By Allen C. Guelzo, Ph. D., Gettysburg College
Though Thomas Jefferson’s loosely jointed charm could not reconcile every Federalist, or solve every problem, when he decided to run for re-election in 1804, his victory was even more smashing than the one of 1800. He won 162 out of 176 electoral votes for himself and his new vice-president, the inveterate New York Federalist-hater, George Clinton.
The Executive Mansion
Thomas Jefferson was determined to republicanize the style of the presidency. The Executive Mansion was still only “scantily furnished with articles brought from Philadelphia,” and Jefferson was disinclined to spend much money changing that, even closing down the East Room entirely.
His office was dominated by a long table, with drawers on each side, in which were deposited not only articles appropriate to the place but a set of carpenter’s tools in one and small garden implements in another.
In the window recesses were stands for the flowers and plants which it was his delight to attend. Among his roses and geraniums was suspended the cage of his favorite mocking-bird, which he cherished with peculiar fondness.
Whenever he was alone, he opened the cage and let the bird fly about the room. After flitting for a while from one object to another, it would alight on his table and regale him with its sweetest notes, or perch on his shoulder and take its food from his lips.
Learn more about Jefferson’s fierce critiques of religion and commerce.
The New President’s Charms
William Plumer, a New Hampshire Federalist and a Baptist lay preacher who shrank from Jefferson’s reputation as “a man of science, an infidel in religion,” nevertheless slowly warmed to the new president’s charms.
The more impartially I examine the character and conduct of Mr. Jefferson, the more favorably I think of his integrity. I have, I am inclined to think, done him injustice in this respect.
The Pennsylvania Republican, William Maclay, who had more reason, politically, to admire Jefferson, found Jefferson oddly impressive. He wrote in his journal in the spring of 1790:
Jefferson is a slender man, he sits in a lounging manner, on one hip commonly, and with one of his shoulders elevated much above the other his whole figure has a loose, shackling air. Even his discourse partook of his personal demeanor. It was loose and rambling, and yet he scattered information wherever he went, and some even brilliant sentiments sparkled from him.
This is a transcript from the video series America’s Founding Fathers. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
However, Jefferson’s loose-jointed charm could not reconcile every Federalist, or solve every problem. The man who had prompted Philip Freneau to find a partisan newspaper to attack Alexander Hamilton now found newspaper partisanship turned fully on himself.
James Thomson Callender, a Republican journalist who had been imprisoned under the Adams administration and pardoned by Jefferson, demanded a federal job as a reward from Jefferson. However, Jefferson declined this demand.
Callender, who was by then the editor of the Richmond Recorder, took his revenge by revealing that Jefferson, a widower for almost 20 years, had consoled himself in the embraces of one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Federalist newspapers took up the revelation with glee.
Harry Crosswell, the editor of the New York Wasp, chortled happily,
Mr. Jefferson has for years past while his wife was living and does now since she is dead, keep a woolly-headed concubine by the name of Sally—that by her he had had several children, and that one of them by the name of Tom has since his father’s election taken upon himself many airs of importance, and boasted his extraction from a President.
Learn more about Republican societies as vehicles for political strategy.
The Alien and Sedition Acts
This sent the thin-skinned Jefferson over the moon. Federalist editors, he raged, “fill their newspapers with falsehoods, calumnies, and audacities,” and he hinted broadly to Pennsylvania governor Thomas McKean that seditious libel of the sort described in the Alien and Sedition Acts be retrieved from the Federalist abyss.
“I have therefore long thought that a few prosecutions of the most prominent offenders would have a wholesome effect in restoring the integrity of the presses. Not a general prosecution,” Jefferson added hastily, “for that would look like persecution; but a selected one.”
He, therefore, sought to effectively nip the whole thing in the bud.
Common Questions about Thomas Jefferson, the New President
James Thomson Callender, a Republican journalist who had been imprisoned under the Adams administration and pardoned by Jefferson, demanded a federal job as a reward from Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson wanted that the Pennsylvania governor, Thomas McKean, should retrieve the seditious libel – of the sort described in the Alien and Sedition Acts—from the Federalist abyss.
Thomas Jefferson was determined to republicanize the style of the presidency. The Executive Mansion was still only “scantily furnished with articles brought from Philadelphia”, and Jefferson was disinclined to spend much money changing that, even closing down the East Room entirely.