__________________ ____________________  

Thomas Jefferson, Federalist.


"We are all republicans-we are all federalists," Thomas
Jefferson told the American people in his first inaugural
address. A "President above Parties" who believed
factionalism jeopardized the safety and security of
republican government, Jefferson was here setting forth the
common principles shared by all patriotic Americans.
Jefferson's election-the "Revolution of 1800"-would, he
confidently predicted, put an end to the frenzied,
hysterical party struggles in the 1790s. Moderate
Federalists who had voted for John Adams would soon see the
errors of their ways. But "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." In contrast to the
Adams Federalists, who had sought to suppress their
opponents with the Alien and Sedition Acts and had instead
spurred Jeffersonian-Republicans on toward their electoral
revolution-Jefferson would allow his critics to discredit
and disgrace themselves before the sovereign people.1
If, as Richard Hofstadter suggests, the peaceful "transit
of power" from Federalists to Republicans marked an epoch
in the history of party government it does not follow that
Jefferson saw a place for a "loyal opposition" in the new
republican order.2 Having vindicated the principles of 1776
-- and of 1798 -- the triumphant Republicans would
themselves cease to be a "party." As Republican party
activists had insisted for almost a decade, they were the
true representatives of the sovereign people. When they
assumed the reins of power, the American people at last
began to govern themselves. In perverting and corrupting
the power of the federal government, the Federalists had
accentuated the distance between the people and their
self-professed rulers and then sought to bridge the
distance with the kind of coercive force that propped up
the monarchies of the Old World. Alexander Hamilton and his
minions were enemies ofthe "republican form," determined to
transform the new American regime into a replica of the
British Constitution they so much admired. But the success
of their counter- Page 20 revolutionary project depended on
secret machinations, behind the scenes: the corruption of
the people's representatives by bankers, speculators, and
Treasury operatives; or expansive interpretations ofthe
federal Constitution that enhanced executive power at the
people's expense. The Republicans routed the spectre of a
counter-revolutionary monarchical revival not only by
driving Adams and his supporters from office, but more
profoundly and lastingly by shining the bright light of an
enraged public opinion on the murky recesses of Federalist
Jefferson's extraordinary interpretation of his rise to
power seems unwarranted by what had been, after all, a
rather narrow victory at the polls that was only finally
secured-on the eve of the inauguration after thirty-six
congressional ballots. But Jefferson, with his already
legendary distaste for the "torments" of political life,
was not concerned with the wheeling and dealing that had
broken the congressional stalemate. The people had already
spoken: they had called Jefferson to the presidency, not
his running mate Aaron Burr. And many voters who had
supported Adams-because ofthe habitual submissiveness that
sustained monarchical rule, or the all-too-plausible
mystifications of "aristocrats" and "monocrats"-were good,
educable republicans at heart. In bringing the good news to
his fellow Americans, then, Jefferson was not a party
leader with a policy agenda, but rather a guardian of
liberty, a patriotic mentor to his people. As the heavy
hand of Federalist administration was lifted-with the end
of excise taxes, the reduction of the national debt, the
dismantling of the fiscal-military apparatus that
threatened to plunge the new nation into a never-ending
cycle of wars-the American people would reap the fruits of
peace and prosperity. Jefferson would win the people's
favor by doing nothing, or by undoing what the Federalists
had done. Necessarily, increasingly conscious of their good
fortune, Americans would repudiate the few remaining
enemies of union and republican government, leaving them to
stand as "monuments" to their own folly.
As Jefferson sought to define the meaning of his election,
he looked back to 1776, to the first principles of a
republican revolution that had toppled despotism in
America. From this perspective, Jefferson could be
confident that the "Revolution of 1800" would succeed: if
the patriots of 1776 had overcome the greatest power on
earth-despite the Crown's numerous American Tory
supporters-then it should be easy enough to purge the
Federalists, latter-day Tories who sought to reverse the
Revolution's outcome. The persistent identification of the
Federalists as "Anglomen," justified by Hamilton's
financial program and a decided Federalist tilt toward
Britain in the French Revolutionary wars, served to
exaggerate the Federalist menace as long as Jefferson and
his Republican colleagues remained in opposition. But this
identification served Page 21 equally well to minimize the
Federalist threat once Jefferson was erected It was enough
to recognize what the Federalists' true intentions really
were as sufficient numbers of voters finally did in 1800 --
for these enemies of the Revolution to be cast into the
political wilderness, permanently.3
Jefferson's cast of mind, his sense of the world-historical
significance of his election, make sense to us now in light
of the historiographical reconstruction of Revolutionary
American republican thought over the last generation.4 The
great lesson of the "republican synthesis" is that though
Jefferson and his contemporaries were the founders of the
American political tradition and the inventors of the first
recognizably "modern" political parties-they thought,
wrote, spoke, and acted in an entirely different world from
ours. In fact, the political and constitutional
continuities between their times and ours have been the
greatest obstacles to understanding: because we still use
them, we think we know what all the words mean. But
Jefferson's obsessive fears of "power," "corruption," his
notions of "liberty", "virtue", personal and political
"independence", and "equality" were all embedded in a view
of the world astonishingly unfamiliar to modern readers.
