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Collection Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

1790 to 1799

The Early Republic, 1790-1799

  1. 1790

    February 23. Jefferson's daughter Martha (Patsy) marries her second cousin Thomas Mann Randolph at Monticello. They live at Edgehill, an estate two miles from Monticello.

  2. March 21, 1790

    Jefferson assumes the duties of secretary of state in New York City, where the federal government is located. At first he works cordially with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, helping to reduce Southern opposition to Hamilton's plan for federal assumption of state debts in return for the selection of a site on the Potomac River for the proposed capital city.

    Detail of Alexander Hamilton. created/published c[between 1900 and 1912]. Photograph of painting by John Trumbull at Yale School of Fine Arts.
  3. July 4, 1790

    Jefferson submits to Congress his Report on the Subject of Measures, Weights, and Coins, an effort to establish uniform standards for coinage and weight measures. Jefferson is particularly excited by the discovery that the established weight for the American version of the Spanish dollar equals an ounce. He develops an ideal system of equivalencies between money and weight standards, but it is at odds with that of Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton, whose proposal is based on current business practices.

  4. February 15, 1791

    Jefferson sends President George Washington, his Opinion of the Constitutionality of the Bill for Establishing a National Bank. Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton argues that the Constitution provides implied powers to establish a Bank. Jefferson disagrees, and he sees Hamilton's plans for a national bank, the development of manufactures, and other related financial policies as creating conditions for the accumulation of the kind of power and corruption identified with the courts and monarchies of Europe.

  5. May 8, 1791

    Jefferson explains to President Washington his involvement in the publication of Thomas Paine's new book The Rights of Man. Jefferson had written an endorsement published in the preface, describing current "heresies" against true republicanism, and readers correctly assume that the remarks are aimed at John Adams. In the fall, newspaper wars ensue from the incident.

  6. May-June 1791

    Jefferson and James Madison embark from New York on a botanical tour of the northern states. Hamilton and his allies interpret the trip as a politically motivated journey for sounding out and recruiting potential allies in the growing conflict between Republicans and Federalists.

  7. October 31, 1791

    Philip Freneau publishes the first issue of the National Gazette in the current capital city, Philadelphia. He has established the newspaper at the urging of Jefferson, who also gives him a clerkship in the State Department. The newspaper will represent the views of Jefferson and his supporters, who oppose the Federalist policies of a national bank, an alliance with Great Britain, and the encouragement of manufactures. Hamilton and his supporters write for the pro-Federalist Gazette of the United States.

  8. May 23, 1792

    Jefferson sends President Washington a lengthy letter detailing his objections to Treasury Secretary Hamilton's programs. Washington recopies the letter himself and sends it to Hamilton for his response without disclosing its author. Dismayed at the political factions organizing around Jefferson and Hamilton, Washington writes each a letter urging cooperation and reconciliation. To Jefferson, Washington writes, "How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted then, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals." He writes similarly to Hamilton. George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, August 23, 1792 | George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, August 26, 1792

  9. Fall 1792

    In one of the first openly partisan electoral contests, George Clinton is supported by Jefferson's allies for the office of governor of New York, while Hamiltonians support John Jay. Clinton wins. Officials canvassing votes void some of those for Jay.

  10. January 3, 1793

    Jefferson writes to William Short, who is now United States chargé d'affaires in Paris, reproving him for expressing dismay at the increasing violence of the French Revolution. Lafayette has been arrested for treason and will spend five years in jail, and others of Jefferson's Paris acquaintance have been beheaded. While expressing sorrow at the losses, Jefferson argues that such sacrifices of "innocent blood" are a small price to pay for the liberty he believes will follow the excesses of the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson to William Short, January 3, 1793.

  11. April 28, 1793

    As Secretary of State, Jefferson writes an opinion for President Washington arguing that acceptance of the new French minister to the United States, Edmond Genet, is an acceptance of the new revolutionary government in Paris, led by the Girondins. Jefferson argues that the current French government is continuous with that of Louis XVI, with which the United States made a formal treaty of alliance in 1778 during the American Revolution. Hamilton argues that the treaty and diplomatic relationship were with the monarchy of Louis XVI and ended when Louis was dethroned, imprisoned, and executed on January 21, 1793, and that the relationship must be renegotiated.

  12. Mid-August 1793

    Jefferson becomes disillusioned with Genet. As Secretary of State, he writes a justification for the U. S. government to request his recall as minister from France. Since his arrival in Philadelphia on May 16, Genet has compromised U. S. neutrality in the conflict between France and Great Britain. He has recruited American seamen and ships in privateering ventures and has attempted to organize a land expedition against Spanish-held territories in the Southwest. Washington strongly opposes any involvement in the European conflict and criticizes private political societies, the Democratic-Republican clubs, that have sprung up in the United States in support of France. Genet plans to appeal to Americans over the head of President Washington. Jefferson concludes that he has gone too far. In mid-August, the Jacobins gain control of the French government and many Girondists are imprisoned. Although recalled, Genet, a Girondin, dares not return to France, and he eventually receives asylum in the United States, settles on a farm in upstate New York, and marries Cornelia Clinton, the daughter of Governor George Clinton.

