American Revolution Patriots > Thomas Jefferson
JEFFERSON, Thomas, American statesman, third President of the United States; b. Shadwell, Albemarle County, Va., 13 April 1743; d. Monticello, Albemarle County, Va., 4 July 1826; student at William and Mary College, Williamsburg. Va., 1760-62; student of law 1762-67; member of house of burgesses 1769-74; member of Virginia Conventions 1774 and 1775; of the Continental Congress 1775-76; of Virginia legislature 1776-79; governor of Virginia 1779-81; member of Congress 1783-84; Minister to France 1784-89: Secretary of State 1790-93; Vice-President 1797-1801); President 1801-09; in retirement at Monticello 1809-26.
Thomas Jefferson was the son of Peter Jefferson, a planter of Albemarle County, Va. His mother was Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph, who was a descendant of William Randolph of Turkey Island, the progenitor of that family so well known in Virginia history. Jefferson's birthplace was Shadwell, about four miles from the city of Charlottesville. At this homestead he resided until it was destroyed by fire in 1770; thereupon Jefferson selected a low mountain about two miles from Charlottesville, where he built that now famous mansion, “Monticello.” Albemarle County, Va., has the proud distinction of being the section in which Jefferson was born, reared, lived, died and lies buried. Jefferson's early education, as was usually the case with Virginia planters, was entrusted first to a private tutor, from whom he learned Latin, Greek, French and mathematics. At 14 his father died, and after two years in a school conducted by the Rev. James Maury, he entered in 1760 William and Mary College, at that time the best institution of learning in America. The student Jefferson is described as tall and raw-boned, with reddish hair and grayish hazel eyes. He was not then regarded as handsome, though in after years he was considered as probably the most attractive in appearance of the great Virginia statesmen. As a youth he was noted for his intelligence, and while at college he was in constant association with such men of culture as George Wythe (q.v.), the eminent lawyer; Prof. William Small, the profound scholar, and Gov. Francis Fauquier (q.v.), the gay and accomplished gentleman. With these gentlemen, many years his senior, he was accustomed to discuss the deepest questions of philosophy and government. In Williamsburg, Jefferson was one of the leaders in all social functions, and always attended the balls given in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern. Probably his first year at college was spent among too many festivities, but during his second year he is said to have been a most diligent student, often devoting 15 hours a day to his books. After two years of college work he commenced the study of law under George Wythe, but did not apply for admission to practice before the General Court of Virginia till 1767. Jefferson was now 24 years of age; he had a large farm of 1,900 acres (soon increased to 5,000 acres) to which he gave his personal supervision. Though he devoted much time to this farm, he succeeded so well as a lawyer that his profession soon paid him $3,000 annually.
In 1769 he was returned by Albemarle County a member of the House of Burgesses, an honor which his father had had before him. This was Jefferson's beginning as a statesman. He had stood in 1765 in the hallway of the House of Burgesses when Patrick Henry (q.v.) offered his famous resolution against the Stamp Act, and from Patrick Henry he imbibed the spirit of revolution. Just as soon as he became a member of the Burgesses, he joined the party of resistance to England. He was by nature a bold and fearless thinker, and when a mere boy he had had engraved on a seal as his motto, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God,” a principle to which he held throughout his long and eventful life. Jefferson was present when the House of Burgesses passed the resolutions of 1769. He was one of those who signed the agreement not to import goods from England. He was also a member of the House of Burgesses when, in 1773, it established a Committee of Correspondence between Virginia and the other colonies. Some think that the resolutions for such a committee were drawn by Jefferson, though they were offered in the house by his kinsman, Dabney Carr (q.v.). Of this committee Jefferson was a member. He served again in the House of Burgesses in 1774, and was one of those who voted for the resolution appointing a day of fasting and prayer because of the oppressive measures which England had passed against the city of Boston. When the governor dissolved the assembly, Jefferson met with those discontented members who called for a general congress of the colonies and asked the freeholders of Virginia for a convention to consider the state of the colony. To this convention Jefferson was returned by the people of Albemarle. The convention of 1774 was the first extra-legal assembly to meet in Virginia. Jefferson was unable to be present, having been taken ill on his way to Williamsburg. However, his influence was felt through a document called “The Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which was intended to be a series of instructions to the Virginia delegates to the First Continental Congress. The instrument marked him as a revolutionist, and as an advocate of independence from England, for in it he distinctly claimed that the colonies had a right to govern themselves without interference from the English Parliament. His views were too radical for the Virginia convention to give them its official stamp.
