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Henceforth, a new name and a new nation are in the world. The declaration was the turning point in the great struggle. The advanced patriots were stirred to greater confidence; the moderate men were advanced to patriots; the cool were warmed; the tories were marked and silenced; the people at large were kindled to enthusiasm; foreign nations were made friendly, and France a genuine friend. It set before the armies and the people a definite object. It began the apprenticeship of a people in nation-making and defending.
Now began everywhere the great work of nation-building. In every state there were to be constructed state, county, town and city governments, according with the great principles of the declaration. It was an era of education in this work. The people were obliged to study the new work of governmentmaking. It was practical study. There were no models for the government they had to make. They had started a nation on a new plan; and they were to build it by the principles of righteousness and common sense, recognizing every man's place and right in the new structure.
Mr. Jefferson went home to Virginia to engage at once, and with all his might, in the reconstruction of Virginia. In no state was the work more radical. Virginia was thoroughly English. Its land, for the most part, was divided into large estates, which were entailed and descended to the oldest son. All the laws and usages conformed thereto.
The Church of England was the same "establishment" in Virginia as in the British isle. To reconstruct such a state on republican principles required a re-making of all the laws and all the usages of society. To such a work there was great opposition. The old property-owners, the oldest sons, the old lawyers, the conservative people generally, were against such a reconstruction as the principles of the declaration required. To carry all the people peacefully forward into the new order of things was an almost infinite task. To conquer a peace with
England was the smallest part of the work of our revolutionary fathers. From end to end of the new nation had to begin this process of reconstruction; and this while the war was going on, and the business and the growth of the country were almost stopped. It makes one almost dizzy just to read the titles of the bills which Jefferson introduced into the House of Burgesses at the session after the declaration of independence. But he had such suavity and good will, and such strong following among the younger members, that the state at once took its place by the side of Massachusetts, and held it till the nation was organized and on its feet among the great nations of the earth. Massachussetts in the north and Virginia in the south were the two arms of the new nation, and they worked together and with equal efficiency.
In 1776, Mr. Jefferson gave as one reason for declining the French mission, that he saw "that the laboring oar was really at home."
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In 1777 he wrote to Dr. Franklin: "With respect to Virginia. The people seemed to have laid aside the monarchical and taken up the republican government, with as much ease as would have attended their throwing off an old and putting on a new garment. Not a single throe has attended this important transformation. A half dozen aristocratic gentlemen, agonizing under the loss of pre-eminence, have sometimes ventured their sarcasm on our political metamorphosis. They have been fitter objects of pity than of punishment.”
He took a roseate view of the difficulties he had met, because he had been successful.
Before his state was reconstructed the tide of war had swept that way. Massachusetts was first attacked, but with such ill success that it was soon determined to attack New York, and with a foothold there, break New England from the southern colonies by a blow from the north through Lake Champlain. Burgoyne's defeat frustrated that plan. Then the destruction of the south became the British object, and the armies by sea and land were pushed that way.
MR. JEFFERSON MADE GOVERNOR.
On the first day of June, 1779, Mr. Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia. Patrick Henry was governor before him. These two men, who had been most active in the cause of republican government in Virginia, were the first and second to occupy the chair of state under the new form.
This was the gloomiest time of the war. France had declared for America and promised help. The alliance gave the Americans a fatal sense of security. The army was decreasing and it was difficult to renew. The whole tide of war was setting southward, and Virginia was selected for the severest punishment. Georgia had been, for the most part, subjugated. The Carolinas were crippled, and armies moving upon Virginia. The most of her regular soldiers were in defeated divisions of the general army. There was no outlook for Virginia but that she must fight. Henry's words, "We must fight," had come true. The people must fight. The British were at their doors and coming with fire, and rapine and ruin, as well as with sword. They were vieing with the red savages of the forest in their cruelty. The word went out among the people of the Old Dominion, and they came from their homes to meet the coming foe. Washington hastened home with his northern army; the French came with their ships, and help from all around, and Cornwallis was cooped in Yorktown, so it turned out that the war which began in Massachusetts, with Virginia's sympathy. ended on Virginia's soil. Governor Jefferson did everything in his power for the defense of his state and conquering a peace for the nation. Governor Jefferson's home was a mark for the enemy. His stock, slaves, crops and lands were wasted; yet he pushed on the war by every force he could raise in his state.
