Thomas Jefferson Biography

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, Shadwell, Virginia. Married to Martha Wayles Skelton. Jefferson inherited slaves from both his father and father-in-law. Attended the College of William and Mary. Later, Jefferson practiced law. Jefferson was chosen in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence. Elected governor from 1779 to 1781. In 1790 he became Secretary of State under George Washington. In 1796, he became vice-president. In 1800, he became president. Died: July 4, 1826, Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson Biography:
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 - July 4, 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801-1809), the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and one of the most influential Founding Fathers for his promotion of the ideals of republicanism in the United States. Major events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806). As a political philosopher, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and knew many intellectual leaders in Britain and France. He idealized the independent yeoman farmer as exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and favored states' rights and a strictly limited federal government. Jefferson supported the separation of church and state and was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786). He was the eponym of Jeffersonian democracy and the co-founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, which dominated American politics for a quarter-century. Jefferson served as the wartime Governor of Virginia (1779-1781), first United States Secretary of State (1789-1793) and second Vice President (1797-1801). A polymath, Jefferson achieved distinction as, among other things, a horticulturist, statesman, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, author, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 into a family closely related to some of the most prominent individuals in Virginia, the third of eight children. His mother was Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph, a ship's captain and sometime planter, and first cousin to Peyton Randolph. Jefferson's father was Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor in Albemarle County (Shadwell, then Edge Hill, Virginia.) He was of Welsh descent. When Colonel William Randolph, an old friend of Peter Jefferson, died in 1745, Peter assumed executorship and personal charge of William Randolph's estate in Tuckahoe as well as his infant son, Thomas Mann Randolph. That same year the Jeffersons relocated to Tuckahoe where they would remain for the next seven years before returning to their home in Albemarle whereupon Peter Jefferson was appointed to the Colonelcy of the county, a very important position at the time.

In 1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by William Douglas, a Scottish minister. At the age of nine, Jefferson began studying Latin, Greek, and French. In 1757, when he was 14 years old, his father died. Jefferson inherited about 5,000 acres (20 km²) of land and dozens of slaves. He built his home there, which eventually became known as Monticello. After his father's death, he was taught at the school of the learned minister James Maury from 1758 to 1760. The school was in Fredericksville Parish near Gordonsville, Virginia, twelve miles (19 km) from Shadwell, and Jefferson boarded with Maury's family. There he received a classical education and studied history and science. In 1760 Jefferson entered The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg at the age of 16; he studied there for two years, graduating with highest honors in 1762. At William & Mary, he enrolled in the philosophy school and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy. He also perfected his French, carried his Greek grammar book wherever he went, practiced the violin, and read Tacitus and Homer. A keen and diligent student, Jefferson displayed an avid curiosity in all fields and, according to the family tradition, frequently studied fifteen hours a day. While in college, Jefferson was a member of a secret organization called the Flat Hat Club, now the namesake of the William & Mary student newspaper. He lodged and boarded at the College in the building known today as the Sir Christopher Wren Building, attending communal meals in the Great Hall, and morning and evening prayers in the Wren Chapel. Jefferson often attended the lavish parties of royal governor Francis Fauquier, where he played his violin and developed an early love for wines. After graduating in 1762 with highest honors, he studied law with George Wythe and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

On October 1, 1765, Jefferson's oldest sister Jane died at the age of 25. Jefferson fell into a period of deep mourning as he was already exasperated by the absence of his sisters Mary, who had been married several years to Thomas Bolling, and Martha, who had wed earlier in July to Dabney Carr. Both had moved to their husbands' residences and left only Elizabeth, Lucy, and the two toddlers as his companions. Jefferson was not comforted by the presence of Elizabeth or Lucy because they did not provide him with the same intellectual stimulation as his older siblings had. Jefferson would go on to handle many cases as a lawyer in colonial Virginia, managing more than a hundred cases each year between 1768 and 1773 in General Court alone, while acting as counsel in hundreds of cases. Jefferson's client list included members of the Virginia's elite families including members of his mother's family, the Randolphs. In 1772, Jefferson married a 23-year-old widow named Martha Wayles Skelton. They had six children: Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836), Jane Randolph (1774-1775), a stillborn or unnamed son (1777), Mary Wayles (1778-1804), Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781), and Elizabeth (1782-1785). Martha died on September 6, 1782 and Jefferson never remarried. Jefferson may also have been the father of several children with his slave Sally Hemings, though the father may also have been one of his male relatives (see Jefferson DNA data).

