Jefferson In Retirement - The Jeffersonian Republic
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The prominent public man who retired to Monticello in 1809, at the age of sixty-six, had had his fill of politics. No longer obliged to accommodate his principles to necessity, he devoted his time to the management of his private affairs and to private comments on the course of the world. "I am tired of practical politics," he mourned, "and . . . the total banishment of all moral principle from the code which governs the intercourse of nations."
With the end of political ambition, Jefferson renewed his friendship with John Adams, opening a classic correspondence. In it he wondered whether the natural aristocrats among men, so designated by their "virtue and talents," might not provide the best governors of mankind, and succeed in countering the steady degeneration of decency. He hoped that the young American would find in himself the capacity to sympathize with the oppressed wherever found. He dreamed of a nation where necessities were available to all and luxury known to none. To Adams he wrote, "My temperament is sanguine. I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern." From the perspective of more than seven decades of life he was still able to write: "I am not among those who fear the people. They . . . are our dependence for continued freedom." He greeted the prospect of change with equanimity, arguing that "laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind." And always he believed in the American dream, the vision of an America "destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism." In a moment of rhapsodic vision, he foretold: What a colossus shall we be when the southern continent comes up to our mark! What a stand will it secure as a ralliance for the reason and freedom of the globe! I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
On July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson died, followed within a few hours by John Adams. He left as his legacy a uniquely American hope: that his Declaration of Independence signaled the beginning of the triumph of reason, the beginning of a time when the world would recognize "the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God." In moments of stress and doubt Americans have again and again had recourse to the words and ideals of Jefferson who, as he aged, grew ever more hopeful.