The new literature on republicanism helps us understand why
Jefferson saw the American Revolution as a crucial epoch in
the great and ongoing struggle between the forces of
despotism and darkness, on one hand, and of freedom and
enlightenment, on the other. Yet this is only part of the
story. In the following pages I want to shift attention
away from the first term in Jefferson's statement-"We are
all republicans"-to the second-"we are all federalists." I
will argue that "federal principles", the preservation of
the framers' "more perfect union," was as Important to
Jefferson as vindicating republican government.
ONE REASON why Jefferson's federalism is now obscure to us
is that we have not had the benefit of a "federal
synthesis" to balance or, perhaps more accurately, to
extend and elaborate the "republican synthesis".5 But there
are further obstacles to understanding Jeffersonian
federalism. Most daunting is the general belief that
Jefferson and Madison only belatedly turned to states'
rights: the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798 were
inspired by political desperation as Republican
oppositionist sought to counter Federalist control of the
national legislature and executive. The compact theory of
union was grounded not in principle but rather in political
Jefferson's celebration of the union in his Inaugural-a
union he was prepared to destroy in 1798 through state
"nullification" of federal authority -- Page 22 thus seems
disingenuous, if not downright hypocritical. An unfriendly
critic might conclude that Jefferson was projecting his own
disunionist intentions on to his opponents, whose only
"crime" was to attempt to buttress the authority of the
federal government in a period of global political
crisis-and "quasi-war" with France-when national security
was in jeopardy. In calling himself a "federalist"
supporter of the union, Jefferson must therefore be
indulging in obfuscatory word-play, perhaps in a sort of
revenge against the nationalists of 1787 who called
themselves "federalists." In other words, it was the spirit
of Anti- federalism, not the federalism of the framers,
that Jefferson articulated and exploited in his Inaugural.
Jefferson has never lacked defenders, of course, least of
all in these precincts. But these defenders are clearly
most comfortable in speaking to Jefferson's republicanism,
his eloquent statements of natural rights, his life-long
advocacy of equality and government by consent.6 Merrill
Peterson thus attributes Jefferson's recourse to federalism
to a temporary fit of "hysteria" as he sought to vindicate
freedom against the Federalists' "odious laws." But this
was a potentially "dangerous" line of defense that
ultimately fostered "delusions of state sovereignty fully
as violent as the Federalist delusions he had combated."
Invoking Jefferson's authority, states' rights advocates
would lead the nation into in a bloody civil war.7
My point is that Jefferson's friends have been complicit in
an interpretation of the Inaugural and of his political
career generally that systematically discounts and
misrepresents his principled commitment to the American
experiment in federal republican government. Federalism may
not-for better or worse-rank very high in our own scheme of
values, and we certainly continue to draw inspiration from
Jeffersonian conceptions of the natural and universal
rights of individuals. But when Jefferson called himself a
"federalist," he meant what he was saying. It is worth
noting that, in the next paragraph of the Inaugural, when
Jefferson returned to the Revolutionary legacy, he reversed
the sequence of the first formulation: "Let us then, with
courage and confidence pursue our own federal and
republican principles, our attachment to our union and
representative government."8 Jefferson did not privilege
"republicanism" over "federalism" (as we may), nor would he
be willing to distinguish or dissociate these "principles."
Our challenge then is to try to understand exactly how
these principles are related, how one depends on the other.
The republican synthesis offers a good point of departure.
