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Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, Rare Printing on Silk
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Jefferson’s most famous speech lays out his political program, but also makes a ringing call for patriotism beyond partisanship. It is considered to be one of the most important presidential speeches, and is widely quoted even today – by President Clinton, President Bush, and almost every other current political figure. Alluding to the recent controversial and acrimonious presidential election, Jefferson calls for a calming of partisan passions, and outlines “what I deem the essential principles of our government. . . . We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans; we are all federalists.

Thomas Jefferson. Broadside, The inaugural speech of Thomas Jefferson. Washington-City, March 4th, 1801 - this day, at XII o’clock, Thomas Jefferson, President Elect of the United States of America, took the oath of office required by the Constitution, in the Senate Chamber, in the presence of the Senate, the members of the House of Representatives, the public officers, and a large concourse of citizens. Previously to which, he delivered the following address.... [Boston]: From the Chronicle Press, by Adams & Rhoades, Court-Street. [March 19, 1801]. On silk. 16½ x 22½ in. 1 p.

Inventory #21089.99       Price: $28,000

Excerpt

“…though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable…the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law 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. And let us reflect, that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little, if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans; we are all federalists.  If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve the Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it…”

 

Historical Background  

The “Revolution of 1800” marked the downfall of Federalism and the ascension of Republicanism. The election saw the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another – with few parallels in the history of the world. (Though particularly bitter, the election proved to be a great test of the strength of the Constitution.) Federalist campaigners, who characterized Jefferson as subversive and an enemy to the republic, urged voters to choose “God – and a religious President” over “Jefferson…and no God.” The election was also marred by the Adams administration’s persecution of opposition editors and politicians under the Sedition Act, designed to silence pro-French Republicans in Congress at a time when war with that country appeared imminent. But Adams lost his bid for re-election, in large part due to opposition from within his own party – Hamilton and his followers were infuriated with Adams for making peace with France.

The election became even more controversial when it was found that Jefferson had received an equal number of votes as his running mate, Aaron Burr. At that time, the Constitution still specified that electors were to vote for two candidates, without specifying who was to be president or vice president. The election was thus thrown into the House of Representatives, which took a week – and 36 ballots – to decide in Jefferson’s favor.


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