Jefferson's military policy, with special reference to the frontier, 1805-1809

Adams, Mary P, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Abernethy, Thomas Perkins, University of Virginia
Mayo, Bernard, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

From the statements which Jefferson made regarding his sincere desire that there should be peace in the world, many historians have concluded that the Master of Monticello was a pacifist in theory and in practice. But the files of the War and Navy Departments from 1801 to 1809 show that during his two terms as President he carefully developed a sound and constructive military program. In dealing with serious questions of international import which faced his country, he formulated and consistently followed a dual policy: he attempted to solve problems with foreign countries through diplomatic means and at the same time made adequate military preparations in the event that war should result. He put this plan into operation in 1802 and 1803 to meet any emergency which might arise from the retrocession of Louisiana to France and the possibility that Napoleon's troops would occupy the province. The same policy runs continuously, like an unbroken thread, through all the measures taken by President Jefferson to solve disputes between the United States and foreign nations.

The object of this study is to analyze Jefferson's military program during his second term of office. It begins with an investigation of his attitude in the Burr Conspiracy and the defensive measures he took to safeguard his fellow citizens against this internal upheaval which could have proved disastrous to the Union. In sharp contrast to the energetic steps that he took against external perils, his program designed to counter the dangers arising from Burr's schemes was weak and dilatory. General James Wilkinson, who was Aaron Burr's co-conspirator, left an indelible impression upon the military history of the period, not only because of his machinations in the Conspiracy, but also, surprisingly enough, because of the services he rendered to his country as Commanding General of the United States Army. Therefore his varied career deserves a place in a study of military affairs during Jefferson's tenure of office.
A significant phase of the President's military policy, and that which contributed most to the security of the American people, was the defensive program he set in train following the Chesapeake-Leonard affair of June 22, 1807. His military preparations, carried out in secrecy, were extensive, comprehending the building of fortifications, safeguarding all important seaports, increasing the army, training militiamen, procuring adequate supplies of cannon and ammunition, and conducting military reconnaissance. While attempting to solve the critical Anglo-American relations through diplomatic efforts, he was not willing to accept peace at any price. If necessity arose, the injustices committed by the British on American commerce would be answered by resorting to armed might. The documents in the War and Navy Departments reveal numerous facets of Jefferson's foreign, domestic, and military policies and indicate that he often subordinated his pacifism to military preparations which would enable his country to repel an enemy attack with success. That this was a wise plan for the young American nation few will deny.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Jefferson administration, military policy, history

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:34:27.

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