presided over "the revolution of 1800."
Thus was completed the first democratic transfer of power in American history, indeed in the history of modern politics. Jefferson stated that the
revolution of 1800 was "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form; not effected indeed by the sword, as that, but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people."
His Inaugural Address disclosed the nature of this revolution. In one aspect, the address was lofty summation of the Republican creed. Tracing its
origins back to the American Revolution, Jefferson authenticated this creed for the national consciousness. In another aspect, the address was a bold bid for the restoration of harmony and affection. Believing that the mass of Americans, returned to their true sight, were fundamentally united in their political sentiments, Jefferson sought to quiet the storms of the past decade, to extinguish hatreds and fanaticism, to vanquish European fears and affections, thus
to enable America to realize its destiny as "a chosen country," "the world’s best hope" for freedom.
Finally, and above all, the First Inaugural was a commitment to ongoing political change through the democratic process of open debate, popular participation, and free elections. Jefferson named "absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of
republics, from which there is no appeal but to force." This principle, to be effective, demanded freedom of inquiry and opinion, together with the right of any minority to turn itself into a new majority. "If there be any among us," he said, alluding to the delusions of ‘98, "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."
Federalist leaders had reckoned the strength of government on Old World standards: army and navy, the patronage of "the rich, the well born and the able," great treasury, ministerial mastery, central command, the panoply of office and the splendor of state. But Jefferson called the American government, for all its feebleness by these standards, "the strongest
government on earth," because it was the only one founded on the energies, the affections, the opinions, and the suffrages of the people. This was the authentic "revolution of 1800," and it anchored the government firmly in the revolutionary heritage of freedom. The Constitution became an instrument of democracy, change became possible without violence or destruction, and the process began by which the government could go forward with the ongoing consent
of the people.
This article was written by Merrill D. Peterson, a member of the Jefferson Legacy Foundation Board of Directors and professor of history emeritus at the University of Virginia. He is the author of numerous publications and is widely acknowledged as the leading Jefferson scholar in the world today. This is an excerpt of an essay that will appear in its entirety in a
monograph to be published by the JLF in March 2001 to mark the bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration as the third president of the United States. Contact the JLF if you would like more information. (top)
SUMMER A BUSY TIME FOR JLF EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH
Thousands Attend Vermont History Expo 2000
This June the Jefferson Legacy Foundation participated in
the first-ever Vermont History Expo 2000, held at the Tunbridge Fair Grounds in Tunbridge, Vermont. The richness and diversity of Vermont’s history was exhibited by over 80 organizations in one central location. Despite downpours on both days, more than 8,000 people attended. Spirits were high, exhibits were informative, and performances were entertaining. As part of the Children’s Heritage program at the History Expo, the JLF commissioned the "Traveling Storyteller" to create
and present a high-quality, educational, and amusing puppet show about Thomas Jefferson’s life and the American Revolution, delighting children and adults alike. The JLF booth was visited by hundreds of people, many of whom were learning for the first time about Jefferson’s visit to Vermont and his role in Vermont statehood in 1791.(top)
JLF Gets Its Hands Dirty in Ripton Community Garden Project
The JLF is sharing the ideals of Thomas Jefferson as a model for effective citizenship, meaningful human
relationships, and pursuit and fulfillment of individual potential with a Community Garden outreach program. As Jefferson said, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." This year the JLF began planning and implementation of a program to support the Community Garden at the Ripton, Vermont Elementary School.
Garden activities are designed to nurture the wonder and appreciation that come from building a relationship with the land. They teach about responsible resource management and sustainable living, models for living demonstrated by Jefferson and his efforts at Monticello. Like Monticello, the Community Garden becomes not only a useful source of food for the school and the community, but also a laboratory for experimentation, learning, and creativity. Many students and community members have
already seen that land is a precious gift, a resource that can be used without being abused. Many have shared the experience of a strengthened community, a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from working together in a Community Garden. Tangible and intangible benefits of even the most humble Community Garden are abundant.
