Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most profound and important figures in

American History. Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United

States of America, a diplomat, statesman, architect, scientist, and

philosopher. No leader in this period of American History was as articulate,

wise, or aware of the problems and consequences of a free society as Thomas


Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, a tobacco

plantation in Virginia. His father, Peter Jefferson, was an extremely smart

man, not to mention a self-made success, all despite the fact he was formally

uneducated. His mother, Jane Randolph was a member of one of the most

distinguished families in Virginia. Peter Jefferson died when Thomas was

14, leaving him many valuable properties and lands. As a result of being

formally uneducated himself he demanded his son Thomas be schooled. He

studied with Reverend Mr. Maury, a classical scholar, for two years, and in

1760 he attended William and Mary College. After graduating from William

and Mary in 1762, Jefferson studied law for five years under George Wythe.

In January of 1772, he married Martha Wayles Skelton and made himself a

home in Monticello to raise a family. When he and Martha moved to

Monticello, only a small one room building was completed for them to stay

Jefferson was thirty years old when he first began his political career.

He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgess in 1769, where his first

action was an unsuccessful bill allowing owners to free their slaves.

The continuing problem in British-Colonial relations overshadowed

routine action of legislature. In 1774, the first of the Intolerable Acts closed

the port of Boston until Massachusetts paid for the Boston Tea Party, of the

preceding year. Jefferson and other younger members of the Virginia

Assembly ordained a day of fasting and prayer to demonstrate their sympathy

with Massachusetts. As a result, Virginia’s Royal Governor Dunmore once

again dissolved the assembly (Koch and Peden 20). The members met and

planned to call together an inter-colonial congress.. Jefferson began writing

resolutions which were more radical and better written than those from other

counties and colonies. Although his resolutions were considered too

revolutionary, and not adopted, they were printed and widely circulated.

Because of these resolutions all important writing assignments were entrusted

to Jefferson.

When Jefferson arrived in Philadelphia in June, 1775, as a Virginia

delegate to the Second Continental Congress, he already possessed, as John

Adams remarked, “a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of

composition” (Koch and Peden 21).
When he retired in 1776, he was appointed to a five-man committee,

including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, which was given the most

momentous assignment ever given in the history of America: the drafting of a

formal declaration of independence from Great Britain (Daugherty 109).

Jefferson was responsible for preparing the draft. The document, was finally

approved by Congress on July 4, 1776. Cut and occasionally altered by

Adams or Franklin, or the Congress itself, the declaration is almost

completely Jefferson’s, and is the triumph and culmination of his early

career. At this time, had he wanted to be a political leader, he could have

easily attained a position in government. Instead, he chose to return to

Monticello and give his public service to Virginia. Returning to the Virginia

House of Delegates in October 1776, Jefferson set to work on reforming the

laws of Virginia. He also proposed a rational plan of statewide education

and attempted to write religious toleration into the laws of Virginia by

separating Church and State by writing the “Bill for Establishing Religious


In June of 1779, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia. He

continued his career as a public executive, confident of his abilities, of the

respect, and the affection of his common wealth. However, he took up his

duties at a time when the British were raiding Virginia. General George

Washington did not have resources available to send to Virginia. Jefferson,

during one of the raids, narrowly escaped capture at the hands of the British

Troops, and the legislatures were forced to flee from their new capital city of

Richmond. Jefferson, as head of state, was singled out for criticism and

abuse. At the end of his second term, he announced his retirement. General

Washington’s approval of Jefferson’s actions as Governor made in contrast to

the charges of betraying his duty, made by certain members in legislature.

After Washington’s approval, the legislature passed a resolution officially

clearing Jefferson of all charges (Smith 134, 135).

Jefferson returned home to Monticello in 1781, and buried himself in

writing about Virginia. The pages of text turned into a manuscript later

known as the Notes of Virginia. This book went into great detail about the

beauty of external nature as in its clarification of moral, political, and social

issues, was read by scientist of two continents for years to come (Smith 142).

His wife, ill since the birth of their last daughter, died in September

1782. In sorrow for his wife, Jefferson decided to turn down numerous

appointments. In June 1783, he was elected as a delegate to the

Confederation Congress where he headed important committees and drafted

many reports and official papers. He preferred the necessity of stronger

international commercial relations, and in 1784, wrote instructions for

ministers negotiating commercial treaties with European nations. In May

1784, he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary of the united States to assist

Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, both of whom had preceded him to

Europe to arrange commercial agreements (Koch and Peden 24). He traveled

throughout Europe and every place he went, he was not only an American

diplomat, but a student of the useful sciences. He took notes on making

wine, cheese, planting and harvesting crops, and raising livestock. He sent

home to America information on the different cultures, the actual seeds of a

variety of grasses not native to America, olive plants, and Italian rice. He

remained in Paris until late 1789 (Smith 170). When he got back from

Europe President Washington asked Jefferson to be Secretary of State.

Jefferson accepted the post and found himself disagreeing with the

Seceratary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson thought that all of

Hamilton’s acts were dominated by one purpose: to establish government by

and for a privileged few. Jefferson repeatedly thought of retiring from

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