|Term of office||March 4, 1801 – March 3, 1809|
|Preceded by||John Adams|
|Succeeded by||James Madison|
|Date of birth||April 13, 1743|
|Place of birth||Shadwell, Virginia|
|Date of death||July 4, 1826|
|Place of death||Charlottesville, Virginia|
|Spouse||Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson|
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801–1809), principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and an influential Founding Father of the United States. Major events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the Embargo Act of 1807, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806). Jefferson served as the second Governor of Virginia (1779–1781), the first United States Secretary of State (1789–1793), and the second Vice President (1797–1801).
In addition to his political career, Jefferson was an agriculturalist, horticulturist, architect, etymologist, archaeologist, mathematician, cryptographer, surveyor, paleontologist, author, lawyer, inventor, violinist, and the founder of the University of Virginia. Many people consider Jefferson to be among the most brilliant men ever to occupy the Presidency. President John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962, saying, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
Jefferson had a strong commitment to religious freedom and in 1779 he authored the Virginia statute for religious freedom. He considered this as one of his three great life achievements along with drafting the Declaration of Independence and founding of the University of Virginia.
Jefferson was born on April 2, 1743 according to the Julian calendar ("old style") used at the time, but under the Gregorian calendar ("new style") adopted during his lifetime, he was born on April 13. He was born into a prosperous Virginia family, the third of ten children (counting two who were stillborn). His mother was Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph, and a cousin of Peyton Randolph. Jefferson's father was Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor who owned a plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia named Shadwell. Following a fire that burned down the family home at Shadwell, Peter Jefferson moved his family to Edge Hill, Virginia.
In 1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by William Douglas, a Scottish reverend. At the age of nine, Jefferson began studying the classical languages of Latin and Greek as well as French. In 1757, when Jefferson was 14 years old, his father died. Jefferson inherited about 5000 acres of land and dozens of slaves. He built his home there, which eventually became known as Monticello.
Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia at the age of 16 and spent two years there, from 1760 to 1762. He studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small, who introduced the enthusiastic Jefferson to the writings of the British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Sir Isaac Newton (Jefferson would later refer to them as the "three greatest men the world had ever produced" ). At William and Mary, he reportedly studied 15 hours a day, perfected his French, carried his Greek grammar book wherever he went, practiced the violin, and favored Tacitus and Homer. He was a member of the secret "Flat Hat Club," from which the current William & Mary's daily student newspaper takes its name.
After graduating in 1762 with highest honors, Jefferson studied law with his friend and mentor, George Wythe, and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. In 1772, Jefferson married a widow, Martha Wayles Skelton (1748-1782). They had six children: Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) (called "Patsy"), Jane Randolph (1774-1775), a stillborn or unnamed son (1777), Mary Wayles (1778-1804), Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781), and a second Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1785). Martha Wayles Skelton died on September 6, 1782, and Jefferson never remarried. However, he is believed to have fathered several other children through his slave, Sally Hemings.
Jefferson practiced law and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1774, he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was intended as instructions for the Virginia delegates to a national congress. The pamphlet was a powerful argument of American terms for a settlement with Britain. It helped speed the way to independence, and marked Jefferson as one of the most thoughtful patriot spokespersons.
As the colonists debated independence in 1776, Jefferson became the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress delegated the task of writing the Declaration to a Committee of Five that in turn unanimously solicited Jefferson to prepare the draft of the Declaration alone. It was finally adopted and signed on July 4, 1776, marking what is known today as Independence Day.
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.
Jefferson served as governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. As governor, he oversaw the transfer of the state capitol from Williamsburg to 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 would go on later in life to become the "father" and founder of the University of Virginia, which was the first university at which higher education was completely separate from religious doctrine.
From 1785–1789, Jefferson served as minister to France. Thus he did not attend the Constitutional Convention. He did generally support the new Constitution, although he thought the document flawed for lack of a Bill of Rights.
After returning from France, Jefferson served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington (1789–1793). Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton began sparring over national fiscal policy, specifically deficit spending in 1790. In further sparring with the Federalists, Jefferson came to equate Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the extreme Federalists as "Tories." By the late 1790s, he worried that "Hamiltonianism" was taking hold. He equated this with "royalism." Jefferson strongly supported France against Britain when war broke out between those nations in 1793. When the Jay Treaty demonstrated that Washington and Hamilton favored Britain, Jefferson retired to Monticello. He was elected Vice President (1797–1801), having placed second in the presidential race against John Adams.
