Public Versus Private- Guest Column by T. Jefferson

I returned from my mission to France in the first year of the new government, having landed in Virginia in December 1789, and proceeded to New York in March 1790 to enter on the office of secretary of state. Here, certainly, I found a state of things which, of all I had ever contemplated, I the least expected. I had left France in the first year of her revolution, in the fervor of natural rights, and zeal for reformation.

My conscientious devotion to these rights could not be heightened, but it had been aroused and excited by daily exercise. The president received me cordially, and my colleagues and the circle of principal citizens apparently with welcome. The courtesies of dinner parties given me, as a stranger newly arrived among them, placed me at once in their familiar society. But I cannot describe the wonder and mortification with which the table conversations filled me. Politics were the chief topic, and a preference of kingly over republican government was evidently the favorite sentiment. An apostate I could not be, nor yet a hypocrite; and I found myself, for the most part, the only advocate on the republican side of the question, unless among the guests there chanced to be some member of that party from the legislative houses. Hamilton’s financial system had then passed. It had two objects: first, as a puzzle, to exclude popular understanding and inquiry; second, as a machine for the corruption of the legislature; for he avowed the opinion that man could be governed by one of two motives only, force or interest; force he observed, in this country was out of the question, and the interests, therefore, of the members must be laid hold of, to keep the legislative in unison with the executive. And with grief and shame it must be acknowledged that his machine was not without effect; that even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests, and to look after personal rather than public good.

Read more at Lapham’s Quarterly.