Thomas Jefferson: Establishing a New Order of Things

Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

Jefferson's First Year as President

"What events are to follow the new order of things? . . ."
. . .asked Manasseh Cutler, a Federalist congressman from Massachusetts. The Federalists were worried. They had lost the highly contested election of 1800 to the Democratic-Republics and no longer held the majority in congress. Thomas Jefferson had defeated John Adams and was the new president. This marked the first transfer of power from one political party to another on the national level. Many Federalists joined Cutler in questioning, what was to come?  As Cutler wrote, "CONJECTURE IS ALIVE. . . ."

Conjecture is alive

The rumors Cutler heard around Washington followed much of the old campaign rhetoric.

--Jefferson did not respect the Constitution
--He would weaken the federal government
--And he would make changes to the judiciary system


Conjecture is alive

Also, Jefferson planned changes in the protocol of the presidential office itself.
The conjecture heard by Cutler:

--There is to be no speech at the opening of the session

--The President will host no levees

Presidential Levees and Speeches before Congress

The practices of holding levees and speaking in person before Congress began under President Washington.

Alexander Hamilton helped design the presidential levee, the weekly formal reception for only invited congressmen and distinguished visitors. Hamilton argued it would not waste the president’s time and further advised that “the dignity of the office should be supported.”

The Federalists knew that Jefferson opposed this elitist entertainment along with the practice of the president delivering a state of the union message at the beginning of each session of Congress. Both followed too closely the old British practices of king and parliament.

Cutler was not wrong. In a personal letter written in the month following his inauguration, Jefferson promised:

. . .Levees are done away.

. . .The first communication to the next Congress will be, like all subsequent ones, by message to which no answer will be expected.

. . .The diplomatic establishment in Europe will be reduced to three ministers.

. . .The army is undergoing a chaste reformation.

. . .The navy will be reduced to the legal establishment. . . .

. . .Agencies in every department will be revised.

. . .We shall press you to the uttermost in economizing.

Getting down to work just as Congress leaves

Congress adjourned on the evening of March 3, 1801, the day before Jefferson's inauguration, and was not scheduled to reconvene until the first Monday in December, as designated by the Constitution in Article I, Section 4. . . .

This gave Jefferson almost nine months to organize his administration and set any of his political agenda in motion that did not require congressional approval.

Creating his own administration

Recruiting secretaries to head the executive departments was one of Jefferson's first steps after his inauguration. These would be carefully chosen men with strong Democratic-Republican affiliations. He was pleased with his choices and enjoyed a close working relationship with his cabinet.

Where is Meriwether Lewis?

Jefferson knew exactly the man he wanted as his personal secretary. He wrote to James Wilkinson, commanding general of the U.S. Army, requesting that he forward his letter to

Lieut. Merriwether Lewis, not knowing where he may be.

Jefferson acknowledged, "A personal acquaintance with him, owing from his being of my neighborhood," but this was not his only motive in requesting Lewis. He had a specific assignment in mind: reducing the size of the military.

"The sum of good government. . . ."


Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1801

Jefferson used his first Inaugural Address to present his ideas on the presidency and the role of good government:

- The duties and power of the presidency would be limited: I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear.

- The federal government should be minimal: A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.

- He intended to cut internal taxes: Good government. . . shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1801

Jefferson acknowledged the raging partisan differences by offering reconciliation with his memorable phrase,

. . .every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. . . We are all republicans: we are all federalists. . . .

He reminded Americans that the government they had created was the world’s best hope and encouraged pulling together based upon our attachment to union and representative government.

Getting down to work

As Jefferson offered the olive branch to the Federalists, he felt pressure from a rising faction within his own party. . . .

My position is painful enough between federalists who cry out on the first touch of their monopoly, & republicans who clamour for universal removal.
--Jefferson to John Dickinson, 23 July 1801

Jefferson was hearing from Democratic-Republicans who had supported his election and now pushed for sweeping changes in government offices. They wanted to see Federalists removed from the civil offices they had monopolized.

Pressure from his base — return to "republican measures"

From New York he heard from David Denniston and James Cheetham, editors of a leading Democratic-Republican newspaper, the American Citizen and General Advertiser. They wrote. . . .

Changes are equally necessary to the preservation of that public Spirit which has bound the Country once more to return to republican measures and republican men.(--- not Federalists.)

As successful Jefferson supporters, they expected to see change in public offices. They wanted to take their country back to what they believed were the principles of the Revolution.

Full letter at https://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.023_0928_0933/?sp=1

Pressure from his base — return to "republican measures"

From North Carolina he received a letter from Nathaniel Macon, who would be Speaker of the House in the next session of Congress. Macon informed Jefferson that “the people expect:” No levees, no presidential speeches to Congress, fewer foreign ministers, the navy and army reduced. . . .

In fact that a system of æconomy is to be adopted and pursued with energy-----

In other words . . . .reduce the federal government.

Pressure from his base — return to "republican measures"

Jefferson responded to the editors of the American Citizen and his New York constituents,

I am endeavoring to proceed in this business with a view to justice, conciliation, and the best interests of the nation taken as a whole. Our most important object is to consolidate the nation once more into a single mass, in sentiment & in object.