  13. November 16, 1793

    Jefferson writes to Eli Whitney, telling him that he approves of his efforts to win a patent for his cotton gin. Jefferson to Eli Whitney, November 16, 1793.

  14. December 1793

    After a visit home to Monticello, Jefferson returns to Philadelphia, where one of the worst yellow fever epidemics of the century is raging. Jefferson resigns his position as secretary of state, effective December 31.

  15. Winter-Summer 1794

    Jefferson returns to Monticello and introduces a seven-step crop rotation plan to restore the soil, long depleted by tobacco, on his lands in Albemarle and Bedford Counties, Virginia. He begins borrowing money from William Short to maintain a nailery on Mulberry Row at Monticello. There he supervises the manufacture of nails by his teenage slaves, among whom are Wormley Hughes, Burwell Colbert, and Joe Fossett. He establishes a sawmill and devotes himself to the renovation of Monticello. In 1799, Jefferson will return to the cultivation of the cash crop, tobacco, because of his mounting debts. Thomas Jefferson's design for a plow, ca. 1794.

  16. July 1794

    Jefferson learns of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania against the excise tax on whiskey, the area's main form of grain export. The excise tax is part of Treasury Secretary Hamilton's plans for funding the federal assumption of state debts from the American Revolution. George Washington and Hamilton march with the federal and militia armies against the rebellion, which soon dissolves.

  17. October 1795

    James Madison visits Monticello to discuss the Jay Treaty with Jefferson. They are both opposed to its ratification. The treaty, negotiated with Great Britain by John Jay, addresses issues left unresolved since the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution. The Jay Treaty provides for compensation to British creditors from American debtors, many of whom are Virginians, and it arranges for the evacuation of British troops still occupying northwestern posts in the United States. However, it fails to address the all-important issue of American trading rights, especially in the British West Indies, and leaves the problem of the impressment of American seamen by the British navy unresolved. The treaty is immensely unpopular and furthers the development of party politics. The Senate narrowly ratifies it in April 1796.

  18. February 5, 1796

    Jefferson frees James Hemings, as promised in a written agreement made September 15, 1793. The agreement promised Hemings his freedom if he trained a replacement in the art of French cooking. Having gained his freedom, Hemings moves to Philadelphia, but returns to Monticello in 1801 to work for wages as Jefferson's chef. He stays only briefly, however, and several months later apparently commits suicide at the age of thirty-six. The September 15, 1793, agreement can be found in Jefferson's papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

  19. April 24, 1796

    Jefferson writes to Philip Mazzei in Tuscany. Mazzei is an Italian merchant, physician, and writer, and a former neighbor in Virginia, who had advised him on how to grow grapes and olives on his land in Virginia. In this letter Jefferson writes that an "Anglican monarchical & aristocratical party has sprung up" in the United States whose aim is to return the country to "forms" of British government. He refers to great heroes of the Revolution, "Samsons in the field & Solomons in the council," who have "gone over to these heresies." A newspaper in Florence obtains a transcription of the letter, which is translated back into English and published in the United States on May 2, 1797 in Noah Webster's Federalist newspaper Minerva. George Washington assumes that Jefferson includes him among the "Samsons" and ends all correspondence with him.

  20. December 7, 1796

    Jefferson is elected vice president, having received the second largest number of electoral votes. John Adams is elected president.

  21. March 4, 1797

    Jefferson is inaugurated as vice president of the United States and begins gathering information on rules of parliamentary practice. As vice president, Jefferson presides over the Senate.

  22. October 13, 1797

    Jefferson's daughter Mary (Polly) marries her cousin John Wayles Eppes.

    [John Wayles Eppes, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left] Engraving created/published [1805]. Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Mémin, artist.
  23. June-July 1798

    Congress passes what are collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts, the Naturalization Act, the Alien Act, the Sedition Act, and the Alien Enemies Act, are passed in the midst of a quasi-war with France and heightened public criticism of foreign policy. Americans learn of the "XYZ Affair," in which the French foreign minister Talleyrand attempts to extort money from American envoys sent to negotiate a reduction in hostilities between the United States and the French government under Napoleon Bonaparte. Popular outcry focuses on inaction by the Adams administration, which is striving to avoid a costly war. The Sedition Act, making it illegal to criticize the government or its officials publicly, is the most controversial of the Acts.

  24. September-
    October 1798

    Jefferson and James Madison consult on how to block the Alien and Sedition Acts at the state level. Jefferson, who is still vice president, privately drafts resolutions against the Acts and has them introduced into the Kentucky legislature. Madison drafts similar resolutions for the Virginia legislature. In November the Kentucky legislature passes Jefferson's resolutions declaring the Acts void, and in December the Virginia legislature passes Madison's, declaring the Acts unconstitutional.

  25. March 1, 1799

    Jefferson leaves Philadelphia for Monticello, arriving there on the 8th. Throughout the coming year he devotes himself to Monticello's development. On his way to Philadelphia in November, he visits the new federal city, Washington, D.C., which he plays a key role in designing. (Temple of Liberty: Building the Capitol for a New Nation, Library of Congress Exhibitions)