Digital History

The Jeffersonian Era

Jefferson in Power Previous Next
Digital History ID 2981



Thomas Jefferson's goal as president was to restore the principles of the American Revolution. Not only had the Federalists levied oppressive taxes, stretched the provisions of the Constitution, and established a bastion of wealth and special privilege in the creation of a national bank, they also had subverted civil liberties and expanded the powers of the central government at the expense of the states. A new revolution was necessary, "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form." What was needed was a return to basic republican principles.

On March 4, 1801, Jefferson, clad in clothes of plain cloth, walked from a nearby boarding house to the new United States Capitol in Washington. Without ceremony, he entered the Senate chamber, and took the presidential oath of office. Then, in a weak voice, he delivered his inaugural address--a classic statement of Republican principles.

His first concern was to urge conciliation and to allay fear that he planned a Republican reign of terror. "We are all Republicans," he said, "we are all Federalists." Echoing George Washington's Farewell Address, he asked his listeners to set aside partisan and sectional differences and remember that "every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle." Only a proper respect for principles of majority rule and minority rights would allow the new nation to thrive. In the remainder of his address he laid out the principles that would guide his presidency: