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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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4129. JEFFERSON (Thomas), Services of.—[continued].
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4129. JEFFERSON (Thomas), Services of.—[continued].

I came of age in 1764,
and was soon put into the nomination of justice
of the county in which I lived, and, at
the first election following, I became one of
its representatives in the Legislature. I was
thence sent to the old Congress. Then employed
two years with Mr. Pendleton and Mr.
Wythe, on the revisal and reduction to a
single code of the whole body of the British
Statutes, the acts of our Assembly, and certain
parts of the common law. Then elected
Governor. Next, to the Legislature, and to
Congress again. Sent to Europe as Minister
Plenipotentiary. Appointed Secretary of State
to the new Government. Elected Vice-President,
and President. And lastly, a Visitor
and Rector of the University[of Virginia].
In these different offices, with scarcely any
interval between them, I have been in the
public service now sixty-one years; and during
the far greater part of the time, in foreign
countries or in other States. * * * If it were thought worth while to specify
any particular services rendered, I would
refer to the specification of them made
by the[Virginia] Legislature itself in their
Farewell Address,' [263] on my retiring from the
Presidency, February, 1809. There is one,
however, not therein specified the most important
in its consequences, of any transaction
in any portion of my life; to wit, the head I
personally made against the federal principles
and proceedings during the Administration of
Mr. Adams. Their usurpations and violations
of the Constitution at that period, and
their majority in both Houses of Congress,
were so great, so decided, and so daring,
that after combating their aggressions, inch
by inch, without being able in the least to
check their carrer, the republican leaders
thought it would be best for them to give up
their useless efforts there, go home, get into
their respective Legislatures, embody whatever
of resistance they could be formed into,
and if ineffectual, to perish there as in the
last ditch. All, therefore, retired leaving Mr.
Gallatin alone in the House of Representatives,
and myself in the Senate, where I
then presided as Vice-President. Remaining
at our posts, and bidding defiance to the
browbeatings and insults by which they endeavored
to drive us off also, we kept the
mass of republicans in phalanx together, until
the Legislature could be brought up to the
charge; and nothing on earth is more certain,
than that if myself particularly, placed
by my office of Vice-President at the head
of the republicans, had given way and withdrawn
from my post, the republicans throughout
the Union would have given up in
despair, and the cause would have been lost
forever. By holding on, we obtained time for
the Legislature to come up with their weight;
and those of Virginia and Kentucky particularly,
but more especially the former, by
their celebrated resolutions, saved the Constitution
at its last gasp. No person who was
not a witness of the scenes of that gloomy
period, can form any idea of the afflicting
persecutions and personal indignities we had
to brook. They saved our country, however.
The spirits of the people were so much subdued
and reduced to despair by the X. Y. Z.
imposture, and other stratagems and machinations,
that they would have sunk into
apathy and monarchy, as the only form of
government which could maintain itself.

If Legislative services are worth mentioning,
and the stamp of liberality and equality,
which was necessary to be imposed on our
laws in the first crisis of our birth as a nation,
was of any value, they will find that
the leading and most important laws of that
day were prepared by myself, and carried
chiefly by my efforts; supported, indeed, by
able and faithful coadjutors from the ranks
of the house, very effective as seconds, but
who would not have taken the field as
leaders. The prohibition of the further importation
of slaves was the first of these
measures in time. This was followed by the
abolition of entails, which broke up the hereditary
and high-handed aristocracy, which, by
accumulating immense masses of property in
single lines of families, had divided our
country into two distinct orders, of nobles
and plebeians. But further to complete the
equality among our citizens so essential to the
maintenance of republican government, it
was necessary to abolish the principle of
primogeniture. I drew the law of descents,
giving equal inheritance to sons and daughters,
which made a part of the Revised Code.
The attack on the establishment of a dominant
religion was first made by myself. It
could be carried at first only by a suspension
of salaries for one year, by battling it again
at the next session for another year, and so
from year to year, until the public mind was
ripened for the bill for establishing religious


Page 444
freedom, which I had prepared for the Revised
Code also. This was at length established
permanently, and by the efforts chiefly
of Mr. Madison, being myself in Europe at
the time that work was brought forward.

To these particular services, I think I might
add the establishment of our University, as
principally my work, acknowledging at the
same time, as I do, the great assistance received
from my able colleagues of the Visitation.
But my residence in the vicinity
threw, of course, on me the chief burthen of
the enterprise, as well of the buildings as of
the general organization and care of the
whole. The effect of this institution on the
future fame, fortune and prosperity of our
country, can as yet be seen but at a distance.
But an hundred well-educated youth, which it
will turn out annually, and ere long, will fill
all its offices with men of superior qualifications,
and raise it from its humble state to an
eminence among its associates which it has
never yet known; no, not in its brightest
days. That institution is now qualified to
raise its youth to an order of science unequalled
in any other State; and this superiority
will be the greater from the free range
of mind encouraged there, and the restraint
imposed at other seminaries by the shackles
of a domineering hierarchy, and a bigoted adhesion
to ancient habits. Those now on the
theatre of affairs will enjoy the ineffable happiness
of seeing themselves succeeded by sons
of a grade of science beyond their own ken.
Our sister States will also be repairing to the
same fountains of instruction, will bring
hither their genius to be kindled at our fire,
and will carry back the fraternal affections
which, nourished by the same Alma Mater, will knit us to them by the indissoluble bonds
of early personal friendships. The good Old
Dominion, the blessed mother of us all,
will then raise her head with pride among
the nations, will present to them that splendor
of genius which she has ever possessed,
but has too long suffered to rest uncultivated
and unknown, and will become a centre of
ralliance to the States whose youth she has
instructed, and, as it were, adopted. I claim
some share in the merits of this great work
of regeneration. My whole labors, now for
many years, have been devoted to it, and I
stand pledged to follow it up through the
remnant of life remaining to me. And what
remuneration do I ask? Money from the
treasury? Not a cent. I ask nothing from
the earnings or labors of my fellow citizens.
I wish no man's comforts to be abridged for
the enlargement of mine. For the services
rendered on all occasions, I have been always
paid to my full satisfaction. I never wished a
dollar more than what the law had fixed on.
My request is, only to be permitted to sell my
own property freely to pay my own debts.
To sell it, I say, and not to sacrifice it, not
to have it gobbled up by speculators to make
fortunes for themselves, leaving unpaid those
who have trusted to my good faith, and myself
without resource, in the last and most
helpless stage of life. If permitted to sell it
in a way which will bring me a fair price,
all will be honestly and honorably paid, and
a competence left for myself, and for those
who look to me for subsistence. To sell it in
a way which will offend no moral principle,
and expose none to risk but the willing, and
those wishing to be permitted to take the
chance of gain. To give me, in short, that
permission which you often allow to others
for purposes not more moral. [264]
Thoughts on Lotteries. Washington ed. ix, 506. Ford ed., x, 368.
(M. 1826)


Printed in the Appendix to this work.—Editor.


Jefferson wrote the paper of which the foregoing
is an extract in February, 1826, less than five months
before his death. Oppressed by age and harassed
by debt, he asked the Legislature of Virginia to pass
a law enabling him to dispose of his property by a
lottery. The act was passed.—Editor.