Jefferson's Legacies as President
Q. What were the three most important legacies that our country derived from Jefferson's two terms as President?
The greatest, most lasting benefits which this country derived from Jefferson's tenure as President were probably the following:
1. The Louisiana Purchase.
2. The Lewis and Clark Expedition.
3. The settlement of the government on sound republican principles and the establishment of the precedent of limiting the Presidential term to two years.
The website, Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government, furnishes materials on the political principles of Jefferson, not on matters related to historical events. For historical materials, refer to B. L. Rayner's Life of Jefferson. For materials on issues related to the three main legacies, refer to the following chapters of Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government and Life of Jefferson:
1. Louisiana Purchase. See Republican Principles, related to the extent of the republic, and Interpreting the Constitution, related to the occasions when necessity demands that actions be taken not authorized by the Constitution. See The Louisiana Purchase for historical background.
2. Lewis and Clark Expedition. See Interpreting the Constitution, related to the powers in the Constitution that authorized the sending of an expedition.
3. Republican Principles. See The Constitution: State & Federal, related to the powers of government that violate Constitutional limits, and see the Executive Branch, related to rotation in the office of President. See The Revolution of 1800. for historical background.
For historical background on these issues, you might also go to one of the biographies in print, such as those by Peterson or Malone.
The greatest act of Thomas Jefferson as President, besides the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and keeping the U.S. out of war until they had more time to prepare, was something that is now taken for granted and mostly overlooked by historians. It was reversing the course that the United States had taken towards an authoritarian government and returning the nation to its republican principles. History books give little emphasis to it today, but the nation was moving towards autocratic rule, the most obvious evidences of which were the Alien and Sedition Acts. Lesser evidences were the pomp and ceremony associated with the office of President. Jefferson put an end to all of that, turned the country around, and set it on a republican course which it has more or less maintained ever since. Besides his own presidency, he was followed by two of his proteges, James Madison and James Monroe, who continued the nation on its republican course and thus caused that course to become firmly established. Jefferson expressed his own contribution in these words:
"It was my lot to be placed at the head of the column which made the first breach in the ramparts of federalism, and to be charged, on that event, with the duty of changing the course of the government from what we deemed a monarchical, to its republican tack." --Thomas Jefferson to Mark Langdon Hill, 1820. ME 15:242
"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." --Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819. ME 15:212
As a part of this revolutionary movement in government, Jefferson also founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which funtioned in opposition to the Federalist Party. At the time the Constitution was formed, and for many years thereafter, there was no clearly formed sense of political parties in America. But Jefferson's opposition to the Federalists in the election of 1800 meant the formation of an organized opposition, and thus inaugurated the two-party system in this country. Some historians ignore the "Revolution of 1800" and focus on the creation of political parties. But in truth, the formation of political parties was a result of the Revolution of 1800.
The Jeffersonian Perspective:
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