… the monopoly of all the offices of the US. by [one party, the Federalists] … we have ourselves condemned as unjust & tyrannical. we cannot then either in morality or decency imitate it. a fair & proportionate participation however ought to be aimed at. as to the mode of obtaining this I know there is great difference of opinion; some thinking it should be done at a single stroke; others that it would conduce more to the tranquility of the country to do the thing by degrees, filling with republicans the vacancies occurring by deaths, resignations & delinquencies, and using the power of removal only in the cases of persons who continue to distinguish themselves by a malignant activity & opposition to that republican order of things which it is their duty to cooperate in, or at least to be silent.
To Nicholas Norris, October 14, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders keep an even-handed approach to the opposition.
When Jefferson came into the Presidency in 1801, every executive and judicial office was held by appointees of Presidents Washington and Adams. Indeed, Adams made a number of “midnight appointments” just before leaving office, to saddle the man who defeated him with even more opposition. (The famous Marbury v. Madison case arose from one of these last-minute appointments.)
Jefferson had strong views on the subject:
1. One party control of all offices was unjust and would lead to tyranny.
2. Republicans would be just as wrong to claim all offices for themselves.
3. “Proportionate participation” from each party should be the goal.
4. Republicans disagreed how that proportion was to be gained.
– Some wanted it done immediately.
– Others thought it better for the country to do it gradually as vacancies occurred. (Jefferson’s position)
5. He would dismiss only those in active opposition to his administration.