Piracy on the high seas had become a very serious problem for merchant ships of the United States. Barbary Pirates, as well as French privateers demanded tribute and ransom for return of ships. With a quasi-War with France underway (that is, an undeclared naval war), as the United States sought to remain neutral during France's French Revolution, which had provoked war with Britain. 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 (the Anti-Federalists) more than on dangerous enemy aliens. He and James Madison rallied support by anonymously writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that declared that the Constitution only established an agreement between the central government and the states and that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it. Should the federal government assume such powers, its acts under them could be voided by a state. The Resolutions' importance lies in being the first statements of the states' rights theory that led to the later 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. The Federalists counterattacked by accusing Jefferson, a Deist, of being an atheist and enemy of Christianity. He tied with Burr for first place in the Electoral College, which left the House of Representatives 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. The issue was resolved by the House, on February 17, 1801, when Jefferson was elected President with Burr Vice President.
Jefferson's Presidency, from 1801 to 1809, was the first to start and end in the White House; it was also the first Democratic-Republican Presidency. Jefferson is the only Vice President to later win an election and serve two full terms as President of the United States. Jefferson's term was marked by his belief in agrarianism, individual liberty, and limited government, sparking the development of a distinct American identity defined by republicanism.
The two great accomplishments of his first term were the Louisiana Purchase and commissioning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but first priority was stopping piracy on the high seas, as the tribute and ransom had cost 20 percent of the national budget in the year 1800. Appeasement was no longer an option. Jefferson was re-elected in the 1804 election. His second term was dominated by foreign policy concerns, as American neutrality was imperiled by war between Britain and France.
A political philosopher who promoted classical liberalism, republicanism, and the separation of church and state, Jefferson was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786), which was the basis of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. He was the eponym of Jeffersonian democracy and the founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party which dominated American politics for over a quarter-century. Although other American parties also have similarities of philosophy with Jefferson, the present Democratic Party is literally an offshoot of Jefferson's party, formed by Andrew Jackson and other prominent Democratic-Republicans (who by then included some ex-Federalists) in the 1820s.
Jefferson's vision for America was that of an agricultural nation of yeoman farmers minding their own affairs. It stood in contrast to the vision of Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned a nation of commerce and manufacturing. Jefferson was a great believer in the uniqueness and the potential of America and can be seen as the father of American exceptionalism. In particular, he was confident that an under-populated America could avoid what he considered the horrors of class-divided, industrialized Europe. Jefferson was influenced heavily by the ideas of many European Enlightenment thinkers. His political principles were heavily influenced by John Locke (particularly relating to the principles of inalienable rights and popular sovereignty) and Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Political theorists have also compared Jefferson's thought to that of his French contemporary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Jefferson thought that individuals have an innate sense of morality that proscribes right from wrong when dealing with other individuals—that whether they choose to restrain themselves or not, they have an innate sense of the natural rights of others. He even believed that moral sense to be reliable enough that an anarchist society could function well, provided that it was reasonably small. On several occasions he expressed admiration for the non-government society of the Native Americans.
Jefferson's dedication to "consent of the governed" was so thorough that he believed that individuals could not be morally bound by the actions of preceding generations. This included debts as well as law. He said that "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation." He even calculated what he believed to be the proper cycle of legal revolution: "Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it is to be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right." He arrived at 19 years through calculations with expectancy of life tables, taking into account what he believed to be the age of "maturity"—when an individual is able to reason for himself. He also advocated that the National Debt should be eliminated. He did not believe that living individuals had a moral obligation to repay the debts of previous generations. He said that repaying such debts was "a question of generosity and not of right".
During the Revolution, Jefferson played a leading role in ending state support for religion in Virginia. Previously the Anglican Church had tax support. As he wrote in his Notes on Virginia, a law was in effect in Virginia that "if a person brought up a Christian denies the being of a God, or the Trinity …he is punishable on the first offense by incapacity to hold any office …; on the second by a disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy …, and by three year' imprisonment." Prospective officer-holders, presumably including Jefferson, were required to swear that they did not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In 1779 Jefferson drafted "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," and he regarded passage of this bill as a high achievement. One of the elements that led Jefferson to oppose tax support of the Anglican Church in particular and of religion per se, in general, was the persecution that members of that Church had exercised against Baptists and Presbyterians in his home state of Virginia. This led to Jefferson's Religious Freedom Bill.
