Politics, Elections, & the Presidency: a Video Conversation with Thomas Jefferson
As we review history, we find many presidents leaving office with a lower public approval rating than when they took office. You made reference to this in 1796 when you and John Adams were rivals for the presidency. Is there something about the nation’s highest office that lowers our esteem for the people who occupy it?

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Answer:
I would say that anyone who occupies the office of the chief magistrate should recognize that his life will be in continual inspection. And so quite naturally we might not know as much of him when he initially stands for that office of president as we will soon find out about him within the period of time he serves – whether it be four years or eight years.

We will come to know much about the chief executive; we will come to know much about his family, so as I would say the chief magistrate enters office upon the waves of a revolution of political disagreement and contest that he quite naturally will find himself leaving office as the result of the same, that another opinion has proved more paramount than his own or the opinion of his particular political party.
Mr. Jefferson, Do you feel your reputation was damaged by serving as president of the United States?

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Answer:
I would say that having entered the office of the chief magistrate through what I called the revolution of 1800, that we saw in the next four years betwixt 1800 and 1804 truly a transfer of power, a transfer from the Federalist opinion of that office to a more Democratic-Republican opinion, or simply Republican opinion – that of the common man.We saw the doubling – some say the tripling – of the size of our nation. We saw ourselves successfully set forth a scientific expedition with the support of our Congress. We saw the beginning of the first official war of the United States, our war with the Barbary kingdoms.

My second administration, which entered office through an overwhelming victory heretofore unknown in our national politics, had to engage itself further in the settling of our western territory and the presiding of a government beneficial to all who were seated west of the Mississippi. We found ourselves having to ameliorate further the differences in our politics, the Democratic-Republican opinion not to subdue entirely the Federalist opinion, but to recognize as Americans that we welcome a diversity of opinion, that a difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.

And as well to bring to an end our Tripolitan wars. We found this, though successful, contested with the wars between France and England. And therefore what I believed was a necessity to stay out of that war, to be disengaged with it, not to meddle in foreign politics and as a result to impose an embargo.

So therefore, though there was much acclaim to my administration in the first four years, I’m afraid there was much to accuse it in the last four years – and that in reference to the embargo particularly. But, I may say that I am more happy to have seen a complete redemption of my administration with the recognition that when I left office, as through the advice of our Constitution, we ended the importation of slaves.