Monday, March 01, 2010

Jefferson's War Record

This is an interesting article from HNN that talks about Thomas Jefferson's war record. Jefferson, during the Revolution abandoned the governorship of Virginia:
On June 4, 1781, nearly five years after authoring the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson fled Monticello just minutes before the arrival of British troops. His term as governor of Virginia had just expired, and Jefferson declined to continue his service, leaving the state without leadership during some of its darkest days.

In his defense, Jefferson made a blunt admission. With Virginia under invasion by a "powerful army," Jefferson felt he was unprepared by his "life and education for the command of armies." As a result, Jefferson wrote that he "believed it right not to stand in the way of talents better fitted than his own to the circumstances under which the country was placed.”

The article then looks at what the author sees as the lessons that Jefferson took with him from this period. Jefferson wanted a weak executive and tried to avoid using militia at all costs:
Jefferson, of course, wanted a weak executive as governor of Virginia because of his concerns about putting too much power in the hands of a man who might then become a new tyrant. He also had concerns about the power of a standing army. In the early weeks of the invasion, he was reluctant to go too far in calling out militia, which had been subject to false alarms. Some militia men were also concerned about leaving their families and farm undefended, and did not have the proper clothing or arms.

Indeed, when the Continental Army officer Baron von Steuben repeatedly complained about Jefferson's inability to turn out militia and supplies, Jefferson responded weakly: “We can only be answerable for the orders we give and not for their execution. If they are disobeyed from obstinacy of spirit or coercion in the laws, it is not our fault.”

The article then goes on other actions by Jefferson, later as President, that seem to have root in this period as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a little-known period in Jefferson's life and it's great to read about it. I guess Jefferson's abandonment of Richmond during the War was controversial for the rest of his life.

I gather that Jefferson's purging of the Army during his presidency left us woefully unprepared for the War of 1812 as well. Interestingly enough, Jefferson had his private secretary -- Captain Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark fame -- prepare a list for him of officers and their political leanings, so he could get rid of Federalist officers.