In an 1802 letter to the Baptists Association of Danbury, Connecticut, Jefferson makes reference to a "wall of separation between Church and State," which he believed was a principle expressed by the First Amendment. Jefferson's famous "Wall of Separation" letter states:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence `that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State"
This phrase has been cited several times by the U.S. Supreme Court in its interpretation of the Establishment Clause. While Jefferson clearly opposed the state outlining acceptable religious beliefs, there is no evidence that Jefferson felt that religion could not have a positive impact upon society and the body politic. Jefferson himself felt that the teachings of Jesus should serve as the basis for a moral life and he developed the Jefferson Bible, based on Jesus' words but circumventing Christology and denominationalism.
Jefferson, as noted, was an intellectual heir of British philosopher John Locke. Like the advocates of "gentlemanly religion" in Locke's days, Jefferson had grave reservations towards what Lord Shaftesbury described as "religious enthusiasm" or what we might view today as "fundamentalism" or any form of narrow denominationalism. His private letters indicate he was skeptical of too much interference by clergy in matters of civil government. His letters contain the following observations: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government" , and, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."  "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government". Jefferson's harshest comments however, seemed to have been directed toward the spiritual descendants of John Calvin:
"The serious enemies are the priests of the different religious sects, to whose spells on the human mind its improvement is ominous. Their pulpits are now resounding with denunciations against the appointment of Dr. Cooper whom they charge as Monarchist in opposition to their tritheism. Hostile as these sects are in every other point, to one another, they unite in maintaining their mystical theology against those who believe there is one God only. The Presbyterian clergy are the loudest. The most intolerant of all sects, the most tyrannical, and ambitious; ready at the word of the lawgiver, if such a word could be now obtained, to put the torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere, the flames in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus…"
During his Presidency (1801-1809), Jefferson did not follow the tradition of his predecessor John Adams who had issued proclamations calling for days of prayer and thanksgiving.
On matters of religion, Jefferson in 1800 was accused by his political opponents of being an atheist and enemy of religion. But Jefferson wrote at length on religion and most of his biographers agree he was a Christian deist, a common position held by British and American intellectuals in the late eighteenth century. As Avery Cardinal Dulles, a leading Roman Catholic theologian reports, "In his college years at William and Mary he [Jefferson] came to admire Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke as three great paragons of wisdom. Under the influence of several professors he converted to the deist philosophy." Dulles concludes:
In summary, then, Jefferson was a Christian deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines of the Trinity and that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson's religion was fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day.
Jefferson used deist terminology in repeatedly stating his belief in a Creator, and in the United States Declaration of Independence used the terms "Creator," "Nature's God." Jefferson believed, furthermore, it was this Creator that endowed humanity with a number of inalienable rights, such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." His experience in France just before the French Revolution made him deeply suspicious of (Catholic) priests and bishops as a force for reaction and ignorance.
Jefferson was raised in the Church of England, at a time when it was the established church in Virginia and only denomination funded by Virginia tax money. Before the Revolution, Jefferson was a vestryman in his local church, a lay position that was part of political office at the time. Jefferson was clearly not a supporter of trinitarianism. Toward the end of his life, he expressed general agreement with his friend Joseph Priestley's Unitarianism. In a letter to a pioneer in Ohio he wrote, "I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its conscience to neither kings or priests, the genuine doctrine of only one God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."
After leaving the Presidency, Jefferson continued to be active in public affairs. He also became increasingly obsessed with founding a new institution of higher learning, specifically one free of church influences where students could specialize in many new areas of study not offered at other universities. 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. The university was designed as the capstone of the educational system of Virginia. In his vision, any citizen of the state could attend school with the sole criterion being ability. Until his death, he invited university students and faculty of the school to his home; Edgar Allan Poe was among them.
Jefferson was an accomplished architect who was extremely influential in bringing the Neo-Palladian style—popular among the Whig aristocracy of Britain—to the United States. The style was associated with Enlightenment ideas of republican civic virtue and political liberty. Jefferson designed his famous home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia; it included automatic doors, the first swivel chair, and other convenient devices invented by Jefferson. Nearby is the only university ever to have been founded by a President, the University of Virginia, of which the original curriculum and architecture Jefferson designed. Today, Monticello and the University of Virginia are together one of only four man-made World Heritage Sites in the United States of America. Jefferson is also credited with the architectural design of the Virginia State Capitol building, which was modeled after the Maison Carrée at Nîmes in southern France, an ancient Roman temple. Jefferson's buildings helped initiate the ensuing American style called Federal style architecture.
