Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Thomas Jefferson’s election to the office of presidency changed much about the American world. Through George Washington and John Adams, the presidency maintained a more regal look and tried to imitate the European courts. Jefferson wanted to separate the new country from that of the old in all ways. He looked to create a revolutionary new world that could stand on its own and be more like the people that made up the majority instead of the few elite.
Jefferson’s impact on American and its reach into the world beyond extended from wide sweeping decisions all the way down to every day interactions among the people. In fact, he was the one to bring about handshaking to the official functions. Before he was president, each person bowed to the other as the stiff royalty did in Europe. He saw too much pomp and pageantry from the office of president and refused to do more than one of the State of the Union addresses in person. He preferred to keep a low profile to lead the country. From there, his impact on the American government and the foreign relations the country had changed drastically.
He saw the American government as something with less control compared to the men who had resided in the office before him. Jefferson drastically cut the budget of the Army and the Navy as well as the overall budget of the government. In the process, he reduced the national debt by about thirty percent. One of the deepest impacts he had on the American government was nothing done directly by him. It was actually his election to his first term of office that made the government realize there was a flaw in the election process laid out in the United States Constitution.
The election of 1800 ended up in the Senate. The process of electing a vice president was messy and too often had rivals trying to work together. It was after the 1800 election that the 12th amendment was added to the Constitution in an effort to make the election process for president and vice president smoother and with parties that could work well together. His impact is felt every four years when America turns to elect a new president.
Jefferson stepped out onto the world stage when he saw the chance to double the size of the new country. In an unprecedented and controversial move, he purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon Bonaparte after the Frenchman acquired it secretly from Spain. In doing so, he established the historically debated theory of manifest destiny. This expansion of American territory was designed to help settlers and farmers of the Ohio River Valley to have access to the Gulf of Mexico and help the struggling economy. It did so much more than that. The extra land, opened up new frontiers which in turn enticed many families from the east coast to the wilderness beyond. The number of settlers that crossed the Mississippi quickly grew and pushed the growth of the new land even further.
Before purchasing the Louisiana territory, Jefferson took a stand against bribery. He refused to pay the customary tribute the Barbary pirates demanded to prevent the capture of their ships. Instead of money, he sent warships and tried to create a political revolution in Tripoli. The end result was not good for the American government. Jefferson realized that the need for a stronger military was there.
As the war between France and Britain grew, America benefited from it with an increase in exports from $66.5 million to $102.2 million in just four short years. This tide changed as France banned America selling to Britain and Britain banned American sales to France. Jefferson attempted to show the strength of America by imposing an Embargo Act that would stop all American items being exported. This backfired as the American economy plummeted and forced the government to compromise and only deny sales to France and Britain. The groundwork had been laid for the problems in the next administration.
Jefferson was a man who changed America domestically and on the foreign stage. He brought the new government to a more down to earth level while helping it find flaws in the young constitution and fixing them. He ventured into foreign relations and found that it was not as easy as he had imagined it to be.
“American President: A Reference Resource.” Miller Center University of Virginia. Accessed February 22, 2012. http://millercenter.org/president/jefferson/essays/biography/5.
Appleby, Joyce. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Kane, Joseph Nathan, Steven Anzovin, and Janet Podell. 2001. Facts About the Presidents : A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information. H.W. Wilson Company, 2001. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 22, 2012).
“Thomas Jefferson.” Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Accessed February 24, 2012. http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/jefferson.htm.
“Thomas Jefferson.” The White House. Accessed February 23, 2012. http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/thomasjefferson.