— 3rd President of the United States —
1743 - 1826
ELECTED FROM: Virginia
POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic-Republican
TERM:March 4, 1801 to March 3, 1809
BORN: April 13, 1743
BIRTHPLACE: Shadwell, Virginia
DIED: July 4, 1826, Monticello, Virginia
OCCUPATION: Lawyer, farmer
MARRIED: Martha Wayles Skelton, 1772
CHILDREN: Mary, Martha
Being third seemed to suit Thomas Jefferson well. Not only was
he the third president, but he was also the third child in his
family. He had two older sisters. In his third year of life,
three more children were added to his family. The parents of
these children died, and Thomas Jefferson's parents adopted
them. So, the big family moved from their plantation in
Shadwell, Virginia to a large plantation called Tuckahoe, also
in Virginia. Since there were so many children in his family,
Thomas Jefferson's parents hired a teacher who taught the
children right in their own home.
As a youngster, Jefferson's father taught him reading, writing,
and arithmetic as well as music and the art of drafting. But
most important were these ten golden rules:
1. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap.
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.
6. We never repent for having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain have the evils that never happened cost us?
9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
10. When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry,
Armed with these thoughts, young Thomas Jefferson lived a life
that was a model for future generations. Jefferson believed a
person should never be idle. As a result, he became a scientist,
diplomat, architect, philosopher, farmer, educator, inventor,
and ultimately president. But Jefferson was most famous for
these written words from the Declaration of Independence, "We
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the
pursuit of Happiness . . ."These words are the foundation of the
United States of America. By 1776, when he was asked to lead the
committee that would create the Declaration of Independence, he
had been Governor of Virginia, a member of the Virginia House of
Burgesses, and a member of the Continental Congress. As governor
of Virginia, he established religious liberty, free education,
the University of Virginia, and public libraries. The
architecture of the buildings at the university reflect the
influence of the Classic style of architecture Jefferson
employed when he built his home at Monticello.
In 1789, George Washington named Thomas Jefferson Secretary of
State. In 1796, he ran for president and finished second to John
Adams. He was then named vice president. Finally in 1800, he won
election as President of the United States. During his
presidency, the size of the United States more than doubled
because President Jefferson made a deal with the French in 1803
to purchase the Louisiana Territory. This was called the
Louisiana Purchase. He also established the Illinois Territory,
commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition, and created the
U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Jefferson is remembered as an author of the Declaration of
Independence, for establishing religious freedom in Virginia,
and for being the father of the University of Virginia.
Jefferson never stopped creating until he died on July 4, 1826,
the same day as his friend John Adams, the second president.
American philosopher and statesman Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
was the third president of the United States. A man of broad
interests and activity, he exerted an immense influence on the
political and intellectual life of the new nation.
Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, Va., on April 13, 1743.
His father had been among the earliest settlers in this
wilderness country, and his position of leadership descended to
his eldest son, together with 5,000 acres of land.
Jefferson became one of the best-educated Americans of his time.
At the age of 17 he entered the College of William and Mary,
where he got exciting first glimpses of "the expansion of
science, and of the system of things in which we are placed."
Nature destined him to be a scientist, he often said; but there
was no opportunity for a scientific career in Virginia, and he
took the path of the law, studying it under the tutelage of
George Wythe as a branch of the history of mankind. He read
widely in the law, in the sciences, and in both ancient and
modern history, philosophy, and literature. Jefferson was
admitted to the bar in 1767; his successful practice led to a
wide circle of influence and to cultivated intellectual habits
that would prove remarkably creative in statesmanship. When the
onrush of the American Revolution forced him to abandon practice
in 1774, he turned these legal skills to the rebel cause.
Jefferson's public career began in 1769, when he served as a
representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses. About this
time, too, he began building Monticello, the lovely home perched
on a densely wooded summit that became a lifelong obsession. He
learned architecture from books, above all from the Renaissance
Italian Andrea Palladio. Yet Monticello, like the many other
buildings Jefferson designed over the years, was a uniquely
personal creation. Dissatisfied with the first version,
completed in 12 years, Jefferson later rebuilt it. Monticello
assumed its ultimate form about the time he retired from the
Jefferson rose to fame in the councils of the American
Revolution. Insofar as the Revolution was a philosophical event,
he was its most articulate spokesman, having absorbed the
thought of the 18th-century Enlightenment. He believed in a
beneficent natural order in the moral as in the physical world,
freedom of inquiry in all things, and man's inherent capacity
for justice and happiness, and he had faith in reason,
improvement, and progress.
