On this day in history, Thomas Jefferson was born in Albemarle County, Virginia. In 1775 he was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence, and in 1800 he defeated John Adams to become the third president of the United States.
In 1859, Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak in Boston at a birthday celebration on April 13 in honor of the late Jefferson’s birthday. Writing from Springfield on April 6, 1859, Lincoln declined the invitation, but used the occasion to comment on the current strife in the country:
Bearing in mind that about seventy years ago, two great political parties were first formed in this country, that Thomas Jefferson was the head of one of them, and Boston the head-quarters of the other, it is both curious and interesting that those supposed to descend politically from the party opposed to Jefferson should now be celebrating his birthday in their own original seat of empire, while those claiming political descent from him have nearly ceased to breathe his name everywhere.
Remembering too, that the Jefferson party were formed upon its supposed superior devotion to the personal rights of men, holding the rights of property to be secondary only, and greatly inferior, and then assuming that the so-called democracy of to-day, are the Jefferson, and their opponents, the anti-Jefferson parties, it will be equally interesting to note how completely the two have changed hands as to the principle upon which they were originally supposed to be divided.
. . .
The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.
And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.
One dashingly calls them “glittering generalities”; another bluntly calls them “self evident lies”; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”
These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect–the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads, plotting against the people. They are the van-guard–the miners, and sappers–of returning despotism.
We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.”
You can read his entire letter here.