Bottom Line Up Front(BLUF)
George Washington died December 14th, 1799. My question is what are some examples that demonstrate this period when these two preeminent founding fathers were bitter enemies. Either examples which account for it, or which demonstrate it. or even refute it ( my research is given below ).
Much has been written over the discordant vision for the United States and personal animosity between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Much less has been written about the similar relationship between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. George Washington the father of the country with his pragmatic military and political leadership; and Thomas Jefferson the idealistic visionary, primary author of the Declaration of Independence in his early 30's, who would ultimately come to oppose Washington.
It’s difficult to say today which was the most influential. The country owed it’s early existence to Washington and not just because of his military achievements. Washington who’s resignation as commander of the armies stunned aristocratic Europe and may have been his greatest act. Washington’s who’s doctrine on foreign policy (Isolationism) as outlined in his farewell address was still in practical application 140 years after his death[*4]. The kind of country we are can be directly traced back to decisions made during his administration on trade, banking, taxation, peaceful transition of power, and tariffs. More than any other man he’s arguable responsible for the US Constitution and the the office of the Presidency we know today.
Thomas Jefferson’s influence was also profound. His distrust of government encoded into law as checks and balances, explains our government structure, different terms for different offices, strong legislature, Bill of Rights, especially religious and press freedoms, all came from Jefferson. If not directly then his influence on men who were his political protégée’s. Mason, Madison, and Monroe. Thomas Jefferson more than any other founding father had a vision for the United States which would make it new and unique in history. After Jefferson’s eight years in office, his protégée’s (Madison, and Monroe) would control the Presidency for the next 16 years. What the United States became is an emulsion of Washington and Jefferson’s visions. These two men of diverse backgrounds and temperament, who’s relationship traversed friendship, distant collaborators, and political enemies. In that order.
Their backgrounds were diverse.
Both were tall, slave holding owners of great plantations. Both were drawn to politics, and both were from Virginia. However both would come to there successes through different routes.
Washington would lose his father at the age of 11. Being the third son, (first son of his father’s second wife), George did not inherit a significant income or lands from his father, they went to his older Brother. Washington was the least educated Founding father who was often scorned for his lack of education. Washington’s formal education ended in the fourth grade (age 11). After that he was largely self taught. Washington spoke no foreign languages, and only traveled outside of the continental United States once (Caribbean). Washington was employed as a surveyors assistant at the age of 15. He would be appointed the county surveyor of the frontier Virginia Culpepper County at age 16. He would pursue more than 150 professional engagements surveying boundaries by the age of 21, in the vast Virginia, and Ohio territories (Kentucky was still part of Virginia when Washington was a surveyor). Washington received a military commission at the age of 21 in the British Army (full time Virginia Militia, not to be confused with the Regulars or part time militias)… achieving the rank of (lieutenant colonel before he resigned). George Washington become a household name in Europe (see #3) before the American Revolution for his exploits during the French and Indian war.
Thomas Jefferson was the eldest son of a significant land owner in Virginia. Jefferson’s father died when he was 14, leaving him a wealthy income and lands which would become his plantation Monticello. Jefferson had twelve years of formal education before entering University. He attended William and Mary University for seven years, continuing his studies in law after his first course of studies had completed. Jefferson had a voracious appetite for books and learning all his life. He was fluent in Greek, Latin, and French, and would travel widely outside the United States prior to becoming Secretary of State and then the third President.
Both men served together in the Virginian Legislature, and the Continental Congress prior to the Revolutionary War. Their war time experiences would kept them in geographic isolation from each other, both in important offices. Washington was busy training, feeding, housing and fighting with the army which would eventually defeat the most powerful military in the world. Jefferson would serve two terms as Governor of Virginia during the revolutionary war.
After the war their orbits would intersect and they would begin to oppose each other on key issues.
Shay’s rebellion. Washington would oppose it. He would appoint the commander and send troops to put down the New England rebellion. Jefferson would oppose the suppression of the rebellion by federal troops. Jefferson’s famous quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” November 13, 1787. Jefferson would make that quote about Shay’s rebellion.
A standing Army Washington believed the nation needed a professional military. Jefferson, who always distrusted government power, opposed a standing army.
”Nor is it conceived needful or safe that a standing army should be kept up in time of peace for [defense against invasion]." –– Thomas Jefferson:
The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson Classified and Arranged in Alphabetical Order Under Nine Thousand Titles Relating to Government, Politics, Law, Education, Political Economy, Finance, Science, Art, Literature, Religious Freedom, Morals ( see item 518 "Army Reduction" )
The United States Constitution. Washington would chair the ratification convention and be the Constitutions highest profile supporter and signatory. Jefferson serving the US in Paris at the time would be one of the most prominent opponents (anti Federalists) of the US constitution, would influence delegates by writing letters opposing the ratification and criticizing the Constitution.
The office of the President. Washington would work with James Madison to create the office of the Presidency. Jefferson believed all power should be rested in the legislature and would oppose creating an Executive branch of Government for fear it would lead to monarchy.
Jay’s Treaty or “the Treaty of Amity Commerce”, horrified Jefferson and his supporters. Jefferson who openly favored the French, and feared both falling into a British orbit, and a new Monarchy (or Monarchical powers) sprinting up in the United States. Jay’s Treaty lite all his lights. The Treaty favored England both economically and militarily over France. It allowed concessions which impinged upon American Neutrality. It continued to allow British impressment of American sailors. All and all it was a pretty one sided treaty with only one redeeming quality, it kept us out of war with Britain. Washington ratified it unconditionally on this basis. Jefferson strongly felt Washington –– in negotiating the treaty in secret, and keeping the terms of the treaty secret through the ratification process –– had over stepped his authority and was moving the country further away from France and closer to monarchy.
So this is where their relationship arch which spanned friends, colleagues, and political opponents would begin to lean towards personal enemies. What are some of the events which demonstrate this animosity or account for the further deterioration of their admiration for one another.
(see my answer below)
*3: Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), pp 105–06;
Edmund Morgan, The Genius of George Washington (1980), pp 12–13; Sarah J. Purcell, Sealed With Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America (2002) p. 97; Don Higginbotham, George Washington (2004); Ellis, 2004
*4:”Washington's Farewell Address: A Foreign Policy of Independence", The American Historical Review 1934 Oxford University Press