Jefferson's political thought would become the quintessence of
Enlightenment liberalism, though it had roots in English law and
government. The tradition of the English constitution gave
concreteness to American patriot claims, even a color of
legality to revolution itself, that no other modern
revolutionaries have possessed. Jefferson used the libertarian
elements of the English legal tradition for ideological combat
with the mother country. He also separated the principles of
English liberty from their corrupted forms in the empire of
George III and identified these principles with nascent American
ideals. In challenging the oppressions of the empire, Americans
like Jefferson came to recognize their claims to an independent
Jefferson's most important contribution to the revolutionary
debate was A Summary View of the Rights of British America
(1774). He argued that Americans, as sons of expatriate
Englishmen, possessed the same natural rights to govern
themselves as their Saxon ancestors had exercised when they
migrated to England from Germany. Only with the reign of George
III had the violations of American rights proved to be "a
deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery." Though
the logic of his argument pointed to independence, Jefferson
instead set forth the theory of an empire of equal
self-governing states under a common king and appealed to George
III to rule accordingly.
Declaration of Independence
The Revolution had begun when Jefferson took his seat in the
Second Continental Congress, at Philadelphia, in June 1775. He
brought to the Congress, as John Adams recalled, "a reputation
for literature, science, and a happy talent for composition." It
was chiefly as a legislative draftsman that he would make his
mark. His great work was the Declaration of Independence. In
June 1776 he was surprised to find himself at the head of the
committee to prepare this paper. He submitted a rough draft to
Adams and Benjamin Franklin, two of the committee, who suggested
only minor changes, revised it to Jefferson's satisfaction, and
sent it to Congress. Congress debated it line by line for 2 1/2
days. Though many changes were made, the Declaration that
emerged on July 4 bore the unmistakable stamp of Jefferson. It
possessed that "peculiar felicity of expression" for which he
The Declaration of Independence crisply set forth the bill of
particular grievances against the reigning sovereign and
compressed a whole cosmology, a political philosophy, and a
national creed in one paragraph. The truths declared to be
"self-evident" were not new; as Jefferson later said, his
purpose was "not to find out new principles, or new arguments …,
but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject."
But here, for the first time in history, these truths were laid
at the foundation of a nation. Natural equality, the inalienable
rights of man, the sovereignty of the people, the right of
revolution - these principles endowed the American Revolution
with high purpose united to a theory of government.
Jefferson returned to Virginia and to his seat in the
reconstituted legislature. A constitution had been adopted for
the commonwealth, but it was distressingly less democratic than
the one Jefferson had drafted and dispatched to Williamsburg. He
sought now to achieve liberal reforms by ordinary legislation.
Most of these were contained in his comprehensive Revision of
the Laws. Although the code was never enacted in entirety, the
legislature went over the bills one by one. Of first importance
was the Statute for Religious Freedom. Enacted in 1786, the
statute climaxed the long campaign for separation of church and
state in Virginia. Though Jefferson was responsible for the
abolition of property laws that were merely relics of feudalism,
his bill for the reform of Virginia's barbarous criminal code
failed, and for the sake of expediency he withheld his plan for
gradual emancipation of the slaves. Jefferson was sickened by
the defeat of his Bill for the More General Diffusion of
Knowledge. A landmark in the history of education, it proposed a
complete system of public education, with elementary schools
available to all, the gifted to be educated according to their
Jefferson became Virginia's governor in June 1779. The
Revolutionary War had entered a new phase. The British decision
to "unravel the thread of rebellion from the southward" would,
if successful, have made Virginia the crucial battleground.
Jefferson struggled against enormous odds to aid the southern
army. He was also handicapped by the weakness of his office
under the constitution and by his personal aversion to anything
bordering on dictatorial rule.
Early in 1781 the British invaded Virginia from the coast,
slashed through to Richmond, and put the government to flight.
Jefferson acted with more vigor than before, still to no avail.
In May, Gen. Charles Cornwallis marched his army into Virginia.
The government moved to safer quarters at Charlottesville. The
Redcoats followed, and 2 days after his term of office expired
but before a successor could be chosen, Jefferson was chased
from Monticello. The General Assembly resolved to inquire into
Jefferson's conduct, and months after the British surrender at
Yorktown, he attended the legislature on this business. But no
inquiry was held, the Assembly instead voting him resolution of
thanks for his services.
Nevertheless, wounded by the criticism, Jefferson resolved to
quit public service. A series of personal misfortunes,
culminating in his wife's death in September 1782, plunged him
into gloom. Yet her death finally returned him to his destiny.
The idealized life he had sought in his family, farms, and books
was suddenly out of reach. That November he eagerly accepted
congressional appointment to the peace commission in Paris. He
never sailed, however, and wound up in Congress instead.