JLF support of Community Garden activities includes seed donations from the
Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants; Children’s Garden Kits from Monticello for each of the classrooms; funding support for two part-time summer garden workers; teacher packets to facilitate integration into school curriculum; creation of a 10-week summer garden program; and hands-on help in the garden. (More information)
JLF support of the garden project has helped bring together community members and elementary school students to further the success of a garden that has been operating for four years. Curriculum planning and teacher collaboration continues, including a 2000-2001 school year program. (top)
Lake Champlain Boat Tour Provides Ideal Setting for the Story of Thomas Jefferson’s Northern Journey
In a letter to his daughter dated May 8, 1791, Thomas Jefferson described a trip he was taking with James Madison, which included plans to "go up to Albany and Lake George, then across over to Bennington and so through Vermont to the Connecticut River..." They traveled 920 miles by boat and horseback in little more than a month. While Jefferson only spent three days in Vermont on a "botanizing excursion" with
Madison, his efforts prior to that trip left lasting legacy for the Green Mountain State. As Secretary of State, Jefferson proved instrumental in bringing Vermont into the Union in March of 1791 as the 14th state. Why did they come? Who did they visit? Where in Vermont did their route entail? To tell the fascinating story of Jefferson and Madison in Vermont, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History and the JLF sponsored two sold-out historical cruises on
Lake Champlain on the MV Carillon. Historian and JLF Chairman Sydney N. "Chip" Stokes, Jr., provided the historical background and context for an enlightening evening with the perfect backdrop.(top)
A LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
Since 1993, The Jefferson Legacy Foundation has been challenging people, through examination of Thomas Jefferson’s ideas and accomplishments, to build upon the best of our past to address present challenges and to shape our future. With a part-time paid staff of one and a small, committed board of
directors, we have pursued projects from the local community garden to a major web site production with the potential to reach millions. We have achieved a great deal in a relatively short period of time, with few human and material resources. Yet, much remains to be done.
Last February we made the fortuitous decision to appoint Peggy Burns to the position of JLF Director. Nothing has been the same
since! Peggy has been helping us to set priorities and to pursue our efforts in an increasingly strategic and productive manner. We immediately began work on several projects, including a new JLF brochure; the overhaul of our website; the introduction of this newsletter; and the creation of a membership component of the JLF to enable kindred spirits to support our mission. We are also working on a long-term strategic plan, fundraising and development, marketing and public relations,
educational outreach programs, and potential partnerships and other working relationships.
Peggy is a graduate of Georgetown University with more than twenty years of professional experience, mostly in publishing (John Wiley & Sons; Transaction Publishers; et al). Peggy recently relocated from New Jersey to Vermont. Her passion for history, politics, and civic issues (along with luck and, perhaps,
fate) led her to the door of The Jefferson Legacy Foundation. Fortunately, when opportunity (in the form of Peggy Burns) knocked, we answered! We welcome Peggy Burns and are grateful for her efforts.
Clarence W. "Bud" Leeds, III, President
- The multimedia presentation, Thomas Jefferson: Man of the Millennium, a joint project of the JLF and Colonial Williamsburg, will continue to be hosted
on Colonial Williamsburg’s web site through Summer 2001 as part of its educational program. It can be viewed at www.history.org/holiday.
- The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and the Thomas
Jefferson Heritage Society (formerly known as The Thomas Jefferson Foundation) stated in a recent press release that they have "resolved amicably all disputes between them with respect to use of the name Thomas Jefferson Foundation." TJMF Chairman Brenton Halsey said, "We are pleased that this lawsuit has been resolved in a way that allows scholarly research to continue on both sides ..."
- At www.election.com, users can examine "the first online global election company committed to making democracy work better." This web site enables "greater participation by giving voters more choices in how they vote." Also, online
voter registration and information about various issues are available at www.rockthevote.org.
- "A Splendid Misery: Jefferson, Politics and the Presidency." Inspired by the presidential election
of 2000, the Monticello daytime winter tour will focus on the political side of Thomas Jefferson, from the heated presidential race of 1800 through his years as President, an office he once referred to as "a splendid misery." December 1, 2000 -- February 29, 2001. (top)
We urge you and other "kindred spirits" to join our efforts and become a member of The Jefferson Legacy Foundation. We seek support in advancing our mission: to encourage participation in public affairs in the spirit of
Thomas Jefferson’s life, thought, and ideals. We advocate continued examination of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, particularly as it applies to self-government, religious and intellectual freedom, and education. Charter members who join at the $100 "sustaining" level of membership will receive an autographed copy of Merrill D. Peterson’s classic, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. For more information, call, write, or e-mail us; or visit our web site. Details...
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation’s News and Comment is published on a periodic basis and provided to members and friends of the JLF. For more information, contact News and Comment editor Wendy Leeds at The Jefferson Legacy
Foundation, P.O. Box 76, Ripton, Vermont 05766.