The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation

The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation

Language: English

Pages: 440

ISBN: 0306821273

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the months after her husband's death, Martha Washington told several friends that the two worst days of her life were the day George died—and the day Thomas Jefferson came to Mount Vernon to offer his condolences.

What could elicit such a strong reaction from the nation's original first lady? Though history tends to cast the early years of America in a glow of camaraderie, there were, in fact, many conflicts among the Founding Fathers—none more important than the one between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The chief disagreement between these former friends centered on the highest, most original public office created by the Constitutional Convention—the presidency. They also argued violently about the nation's foreign policy, the role of merchants and farmers in a republic, and the durability of the union itself. At the root of all these disagreements were two sharply different visions for the nation's future.

Acclaimed historian Thomas Fleming examines how the differing temperaments and leadership styles of Washington and Jefferson shaped two opposing views of the presidency—and the nation. The clash between these two gifted men, both of whom cared deeply about the United States of America, profoundly influenced the next two centuries of America's history and resonates in the present day.

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theorists” like the President, and “absolute terrorists” like Robespierre. If Jefferson did not side with the latter group, Marshall predicted these revenge seekers would “soon become his enemies and calumniators.”3 In pursuit of his proclaimed goal of Republican simplicity, the new president abandoned the levees and receptions of George Washington’s presidency. He also declared an end to presidential proclamations. These “monarchical” customs had to be expunged from the presidency to make it

there was a tacit agreement with New England’s Federalists that if Burr won, he would take the Empire State into their secessionist conspiracy, which was growing more and more formidable. Ex=Secretary of State Timothy Pickering was telling dozens of people that he planned to form an alliance with Great Britain, if they agreed to add Canada to the new nation. Against this background, Hamilton’s antipathy for Burr prompted him to make a speech in Albany, condemning Burr’s candidacy. It was

stake. A few days later, Jefferson was reading Gouverneur Morris’s report on September’s tidal wave of blood. The Jacobins and their supporters murdered well over a thousand priests, royalists, judges, editors—anyone decreed an enemy of the state. Morris described the death of the Princess de Lamballe, a member of the Queen’s household, in graphic detail. “She was beheaded and disemboweled, the head and entrails paraded on pikes and the body dragged after them through the streets.” At the

for huge shipments of gunpowder and weapons. Genet also noted that America was bordered by Louisiana, Florida, and Canada, colonies controlled by France’s enemies, Spain and England. He was eager to hire secret agents to promote revolutionary activities within these territories. He also had in his luggage dozens of “letters of marque”—certificates that would entitle the holders to launch privateers and attack British and Spanish ships on the ocean. Gouverneur Morris had written to the

did President Washington summon the cabinet to meet with him in Germantown—eight miles outside Philadelphia. Washington rented a mansion owned by Colonel David Franks, former aide to Major General Benedict Arnold. Jefferson spent a very unpleasant first night on a bed in the corner of the public room of a tavern, before obtaining decent quarters. This inconvenience did nothing to improve his mood. After almost two months at Monticello, he had no appetite for more political combat. At the head of

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