Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson is remembered in history not only for the 
offices he held, but also for his belief in the natural rights of man 
as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and his faith in the 
people's ability to govern themselves. He left an impact on his times 
equaled by few others in American history. Born on April 13, 1743, 
Jefferson was the third child in the family and grew up with six 
sisters and one brother. Though he opposed slavery, his family 
had owned slaves. From his father and his environment he developed an 
interest in botany, geology, cartography, and North American 
exploration, and from his childhood teacher developed a love for Greek 
and Latin. In 1760, at the age of 16, Jefferson entered the College of 
William and Mary and studied under William Small and George Wythe. 
Through Small, he got his first views of the expansion of science and 
of the system of things in which we are placed. Through Small and 
Wythe, Jefferson became acquainted with Governor Francis Fauquier. 
After finishing college in 1762, Jefferson studied law with Wythe and 
noticed growing tension between America and Great Britain. 
Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767. He successfully practiced 
law until public service occupied most of his time. At his home in 
Shadwell, he designed and supervised the building of his home, 
Monticello, on a nearby hill. He was elected to the Virginia House of 
Burgesses in 1769. Jefferson met Martha Wayles Skelton, a wealthy 
widow of 23, in 1770 and married her in 1772. They settled in 
Monticello and had one son and five daughters. Only two of his 
children, Martha and Mary, survived until maturity. Mrs. Martha 
Jefferson died in 1782, leaving Thomas to take care of his two 
remaining children.
 Though not very articulate, Jefferson proved to be an able 
writer of laws and resolutions he was very concise and straight to the 
point. Jefferson soon became a member in a group which opposed and 
took action in the disputes between Britain and the colonies. 
Together with other patriots, the group met in the Apollo Room of 
Williamsburg's famous Raleigh Tavern in 1769 and formed a 
nonimportation agreement against Britain, vowing not to pay import 
duties imposed by the Townshend Acts. After a period of calmness, 
problems faced the colonists again, forcing Jefferson to organize 
another nonimportation agreement and calling the colonies together to 
protest. He was chosen to represent Albermarle County at the First 
Virginia Convention, where delegates were elected to the First 
Continental Congress. He became ill and was unable to attend the 
meeting, but forwarded a message arguing that the British Parliament 
had no control over the colonies. He also mentioned the Saxons who 
had settled in England hundred of years before from Germany and how 
Parliament had no more right to govern the colonies than the Germans 
had to govern the English. Most Virginians saw this as too extreme, 
though. His views were printed in a pamphlet called A Summary of the 
Rights of British America (1774). Jefferson attended the Second 
Virginia Convention in 1775 and was chosen as one of the delegates to 
the Second Continental Congress, but before he left for Philadelphia, 
he was asked by the Virginia Assembly to reply to Lord North's message 
of peace, proposing that Parliament would not try to tax the 
settlers if they would tax themselves. Jefferson's "Reply to Lord 
North" was more moderate that the Summary View. Instead of agreeing 
with Lord North, Jefferson insisted that a government had been set up 
for the Americans and not for the British. 
 The Declaration of Independence was primarily written by 
Jefferson in June 1776. Congress felt that the Declaration was too 
strong and gave Dickinson the responsibility of redrafting the 
document, but the new version included much of Jefferson's original 
text and ideas. In 1779, Jefferson became governor of Virginia, 
guiding Virginians through the final years of the Revolutionary War. 
As a member of the Second Continental Congress, he drafted a plan for 
decimal coinage and composed an ordinance for the Northwest Territory 
that formed the foundation for the Ordinance of 1787. In 1785, he 
became minister to France. Appointed secretary of state in President 
Washington's Cabinet in 1790, Jefferson defended local interests 
against Alexander Hamilton's policies and led a group called the 
Republicans. He was elected vice-president in 1796 and protested the 
enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts by writing The Kentucky 
 In 1800, the Republicans nominated Jefferson for president and 
Aaron Burr (A Buh. hahaha) for vice-president. Federalists had 
nominated John Adams for president and Charles Pinckney for 
vice-president. Federalists claimed that Jefferson was a 
revolutionary, an anarchist, and an unbeliever. Jefferson won the 
presidency by receiving 73 electoral votes (Adams received 65). 
Supporters celebrated with bonfires and speeches, only to find out 
that Jefferson and Burr received an equal number of electoral votes, 
creating a tie and throwing the election to the House of 
 After 36 ballots, the House declared Jefferson as president. 
As did Adams before he, Jefferson faced opposition from his own party 
as well as from the Federalists. As mentioned earlier, Jefferson had 
an interest in North American exploration. He used his presidential 
power to purchase Louisiana from France and gave Meriwither Lewis and 
William Clark the opportunity and the responsibility to explore this 
vast territory. After their triumphantreturn, the hostile Aaron Burr 
engaged in a conspiracy either to establish an independent republic in 
the Louisiana Territory or to launch an invasion of Spanish-held 
Mexico. Jefferson acted promptly to arrest Burr and brought him to 
trial for treason. Burr was acquitted, however. Foreign policy during 
his second term was rather unsuccessful. In an effort for the British 
to respect the United States' neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars by 
passing the Embargo Act, he persuaded Congress to stop all trade with 
Britain, a move that failed to gain any respect from Britain,
alienated New England (who lived by foreign trade), and shattered the 
nation's economy. Fifteen months later, he repealed the Embargo Act.
In the final years of his life, Jefferson's major accomplishment was 
the founding of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He 
conceived it, planned it, designed it, and supervised both its 
construction and the hiring of the workers. He also hired the first 
professors and came up with its first course of study.
 Jefferson wished to be remembered by three things, which 
consisted of a trilogy of unrelated causes: freedom from Britain, 
freedom from conscience, and freedom maintained through education. On 
the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson 
died in Monticello. Though not flawless, given Jefferson's 
contributions to the shaping of American society then and how it is 
today, it is nearly impossible to find him morally weak and coarse. 
He has truly defined true American culture as it is today and has 
shaped the lives of many Americans both of his time and our time 


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