In addition to practicing law, Jefferson also represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses beginning in 1769. Following the passage of the Coercive Acts by the British Parliament in 1774, he wrote a set of resolutions against the acts, which were expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, his first published work. Previous criticism of the Coercive Acts had focused on legal and constitutional issues, but Jefferson offered the radical notion that the colonists had the natural right to govern themselves. Jefferson also argued that Parliament was the legislature of Great Britain only, and had no legislative authority in the colonies. The paper was intended to serve as instructions for the Virginia delegation of the First Continental Congress, but Jefferson's ideas proved to be too radical for that body. Nevertheless, the pamphlet helped provide the theoretical framework for American independence, and marked Jefferson as one of the most thoughtful patriot spokesmen.

Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress beginning in June 1775, soon after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. When Congress began considering a resolution of independence in June 1776, Jefferson was appointed to a five-man committee to prepare a declaration to accompany the resolution. The committee selected Jefferson to write the first draft probably because of his reputation as a writer. The assignment was considered routine; no one at the time thought that it was a major responsibility. Jefferson completed a draft in consultation with other committee members, drawing on his own proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources. Jefferson showed his draft to the committee, which made some final revisions, and then presented it to Congress on June 28, 1776. After voting in favor of the resolution of independence on July 2, Congress turned its attention to the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a few changes in wording and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade, changes that Jefferson resented. On July 4, 1776, the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved. The Declaration would eventually become Jefferson's major claim to fame, and his eloquent preamble became an enduring statement of human rights.

In September 1776, Jefferson returned to Virginia and was elected to the new Virginia House of Delegates. During his term in the House, Jefferson set out to reform and update Virginia's system of laws to reflect its new status as a democratic state. He drafted 126 bills in three years, including laws to abolish primogeniture, establish freedom of religion, and streamline the judicial system. In 1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" led to several academic reforms at his alma mater, including an elective system of study, the first in an American university. While in the state legislature Jefferson proposed a bill to eliminate all crimes punishable to death in Virginia except murder and treason. His effort to reform the death penalty law was defeated by just one vote, and Virginia retained such crimes as rape as punishable to death until the 1960s.

Jefferson served as governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. As governor, he oversaw the transfer of the state capital from Williamsburg to the more central location of Richmond in 1780. He continued to advocate educational reforms at the College of William and Mary, including the nation's first student-policed honor code. In 1779, at Jefferson's behest, William and Mary appointed George Wythe to be the first professor of law in an American university. Dissatisfied with the rate of changes he wanted to push through, he later became the founder of the University of Virginia, which was the first university in the United States at which higher education was completely separate from religious doctrine. Virginia was invaded twice by the British during Jefferson's term as governor. He, along with Patrick Henry and other leaders of Virginia, were but ten minutes away from being captured by Banastre Tarleton, a British colonel leading a cavalry column that was raiding the area in June 1781. Public disapproval of his performance delayed his future political prospects, and he was never again elected to office in Virginia.

Because Jefferson served as minister to France from 1785 to 1789, he was not able to attend the Philadelphia Convention. He generally supported the new constitution despite the lack of a bill of rights and was kept informed by his correspondence with James Madison. While in Paris, he lived in a residence on the Champs-Élysées. He spent much of his time exploring the architectural sites of the city, as well as enjoying the fine arts that Paris had to offer. He became a favorite in the salon culture and was a frequent dinner guest of many of the city's most prominent people. In 1784/85 Jefferson was one of the architects of far going trade relations between the US and Prussia. The Prussian ambassador Friedrich Wilhelm von Thulemeyer, John Adams, both living in the Hague, and Franklin in Paris were involved.[18] Despite his numerous friendships with the social and noble elite, when the French Revolution began in 1789, Jefferson sided with the revolutionaries.

After returning from France, Jefferson served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington (1790-1793). Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton began sparring over national fiscal policy, especially the funding of the debts of the war, with Hamilton believing that the debts should be equally shared, and Jefferson believing that each state should be responsible for its own debt (Virginia had not accumulated much debt during the Revolution). In further sparring with the Federalists, Jefferson came to equate Hamilton and the rest of the Federalists with Tories and monarchists who threatened to undermine republicanism. Jefferson and James Madison founded and led the Democratic-Republican Party. He worked with Madison and his campaign manager John J. Beckley to build a nationwide network of Republican allies to combat Federalists across the country. Jefferson strongly supported France against Britain when war broke out between those nations in 1793.

