Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was one of the most brilliant men
in history. His interests were boundless, and his accomplishments were great and varied. He was
a philosopher, educator, naturalist, politician, scientist, architect, inventor, pioneer in scientific
farming, musician, and writer, and was the foremost spokesmen for democracy in his day.
He was born at Shadwell in Goochland County, Virginia on April 13, 1743, to Jane
Randolph and Peter Jefferson. Jefferson Graduated from the college of William and Mary in 1760
(Adams, Page #26). His interest in science was fostered by Dr. William Small, teacher of
mathematics and philosophy, who introduced him to Gov. Francis Fauquier and to George Wythe,
then the most noted teacher of law in Virginia. To “habitual conversation” with these friends
Jefferson said he “owed much instruction” (Dos Passos, Page #102).
In 1767 Jefferson was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in the capitol (Adams,
Page #43). Jefferson was elected justice of the peace and church vestryman in 1768. In May of
the next year he was elected to the House of Burgesses, in which he served until the house cease
to function in 1775. He was appointed county lieutenant of Albemarle in 1770 and the same year
completed the building of his new home, Monticello. Two years later he married, January 1, 1772,
Martha Skelton, a widow who was both attractive and accomplished, the daughter of John
Wayles, a well known lawyer, and just before the College of William and Mary appointed him
surveyor of the county in 1773 (Adams, Page #46-47).
Jefferson’s most remarkable contribution in legislative work before the Revolution came
through work on committees and though such writings as his paper to the Virginia Convention, A
Summary View of the Rights of British America. In defining the grievances with Great Britain,
Jefferson denied that Parliament had any authority over the colonies, and he attacked the
restrictive acts passed by Parliament as a deliberate plan to destroy colonial freedom. Jefferson
also accused the king of rejecting the best laws passed by colonial legislatures, of preventing the
outlaw of slavery, of permitting his governors to break up colonial assemblies, and of sending
armed forces without right to do so(Dos Passos, Page #169). On June 21, 1775 he was given a
seat in the Continental Congress, appointed to the committee to draft the Declaration of
Independence, and he was chosen by the committee to write the declaration because of his
“peculiar felicity of style.” The Declaration of Independence was formally adopted on July 4,
1776 (Conlin Page #141-144).
In 1776 Jefferson was elected to the Virginia legislature, giving up his seat in the
Continental Congress and declining an offer to serve with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane as
commissioners to France, mostly because of personal reasons having to do with his family, but
also, because he felt he could best serve the revolutionary cause by furthering the reformation of
Virginia ( Adams, Page #98-99). He then served three years in the house of delegates. While
there he began the revision of the laws of Virginia. His most noteworthy achievement during this
time was his proposal of the Statute for Religious Freedom, which stated in Jefferson’s own
words, “that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or
ministry whatsoever”, and that no one should suffer in any way for their “religious opinions or
beliefs.” The bill was eventually adopted in 1786. Jefferson also had succeeded in the of passing
bills to abolish primogeniture and entail. Although never passed, his Bill of Universal Diffusion of
Knowledge, set forth a philosophy of providing free public schooling for all citizens (Adams
Page #104-110).
During this period, Jefferson managed to spend considerable time with his family, but
even in leisure he was never idle. He took up building projects at Monticello and continued to
develop his land. Jefferson was a philosopher and at the same time an architect and inventor. He
invented the dumbwaiter, a swivel chair, a lamp-heater, and an improved plow for which the
French gave him a medal. He tinkered with clocks, steam engines, and metronomes. He collected
plans of large cities and later helped in the planning of Washington, DC. Jefferson kept an over
sea correspondence with Giovanni Fabbroni, an Italian naturalist, in order to compare climate and
plant life in Virginia and southern Europe. He added to his valuable collection of books and
bought instruments for making astronomical observations. He also fostered his love of music. In
a letter to the Italian,