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No golden eagle, warm from the stamping press of the mint, is more sharply
impressed with its image and superscription than was the formative period of
our government by the genius and personality of Thomas Jefferson.
Standing on the threshold of the nineteenth century, no one who attempted to
peer down the shadowy vista, saw more clearly than he the possibilities, the
perils, the pitfalls and the achievements that were within the grasp of the
Nation. None was inspired by purer patriotism. None was more sagacious,
wise and prudent, and none understood his countrymen better.
By birth an aristocrat, by nature he was a democrat. The most learned man
that ever sat in the president's chair, his tastes were the simple ones of a
farmer. Surrounded by the pomp and ceremony of Washington and Adams'
courts, his dress was homely. He despised titles, and preferred severe
plainness of speech and the sober garb of the Quakers.
"What is the date of your birth, Mr. President?" asked an admirer.
"Of what possible concern is that to you?" queried the President in turn.
"We wish to give it fitting celebration."
"For that reason, I decline to enlighten you; nothing could be more
distasteful to me than what you propose, and, when you address me, I shall
be obliged if you will omit the 'Mr.' "
If we can imagine Washington doing so undignified a thing as did President
Lincoln, when he first met our present Secretary of State, (John Sherman)
and compared their respective heights by standing back to back, a sheet of
paper resting on the crowns of Washington and Jefferson would have lain
horizontal and been six feet two inches from the earth, but the one was
magnificent in physique, of massive frame and prodigious strength,—the other
was thin, wiry, bony, active, but with muscles of steel, while both were as
straight as the proverbial Indian arrow.
Jefferson's hair was of sandy color, his cheeks ruddy, his eyes of a light
hazel, his features angular, but glowing with intelligence and neither could
lay any claim to the gift of oratory.
Washington lacked literary ability, while in the hand of Jefferson, the pen
was as masterful as the sword in the clutch of Saladin or Godfrey of
Bouillon. Washington had only a common school education, while Jefferson
was a classical scholar and could express his thoughts in excellent Italian,
Spanish and French, and both were masters of their temper.
Jefferson was an excellent violinist, a skilled mathematician and a profound
scholar. Add to all these his spotless integrity and honor, his
statesmanship, and his well curbed but aggressive patriotism, and he
embodied within himself all the attributes of an ideal president of the
In the colonial times, Virginia was the South and Massachusetts the North.
The other colonies were only appendages. The New York Dutchman dozed over
his beer and pipe, and when the other New England settlements saw the
Narragansetts bearing down upon them with upraised tomahawks, they ran for
cover and yelled to Massachusetts to save them.
Clayborne fired popguns at Lord Baltimore, and the Catholic and Protestant
Marylanders enacted Toleration Acts, and then chased one another over the
border, with some of the fugitives running all the way to the Carolinas,
where the settlers were perspiring over their efforts in installing new
governors and thrusting them out again, in the hope that a half-fledged
statesman would turn up sometime or other in the shuffle.
What a roystering set those Cavaliers were! Fond of horse racing, cock
fighting, gambling and drinking, the soul of hospitality, quick to take
offense, and quicker to forgive,—duellists as brave as Spartans, chivalric,
proud of honor, their province, their blood and their families, they envied
only one being in the world and that was he who could establish his claim to
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