Jefferson still clung to his sympathies with France and hoped for the success of her arms abroad and a cordial compact with her at home. He was afraid that any French reverses on the European battlefields would give "wonderful vigor to our monocrats, and unquestionably affect the tone of administering our government.

Jefferson at the end of 1793 retired to Monticello where he continued to orchestrate opposition to Hamilton and Washington. However, the Jay Treaty of 1794, orchestrated by Hamilton, brought peace and trade with Britain. As the Democratic-Republican candidate in 1796 he lost to John Adams, but had enough electoral votes to become Vice President (1797-1801). He wrote a manual of parliamentary procedure, but otherwise avoided the Senate.

With the Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war with France, underway, the Federalists under John Adams started a navy, built up the army, levied new taxes, readied for war, and enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Jefferson interpreted the Alien and Sedition Acts as an attack on his party more than on dangerous enemy aliens; they were used to attack his party, with the most notable attacks coming from Matthew Lyon, congressman of Vermont. He and Madison rallied support by anonymously writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which declared that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it by the states. The Resolutions meant that, should the federal government assume such powers, its acts under them could be voided by a state. The Resolutions presented the first statements of the states' rights theory, that later led to the concepts of nullification and interposition.

Working closely with Aaron Burr of New York, Jefferson rallied his party, attacking the new taxes especially, and ran for the Presidency in 1800. Consistent with the traditions of the times, he did not formally campaign for the position. Prior to the passage of the 12th Amendment, a problem with the new union's electoral system arose. He tied with Burr for first place in the Electoral College, leaving the House of Representatives (where the Federalists still had some power) to decide the election. After lengthy debate within the Federalist-controlled House, Hamilton convinced his party that Jefferson would be a lesser political evil than Burr and that such scandal within the electoral process would undermine the still-young regime. The issue was resolved by the House, on February 17, 1801 after thirty-six ballots, when Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice President. Burr's refusal to remove himself from consideration created ill will with Jefferson, who dropped Burr from the ticket in 1804 after Burr killed Hamilton in a duel.

After leaving the Presidency, Jefferson continued to be active in public affairs. He also became increasingly concerned with founding a new institution of higher learning, specifically one free of church influences where students could specialize in many new areas not offered at other universities. Jefferson believed educating people was a good way to establish an organized society, and also felt schools should be paid for by the general public, so less wealthy people could obtain student membership as well. A letter to Joseph Priestley, in January, 1800, indicated that he had been planning the University for decades before its establishment. His dream was realized in 1819 with the founding of the University of Virginia. Upon its opening in 1825, it was then the first university to offer a full slate of elective courses to its students. One of the largest construction projects to that time in North America, it was notable for being centered about a library rather than a church. In fact, no campus chapel was included in his original plans.

Jefferson died on the Fourth of July, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He died a few hours before the death of John Adams, his compatriot in their quest for independence, then great political rival, and later friend and correspondent. Adams is often rumored to have referenced Jefferson in his last words, unaware of his passing. Although he was born into one of the wealthiest families in the United States, Thomas Jefferson was deeply in debt when he died. Jefferson's trouble began when his father-in-law died, and he and his brothers-in-law quickly divided the estate before its debts were settled. It made each of them liable for the whole amount due which turned out to be more than they expected. Jefferson sold land before the American Revolution to pay off the debts, but by the time he received payment, the paper money was worthless amid the skyrocketing inflation of the war years. Cornwallis ravaged Jefferson's plantation during the war, and British creditors resumed their collection efforts when the conflict ended. Jefferson was burned again when he co-signed notes for a relative who reneged on debts in the financial panic of 1819. Only Jefferson's public stature prevented creditors from seizing Monticello and selling it out from under him during his lifetime. After his death, his possessions were sold at auction. In 1831, Jefferson's 552 acres (223 hectares) were sold for $7,000 to James T. Barclay. Thomas Jefferson is buried on his Monticello estate, in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his will, he left Monticello to the United States to be used as a school for orphans of navy officers. His epitaph, written by him with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more" be inscribed, reads:


Below the epitaph on a separate panel is written:

BORN APRIL 2 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4 1826

The initials O.S. are a notation for Old Style and that is a reference to the change of dating that occurred during Jefferson's lifetime from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar under the British Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

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