Inaugurations and Such

Posted in: A Summary View, Thomas Jefferson

Well, I've missed our President's actual inauguration by several days, but I'd like to belatedly commemorate the occasion by offering an intriguing historical tidbit about - yes! - Jefferson's first inauguration.

The point I'd like to address (ha ha, pun alert) may seem a bit ridiculously minor to most, as indeed it did to me before I found out otherwise. But apparently the question of whether Jefferson rode a horse or walked to his inauguration has been a point of much contention over the years. The (perceived) significance of this detail lies in its potential symbolism - "republican simplicity" versus non-republican ostentation.

Not to give away the ending, but according to the preponderance of available evidence, Jefferson walked from Conrad and McMunn's boardinghouse, where he was staying, to the Capitol for his inaugural ceremony. The story that he actually rode a horse was apparently started by a British traveler who wrote later of his observance of this historic event. The part about the horse was repeated by Henry Randall (an early Jefferson biographer) and Sarah Randolph (Jefferson's great-granddaughter) in her Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson.

To make a long blog entry shorter, I'll just say that there doesn't seem to be any good reason to believe that Jefferson rode a horse to his first inauguration. There is a pretty sharp-tongued and thorough drubbing of the horse story in the February 1888 issue of Harper's Monthly Magazine (which you can all read in the comfort of your homes thanks to the good offices of Cornell University - see page 473).

Also, a special random inaugural-themed bonus - much of course has been made over the various books that Presidents and other politicians use or don't use to be sworn in with. Here's a handy list, should you find yourself needing it, of what every president since Washington has been sworn in with, compiled by people at the Office of the Curator at the Capitol.

Comments

says

I have read Eric's post about The Jefferson Today website, have quickly browsed through some of it, and will probably be posting thoughts/commentary there in the future. Presently, there doesn't seem to be a good spot to post a correlation between Jefferson's first Inauguration and Obama's Inauguration, which seems compelling to me, so I'll post it here.

Opposition to The Alien and Sedition Acts enacted during John Adams Presidency was a significant cause of Jefferson's Presidency. The Alien and Sedition were four acts legislated by The Federalist Party:
(1) An Act to Establish a Uniform Rule of Naturalization
(2) An Act Concerning Aliens
(3) An Act Respecting Alien Enemies
(4) An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States

The first applied onerous requirements upon immigrants seeking to become naturalized citizens. The Jeffersonian-styled Republicans opposed this, largely with the argument that it was an overreach by the Federal Government, encroaching upon the sovereign rights of individual states. This argument was valid, but is often over-stated in present-day state's rights argument, because the 13th and 14th Amendments to The Constitution supersedes its original text, and greatly narrowed the scope of state's rights. There was also opposition to act based upon an appeal to A Natural Rights of All Humans to expatriation. This Right is implied in The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

If a Natural right to Expatriation does not exist, then America's Revolutionary founders were not freemen asserting there right for independence, but were instead seditious traitorous subjects of King George. They were rebels whose criminal acts were capital offenses. A right to expatriation was also implied in one of the Declaration of Independence's charges against King George:

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

The two Alien Acts were viewed by many anti-Federalist as unconstitutional, in that they were grants to the President, conferring upon him a power to arrest, detain, and deport any alien by his edict alone, stripping away their natural rights to habeas corpus, and due process, leaving them no avenue of judicial appeal. An Act Respecting Alien Enemies still remains in force today, recodified in 50 U.S.C. § 21-24. The Bush Administration even went beyond what is stated in this, claiming its application went beyond nationality. They instead danced within a miasmic fog, asserting that the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War did not apply to combatants detained in a theatre of war, because they were not citizens of the enemy nation, yet the Government had the power to detain humans as "unlawful combatants" without also admitting that they detained them as criminal actors, since that would afford them rights to first be convicted in a public trial that afforded due process of law. The Bush Administration even asserted a legitimate Presidential power to hold lawful residents of the United Sates without the judiciary's reach. Yet 50 U.S.C. § 21-24 clearly expresses a required element of citizenry to a Nation that America has declared war against:

Whenever there is a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion is perpetrated, attempted or threatened against the territory of the United States by any foreign nation or government, and the President makes public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being of the age of fourteen years and upward, who shall be within the United States and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured, and removed as alien enemies.

The last act, commonly referred as The Sedition Act, criminalized dissent as seditious, and allowed for arrests without first securing a public indictment. This even included published newspaper opinions, applying English common law slander and libel definitions, which had been repudiated earlier in America, notably in the failed prosecutions of John Peter Zenger.

In his inauguration address Obama stated:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Jefferson touched upon these same themes in his first inaugural address, pointing out that partisan factionalism had been divisive; stating the will of the majority carried force, but at the same time was not legitimate force when it overrode the principles of minority rights, and equal application of the law to all humans irrespective of their creed, nationality, or religion; and promising a return the the Original Values of the American Dream, which had been trampled in the recent past:

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed, the animation of discussion 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 which 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. During the throes and convulsion s of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others; that this should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But 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 federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this 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. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong; that this government is not strong enough. But would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm, on the theoretic and visionary fear that this government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest government on earth. I believe it is the only one where every man, at the call of the laws, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

[. . .]

About to enter, fellow citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper that you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape its administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations-entangling alliances with none; the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people-a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of the revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority-the vital principle of republics, from which there is no appeal but to force the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well-disciplined militia-our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly-burdened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture , and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and the arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press; freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected-these principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation . The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith-the text of civil instruction-the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

Thomas Jefferson, 1st Inauguration Address; March 4, 1801. As quoted in "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (ME)"; Volume III; pp 317-323

Add comment

Login to post comments