Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).jpg
Painting of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800
3rd President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
Vice PresidentAaron Burr (1801–1805)
George Clinton (1805–1809)
Preceded byJohn Adams
Succeeded byJames Madison
2nd Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
PresidentJohn Adams
Preceded byJohn Adams
Succeeded byAaron Burr
1st United States Secretary of State
In office
March 22, 1790 – December 31, 1793
PresidentGeorge Washington
Preceded byJohn Jay (Foreign Affairs)
Succeeded byEdmund Randolph
2nd United States Minister to France
In office
May 17, 1785 – September 26, 1789
Appointed byCongress of the Confederation
Preceded byBenjamin Franklin
Succeeded byWilliam Short
Virginia delegate to the Congress of the Confederation
In office
November 3, 1783 – May 7, 1784
Preceded byJames Madison
Succeeded byRichard H. Lee
2nd Governor of Virginia
In office
June 1, 1779 – June 3, 1781
Preceded byPatrick Henry
Succeeded byWilliam Fleming
Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress
In office
June 20, 1775 – September 26, 1776
Preceded byGeorge Washington
Succeeded byJohn Harvie
Personal details
Born(1743-04-13)April 13, 1743
Shadwell, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedJuly 4, 1826(1826-07-04) (aged 83)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Resting placeMonticello, Charlottesville, Virginia
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Martha Wayles (m. 1772; d. 1782)
Children6, including Martha and Mary
Alma materCollege of William and Mary
SignatureTh: Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, [O.S. April 2] 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and later served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. Previously, he had been elected the second vice president of the United States, serving under John Adams from 1797 to 1801. He was a proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights motivating American colonists to break from Great Britain and form a new nation; he produced formative documents and decisions at both the state and national level.

Jefferson was mainly of English ancestry, born and educated in colonial Virginia. He graduated from the College of William & Mary and briefly practiced law, with the largest number of his cases concerning land ownership claims.[1] During the American Revolution, he represented Virginia in the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration, drafted the law for religious freedom as a Virginia legislator, and served as a wartime governor (1779–1781). He became the United States Minister to France in May 1785, and subsequently the nation's first Secretary of State in 1790–1793 under President George Washington. Jefferson and James Madison organized the Democratic-Republican Party to oppose the Federalist Party during the formation of the First Party System. With Madison, he anonymously wrote the controversial Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in 1798–1799, which sought to strengthen states' rights by nullifying the federal Alien and Sedition Acts.

As President, Jefferson pursued the nation's shipping and trade interests against Barbary pirates and aggressive British trade policies. He also organized the Louisiana Purchase, almost doubling the country's territory. As a result of peace negotiations with France, his administration reduced military forces. He was reelected in 1804. Jefferson's second term was beset with difficulties at home, including the trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr. American foreign trade was diminished when Jefferson implemented the Embargo Act of 1807, responding to British threats to U.S. shipping. In 1803, Jefferson began a controversial process of Indian tribe removal to the newly organized Louisiana Territory, and he signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in 1807.

Jefferson, while primarily a planter, lawyer and politician, mastered many disciplines, which ranged from surveying and mathematics to horticulture and mechanics. He was an architect in the classical tradition. Jefferson's keen interest in religion and philosophy led to his presidency of the American Philosophical Society; he shunned organized religion but was influenced by both Christianity and deism. A philologist, Jefferson knew several languages. He was a prolific letter writer and corresponded with many prominent people. His only full-length book is Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), considered perhaps the most important American book published before 1800.[2] After retiring from public office, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.

Although regarded as a leading spokesman for democracy and republicanism in the era of the Enlightenment, Jefferson's historical legacy is mixed. Some modern scholarship has been critical of Jefferson's private life, pointing out the contradiction between his ownership of the large numbers of slaves that worked his plantations and his famous declaration that "all men are created equal." Another point of controversy stems from the evidence that after his wife Martha died in 1782, Jefferson fathered children with Martha’s half-sister, Sally Hemings, who was his slave. Nonetheless, presidential scholars and historians generally praise his public achievements, including his advocacy of religious freedom and tolerance in Virginia. Jefferson continues to rank highly among U.S. presidents.

Early life and career

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743, Old Style, Julian calendar), at the family home in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia, the third of ten children.[3] He was of English, and possibly Welsh, descent and was born a British subject.[4] His father Peter Jefferson was a planter and surveyor who died when Jefferson was fourteen; his mother was Jane Randolph.[a] Peter Jefferson moved his family to Tuckahoe Plantation in 1745 upon the death of William Randolph, the plantation's owner and Jefferson's friend, who in his will had named him guardian of his children. The Jeffersons returned to Shadwell in 1752, where Peter died in 1757; his estate was divided between his sons Thomas and Randolph.[6] Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 7.8 sq mi) of land, including Monticello. He assumed full authority over his property at age 21.[7]

Education, early family life

A university building
Wren Building (rear), College of William & Mary where Jefferson studied

Jefferson began his childhood education beside the Randolph children with tutors at Tuckahoe.[8] Thomas' father, Peter, self-taught, regretting not having a formal education, entered Thomas into an English school early, at age five. In 1752, at age nine, he began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister, and also began studying the natural world, for which he grew to love. At this time he began studying Latin, Greek, and French, while also learning to ride horses. Thomas also read books from his father's modest library.[9] He was taught from 1758 to 1760 by Reverend James Maury near Gordonsville, Virginia, where he studied history, science, and the classics while boarding with Maury's family.[10][9] During this period Jefferson came to know and befriended various American Indians, including the famous Cherokee chief, Ontassete, who often stopped at Shadwell to visit, on their way to Williamsburg to trade.[11][12] During the two years Jefferson was with the Maury family, he traveled to Williamsburg and was a guest of Colonel Dandridge, father of Martha Washington. In Williamsburg the young Jefferson met and came to admire Patrick Henry, who was eight years his senior, sharing a common interest of violin playing.[13]

Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, at age 16 and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small. Small introduced him to the George Wythe and Francis Fauquier along with British Empiricists including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. Small, Wythe and Fauquier recognized in Jefferson a man of exceptional ability and included him in their inner circle where the young Jefferson became a regular member of their Friday dinner parties where such men gathered and discussed politics and philosophy. Jefferson later wrote that he "heard more common good sense, more rational & philosophical conversations than in all the rest of my life".[14] During his first year at the college he was given more to parties, dancing and was not very frugal with his expenditures; during his second year, regretting that he had squandered away much time and money, he applied himself to fifteen hours of study a day.[15] Jefferson improved his French and Greek and his skill at the violin. He graduated two years after starting in 1762. He read the law under Professor Wythe's tutelage to obtain his law license, while working as a law clerk in his office.[16] He also read a wide variety of English classics and political works.[17] Jefferson was well read in a broad variety of subjects, which along with law and philosophy, included history, natural law, natural religion, ethics, and several areas in science, including agriculture. Overall, he drew very deeply on the philosophers. During the years of study under the watchful eye of Wythe, Jefferson authored a survey of his extensive readings in his Commonplace Book.[18] So impressed with Jefferson, Wythe would later bequeath his entire library to him.[19]

1765 was an eventful year in Jefferson's family. In July, his sister Martha married his close friend and college companion Dabney Carr, which greatly pleased Jefferson. In October, he mourned his sister Jane's unexpected death at age 25 and wrote a farewell epitaph in Latin.[20] Jefferson treasured his books. In 1770, his Shadwell home was destroyed by fire, including a library of 200 volumes inherited from his father and those left to him by George Wythe.[21] Nevertheless, he had replenished his library with 1,250 titles by 1773, and his collection grew to almost 6,500 volumes in 1814.[22] The British burned the Library of Congress that year; he then sold more than 6,000 books to the Library for $23,950. He had intended to pay off some of his large debt, but he resumed collecting for his personal library, writing to John Adams, "I cannot live without books."[23][24]

Lawyer and House of Burgesses

Chamber of House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Jefferson served 1769–1775

Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767 and then lived with his mother at Shadwell.[25] In addition to practicing law, Jefferson represented Albemarle County as a delegate in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 until 1775.[26] He pursued reforms to slavery. He introduced legislation in 1769 allowing masters to take control over the emancipation of slaves, taking discretion away from the royal governor and General Court. He persuaded his cousin Richard Bland to spearhead the legislation's passage, but reaction was strongly negative.[27]

Jefferson took seven cases for freedom-seeking slaves[28] and waived his fee for one client, who claimed that he should be freed before the statutory age of thirty-one required for emancipation in cases with inter-racial grandparents.[29] He invoked the Natural Law to argue, "everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person and using it at his own will ... This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because it is necessary for his own sustenance." The judge cut him off and ruled against his client. As a consolation, Jefferson gave his client some money, conceivably used to aid his escape shortly thereafter.[29] He later incorporated this sentiment into the Declaration of Independence.[30] He also took on 68 cases for the General Court of Virginia in 1767, in addition to three notable cases: Howell v. Netherland (1770), Bolling v. Bolling (1771), and Blair v. Blair (1772).[31]

The British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774, and Jefferson wrote a resolution calling for a "Day of Fasting and Prayer" in protest, as well as a boycott of all British goods. His resolution was later expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, in which he argued that people have the right to govern themselves.[32]

Monticello, marriage and family

Monticello plantation house
Jefferson's home Monticello

In 1768, Jefferson began constructing his primary residence Monticello (Italian for "Little Mountain") on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre (20 km2; 7.8 sq mi) plantation.[b] Construction was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by Jefferson's slaves.[34]

He moved into the South Pavilion in 1770. Turning Monticello into a neoclassical masterpiece in the Palladian style was his perennial project.[35]

On January 1, 1772, Jefferson married his third cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, the 23-year-old widow of Bathurst Skelton, and she moved into the South Pavilion.[36][37] She was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. Biographer Dumas Malone described the marriage as the happiest period of Jefferson's life.[38] Martha read widely, did fine needlework, and was a skilled pianist; Jefferson often accompanied her on the violin or cello.[39] During their ten years of marriage, Martha bore six children: Martha "Patsy" (1772–1836); Jane (1774–1775); a son who lived for only a few weeks in 1777; Mary Wayles "Polly" (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and another Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1785).[citation needed] Only Martha and Mary survived more than a few years.[40]

Martha's father John Wayles died in 1773, and the couple inherited 135 people of color who were legally enslaved, 11,000 acres (45 km2; 17 sq mi), and the estate's debts. The debts took Jefferson years to satisfy, contributing to his financial problems.[36]

Martha later suffered from ill health, including diabetes, and frequent childbirth further weakened her. Her mother had died young, and Martha lived with two stepmothers as a girl. A few months after the birth of her last child, she died on September 6, 1782, at the age of 33 with Jefferson at her bedside. Shortly before her death, Martha made Jefferson promise never to marry again, telling him that she could not bear to have another mother raise her children.[41] Jefferson was grief-stricken by her death, relentlessly pacing back and forth, nearly to the point of exhaustion. He emerged after three weeks, taking long rambling rides on secluded roads with his daughter Martha, by her description "a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief".[40][42]

After working as Secretary of State (1790–93), he returned to Monticello and initiated a remodeling based on the architectural concepts which he had acquired in Europe. The work continued throughout most of his presidency, being finished in 1809.[43][44]

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