History of the United States
Volume III


Chapter III
Jefferson's Administration, 1801-1809

At the beginning of his administration Mr. Jeffeson transferred the chief offices of the government to members of the Democratic party. This policy had in some measure been adopted by his predecessor; but the principle was now made universal. Such action was justified by the adherents of the President on the ground that the affairs of a republic will be best administered when the officers hold the same political sentiments. One of the first acts of Congress was to abolish the system of internal revenues. The unpopular laws against foreigners and the freedom of the press were also repealed. But the territorial legislation of Jefferson's first term was most important of all.

In the year 1800 a line was drawn through the Northwest Territory from the mouth of the Great Miami River to Fort Recovery, and thence to Canada. Two years afterward the country east of this line was erected into the State of Ohio and admitted into the Union. The portion west of the line, embracing the present States of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and a part of Michigan, was organized under the name of the Indiana Territory. Vincennes was the capital; and General William Henry Harrison received the appointment of governor. About the same time the organization of the Mississippi Territory, extending from the western limits of Georgia to the great river, was completed. Thus another grand and fertile ditrict of a hundred thousand square miles was reclaimed from barbarism.

More important still was the purchase of Louisiana. In 1800 Napoleon had compelled Spain to make a secret cession of this vast territory to France. The First Consul then prepared to send an army to New Orleans for the purpose of establishing his authority. But the government of the United States remonstrated against such a proceeding; France was threatened with multiplied wars at home; and Bonaparte, seeing the difficulty of maintaining a colonial empire at so great a distance, authorized his minster to dispose of Louisiana by sale. The President appointed Mr. Livingston and James Monroe to negotiate the purchase. On the 30th of April, 1803, the terms of transfer were agreed on by the agents of the two nations; and for the sum of eleven million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars Louisiana was ceded to the United States.* In another convention, which was signed on the same day, it was agreed that the government of the United States should assume the payment of certain debts due from France to American citizens; but the sum thus assumed should not, inclusive of interest, exceed three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Thus did the vast domain west of the Mississippi, embracing an era of more than a million square miles, pass under the dominion of the United States.

The purchase of Louisiana was the greatest event of Jefferson's administration. Out of the southern portion of the new acquisition the Territory of Orleans was organized, with the same limits as the present State of Louisiana; the rest of the vast tract continued to be called the Territory of Louisiana. The possession of the Mississippi was no longer a matter of dispute. Very justly did Mr. Livingston say to the Franch minister as they arose from signing the treaty: "We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives."

Two years previous to these events John Marshall had been nominated and confirmed as chief-justice of the United States. His appointment marks an epoch in the history of the country. In the colonial times the English constitution and common law had prevailed in America, and judicial decisions were based exclusively on precedents established in English courts. When, in 1789, the new republic was organized, it became necessary to modify to a certain extent the principles of jurisprudence and to adapt them to the altered theory of government. In some measure this great work was undertaken by Chief-Justice Jay; but he was a great statesman rather than a great judge. It remained for Chief-Justice Marshall to establish on a firm and enduring basis the noble structure of American law. For thirty-five years he remained in his high office, bequeathing to after times a great number of valuable decisions, in which the principles of the jurisprudence of the United States are set forth with unvarying clearness and invincible logic.

The Mediterranean pirates still annoyed American merchantmen. All of the Barbary States--as the Moorish kingdoms of Northern Africa are called--had adopted the plan of extorting annual tributes from the European nations. The emperors of Morocco, Algiers, and Tripoli became especially arrogant. In 1803 the government of the United States dispatched Commodore Preble to the Mediterranean to protect American commerce and punish the hostile powers. The armament proceeded first against Morocco; but the frigate Philadelphia, commanded by Captain Bainbridge, was sent directly to Tripoli. When nearing his dstination, Bainbridge gave chase to a pirate, which fled for safety to the batteries of the harbor. The Philadelphia, in close pursuit, ran upon a reef of rocks near the shore, became unmanageable, and was captured by the Tripolitans. The crew and officers were taken; the latter were treated with some respect, but the former were enslaved. The emperor Yusef and his barbarous subjects were greatly elated at their unexpected success.

In the following February, Captain Decatur recaptured the Philadelphia in a marvelous manner. Sailing from Sicily in a small vessel called the Intrepid, he came at nightfall in sight of the harbor of Tripoli, where the Philadelphia was moored. The Intrepid, being a Moorish ship which the American fleet had captured, was either unseen or unsuspected by the Tripolitans. As darkness settled on the sea, Decatur steered his course into the harbor, slipped alongside of the Philadelphia, lashed the two ships together, sprang on deck with his daring crew of only seventy-four men, and killed or drove overboard every Moor on the vessel. In a moment the frigate was fired, for it was the purpose to destroy her; then Decatur and his men, escaping from the flames, returned to the Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor amid a storm of balls from the Tripolitan batteries. Not a man of Decatur's gallant band was lost, and only four were wounded.