Dissatisfied with the stripped-down Lockean liberalism that
earlier generations of scholars and commentators found in
the Declaration of Independence and other Revolutionary
state papers, republican revisionists have sought to
provide richer, alternative Page 23 readings of early
American political thought. These writers and their
critics-have challenged conventional understandings of
fundamental principles of the American regime and
illuminated obscure and neglected corners ofthe founders'
conceptual universe. Yet only when republican revisionists
and neo-liberal critics overcome their common liberal
presuppositions and move beyond the classically liberal
obsession with the character, rights, virtue,
public-spiritedness, and happiness of individuals will they
grasp the broader concerns of American Revolutionaries and
constitution-writers.9 The revolutionaries were not simply
founding new republics; they hoped to construct a new order
for the ages, a federal republican regime that would
preserve peace (in the world, among the states), sustain
republican government (in the states), and secure the
liberty and natural rights of individual citizens.
Thomas Jefferson's political thought offers a good point of
departure for a new history of Revolutionary federalism. It
is the premise of this brief essay that neither the
response to the Federalists in 1798 nor Jefferson's
supposed reservations about the new federal Constitution a
decade earlier constituted the crucial turn toward
federalism in his career. I will argue instead that a fresh
reading of the Declaration of Independence shows that
Jefferson was always a federalist, and that the federal
principle was always preeminent in his thought. The text of
the Declaration does not disclose a fully elaborated theory
of federalism, and certainly not an institutional framework
for a functioning federal system. But it does set forth,
both in its ringing phrases and in the silences around
them, what I call here the federal myth, the foundation
principles for a new world order.
JEFFERSON'S first sustained piece of political writing, "A
Summary View of the Rights of British America" (1774)
constituted a "plan for federal union" in a reformed
British empire. "We are willing on our part to sacrifice
every thing which reason can ask to the restoration of that
tranquility for which all must wish," wrote Jefferson. For
their part let the British "be ready to establish union on
a generous plan." Jefferson was one of several writers who,
as they denied Parliamentary sovereignty over the American
colonies, emphasized the king's role in sustaining imperial
ties. "This is the important post," Jefferson reminded
George III, "in which fortune has placed you, holding the
balance of a great, if a well poised empire." In effect,
Jefferson, John Adams, James Wilson, a nd other patriot
writers argued for a new imperial constitution or
treaty-the words were used interchangeably-that would
guarantee the autonomy and fundamental rights of the
empire's far-flung member states in return for a perpetual
alliance, Page 24 or union.10
It is easy to discount the federalism of the "Summary
View." The political situation in 1774 -- like that of 1798
-- put a premium on states' rights; Jefferson's opposition
to central government-imperial or federal-was presented as
a plan for constitutional union, with the threat of
revolution or "nullification" barely concealed. Clearly,
Jefferson was in both instances looking ahead, to one
"revolution "or other, and had no real interest in
sustaining the kind of "balance" he urged on George III.
The very suggestion that George "held the balance" was
tantamount to a declaration of independence, for it
presupposed the autonomy of the various political
communities to be balanced. After all, it had long been the
premise, or conceit, of British diplomacy that Britain
"held the balance" in the European system. It followed that
the free and independent American states, like the
sovereignties of Europe, would be linked to Britain through
the mechanisms of the balance of power.11 Jefferson thus
redefined the political and constitutional crisis that
threatened the very survival of the British Empire in
inter-national terms. As a result, he exaggerated the role
of royal prerogative (which included the conduct of foreign
policy) in sustaining Anglo-American union. But to inflate
George III's authority-and responsibility-was simply to
prepare the way for the radically deflationary rhetoric, in
Thomas Paine's Common Sense and in Jefferson's Declaration
of Independence, that would mark the final push toward
This reading of the "Summary View" seems plausible enough.
