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Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father of the United States and the main writer of the Declaration of Independence. He served as the second U.S. Vice President under John Adams before becoming the third President of the U.S. He believed in individual rights, republicanism, and democracy and influenced other colonists to participate in the separation from Great Britain.

Facts About Thomas Jefferson’s Personal Life and Beginnings

Thomas Jefferson was born Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia on April 13, 1743.[1] Peter Jefferson, his father, worked as a surveyor and planter and Jane Randolf, his mother, who took care of their ten children after he died in 1757. Jefferson inherited 5,000 acres that included Monticello.[2] He learned from various tutors as a child and enrolled in the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg Virginia in 1759.

Thomas Jefferson learned facts about politics, law, philosophy, metaphysics, sciences, and mathematics. He developed a deep love of books and began acquiring what became over 6,000 in a personal library.[3] In 1767, he passed the Virginia bar and returned to Shadwell.[4] He then served as a delegate in the House of Burgesses in Virginia from 1769-1775.

Thomas Jefferson secured freedoms for many colonists, but still kept slaves on his home plantations.

Jefferson married Martha, his third cousin, on January 1, 1772, after building his home, Monticello, with the help of local workers and his slaves. The couple produced six children, but only two daughters lived to adulthood. The family inherited 11,000 acres and 135 slaves when Martha’s father died in 1773, along with his great debts.[5] Martha died on September 6, 1782, to Jefferson’s great despair. He worked on Monticello until 1809 except for a brief break when serving as Secretary of State between 1790 and 1793.[6]

Independence and Politics

The Declaration of Independence asserted the colony’s desire to break from Britain and Thomas Jefferson penned the majority of it. He used George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights draft and one of his own titled the Virginia Constitution. On June 28, 1776, they presented the final draft before Congress and they ratified it on July 4, 1776.[7]

The creation of the Declaration of Independence was the most famous event in the life of Thomas Jefferson and the United States.

Beginning in September 1776, Jefferson served in the Virginia House of delegates and helped finalize the state’s constitution. [8] From 1779-1780, he served as governor where his policies covered religious freedom and public education.

Thomas Jefferson became a member of the first U.S. Congress of the Confederation in 1783. He then attempted to negotiate trade agreements with Spain, France, and England from July 1784 to March 1785. He briefly served as the first president George Washington’s Secretary of State, but due to differences in opinion, including Jefferson’s opposition to a national bank or credit, he withdrew from Washington’s cabinet.[9]

Vice Presidency

Thomas Jefferson became the Vice President in the in 1796 after losing to John Adams in the electoral vote 71-86. He published his observations on Senate procedure in A Manual of Parliamentary Procedure in 1800. He secretly met with Joseph Létombe, the French consul, in 1797 to turn the French sentiments against the Adams government. The resulting XYZ Affair turned U.S. support away from France and they engaged in an undeclared naval war, now known as the Quasi-War.[10]

Jefferson disagreed with the Alien and Sedition Acts enacted by Adams. He also argued against the Federal government exercising powers not granted to it explicitly by the states with James Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. They believed states would be able to completely ignore a Federal law would they disagree.[11] Many historians agree that Thomas Jefferson’s position may not have been the correct one and on one historian quotes George Washington, the first president of the U.S., as saying if these policies were “systematically and pertinaciously pursued” they would “dissolve the union or produce coercion.”[12] He ran for president a second time to overturn these Federalist policies for Republican ones and, on February 17, 1801, Thomas Jefferson won the election.[13]

Thomas Jefferson and the Presidency

On March 4, 1801, Chief Justice Marshall swore in Jefferson as the third President of the United States in Washington, D.C. The biographer Jon Meacham quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying during his inauguration, “We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” When he entered office, the national debt hung at $83 million. After two terms, he shrank it to $57 million. He confronted the Barbary pirates in the U.S.’s first foreign war.[14] Jefferson secured more than 40,000 sq. miles from the French with the Louisiana Purchase in one of the most important events in U.S. history on October 20, 1803. He persuaded Congress to fund important exploration trips, including the expeditions of Lewis and Clark from May 1804-September 1806, the Red River in 1806, and the Zebulon Pike from 1806-1807.[15]

The U.S. re-elected Thomas Jefferson as president in 1804 and fellow Republican, John Randolph, criticized him for his Federalist-leaning policies, including plans to Federally fund the building of canals and roads and the banning of British imports.[16] The Embargo Act of 1807 caused the U.S. economy to suffer and he abandoned it only one year later.[17]Jefferson saw his popularity continue to diminish in his final months in office and in December 1807 he announced he would not seek a third term.[18]

Later Life and Death

After retiring, Thomas Jefferson sold his enormous book collection to the Library of Congress and founded the University of Virginia in 1819. [19] He began his autobiography in 1821 and documented his life until July 29, 1790. By July 1825, his health declined dramatically.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1825, only hours before John Adams died and on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. [20] He died with almost $100,000 in debt and his final wishes for the distribution of his assets and freedom to be granted to Sally Heming’s children were ignored. Instead, in 1827, they began publicly auctioning his slaves, possessions, and his estate. His heirs sold Monticello in 1831. [21]

References

Bibliography

Malone, D. (2006). Jefferson and His Time, 6 Volume Set. United States: University of Virginia Press.


Meacham, J. (2012). Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House.

Peterson, M. D. (1998). The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. Boulder, CO, United States: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.

Tucker, G. (2011). The Life of Thomas Jefferson: Third President of the United States. Adamant Media Corporation.


Footnotes

  1. Tucker, 2011
  2. Malone, 2006
  3. Peterson, 1998
  4. Meacham, 2012
  5. Tucker, 2011
  6. Meacham, 2012
  7. Meacham, 2012
  8. Peterson, 1998
  9. Tucker, 2011
  10. Meacham, 2012
  11. Tucker, 2011
  12. Chernow, R. (2004). Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Group (USA).
  13. Meacham, 2012
  14. Meacham, 2012
  15. Tucker, 2011
  16. Meacham, 2012
  17. Tucker, 2011
  18. Meacham, 2012
  19. Tucker, 2011
  20. Peterson, 1998
  21. Meacham, 2012

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