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, Virginias 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 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 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 pproved by Congress on July 4, 1776. Cut and occasionally altered by Adams or Franklin, or the Congress itself, the declaration is almost completely Jeffersons, 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 nd 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 Washingtons approval of Jeffersons actions as Governor made in contrast to the charges of betraying his duty, made by certain members in legislature. After Washingtons 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 Hamiltons acts were dominated by one purpose: to establish government by and for a privileged few. Jefferson repeatedly thought of retiring from the abinet position in which he was constantly arguing against Hamilton, the power-hungry man in the capitol. After negotiating the countrys foreign problems, Jefferson once again retired to Monticello. During retirement, Jefferson supervised the farming of his many lands and designed a plow which revolutionized agriculture; he tended library like a garden. e changed the architectural plans for Monticello, and supervised the construction.
After three rather active years of retirement, Jefferson accepted the Republican Partys nomination in 1796 for president. He lost by three votes, which nder the prevailing system meant he was elected Vice President and the Federalist, John Adams, was elected president. The Federalist Administration turned upon its political opponents by passing the Alien Act, to deport foreign radicals, liberal propagandists, and agitators, also the Sedition Act, to hold the press.
The Sedition Act gave the Administration the power to fine, imprison, and prosecute any opposing writer, so therefore the Republicans were kept quiet in the remaining years of Adams Administration (Randall 523, 528). In 1800, Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran for office. The electoral vote, n contrast to the popular vote, resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr. The Federalist threatened Jefferson to bargain with them or they would elect Burr. Jefferson, however, stood firm and made no promises, until the Federalists gave up.
As president, Jeffersons first project was to remove the bias which had recently infected America. His policy of general reconciliation and reform, and his success in freeing the victims of the Alien and Sedition laws were generally supported by a favorable Congress (Randall 549). His popularity during his first term was greater than at any time during is career. In this term he was confronted with the most important problem of his career. Spain transferred to France its rights to the port of new Orleans, and the section of land controlling the province of Louisiana.
Louisiana in the strong hands of the French rather than the weak hands of Spain placed an almost overwhelming obstacle in the path of American growth and prosperity. It was extremely important that America control the Louisiana territory, either through peaceful negotiation or by war. When French dictator Napoleon, suddenly offered to sell for fifteen million dollars, ot only the port of New Orleans, but also the entire piece of French owned land from the Mississippi to the Rockies, Jefferson was faced with the problem of taking the offer or wait for a Constitutional amendment authorizing such an act.
After much thinking, Jefferson authorized the purchase (Smith 266). Therefore his first term ended in a blaze of glory. The people, happy with the good fortune of their nation, almost unanimously sent Jefferson back for a second term. Busy as he was during these years, Jefferson had found time to follow his favorite intellectual pursuits. He had ot only aided in establishing a National Library, but had made many valuable additions to his own private collection. His second term was full of difficulties.
To avoid war, Jefferson promoted the Non-Intercourse Act of 1806 and the Embargo of 1807. The Embargo was heavily criticized and had not been effective. To make matters worse, the domestic front was full of defections and desertions. When his term expired on march 3, 1809, he was thrilled to be leaving politics and returned to Monticello (McLaughlin 376). Jeffersons daughter Martha said that in retirement her father never bandoned a friend or principle. he and John Adams, their earlier political differences reconciled, wrote many letters.
Jefferson frequently complained about the time consumed in maintaining his ever increasing friendship, but could not resist an intellectual challenge, or turn down an appeal for his opinion, advice, or help. He continued to discuss with quick thinking and a brilliant clarity such divers subjects as anthropology and political theory, religion, and zoology (Koch and Peden 40). Jeffersons major concern during his last years was education and educational philosophy. He considered knowledge not only as a means to an end, but an end in itself. He felt education was the key to life as it was to happiness.
He reopened his campaign for a system of general education in Virginia. Through his efforts, the University of Virginia, the first American University to be free of official church connection, was established and was Jeffersons daily concern during his last seven years (Koch and Peden 39). He sent out an agent to select the faculty, he chose books for the library, drew up the curriculum, designed the buildings, and supervised their construction. The University finally opened in 1825, the winter before his death. Despite his preoccupation with the University, he continued to pursue a multitude of other tasks.
In his eightieth year, for example, he wrote on politics, sending President Monroe long expositions later known to the world in Monroes version as the Monroe Doctrine (Daugherty 326). Among all his interests, there was one flaw on his time and thought which caused Jefferson endless embarrassment. His finances, always shaky, finally collapsed. Jefferson had frequently advanced money to friends who ared much more for possessions than he, and occasionally had been forced to make good on their notes when they found it impossible to do so.
He spent money lavishly on his libraries and the arts, on Monticello, and on his childrens education. His passion for architecture cost him a small fortune. At the final stage of his financial distress, Jefferson petitioned the Virginia legislature to grant him permission to dispose of Monticello and its farms by lottery. The almost immediate response of private citizens, in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, on hearing this news was to donate a sum of ver sixteen thousand dollars to aid the leader who had devoted his industry and resourcefulness to all America for half of a century (Smith 304).
On July 4, 1826, Jefferson died at Monticello. He was buried on the hillside beside his wife. He had written the script for his headstone himself: Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and father of the University of Virginia. With absolute brilliance and an unbelievable sense of what was best for the American people Thomas Jefferson established himself as one of the best and most contributive leaders in American history.