But the assumption that Jefferson and other patriot leaders
sought a complete break with Great Britain in 1774 -- that
when Jefferson called for "union" he really meant
"dis-union"-is unwarranted. Americans were by no means
eager to make war against the mother country, even after
they proclaimed their "separate and equal station" among
the powers of the earth and they had little choice in the
matter. When Americans sought to reform the imperial
constitution they were trying to construct an Anglo-
American "peace plan," a new and higher level of political
association that would eliminate sources of conflict and
banish the use of coercive force among member states.12
When American radicals were at last persuaded that British
corruption and obduracy precluded a constitutional
resolution of the imperial crisis, they turned to the
balance of power to secure their rights. The balance was a
progressive mechanism, they believed, capable of sustaining
an expanding regime of law and civility among independent
states. Influential Enlightenment theorists thought of the
balance-of- power system as a kind of "federal republic" or
"commonwealth,"an emergent political community constituted
by treaties. The impossibility of a true federal union
within the British Empire thus forced the Page 25 Americans
to seek "union" elsewhere, through alliances with other
Critics of the liberal, "individualist" reading of the
Declaration are right to emphasize the republican,
communitarian context for individual rights claims, but
they fail to take their insight to the limits of
Jefferson's thinking.14 Independence was a means toward
union, not an end in itself. Seen in this light, the
continuity between Jefferson's thinking in 1774 and 1776,
and beyond, becomes apparent. His commitment to
republicanism proceeded from, and always was predicated on,
his commitment to securing the corporate rights of Virginia
and the other American states. But this does not mean that
Jefferson was a "localist" rather than "cosmopolitan."
Jefferson's developing conception of federalism transcended
this polarity: in Jefferson's view, individual freedom
depended on republican self- government which in turn
depended on a "more perfect union" of free states in a
progressively more civilized and peaceful world system.
This is the underlying logic of the Declaration of
THE AFFECTIVE ties of allegiance that bound American
subjects to their British king constituted the biggest
obstacle to independence. Recasting those ties in
sentimental and familial terms, Jefferson's Declaration
emphasized George III's betrayal of his trust. Just as
James II had "abdicated" in the Glorious Revolution of
1689, now George un-kinged himself. American independence
was instigated by a usurping despot and a bad father. The
juxtaposition of seventeenth- century constitutionalism and
eighteenth-century sentimentalism proved to be a powerful,
revolutionary force.15
Commentators turn to the second paragraph for a positive
statement of the Revolutionaries' goals, epitomized by the
stirring invocation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness." But the immediate object of the Declaration,
"to dissolve the political bands which have connected . . .
one people . . . with another," is set forth in its opening
sentence. Jefferson is here referring to Americans
collectively, but subsequent references are to the separate
"colonies" or "states."16
A portion of Jefferson's draft, excised by Congress,
provides the historical narrative that justifies the focus
on states' rights. The respective colonies were founded "at
the expense of our own blood and treasure, unassisted by
the wealth or the strength of Great Britain; that in
constituting indeed our several forms of government, we had
adopted one common king, thereby laying a foundation for
perpetual league and amity with them: but that submission
to their parliament was no part of our constitution." The
idea that the colonists founded new Page 26 communities and
then "adopted one common king" was an American variation on
the equally implausible myth of Anglo-Saxon
constitutionalism, according to which the existence of the
English nation preceded the institution of monarchy and
therefore constituted a fundamental limit on monarchical
authority. The novelty of the Jeffersonian myth of
expatriation, more fully elaborated in the "Summary View,"
was that it gave a spatial dimension and contemporary
salience to a myth of origins: the "ancient constitution"
survived-but was now threatened-in Anglo-America.17
Jefferson's colleagues may have rejected this passage
because its historical claims were untenable, perhaps even
laughable. But they did not reject Jefferson's conception
of the empire as a federation of free states which they
now, reluctantly, were forced to abandon. Jefferson's
version of colonial history was a bold effort to identify
the embattled assemblies with the corporate integrity of
colony communities. The first six substantive charges
against the king in the adopted Declaration all refer
directly, and subsequent charges refer indirectly, to royal
interference in the legislative process. The imminent
threat is that the assemblies will cease to exercise any
effective legislative power, if they continue to meet at
all. In other words, the implicit claim that the
assemblies-or their ad hoc, revolutionary successors
"represent" the colonies, and that congress can in turn
speak for the colonies, is made in the face of the virtual
immobilization of representative government in
It is this identification of representatives with their
colony communities and of congress with the American
"people" that constitutes the most crucial rhetorical move
in the Declaration. With the expatriation argument
suppressed, the argument is made-probably more
effectively-by ellipsis and indirection. Jefferson assumes
that everyone will agree that the colonies are "states,"
that they possess inviolable corporate rights that the
"people" must vindicate. But, of course, this is precisely
what advocates of Parliamentary supremacy did not accept.