During his retirement Jefferson had written his only book, Note
on the State of Virginia. The inquiry had begun simply, but it
grew as Jefferson worked. He finally published the manuscript in
a private edition in Paris (1785). Viewed in the light of
18th-century knowledge, the book is work of natural and civil
history, uniquely interesting as a guide to Jefferson's mind and
to his native country. He expressed opinions on a variety of
subjects, from cascades and caverns to constitutions and
slavery. An early expression of American nationalism, the book
acted as a catalyst in several fields of intellectual activity.
It also ensured Jefferson a scientific and literary reputation
on two continents.
Service in Congress
In Congress from November 1783 to the following May, Jefferson
laid the foundations of national policy in several areas. His
proposed decimal system of coinage was adopted. He drafted the
first ordinance of government for the western territory, wherein
free and equal republican states would be created out of the
wilderness; and his land ordinance, adopted with certain changes
in 1785, projected the rectilinear survey system of the American
Jefferson also took a leading part in formulating foreign
policy. The American economy rested on foreign commerce and
navigation. Cut adrift from the British mercantile system,
Congress had pursued free trade to open foreign markets, but
only France had been receptive. The matter became urgent in
1783-1784. Jefferson helped reformulate a liberal commercial
policy, and in 1784 he was appointed to a three-man commission
(with Adams and Franklin) to negotiate treaties of commerce with
the European powers.
Minister to France
In Paris, Jefferson's first business was the treaty commission;
in 1785 he succeeded Franklin as minister to France. The
commission soon expired, and Jefferson focused his commercial
diplomacy on France. In his opinion, France offered imposing
political support for the United States in Europe as well as an
entering wedge for the free commercial system on which American
wealth and power depended. Louis XVI's foreign minister seemed
well disposed, and influential men in the French capital were
ardent friends of the American Revolution. Jefferson won
valuable concessions for American commerce; however, because
France realized few benefits in return, Britain maintained its
His duties left Jefferson time to haunt bookstores, frequent
fashionable salons, and indulge his appetite for art, music, and
theater. He toured the south of France and Italy, England, and
the Rhineland. He interpreted the New World to the Old. Some of
this activity had profound effects. For instance, his
collaboration with a French architect in the design of the
classical Roman Capitol of Virginia inaugurated the classical
revival in American architecture.
About Europe generally, Jefferson expressed ambivalent feelings.
But on balance, the more he saw of Europe, the dearer his own
country became. "My God!" he exclaimed. "How little do my
countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession
of, and which no other people on earth enjoy. I confess I had no
idea of it myself…."
Secretary of State
On Jefferson's return to America in 1789, President Washington
prevailed upon him to become secretary of state. For the next 3
years he was chiefly engaged in fruitless negotiations with the
European powers. With Spain he sought to fix the southern United
States boundary and secure free navigation of the Mississippi
River through Spanish territory to the Gulf of Mexico. With
Britain he sought removal of English troops from the Northwest
and settlement of issues left over from the peace treaty. In
this encounter he was frustrated by the secretary of the
Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose ascendancy in the government
also checked Jefferson's and James Madison's efforts for
commercial discrimination against Britain and freer trade with
France. In Jefferson's opinion, Hamilton's fiscal system turned
on British trade, credit, and power, while his own system turned
on commercial liberation, friendship with France, and the
success of the French Revolution. Hamilton's measures would
enrich the few at the expense of the many, excite speculation
and fraud, concentrate enormous power in the Treasury, and break
down the restraints of the Constitution. To combat these
tendencies, Jefferson associated himself with the incipient
party opposition in Congress.
Developing Political Parties
As the party division deepened, Jefferson was denounced by the
Federalists as the "generalissimo" of the Republican party, a
role he neither possessed nor coveted but, finally, could not
escape. When war erupted between France and Britain in 1793, the
contrary dispositions of the parties toward these nations
threatened American peace. Jefferson attempted to use American
neutrality to force concessions from Britain and to improve
cooperation between the embattled republics of the Atlantic
world. In this he was embarrassed by Edmond Genet, the French
minister to the United States, and finally had to abandon him
altogether. The deterioration of Franco-American relations did
irreparable damage to Jefferson's political system.
Jefferson resigned his post at the end of 1793, again determined
to quit public life. But in 1796 the Republicans made him their
presidential candidate against John Adams. Losing by three
electoral votes, Jefferson became vice president. When the "XYZ
affair" threatened to plunge the United States into war with
France in 1798, Jefferson clung to the hope of peace and, in the
developing war hysteria, rallied the Republicans around him.