Brief must be the reference to the important events of these great times.
MRS. JEFFERSON'S DEATH.
On the fifteenth of June, 1781, Congress associated Mr. Jefferson with Adams, Franklin, Jay and Lawrens, to settle the
terms of peace with Great Britain, at Paris. But the sickness of his wife prevented him from going. Her health had declined through several years. He had several times returned from the legislature and from congress on account of her failing health. On a number of occasions he had refused to accept important public trusts, because he could not force himself from her in her feebleness. Their union was one of mutual affection and honor. They had a pride as well as a pleasure in each other. Their home had become a center of the great and good of Virginia. They had six children born to them, and the children of his widowed sister, Mrs. Carr, lived with them almost as though their own. Mrs. Jefferson grew feebler through some years. Her constitution seemed slowly to give way. When she came to require constant care, her husband spent his entire time with her. For weeks he sat by her bed, administered to her her medicine, and every care. She died September 6, 1782, in the thirty-fifth year of her age.
Mrs Randolph, his eldest daughter, many years after wrote of her mother's sickness and death, and her father's care and sorrow, as follows: "For four months that she lingered, he was never out of calling; when not at her bedside, he was writing in a small room which opened immediately at the head of her bed. A moment before the closing scene, he was led from the room almost in a state of insensibility, by his sister, Mrs. Carr, who, with great difficulty, got him into his library, where he fainted, and remained so long insensible that they feared he would never revive. The scene that followed I did not witness; but the violence of his emotion- when almost by stealth I entered his room at night-to this day I dare not trust myself to describe. He kept his room three weeks, and I was never a moment from his side. He walked almost incessantly night and day, only lying down occasionally when nature was completely exhausted, on a pallet that had been brought in during his long fainting fit. When at last he left his room, he rode out, and from that time he was almost incessantly on horse-back, rambling about the mountain in the least frequented roads, and just as often through the woods."
After Mr. Jefferson's death, forty-four years later, were found in one of his private drawers, locks of hair, and other little souvenirs of his wife and each of his children. They were done up in separate envelopes, "with words of fond endearment written on the mementos."
Very tender was the heart of this great man.
APPOINTED TO NEGOTIATE PEACE AT PARIS.
After the death of his wife Mr. Jefferson was again appointed by Congress minister plenipotentiary to negotiate peace with Great Britain. He proceeded to Philadelphia and then to Baltimore; but the dangers of capture were so great that it was not thought best for him to sail till news of a provisional treaty came, and so he did not go, but returned to Monticello. After the war of the revolution there was a call for the best talent of every colony for the state and national legislatures. Mr. Jefferson labored industriously in both. He was kept a member of Congress and did excellent service in it till he was again appointed to a foreign mission.
COMMISSIONER OF TREATIES OF COMMERCE.
May 7, 1784, Mr. Jefferson was appointed minister plenipotentiary with Mr. Adams and Doctor Franklin, to negotiate treaties of commerce with the nations of Europe. Taking his oldest daughter with him, he proceeded to Boston, through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and also visited New Hampshire and Vermont, to learn as well as he could the commercial condition of the country. On the fifth of July he sailed from Boston, and reached Paris the sixth of August, having stopped a few days in England.
He immediately joined the other ministers; and they prepared their plan for treaties. Frederick of Prussia, through his ambassador, was quick to enter into a treaty. Denmark and Tuscany also came forward and made treaties; but the other nations of Europe knew but little of America, and cared less.