A Word From our Founders: Thomas Jefferson; First Inaugural Address

The election of 1800 pitted the incumbent John Adams against Thomas Jefferson. The early founders abhorred the idea of political parties but slowly realized that they were a necessary evil to remove the institutions of governance from the mechanics of public elections. The Federalists (the party of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton) were pitted against the Republican Party (Jefferson, Madison and Burr) . Through an unforeseen quirk in the electoral college, the general election resulted in a tie between Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr. This meant the race was to be decided in the House of Representatives which deadlocked. It was only through a secret arrangement, negotiated by Alexander Hamilton, that Jefferson was elected to the Presidency, and Aaron Burr was relegated to the Vice Presidency. The campaign was bitter, the language vitriolic, the accusations extreme. Newspapers which at the time were aligned with one party or another were scathing in their condemnations. The tone of the campaign was as negative as any modern dark money PAC that litter our air waves today.

Despite all this, for the first time in American history, political power was passed peacefully from one party/political ideology to another. On March 4th, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as the third president of the United States. His written prose has inspired generations, but he was not a gifted orator.
However, this speech is one of the most important in American history. Its sentiment resonates today as strongly as it did over one hundred and twenty years ago. “During the contest of opinion through which we have passed, the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely, and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution all will of course arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things.”

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