Thomas Jefferson: First Inaugural Address

(1801)

Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, given on March 4, 1801, is one of the great documents of democratic government and oratorical rhetoric. After the bitter election campaign of 1800, Vice President Jefferson defeated the Federalist incumbent, President John Adams. Adams peacefully surrendered his authority to his opponent, and Jefferson assumed power pledging there would be no retaliation against his opponents, whether they held political office or not. “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,” Jefferson asserted in his inaugural address. The new administration, unlike the old, would allow dissent. The Sedition Act of 1798, which elevated criticism of the government to a high crime and targeted Jeffersonian Republicans, would be allowed to die, and those still imprisoned under it were released. Those who now opposed the government would be left “undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to...

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Thomas Jefferson's draft of his first inaugural address (Library of Congress)

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