Enactment of the Alien and Sedition Laws convinced him that the
Federalists aimed to annihilate the Republicans and that the
Republicans' only salvation lay in political intervention by the
state authorities. On this basis he drafted the Kentucky
Resolutions of 1798, in which he elaborated the theory of the
Union as a compact among the several states, declared the Alien
and Sedition Laws unconstitutional, and prescribed the remedy of
state "nullification" for such assumptions of power by the
central government. Kentucky did not endorse this specific
doctrine, but the defense of civil liberties was now joined to
the defense of state rights. Though the celebrated resolutions
did not force a change of policy, by contributing to the rising
public clamor against the administration they achieved their
President of the United States
Republicans doubled their efforts to elect the "man of the
people" in the unusually bitter campaign of 1800. Jefferson
topped Adams in the electoral vote. But because his running
mate, Aaron Burr, received an equal number of votes, the final
decision went to the House of Representatives. Only after 36
ballots was Jefferson elected.
Jefferson became president on March 4, 1801, in the new national
capital, Washington, D.C. His inaugural address - a political
touchstone for a century or longer - brilliantly summed up the
Republican creed and appealed for the restoration of harmony and
affection. "We have called by different names brethren of the
same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists."
Jefferson extended the hand of friendship to the Federalists
and, although Federalists monopolized the Federal offices, he
attempted to limit his removals of them. Even after party
pressures forced him to revise this strategy, moderation
characterized his course.
Reform was the order of the day. Working effectively with
Congress, Jefferson restored freedom of the press; lowered the
residency period of the law of naturalization to 5 years; scaled
down the Army and Navy (despite a war against Barbary piracy);
repealed the partisan Judiciary Act of 1801; abolished all
internal taxes, together with a host of revenue offices; and
began the planned retirement of the debt. The Jeffersonian
reformation was bottomed on fiscal policy; by reducing the means
and powers of government, it sought to further peace, equality,
and individual freedom.
The President's greatest triumph - and his greatest defeat -
came in foreign affairs. Spain's cession of Louisiana and the
port of New Orleans to France in 1800 posed a serious threat to
American security, especially to the aspirations of the West.
Jefferson skillfully negotiated this crisis. With the Louisiana
Purchase (1803), America gained an uncharted domain of some
800,000 square miles, doubling its size, for $11,250,000. Even
before the treaty was signed, Jefferson planned an expedition to
explore this country. The Lewis and Clark expedition, like the
Louisiana Purchase, was a spectacular consummation of
Jefferson's western vision.
Easily reelected in 1804, Jefferson soon encountered foreign and
domestic troubles. His relations with Congress degenerated as
Republicans quarreled among themselves. Especially damaging was
the insurgency of John Randolph, formerly Republican leader in
the House. And former vice president Aaron Burr mounted an
insurgency in the West; but Jefferson crushed this and, with
difficulty, maintained control of Congress. The turbulence of
the Napoleonic Wars, with American ships and seamen ravaged in
the neutral trade, proved too difficult. France was not
blameless, but Britain was the chief aggressor.
Finally there appeared to be no escape from war except by
withdrawing from the oceans. In December 1807 the President
proposed, and Congress enacted, a total embargo on America's
seagoing commerce. More than an alternative to war, the embargo
was a test of the power of commercial coercion in international
disputes. On the whole, it was effectively enforced, but it
failed to bring Britain or France to justice, and the mounting
costs at home led to its repeal by Congress in the waning hours
of Jefferson's presidency.
In retirement Jefferson became the "Sage of Monticello," the
most revered - by some the most hated - among the remaining
Revolutionary founders. He maintained a large correspondence and
intellectual pursuits on a broad front. Unfinished business from
the Revolution drew his attention, such as revision of the
Virginia constitution and gradual emancipation of slaves. But
the former would come only after his death, and the failure of
the latter would justify his worst fears. He revived his general
plan of public education. Again the legislature rejected it,
approving, however, a major part, the state university.
Jefferson was the master planner of the University of Virginia
in all its parts, from the grounds and buildings to the
curriculum, faculty, and rules of governance. He died at
Monticello on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence,
July 4, 1826.
JACANA HOME PAGE
CLASSIC VIDEO CLIPS
JACANA ASTRONOMY SITE
JACANA PHOTO LIBRARY |
OLD MAUN PHOTO GALLERY |
MAUN PHONE DIRECTORY
FREE FONTS |
PIC OF THE DAY
GENERAL LIBRARY |
MAP LIBRARY |
HOUSE PLANS LIBRARY
MAUN E-MAIL, WEBSITE & SKYPE LIST
BOTSWANA GPS CO-ORDINATES
MAUN SAFARI WEB LINKS |
FREE SOFTWARE |
JACANA WEATHER PAGE
JACANA CROSSWORD LIBRARY |
JACANA CARTOON PAGE |
This web page was last updated on:
11 December, 2008