Jefferson's interests included archaeology, a discipline then in its infancy. He has sometimes been called the "father of archeology" in recognition of his role in developing excavation techniques. When exploring a Native American burial mound on his Virginia estate in 1784, Jefferson avoided the common practice of simply digging downwards until something turned up. Instead, he cut a wedge out of the mound so that he could walk into it, look at the layers of occupation, and draw conclusions from them.
Jefferson was an avid wine lover and noted gourmet. During his years in France (1784-1789) he took extensive trips through French and other European wine regions and sent the best back home. He is noted for the bold pronouncement: "We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good." While there were extensive vineyards planted at Monticello, a significant portion were of the European wine grape Vitis vinifera which did not survive the many vine diseases native to the Americas.
In 1812, he wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice that is still in use.
After the British burned Washington, D.C. and the Library of Congress in August 1814, Jefferson offered his personal collection to the nation. In January 1815, Congress accepted his offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library. Today, the Library of Congress website for federal legislative information is named THOMAS, in honor of Jefferson.
Jefferson's personal records show he owned more than 650 slaves over his lifetime, some of whom were inherited from his parents and through his wife's parents. Some find it hypocritical that he owned slaves yet was outspoken in saying that slavery was immoral and on the course of eventual extinction. In 1801, after his election to the Presidency, Boston newspaper The New England Palladium said he had made his "ride into the temple of Liberty on the shoulders of slaves."
In 1769, as a member of the House of Burgesses, Jefferson proposed for that body to emancipate slaves in Virginia, but he was unsuccessful. In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence (1776), Jefferson condemned the British crown for sponsoring the importation of slavery to the colonies, charging that the crown "has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere." However, this language was dropped from the Declaration at the request of delegates from South Carolina and Georgia.
In 1778, the legislature passed a bill he proposed to ban further importation of slaves into Virginia; although this did not bring complete emancipation, in his words, it "stopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication." In 1784, Jefferson's draft of what became the Northwest Ordinance stipulated that "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude" in any of the new states admitted to the Union from the Northwest Territory. Jefferson attacked the institution of slavery in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1784):
"There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other."
Most of Jefferson's slaves were sold after his death to pay his many debts. During his lifetime, and in his will, Jefferson had freed only eight of his slaves (all of them members of the Hemings family). Edmund Bacon, the chief overseer of Monticello for 20 years, told his biographer that Jefferson's "orders to me were constant, that if there was any servant that could not be got along without the chastising that was customary, to dispose of him. He could not bear to have a servant whipped, no odds how much he deserved it."
Bacon also said he believed Jefferson would have freed all his slaves in his will, but was too far in debt.
A subject of considerable controversy since Jefferson's time is whether he was the father of any of the children of his slave Sally Hemings(1773-1835). This allegation first gained widespread public attention in 1802, when journalist James T. Callender, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Hemings had been Jefferson's "concubine" for many years, and had "several children" by her. Jefferson never responded publicly about this issue. In his will, he freed Hemings' sons Madison and Eston, who later claimed that Jefferson was their father.
A 1998 DNA study concluded that there was a DNA link between some of Hemings descendants and the Jefferson family, but did not conclusively prove that Jefferson himself was their ancestor. Three studies were released in the early 2000s, following the publication of the DNA evidence. A study by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation which runs Monticello states that "it is very unlikely that … any Jefferson other than Thomas Jefferson was the father of her children."
From 1812, on receiving a letter from John Adams, a fruitful exchange of correspondence began between these two political rivals that would continue until their deaths. Jefferson died on the Fourth of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the same day but later in the day, as John Adams' death. As he passed away, Adams dying words were, "Thomas Jefferson lives still." Deep in debt when he died, his possessions were sold at an auction on Monticello. In 1831, Jefferson's 552 acres (223 hectares) were sold for $7,000 to James T. Barclay. In 1836, Barclay sold the estate and 218 acres (88 hectares) of land to United States Navy Lieutenant Uriah P. Levy for $2,700. Levy then bought 2500 acres of the surrounding land and started to purchase original furnishings. Lieutenant Levy is called "the Savior of Monticello" because of this. Levy died in 1862. In his will, he left the Monticello to the United States to be used as a school for orphans of navy officers. Thomas Jefferson is buried on his Monticello estate, in Charlottesville, Virginia. His epitaph, written by him with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more" be inscribed, reads:
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