chapter  3
51 Pages

The Defi ning Moment: Washington Irving and A History of New York

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson attained the Presidency, and in his inaugural address performed a third rhetorical refashioning of the American polity. He asserted that the country was not divided, effectively denying, as he did so, that his victory was the product of an extremely bitter election campaign, the contending political parties in which were bitterly divided within themselves. He also reiterated the old strain of rising glory:

A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with the rich production of their industry . . . advancing to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye . . . 3

All that was wanting, he suggested, was the right party in control of government:

With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens-a wise a frugal Government. . . . 4

These two pronouncements recalled the two earlier creations, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the Constitution in 1787-8. The same sentiments were professed now, papering over the same problem. All Americans were not of the same principle in 1801, any more than in 1776

or 1787, and yet those who were not of Jefferson’s principle still believed themselves to be Americans.