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What specific issues contributed to the rift between Jefferson and Washington described...

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gabe66 | Student, Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted July 22, 2012 at 10:34 PM via web

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What specific issues contributed to the rift between Jefferson and Washington described by Ellis in chapter 4 of Founding Brothers?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 23, 2012 at 1:18 AM (Answer #1)

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Chapter Four of Founding Brothers focuses on George Washington's foreign policy decisions with respect to the war between Britain and France. Jefferson and the Republicans, which had begun to coalesce in opposition to the policies of Alexander Hamlton (a supporter of Britain) began to criticize Washington's refusal to support the French. Criticisms of Washington and his policies had gradually begun to appear in newspapers during his presidency, with Thomas Paine, writing in Benjamin Franklin Bache's newspaper the Aurora, actually praying for Washington's death. Ellis quotes Paine:

...the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an imposter, whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.

According to Ellis, these attacks wounded Washington, who he characterizes as, contrary to his public image, "an obsessive reader of newspapers." Further, by the end of his presidency, Ellis argues that he was a victim of his own competence, as he had undertaken measures essential to the survival of the new government that were contrary to the spirit of the revolution he helped lead:

He was living the paradox of the early American republic: What was politically essential for the survival of the infant nation was ideologically at odds with what it claimed to stand for. He fulfilled his obligations as a "singular character" so capably that he seemed to defy the republican tradition itself. 

Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality, as well as the very unpopular Jay's Treaty, was interpreted by many, including Jefferson, as contrary to the principles of the Revolution. Already angry about the response to the Whiskey Rebellion, Jefferson expressed increasing exasperation with Washington's foreign policy, orchestrating attacks through various newspapers even as he denied to Washington that he was responsible for them. But he was unable to deny one letter to a friend that appeared in a Federalist newspaperwhich contained a  passage that apparently deeply wounded Washington. Complaining about the passage of Jay's Treaty, Jefferson wrote,

It would give you a fever were I to name to you the apostates who have gone over to these heresies, men who were Samsons in the field and Solomons in the council, but who have had their heads shorn by the harlot of England. 

Washington and Jefferson never wrote to each other again after this letter. Ellis characterizes their split as more than personal, indeed as reflective of a "fundamental division within the revolutionary over the meaning of the Revolution and the different versions of America's abiding national interest." 

Source: Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Vintage Books, 2000) 120-161.

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