How did Thomas Jefferson describe the role of the federal government in his "First Inaugural Speech?"

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson lays out a role for the federal government that is very similar to the role that he put forth in the Declaration of Independence.   He argues that the main purpose of the government is to protect the rights of the people.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson said that the whole purpose of government was to secure for the people their “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”  Beyond that, the government had no real role.  This was a very limited vision of what government should do in that it held that government should protect people’s most important rights and then get out of their way.  In his inaugural, Jefferson says much the same thing.  He argues that a good  government

…shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. 

Thus, Jefferson is laying out a very limited role for the federal government.

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