In the last of July, 1804, Comodore Preble arrived with his fleet at Tripoli and began a blockade and siege which lasted till the following spring. The town was frequently bombarded, and several Moorish vessels were destroyed. In the meantime, William Easton, the American consul at Tunis, had organized a force in that kingdom, and was marching overland to Tripoli. Yusef's elder brother, Hamet, who was the rightful sovereign of Tripoli, was co-operating with Eaton in an effort to recover his kingdom. Yusef, alarmed at the dangers which menaced him by sea and land, made hasty overtures for peace. His offers were accepted by Mr. Lear, the American consul-general for the Barbary States; and a treaty was concluded on the 4th of June, 1805.* For several years thereafter the flag of the United States was respected in the Mediterranean.

In the summer of 1804 the country was shocked by the intelligence that Vice-President Burr had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. As the first term of Mr. Jefferson drew to a close, Burr foresaw that the President would be renominated, and that he himself would not be renominated. Still, he had his eye on the presidency, and was determined not to be baffled. He therefore, while holding the office of Vice-President, became a candidate for governor of New York. From that position he would pass to the presidency at the close of Jefferson's second term. But Hamilton's powerful influence in New York prevented Burr's election; and his presidential ambition received a stunning blow. From that day he determined to kill the man whom he pretended to regard as the destroyer of his hopes. He accordingly sought a quarrel with Hamilton; challenged him; met him at Weehawken, opposite New York, on the morning of the 11th of July, and deliberately murdered him; for Hamilton had tried to avoid the challenge, and when face to face with his antagonist refused to fire. Thus under the savaage and abominable custom of dueling the brightest intellect in American was put out in darkness.

In the autumn of 1804 Jefferson was re-elected President. For Vice-President George Clinton, of New York, was chosen in place of Burr. In the following year that part of the Northwestern Territory called Wayne county was organized under a separate territorial government with the name of Michigan. In the same spring, Captains Lewis and Clark, acting under orders of the President, set out from the falls of the Missouri River with a party of forty-five soldiers and hunters to cross the Rocky Mountains and explore Oregon. Not until November did they reach their destination. For two years, through forests of gigantic pines, along the banks of unknown rivers, and down to the shores of the Pacific, did they continue their explorations. After wandering among unheard-of tribes of barbarians, encountering grizzly bears more ferocious than Bengal tigers, escaping perils by forest and flood, and traversing a route of nine thousand miles, the hardy adventurers, with the loss of but one man, returned to civilization, bringing new ideas of the vast domains of the West. It was largely upon this expedition that our government based its claim to the Oregon country in later years.

After the death of Hamilton, Burr fled from popular indignation and sought refuge in the South. At the opening of the next session of Congress he returned to the capital, and presided over the Senate until the expiration of his term of office. Then he delivered his valedictory, went to the West, and, after traveling through several States, took up his residence with an Irish exile named Harman Blennerhassett, who had laid out an estate and built a splendid mansion on an island in the Ohio just below the mouth of the Muskingum. Here Burr unfolded a scheme, which the adventurous Irishman readily approved. His plan was to raise a sufficient military force, invade Mexico, wrest that country from the Spaniards, and some say detach the Western and Southern States from the Union, make himself dictator of a Southwestern empire, and perhaps subvert the government of the United States. For two years he labored to perfect his plans. He passed down the Ohio, visited prominent people, and enlisted many in his filibustering scheme. Agains returning to the East he sought aid from the English minister. His success in the East was meager, for while he had many warm friends there, he was not so popular as in the West. In the meantime at Marietta, Ohio, boats were being built and stores of various kinds collected. Burr, returning to Blennerhassett Island, proceeded with the final touches of preparation. When everything gave promise of success, President Jefferson issued a proclamatin calling for the arrest of everybody connected with the scheme. Burr escaped; the military stores were destroyed; the beautiful Blennerhassett home and island werechanged to scenes of desolation, and Blennerhassett and family became once more exiles. but his purposes were suspected. In February of 1807 Burr himself was arrested in Alabama and taken to Richmond to be tried on a charge of treason. Chief-Justice Marshall presided at the trial, and Burr conducted his own defense. The verdict was, "Not guilty, for want of sufficient proof." But his escape was so narrow that under an assumed name he fled from the country. Returning a few years afterward, he resumed the practice of law in New York, lived to extreme old age, and died alone in poverty.

During Jefferson's second administration the country was constantly agitated by the aggressions of the British navy on American commerce. England and France were engaged in deadly and continuous war. In order to cripple the resources of their enemy, the British authorities struck blow after blow against the trade between France and foreign nations; and Napoleon retaliated with equal energy and vindictiveness against the commerce of Great Britain. The measures adopted by the two powers took the form of blockade--that is, the surrounding of each other's ports with men-of-war to prevent the ingress and egress of neutral ships. By such means the commerce of the United States, which had grown vast and valuable while the European nations were fighting, was greatly injured and distressed.

