What ideas for government did Thomas Jefferson stress in his inaugural address?

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thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Jefferson served as the nation’s second Vice President, serving under President John Adams. In the fourth presidential election held in 1800, Thomas Jefferson achieved victory over John Adams in one of the most contested presidential elections ever.

In his inaugural speech, President Thomas Jefferson recognized the highly partisan mood and focused his speech on reconciliation. He urged the leaders from the different groups to support his administration because they shared the same vision for the country despite their differences of opinion.

With regard to the government, Thomas Jefferson recognized the institutions enshrined in the Constitution and the importance of their role in advancing the nation’s vision. He required the support of the governmental institutions in guiding him in his role as the president.

To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.

The inaugural speech recognized the will of the majority but also cautioned against undermining the rights of the minority. Thus, the speech focused on bringing the people together—despite their differences—to forge a common front for nation building.

The inaugural speech also touched on the need of the government to be frugal and mindful of its citizens. Citizens needed to be allowed an opportunity to participate in industry and development.

Jefferson took the opportunity to affirm his dedication to justice for all men, diplomacy with all countries, support for State governments, the right of elections, civil authority, freedom of religion, the press, and those under the protection of habeas corpus.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jefferson's First Inaugural is usually noted for its appeal for reconciliation between political factions. Mindful of the bitter partisan struggles of the late 1790s that played out in the election of 1800 itself, he urged his countrymen to unite around common beliefs, saying "we are all republicans, we are all federalists." Yet Jefferson also articulated much of his political vision in his speech, emphasizing that the "sum of good government" was to "restrain men from injuring one another" while leaving them "otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits." Jefferson also stressed frugality in government, protecting states rights, avoiding "entangling alliances," maintaining a militia (rather than a standing army), and protecting civil liberties. Many of these statements sound like platitudes, and they were, but they also were politically charged. Jefferson's critique of the federal government under Federalist control was that it had repeatedly overstepped its bounds by claiming powers not delegated to it in the Constitution. Those who read the address would have recognized this, and understood that he was describing his vision for what the federal government would look like under Republican administration. So Jefferson's speech was full of rhetorical flourishes and the appeals for unity that are always found in inaugural addresses, but it also included an extended statement of his beliefs. Limited government, civil liberties, and civic virtue were cornerstones of his thinking, and his speech is an appeal for these ideas.