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P R E F A CE.
Many of the explanations usually given in a preface will be found in the body of the following work.
This Biography has swelled far beyond our original contemplation. Mr. Jefferson was more than half a century conspicuously before the American people. His official positions were numerous, furnishing not only a large mass of facts which cannot be passed over in a history of his life aiming at any degree of fullness, but his discharge of these trusts caused him to do acts or express opinions which have the force of precedents throughout nearly the whole range of topics in our nationo-federative system.
During the seventeen years he survived his retirement from public life, he remained a close observer, and continued to express his opinions in his correspondence, on all the leading political questions which engaged public attention. We have, therefore, a complete record of his views for more than sixty years from a period preceding our national independence to one which found our peculiar institutions tested, determined in their nature, and fixed in their prescribed channels.
When it is taken into consideration that Mr. Jefferson is the conceded founder of that party which soon obtained undisputed control in our General Government, and which consequently affixed its own interpretations to our federal Constitution ; when it is remembered that his example and opinions are still quoted as authoritative by a decided majority of the American people, the importance of having that example and those opinions clearly understood, must become obvious to all reflecting persons.
His correspondence also discloses his views on a great variety of important extra-political topics. Like his political ones, they betray vigorous thought. They are often, too, clothed in that felicitous diction which is apt to enlist the sympathy of the ear as well as that of the understanding; nay, which may captivate the former at the expense of the free exercise of the latter. It would be unusual to converse half an hour on great political or social problems with an intelligent American—and particularly among the rural classes, who talk around their firesides of the Revolution, and of the august fathers of the Republic—without hearing some lofty thought or ringing phrase quoted from Jefferson. There was a sympathy between his heart and the great popular heart, which nothing ever did, ever can, shake. His mission was leadership. Without an effort on his part, expressions from his lips, that from other men's would scarcely have attracted notice, became thenceforth axioms, creeds, and gathering-cries to great masses of his countrymen. Thus far, at least, his ideas have been transmitted to succeeding generations without any apparent
diminution of their influence. We are presented with the remarkable spectacle of a reputation more assailed by class and hereditary hate than any other, and all others, belonging to our early history-scarcely defended by a page where volumes have been written to traduce ityet steadily and resistlessly spreading, until all parties seek to appropriate it-until not an American man between the Atlantic and the Pacific dare place himself before a popular constituency with revilings of Jefferson on his lips. Two great names are embalmed before all others in the hearts of the people. One belonged to the SWORD, and the other to the Pen of our country!
There was another field, hitherto nearly a blank, which we have felt bound to improve admirable opportunities for exploring before it should be too late ; and we were not willing to throw away the results of our exploration from the apprehension of making too voluminous a work.
Mr. Jefferson has a number of surviving grandchildren, who lived from ten to thirty years under the same roof with him. They had ample opportunities for observing him in nearly every relation of private lifeas the father, the master, the neighbor, the friend, the companion under all circumstances, the farmer, the business man, etc. From the lips of their parents--Mr. Jefferson's two daughters—they constantly heard him described as the son and the husband. Their recollections were generally rendered precise and minute by the intense interest with which, from infancy, they regarded everything connected with one revered as few men were ever revered in their families. And these recollections, whether their own or derived from their parents, were
supported by contemporaneous memoranda made by Mr. Jefferson or themselves, by contemporaneous correspondence, and by various other family records.
None of Mr. Jefferson's descendants have ever chosen to write his biography. They preferred to leave that duty to those who could not have, nor be supposed to have, consanguineal attachments or hereditary hostilities to influence their pens.
In a few years death would quench personal recollections but in small part recorded, and scatter the manuscripts we have referred to among a multitude of inheritors. Some of these manuscripts would, in all probability, become destroyed in the ordinary train of casualties, and others would be hopelessly lost trace of, because no biographer would know of their existence, and consequently where to institute a particular search for them. Every writer of experience knows that any other search is seldom rewarded. And at best the manuscripts, books, papers, etc., far too extensive for transcription, and scattered over a continent, would be the subject of too many wills, to stand any probability of being all delivered up for scrutiny and collation by one person.
The materials we have collected from these sources comprise, we should say, not far from one-third of these volumes.
We have preferred in all cases to give Mr. Jefferson's words at least once on every important question—and oftener if he materially changed his views-instead of attempting to convey the substance in any briefer synopsis of our own.
We have pursued the same course towards his con
spicuous adversaries, where we have given their opinions ; or we have distinctly cited the work and the page where those opinions are to be found.
We have desired in no case to take refuge from responsibility under loose generalities, and have sacrificed severely in ease and flowingness of style to make our important statements—especially those conveying censure—so definite in respect to time, place, and matter, that they will present a tangible issue to inquirers who would investigate, or to opponents who would refute our views. The leering, sneering, dodging way of making charges by implication, and insulting by innuendo—which has been so extensively practised by early and late calumniators of Mr. Jefferson-is not to our taste. A fair, straight-forward blow against an adversary is legitimate, and becomes sometimes an unfortunate necessity to convey the genuine lessons, and vindicate the truth of history. But he who strikes should manfully stand up,
like Friar Tuck, and abide the counter buffet, whether the hand that deals it be gauntleted or not.
It is a pity, in our judgment, that the world would not agree to consider that witness—as he really is in four cases out of five-a conscious liar, who will not
“ Aye free aff han' his story tell,”
so that every important adverse assertion he makes or insinuates can be specifically met, and specifically corroborated or refuted.
And he who brings forward old anonymous personal