In May of 1806 England declared the whole coast of France from Brest t the Elbe to be in a state of blockade. Neutral nations had no warning. Many American vessels, approaching the French ports, were seized and condemned as prizes; all this, too, while the harbors of France were not actually, but only declared to be, blockaded. In the following November, Bonaparte issued a decree blockading the British Isles. Again the unsuspecting merchantmen of the United States were subjected to seizure, this time by the cruisers of France. In January of the next year the government of Great Britain retaliated by an act prohibiting the French coasting-trade. Every one of these measures was in flagrant violation of the laws of nations. The belligerent powers had no reight to take such steps toward each other; as to neutral States, their rights were utterly disregarded; and the nation that suffered most was the United States, for at this time she was the carrier for the world.

Great Britain aggravated her injustice by a still more arrogant procedure. The English theory of citizenship was that whoever is born in England remains through life a subject of the British empire. Under this claim English cruisers were authorized to search American vessels and to take therefrom all persons suspected of being British subjects. Those who were taken were, without inquiry, impressed as seamen in the English navy; and that was the real object of the whole shameful business, nor would th British ministry agree to America's offer of a mutual exchange of deserters. To these general wrongs was added a special act of violence which kindled the indignation of the Americans to the highest pitch.

On the 22d of June, 1807, a frigate, named the Chesapeake, which had just sailed out of the bay of the same name, was approached by a British man-of-war, called the Leopard. The frigate was hailed; British officers came on board as friends, and then, to the astonishment of Commodore Barron, who commanded the Chesapeake, made a demand to search the vessel for deserters. The demand was indignantly refused and the ship cleared for action. But before the guns could be gotten in readiness, the Leopard poured in several destructive broadsides, killing three and wounding eighteen and compelled a surrender. Five men were taken from the captured ship, three of whom proved to be American citizens; one of the others, who were actual deserters, was tried by the British naval officers and hanged. The government of Great Britain disavowed the outrage of the Leopard, and promised reparation; but the promise was never fulfilled. Five years later the three deserters were replaced on the Chesapeake.

The President at once issued a proclamation forbidding British ships of war to enter the harbors of the United States. Still, there was no reparation; and on the 21st of December, Congress passed the celebrated Embargo Act, which cost Mr. Jefferson much of his popularity. By its provisions all American vessels were detained in the ports of the United States. The object was, by cutting off commercial intercourse with France and Great Britain, to compel them to recognize the rights of American neutrality. But the measure was of little avail; and after fourteen months the embargo act was repealed.* Meanwhile, in November of 1808, the British government outdid all previous proceedings by issuing an "order in council," prohibiting all trade with France and her allies. And Napoleon, not to be outdone, issued his famous "Milan decree," forbidding all commerce with England her colonies. Between these outrageous acts of foreign nations and the American embargo, the commerce of the United States was well-nigh crushed out of existence. The harbors were filled with rotting ships. Stores of grain and other produce were lying in barns and warehouses. New England especially suffered, and from this time until even to-day America has no extensive merchant marine.

While the country was distracted with these troubles Robert Fulton was building the First Successful Steamboat. Several attempts to utilize steam had been made with some degree of success. In 1786 James Rumsey had experimented on the Potomac and in the same year John Fitch demonstrated its possibilities on the Delaware. These events exercised a vast influence on the future development of the nation. It was of the first importance to the people of the inland States that their great rivers should be enlivened with rapid and regular navigation. This, without the application of steam, was impossible; and this Fulton successfully accomplished. Indeed, the steamboat was the harbinger of a new era in civilization. Fulton was an Irishman by descent and a Pennsylvanian by birth. His education was meager and imperfect. In his boyhood he became a painter of miniatures at Philadelphia. His friends sent him to London to receive instruction from Benjamin West; but his tastes led him to the useful rather than to the fine arts. From London he went to Paris, where he became acquainted with Chancellor Livingston; and there he conceived the project of applying steam to the purposes of navigation. Preliminary experiments were made on the river Seine in France. Returning to New York, he began the construction of a steamboat in East River. When the ungainly craft was completed and brought around to the Jersey side of the city, Fulton invited his friends to go on board and enjoy a trip to Albany. It was the 2d of September, 1807. The incredulous crowds stood staring on the shore. The word was given, and the boat did not move. Fulton went below. Again the word was given, and this time the boat moved. On the next day the happy company reached Albany. For many years this first rude steamer, called the Clermont, plied the Hudson. The old methods of river navigation were revolutionized.

Jefferson's administration drew to a close. The territorial area of the United States had been vastly extended. Burr's conspiracy had come to naught. Pioneers were pouring into the valley of the Mississippi. Explorers had crossed the mountains of the great West. The woods by the river shores resounded with the cry of steam. But the foreign relations of the United States were troubled and gloomy. There were forebodings of war. The President, following the example of Washington, declined a third election, and was succeeded in his high office by James Madison, of Virginia. For Vice-President George Clinton was re-elected.


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