Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743–July 4, 1826) was the third (1801–1809) President of the United States and an American statesman, ambassador to France, political philosopher, revolutionary, agriculturalist, horticulturist, land owner, architect, archaeologist, and author.
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|Term of Office:||Monday, March 4, 1801–|
Thursday, March 3, 1809
|Succeeded by:||James Madison|
|Date of Birth||April 13, 1743|
|Place of Birth:||Shadwell, Virginia|
|Date of Death:||Tuesday, July 4, 1826|
|Place of Death:||Monticello, Virginia|
|First Lady:||Martha Jefferson Randolph (daughter)|
Dolley Madison (friend)
|Vice President:|| Aaron Burr (1801-1805)|
George Clinton (1805-1809)
His parents were Peter Jefferson (March 29, 1708–August 17, 1757) and Jane Randolph (February 20, 1720–March 31, 1776), both from families who had settled in Virginia for several generations. He attended and then attempted to institute many reforms at the College of William & Mary — where he was a member of the secret FHC Society — before founding his own vision of higher education at the University of Virginia.
He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and a source of many other contributions to American culture. Achievements of his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Jefferson himself designed his famous home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia; it included automatic doors and other convenient devices invented by Jefferson. Nearby is the University of Virginia, the original architecture and curriculum of which Jefferson also designed. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., a scholar at the University of Virginia, has written the definitive book on the original buildings, or Academical Village, at the University of Virginia.
Letter to Col. Skipwith, concerning millet seed
Jefferson's interests included archaeology, a discipline then in its infancy. He has sometimes been called the "father of archaeology" in recognition of his role in developing excavation techniques. When exploring an Indian 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 also an avid wine lover and noted gourmet. During his ambassadorship to France (1784-9) he took extensive trips through French and other European wine regions and sent the best back to the White House. 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 and did not survive the many vine diseases native to the Americas. Thus, Jefferson himself was never able to produce wine on par with Europe. However, it seems likely that he would be pleased with the quantity and quality of wine now being made in Virginia, to say nothing of the rest of the country.
Jefferson's idea for the United States was that of an agricultural nation of yeoman farmers, 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 the United States and is often classified a forefather of American exceptionalism (see also exceptionalism).
His personal records show he owned 187 slaves. A subject of considerable controversy since Jefferson's own time was whether Jefferson was the father of any of the children of his slave Sally Hemings. A modern look at this relationship is by Shannon Fair in his book Jefferson's Children (ISBN 0375805974). DNA evidence has suggested that Thomas Jefferson may have fathered at least one of Hemings' children.
Jefferson was the first secretary of state of the United States, serving from 1789 until 1795. He was also the second vice president of the United States, under John Adams from 1797 until 1801, achieving that position after getting second place in the presidential election of 1796.
An electoral tie resulted between Jefferson and his opponent Aaron Burr in the U.S. presidential election, 1800. It was resolved on February 17, 1801 when Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice President by the United States House of Representatives. Jefferson was the only Vice President elected to the Presidency to serve two full terms.
Jefferson's portrait appears on the U.S. $2 bill and the U.S. 5 cent piece, or nickel. Thomas Jefferson is buried on his Monticello estate. Jefferson's epitaph, written by Jefferson with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more" be inscribed, reads,
- Here was buried
- Thomas Jefferson
- Author of the Declaration of American Independence
- of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
- & Father of the University of Virginia
Notably missing is a reference to his presidency.
Events during his Presidency
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.
Appearance, temperament and interests
Jefferson was about six feet in height, large-boned, slim, erect and sinewy. He had angular features, a very ruddy complexion, sandy hair and hazel-flecked, grey eyes. Age lessened the unattractiveness of his exterior. In later years he was negligent in dress and loose in bearing. There was grace, nevertheless, in his manners; and his frank and earnest address, his quick sympathy (yet he seemed cold to strangers), his vivacious, desultory, informing talk gave him an engaging charm. Beneath a quiet surface he was fairly aglow with intense convictions and a very emotional temperament. Yet he seems to have acted habitually, in great and little things, on system. His mind, no less trenchant and subtle than Hamilton's, was the most impressible, the most receptive, mind of his time in America. The range of his interests is remarkable. For many years he was president of the American Philosophical Society. Though it is a biographical tradition that he lacked wit, Molière and Don Quixote seem to have been his favorites; and though the utilitarian wholly crowds romanticism out of his writings, he had enough of that quality in youth to prepare to learn Gaelic in order to translate Ossian, and sent to Macpherson for the originals! His interest in art was evidently intellectual. He was singularly sweet-tempered, and shrank from the impassioned political bitterness that raged about him; bore with relative equanimity a flood of coarse and malignant abuse of his motives, morals, religion, personal honesty and decency; cherished very few personal animosities; and better than any of his great antagonists cleared political opposition of ill-blooded personality. In short, his kindness of heart rose above all social, religious or political differences, and nothing destroyed his confidence in men and his sanguine views of life.
On matters of religion, Jefferson was sympathetic to Deism, which was fashionable among the intellectuals of his time. Although he believed in a God, ("Nature's God", as the deity was commonly called by Deists), this God was a distant god, not concerned with the affairs of humanity.
Moreover, he did not believe in miracles. Indeed, at one point he edited the Gospels to remove all reference to the miracles of Jesus and material he considered overly religious, leaving only Jesus' moral philosophy, of which he approved. This compilation was published after his death and became known as the Jefferson Bible. This was later printed in some 2,500 copies for the United States Congress in 1903. Jefferson believed in the separation between church and state, opining, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government" (Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813), 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" (Letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814).
Jefferson was influenced heavily by the ideas of Polish brethren.
Englishman John Bidle had translated two works by said Przypkowski ; also the Racovian Catechism; and a work by J. Stegmann, a "Polish Brother" from Germany.
Bidle's followers had very close relations with the Polish Socinian family of Crellius (aka Spinowski).
Subsequently, the Unitarian branch of Christianity was continued with by, most notably, Joseph Priestley, who had emigrated to the U. S. A. and was a friend of both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson's political principles were also heavily influenced by John Locke, particularly relating to the principles of inalienable rights and popular sovereignty.
Supreme Court appointments
Jefferson appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
- Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters by Thomas Jefferson (1984, ISBN 094045016X)
- Dickinson W. Adams, ed., Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983). All three of Jefferson's versions of the Gospels, with relevant correspondence about his religious opinions. Valuable introduction by Eugene Sheridan.
- James A. Bear, Jr., ed., Jefferson's Memorandum Books, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1997). Jefferson's account books with records of daily expenses.
- Edwin Morris Betts and James A. Bear, Jr., The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1986). Correspondence of Jefferson with his children and grandchildren.
- Gilbert Chinard, ed., The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson: A Repertory of His Ideas on Government (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1926). Jefferson's legal commonplace book.
- Lester Cappon, The Adams-Jefferson Letters (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1959). All the correspondence between Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams.
- Wilbur Samuel Howell, ed., Jefferson's Parliamentary Writings (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988). Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice, written when he was vice-president, with other relevant papers.
- Frank Shuffelton, ed., Notes on the State of Virginia (New York: Penguin, 1999). Edition of Jefferson's only published book, follows the 1787 Stockdale edition that was the basis for almost all nineteenth-century reprints. Places in the footnotes Jefferson's later revisions done in his personal copy.
- James Morton Smith, ed., The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 1776-1826, 3 vols. (New York: Norton, 1995).
- Douglas L. Wilson, ed., Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1989).
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