And let us reflect that, 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.
Continuing Jefferson’s Party Defeats the Federalists,
our selection from Inauguration Speech by Thomas Jefferson published in 1801. The selection is presented in 1.5 installments, each one 5 minutes long. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Jefferson’s Party Defeats the Federalists.
Place: Washington, D.C.
Concluding Von Holst
The position of the Federalists in the Presidential election of 1800 had been a desperate one. The hopelessness of their situation drove them to the rash and despicable game in the House of Representatives. They would have been deterred from it if they could have ascribed their defeat to accidental and transitory causes. The correspondence of their leaders, however, shows plainly that their faint hope of better success after four years was only a hope against their better judgment. The reaction had fairly set in. The Republicans did not dare to touch the essential things which had been accomplished during the twelve years’ victory of the Federalists over them, and did not even desire to do so; for the same matter is seen very differently from the point of view of the Administration and of the opposition. It might not be expected of them that they would intentionally increase the heritage left them, but if they would not immediately squander it, the capital would hear interest and increase. More was not to be expected. The defeat of the Federalists was a decisive one, for even the citadel of their strength was undermined. While in the Southern States a more temperate feeling prevailed, the Republicans in the New England States began to celebrate triumphs. The decisive point, however, was that they obtained a ﬁrm footing in the rural districts, whereas, hitherto, they had found adherents only among the more mercurial population of the large towns. The choice troops of the Federalists began to waver on every side, and the intrigues of the leaders in the House of Representatives gave the impulse to the complete dissolution of their ranks. Yet neither the sense of honor, nor the healthy judgment which drew from Hamilton the declaration that he must renounce a party which had thus soiled its name, was wanting among the masses. It was seen at the moment how great was the mistake made. Even during the balloting in the House of Representatives, the Federalists went over in swarms to the enemy; every vote for Burr was another nail in the coffin of the party. This sudden and violent fall of the Federal party explains the security which the continuance of the Union enjoyed during the two following decades. The party which represented particularistic tendencies was in possession of power, and had an overwhelming majority. In the next Presidential election Jefferson and Clinton received each one hundred sixty-two electoral votes, while Charles C. Pinckney and Rufus King received only fourteen each, and in 180 5 there were only seven Federalists in the Senate. But even if the probability of a disruption was therefore very small the character of the internal struggle remained the same. This character was even placed in a clearer light by the fact that the parts played by each were changed, so far as the question of right was concerned, and that the opposition, spite of its weakness, was not satisﬁed with wishes and threats of separation, but began in ear nest to devise plans of dissolution.
Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire. A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye — when I contemplate these transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of this beloved country committed to the issue and the auspices of this day, I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking. Utterly, indeed, should I despair did not the presence of many whom I here see remind me that in the other high authorities provided by our Constitution I shall find resources of wisdom, of virtue, and of zeal on which to rely under all difficulties. To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.
During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, 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.
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