In other words, Jefferson silently stipulates that the
empire must be seen as a federal union, not a unitary
polity; the universalistic pretensions of king-in
parliament are thus fractured and subverted by the
particular claims of colony communities. Here was an
ironic, localistic counterpoint to the universalistic
claims, the "self evident" truths, of Jefferson's second
paragraph. For it was in response to the royal assaults on
their corporate rights and privileges catalogued in the
Declaration that the colonists invoked their"inalienable
rights" as free men and took up arms. The challenge was to
frame specific local grievances and customary claims in
all-embracing, universal terms. This was Jefferson's great
achievement in the Declaration, and it depended on his
assumption that colonies had constitutions, that they were
"states" that could claim rights.
Page 27 As "sovereignty" was transferred from king to
people, it travelled a circuitous route. Deposing the king
created a vacuum of legitimate authority that
representatives of the people quickly filled. The most
significant consequence of this upheaval, and the great
unrecognized achievement of the Declaration, was the
invention of the American idea of state sovereignty, the
conception of states as self-constituted, self- sufficient,
and autonomous political communities. In practical,
institutional terms, the invention of state sovereignty
marked the final stage in the rise of the assemblies.
Facing an increasingly uncertain future in the last years
of imperial rule, the representatives gained expansive new
powers under the first new state constitutions.19
But it would be a mistake to conclude that securing
assembly rights was Jefferson's sole, or even primary
concern in the Declaration. Justifying Congress's
assumption of the authority to declare independence
constituted his most formidable challenge. Anglo- Americans
always had had a well-developed sense of their rights as
individuals, and the corporate claims of the new states
grew out of their colonial experience. But the Continental
Congress had no such legitimating pedigree. Its pretensions
were most revolutionary, and therefore most in need of
Jefferson justified himself, and Congress, by demonstrating
that George III sought to establish "an absolute tyranny
over these states." This "long chain of abuses and
usurpations" was directed immediately at the colonial
assemblies, and ultimately at the "inalienable rights" of
the people themselves. According to Jefferson's version,
resistance moved in the opposite direction, beginning with
the people-whose "rights" were "self evident"-proceeding
through colonial governments whose "just powers" were based
on their "consent" and culminating with Congress itself. In
other words, Congress sought to take the king's place. But
this was pretension could not be openly asserted:
Congress's rule would be seen as legitimate only as long as
it made no claims on its own behalf.21
Jefferson pulled out all the rhetorical stops as he showed
George Ill u..kinging himself. In striking contrast, the
Declaration is totally silent about Congress's succession
to royal authority. Jefferson recognized that saying
anything would be saying too much. For Congress could only
assume the king's prerogatives-most notably and pressingly
over the conduct of war and diplomacy-if it was seen as
completely different from the George III depicted in the
Declaration. George, the bad father, was Congress's reverse
image: congressmen would never violate the trust of their
constituents by pursuing their own interests at the
people's expense. This identification between governors and
governed was, of course, the promise and design of
republican governments. But it also evoked-and, in the
Declaration, much more powerfully-the myth of the Page 28
"good" king, the true father to his people. Congress would
be so completely and transparently identified with "the
people" that they would dissolve into one another.
Significantly, this identification was not assured by the
elaborate constitutional mechanisms favored by radical
republicans: the government of the United States only
became"republican"after a protracted series of
constitutional crises and reforms. In 1776, the implicit
model for Congress was an idealized conception of kingship.
George III "has abdicated government here BY DECLARING US
must take his place.22
Congress could present itself as the legitimate successor
to the British monarchy as long as it was seen to be
faithfully representing the new state governments, and
through them the America n "people." This meant, as we have
seen, that the rights of the states, the predicate of
congressional legitimacy, had to be established first. This
is why the congressional resolution of May 10 and 15, 1776,
authorizing the rebellious colonies to institute new
governments was so crucial.23 Congressmen feigned surprise
that thirteen colonial clocks should strike as one when the
United States declared independence. But the clockwork had
long since been set in motion by the concerted efforts of
patriot leaders. It was important, however, that the
mechanism be concealed, and that the revolting colonists
believe-or, perhaps, in the case of Adams, Jefferson, and
other prime movers, convince themselves-that resistance was
the spontaneous and simultaneous expression of popular
grievances and popular will throughout the colonies.
This myth of spontaneous resistance was a crucial prop to
congressional legitimacy. Exploiting an early burst of
popular enthusiasm for the war effort, Congress quickly and
successfully assumed a quasi- monarchical authority.
