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Thomas Jefferson is a American leader and political philosopher, author of the Declaration
of Independence, and the third president of the United States. (1801-1809)
Jefferson was among the most brilliant American exponents of the Enlightenment, the movement of
18th-century thought that emphasized the possibilities of human reason. A Virginia aristocrat, he had
the time and resources to educate himself in history, literature, law, architecture, science, and
philosophy; as diplomat and friend of French and British intellectuals, he had direct access to
motivation and the opportunity to apply Enlightenment political philosophy to the task of nation-
Theoretician of Independence
During his 20s, Jefferson read voraciously in Enlightenment philosophy, 17th-century English
history, political theory, and law. Drawing on this learning, he drafted in1774a Summary View of
the Rights of British America as instructions for Virginia's delegates to the First Continental
Congress, which met to consider the colonies' grievances against Great Britain. Virginia leaders
instead adopted a more legalistic set of instructions,, and Summary View was published
anonymously as a pamphlet. As Jefferson's authorship became widely known, however, he moved
suddenly into the front rank of American political theorists.
In the pamphlet, Jefferson argued that the original settlers of the colonies came as individuals
rather than as agents of the British government. The colonial governments they formed therefore
embodied the natural right of expatriates from one country to select the terms of their subjection a
new ruler. Colonial legislatures and the British Parliament, he asserted, shared power, and both were
responsible for protecting the "liberties and rights" of the people.
The Declaration of Independence, drafted principally by Jefferson in late June 1776 for the
second Continental Congress, drew the implications of this historical view to their logical conclusion,
proclaiming that the tyrannical acts of the British government gave the colonists the right to "dissolve
the political bands" that had connected them with the mother country.
Jefferson was born on April 13, 1773, at Shadwell in Ambermale County, Virginia . His
father was a plantation owner, and his mother belonged to the Randolph family, which was
prominent in colonial Virginia. From his father and from his environment he acquired an intense
interest in botany, geology, cartography, and North American exploration, and from his childhood
teacher love of Greek and Latin. As a student at the College of William and Mary in the early
1760s, he studied under William Small, who knew in depth
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