At the same time, he confessed to his good friend from Virginia, John Page,

Some removals must take place. . . .

A Battle  over the Judiciary
Manasseh Cutler was correct that Jefferson would make changes in the judiciary. The Judiciary Act of 1801 was passed by the out-going Federalist congress just three weeks before Jefferson’s inauguration. On the night before he left office, President Adams was still signing the paper work for Federalist appointees to fill the new judicial offices. These became known as Adams’ “midnight” judges and appointments.This was one of Adams’ last acts as president. He left Washington by public stage at 4:00 a.m. the morning of the inauguration.Even some Federalists were disappointed by Adams’ choice to leave before daybreak.   Jefferson could not remove judges appointed by congress, but he could---and did nullify many of the federal attorneys and federal marshals.

A Federalist Chief Justice

Lame-duck President Adams denied incoming President Jefferson a critical appointment when he nominated and the Federalist majority Senate approved John Marshall as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Marshall would serve until 1835 and is credited as strengthening the Supreme Court to equal the legislative and executive branches of the federal government----but he was not fond of fellow Virginian and cousin, Thomas Jefferson.

Defining a National Indian Policy
Within two days following his inauguration, Jefferson received separate letters from constituents in Georgia and North Carolina requesting renegotiation of the existing treaties with the Creek and the Cherokee Indians. More white settlers were looking to move into each state, but the Indians held desirable land needed for expansion and the building of new roads.

Defining a National Indian Policy

Jefferson brought this issue to the attention of his Cabinet. They discussed treating with the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Creeks with “Object. 1.” to obtain the desired lands by offering an annual annuities or ----“Object. 2.” to buy the rights for roads or outright purchase of their lands. A letter must go to the Georgia Commissioners to learn what land they would be willing to cede."

Then in early summer a delegation of Cherokee arrived in Washington, “to see the new President of the United States. . .the father and guardian of our country.”

The Cherokees reported that they had begun to make many improvements as urged by the government agents. But how were they to raise livestock if asked to give up more and more land?

Defining a national Indian policy

Jefferson did not meet personally with the Indian delegation but rather drafted remarks to be delivered by Secretary of War Henry Dearborn. The delegation was assured. . . .

The land certainly still belongs to you.


Dearborn sent a gift and written message with the delegation to their chief, Little Turkey. . .

Your father the President instructs me to assure you in behalf of your nation, that he will pay the most sacred regard to the existing treaties, between your nation and ours and protect your whole territory against all intrusions by white people.

With the stipulation. . .

The President will never abandon his beloved Cherokees nor their children, so long as they shall act justly and peaceably towards the White people and their Red brethren.

Pressures from a growing and restless white citizenry pushed against the lands occupied by the Native Americans. This was a point of conflict that Jefferson would not resolve. It eventually evolved into policies of Indian removal in subsequent administrations.

Cutting Internal Taxes
Jefferson's controversial Cabinet appointment was Albert Gallatin as Secretary of the Treasury. Ten years earlier, Gallatin, a native of Switzerland, had been outspoken as a congressman from Pennsylvania against the “whiskey tax.” This was the first U.S. domestic tax and was drafted in 1791 by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. This highly unpopular tax erupted into an armed protest called the “Whiskey Rebellion," which lasted until 1794 until put down by armed forces led by President Washington and his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.

Cutting Internal Taxes

Jefferson was outraged at Hamilton’s tax and the U.S. Army marching into western Pennsylvania to combat the Whiskey Rebellion. In his view, American citizens should have the right to protest government action.

One of his first initiatives as president was to push for repeal of internal taxes and do away with Internal Revenue agents.

Shrinking the Military
In addition, Jefferson felt it was imperative to make sure army officers, many of whom were Federalist appointees, would be loyal to the new administration. A part of his government reduction plan was to reduce and streamline the military establishment. 

Shrinking the military

To help him with this task, Jefferson turned to his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, who had served in the U.S. Army in the territories east of the Mississippi River. Lewis knew many of the officers--most of whom were Federalist appointees-- stationed there. Jefferson wanted to know who be loyal to the new Democratic-Republican administration, who were the good officers and who not so good? Meriwether Lewis could supply the information he needed.

Your knolege of the Western country, of the army and of all it’s interests & relations has rendered it desireable . . .that you should be engaged in that office.

Meriwether Lewis used the symbols listed and defined here to mark a list of officers serving in the United States Army in 1801. The symbols told Jefferson whether Lewis considered the officers qualified or unqualified to serve and whether he thought they were supporters of Jefferson's administration or favored the opposing Federalist party.

For more information, see Meriwether Lewis's Coded Review of Officers

Keeping the Government in Washington
"I consider the erection of the Representatives chamber, and the making of a good gravel road. . .the most important objects for ensuring the destinies of the city which can be undertaken." -- Thomas Jefferson

Keeping the Government in Washington

Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in the new and unfinished City of Washington. He was aware that many congressmen, especially among the Federalists, were dissatisfied and wished the capital moved back to Philadelphia. In the summer of 1801 he instructed the District of Columbia Commissioners to give priority to a chamber for the House of Representatives and a good gravel road through the city. He wanted to keep the government in what he believed a more neutral location along the Potomac River. The City of Washington needed to succeed.