Congress 's dilemma was that any effort to institutionalize
its authority inevitably jeopardized it. Set against the
legitimating myth of spontaneous resistance-"popular
sovereignty" in action-any formal assumption of authority
was bound to generate suspicion. This may help explain why
it proved to be so difficult to draft acceptable Articles
of Confederation, and why Congress's prestige plummeted
after 1781, when the Articles were finally ratified and
Congress finally became a "constitutional" government.
There are many plausible explanations for Congress's sorry
history. The recalcitrance of the states, intoxicated by
visions of their own sovereignty, is everybody's favorite.
But I would suggest that efforts to bolster congressional
authority so often proved counter- productive because
Congress was not an ordinary legislature, and the United
States was not an ordinary republic. The "monarchical"
authority of Congress depended on sustaining the myth of
its Page 29 faithful representation of the "people," and of
the people's commitment to the common cause. Any attempt to
fix the actual representation of different states, regions,
or interests gave the lie to the myth, unleashing a
competition for relative advantage-the factionalism that so
disturbed contemporary commentators-that was the antithesis
of a true and affectionate union. The template for that
union was offered in the Declaration of Independence. When,
according to Jefferson's formula, congressmen "pledge[d] to
each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,"
they were not negotiating a contract or drafting a
constitution. They were instead invoking sacred ties of
honor and friendship, the moral equivalent for
liberty-loving republicans of the allegiance owed to a good
father, or a good king. The pledge was all the more sacred
and compelling because it was entered into by equals, and
was not offered in weakness or fear to a superior power.24
Most commentators on the Declaration focus on the tension
between the claims of individual and society implicit in
the natural rights doctrine of the second paragraph. They
overlook Jefferson's conception of union, a fundamental
premise in his political and social theory that mediates
between these polarities. Union was grounded in man's
natural sociability, and was constructed and extended
through ties of friendship, the most durable and
efficacious "political bands." As a republicanized and
sentimentalized gloss on the monarchical principle of
allegiance, Jefferson's idea of union facilitated the
transfer of legitimate authority from king to Congress.
This was the Declaration's most revolutionary implication.
Jefferson linked the consent of individuals-the source of
legitimate authority-to the rights of the new states as
political communities and then to a yet higher level of
association, the federal union, embodied in Congress
itself. This is what I call the myth of federalism. The
Declaration's implicit scheme-citizens, states,
union-constituted the paradigm or framework for
elaborations of the federal idea in succeeding decades. The
highest level, the union of American republics, represented
the most radical departure from conventional theory and
practice. Real Whig republicanism offered little guidance
in constructing a federal regime. Jefferson turned instead
to an idealized version of monarchy and a sentimental
notion of revolutionary brotherhood for a new conception of
union, "political bands" among the states that would never
be "dissolved."
WE GENERALLY think of federalism in negative terms, as a
constitutional division of power and a strict
constructionist jurisprudence that enables entrenched Page
30 local interests to resist the encroachments of a
"despotic" central government on states' rights and
individual liberties. But there is another, more positive
and forward-looking face to Jeffersonian federalism as it
was first developed in the "Summary View" and Declaration
of Independence. The end of British tyranny would not
dissolve or destroy all social ties or "political bands,"
thus preparing the way for a possessive individualist
millennium. Instead, Jefferson believed, the corruption and
despotism of the imperial regime obstructed the natural and
consensual ties of affection, principle, and common
interest that were bound to draw Americans into ever closer
union. Jefferson's federalism proceeded from this
fundamental, hopeful premise.
It was-and is-easy enough for critics to mock Jefferson's
vaulting hopes for the American union, and to emphasize the
fearful and self-regarding libertarianism and localism that
were left in their wake.25 But when Jefferson said "we are
all federalists" in his first Inaugural, he did not mean to
sanction or foster this suspicious defensiveness, or to
obstruct the continuing progress of the American experiment
in self-government. To the contrary, the promise of 1776 --
including the promise of an ever more perfect federal
union-would be at last redeemed. Jefferson's project may
have been a great failure, based on an illusory premise; he
may have been betrayed in the end by his profound aversion
to politics and the exercise of power. But the vision of
natural society, of free states in affectionate union, and
of the nations of world working toward harmony and peace
continues to exercise a powerful appeal. If, as Joyce
Appleby argues, Jefferson was the apostle of hope for a
democratizing America, his conception of an expanding union
of free states was his most hopeful and visionary-and
This article is part of Essays in History, volume 35, 1993,
published by the Corcoran Department of History at the
University of Virginia. All material copyrighted by the
Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. 


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