Keeping the Government in Washington

In 1801, only the north wing of the Capitol building was completed. This was designed as the Senate chamber but was occupied by both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and courts for the District of Columbia occupied the unfinished third floor. These crowded conditions led Jefferson to ignore the unfinished President’s House in order to move forward on a temporary structure for the House of Representatives.

Keeping the Government in Washington

To provide needed space, a wooden structure was erected in 1801 as a temporary residence for the House. Due to the poor ventilation, it was given the name, "The Oven." It was not torn down until 1805.

Keeping the Government in Washington

Capt. Lewis and myself are like two mice in a church.
--Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 28 May 1801

The President’s House, as it was called when Jefferson entered office, was grand though also unfinished. This 23-room executive mansion was where Jefferson and his secretary would live, work and entertain.

Meriwether Lewis’s living area was on the ground floor, in the south end of the large, unfinished East Room. Canvas was used to wall off his private quarters.

Jefferson made few changes to the President’s House in his first year. More emphasis was given tp the Capitol building and improvements to the City of Washington.

Foreign Policy — the First Barbary War
Following the Revolution and the absence of British protection, U.S. commercial shipping in the Mediterranean became threatened by attacks from the Barbary States of the north African coast. 

Foreign policy — the First Barbary War

Opposed to paying the usual tribute of money and military supplies for safe passage, Jefferson sent a small naval squadron of three frigates and one schooner to the Mediterranean within three months of his inauguration.

Upon arrival, they learned that Tripoli had already declared war against the U.S. According to the Constitution, the president could not declare war, but he could order the defense of American citizens and shipping.

Foreign Policy — The First Barbary War

Historian Jim Sofka relates how Tripoli gave Jefferson the opening he needed by declaring war on the U.S.

Foreign Policy — the First Barbary War

In the summer of 1801, the American schooner Enterprise defeated a Tripolitan corsair in a decided victory with no men lost. When Congress was again in session, they supported Jefferson with "An act for the protection of commerce and seamen of the United States against the Tripolitan cruisers."

The conflict with Tripoli continued into Jefferson's second administration, culminating in the capturing of the city of Derna by the U.S. Navy and a small force of Marines.

The State of the Union, 8 December 1801
As predicted by Manasseh Cutler, the President did not appear in person to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress. Instead, Jefferson sent a handwritten copy with his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to be read before a joint session of Congress by an official of the House of Representatives.This began a tradition that continued over the next hundred years until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

The State of the Union: Peace and War

The wars and troubles which have for so many years afflicted our sister nations have at length come to an end. . . .

Among our Indian neighbors, also, a spirit of peace and friendship generally prevailing.

There was peace at home, Jefferson noted. And the treaty between France and England would benefit neutral shipping. But then there was the Mediterranean . . .

To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. . . Tripoli.

Jefferson had to explain his actions against the Barbary state of Tripoli to Congress——they were defensive measures only.

The State of the Union: Government and Industry

The federal government and armed forces were being streamlined. Reform of the judiciary would be presented to Congress. Agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, and navigation were thriving.

Jefferson had one final point. . . .

The State of the Union: Immigration and Naturalization

Jefferson concluded his address on the subject of naturalization:

And shall we refuse the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?

The State of the Union: Immigration and Naturalization

But with one exception:

With restrictions, perhaps, to guard against the fraudulent usurpation of our flag. . .no endeavor should be spared to detect and suppress it.

A Mammoth Cheese...

On New Years Day 1802, President Jefferson received an unusual gift . . .

The Elder John Leland with members of his Baptist congregation arrived from Cheshire, Massachusetts with a wheel of cheese weighing over 1,200 pounds. According to Jefferson’s measurements, it was 4feet 4 1/2 inches in diameter and 15 inches thick. The cheese was meant to honor Jefferson for his defense of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Federalist newspapers lampooned the giant cheese, while a Republican writer published a broadside with an “Ode to the Mammoth Cheese.”

...and a Wall of Separation

Along with the cheese, Elder Leland delivered a written address from the Danbury Baptist Association, a group of 26 churches in western Connecticut. Jefferson’s famous reply, dated 1 January 1802, summarized his thoughts on religious freedom . . . .

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach action only, & not opinions. . . .

These thoughts concluded with his most notable statement. There should exist . . .

a wall of separation between church and state.

A New Year

Manasseh Cutler along with other Federalist Congressmen called at the President’s House on New Years Day. After politely receiving cake and wine, the President invited them, “To the mammoth room and see the mammoth cheese.” Cutler saw the cheese as “folly.” He was still wary of . . .

"the new order of things."

An online exhibition by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello
Credits: Story

Thomas Jefferson: Establishing a New Order of Things: Jefferson’s First Year as President was developed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.


Project staff:

Gaye Wilson, Shannon Senior Historian, Monticello's Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies

Chad Wollerton, Director of Digital Media and Strategy

Whitney Pippin, Executive Assistant and Program Administrator, Monticello's Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies

Rachel Gaby, Intern, Monticello's Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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