Jefferson was also elected a member of the convention of 1775, which met at Saint John's Church, Richmond, and when Patrick Henry by his eloquence carried the colony into open rebellion against the mother country, Jefferson was appointed a member of the committee to devise a plan for organizing the militia of the colony. Shortly after this he became a member of the Second Continental Congress. When he entered that body he was 32 years of age, being one of the youngest three members. Here he was placed on such important committees as those which drafted a paper to explain the rebellious attitude of Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord, and to reply to Lord North's “Conciliatory Policy.” On each committee he showed such a strong republican tendency that his suggestions were not accepted. The members of the Continental Congress of 1775 were not far-sighted enough to see that independence was the only course. Finally, in the spring of 1776, there came to the Virginia members of Congress instructions from the Virginia convention of 1776 that the united colonies should be declared free and independent States; and accordingly Richard Henry Lee, called the American Cicero, moved that a Declaration of Independence should be adopted. In accordance with the motion, a committee was appointed and the members were elected by ballot. Jefferson's facility for writing was so well known to the Congress that he received the highest number of votes and was named as chairman of the committee over such men as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. To him as chairman fell the task of drafting that immortal document which stands in the history of the world as the most revolutionary political paper ever written. On 4 July 1776, the instrument, practically as offered by Jefferson, was unanimously adopted and to it were placed the signatures of all the members of Congress then present, except one. The principles set forth in that document mean a government by and for the people, and show that Jefferson was far ahead of his day; for it is only at the dawn of the 20th century that we are beginning to comprehend the great and universal truths that Jefferson made known to the world. (See Declaration of Independence). Jefferson retired from Congress in 1776, and, on returning to his native State, entered the Virginia legislature with the hope of revising and modifying her laws so that they might accord with republican government. For three years he served in the House of Delegates. During this time he succeeded in breaking down the laws of primogeniture and entail, in practically disestablishing the English Church and in passing one of the best laws that the world has ever seen for public education providing an ideal system from the primary school to the university. Through his influence the legislature appointed a committee to revise thoroughly the laws of Virginia. The committee was composed of Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe and Jefferson. After two years the revision, chiefly done by Jefferson, was submitted to the General Assembly, but was not adopted in toto. Finally, however, in 1785, while Jefferson was in France, his faithful friend and political follower, James Madison, secured the passage of nearly all of Jefferson's work. It was at this time that the legislature approved the famous Statute for Religious Freedom, by which the complete separation of Church and State was accomplished, except the taking away of the glebe lands, a thing which was done in 1802. Jefferson wished even more radical changes in Virginia, such as the equalizing of representation on population instead of having two representatives from each county. He also desired that the suffrage should not be restricted to landowners, but that it should be extended to all men who might be subject to military duty. He likewise advocated more local self-government in the counties and towns of the State. He even went so far as to advocate the emancipation and the deportation of the slaves from Virginia. These measures were too radical for the Virginia Assembly, and were rejected. It is interesting to note, however, that all of them have since been accomplished save the deportation of the negroes.
Third president of the United States
Jefferson was governor of Virginia from June 1779 to June 1781. These were trying times; Virginia was invaded by British troops under Cornwallis, and Jefferson lacked money and resources with which to defend properly the State. His administration has often been criticized, some claiming that he was a mere doctrinaire and not a practical man; but close scrutiny shows that he did all that then lay in his power.
In 1783 Jefferson entered the Congress of the United States. To this body he proposed in 1784 a plan for the government of the Northwest Territory which Virginia so generously gave to the Union. One clause of this plan provided for the prohibition of slavery in that territory after 1800, and for this reason the plan was not adopted. In 1787, however, Congress enacted a bill for the government of the Northwest much like the original draft of Jefferson. From him Congress had the plan of our present decimal monetary system. In 1784 Jefferson was sent to France to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in negotiating commercial matters with foreign countries, and in 1785 he succeeded Franklin as our Minister Plenipotentiary to the French court. Through his efforts many unjust impositions on American commerce were removed by the French government.
In October 1789 he returned to America and the following year became Secretary of State in Washington's Cabinet, in which position he opposed Hamilton (q.v.), who favored the exercise of extensive powers by Congress. Jefferson believed in a real federal relation between the States, and in a restricting of the congressional powers to purely constitutional authorizations. The final line of cleavage came when Congress passed a bill to establish a national bank. Hamilton submitted to Washington a paper asserting that such a step was legal, while Jefferson made a vigorous written protest showing that the bill was unconstitutional. Washington approved the measure, thus accepting Hamilton's views as correct. The Bank Bill, along with similar congressional acts, caused the establishment of two distinct parties — the Federalist or Loose Construction party, headed by Hamilton, and the Anti-Federalist or Strict Construction party, with Jefferson as its leader. Jefferson's followers were usually called the Democratic-Republicans.
In December 1793 Jefferson resigned from the cabinet and returned to Monticello, where he remained for four years, studying farming. His estate at this time contained 10,647 acres of land, worked by 154 slaves, and stocked with 34 horses, 5 mules and 249 cattle. Among the negroes he had a sort of industrial (manual-training) school, and taught them to be cabinetmakers, bricklayers, masons and smiths.
From his retirement at Monticello, Jefferson was called to become Vice-President in 1797, a position which he held till 1801. During these four years he bitterly opposed the so-called monarchical tendencies of the Federal party as seen in the Alien and Sedition Acts (q.v.), and he boldly asserted the compact theory of State sovereignty in the Kentucky resolutions of 1799. The Kentucky resolutions and Virginia resolutions of 1798-99 (the latter framed by Madison after a copy of the Kentucky resolutions sent him by Jefferson), made the platform, so to speak, of the Democratic-Republican party which elected Jefferson as President in 1801.
From 4 March 1801 to 4 March 1809 Jefferson was President. He was the first President to be inaugurated in Washington City. He believed in rotation in office, and in pursuance of this idea removed a number of Federalists from their positions. His great act, however, was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France for the sum of $15,000,000. This vast territory was acquired for two reasons: (1) In order that the United States might have control of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans; and (2) that the United States might not be hampered by European countries in the development of a republican form of government. As Secretary of State in Washington's Cabinet, Jefferson had practically asserted what was afterward known as the Monroe Doctrine, when he claimed that the United States should see that no European countries, other than those already holding possessions, secure a foothold in America. In 1801 Jefferson viewed with alarm the transfer of the Louisiana Territory from Spain to France, for he feared that, with France added to Spain, England and Russia, in control of colonies in America, republican government would have a hard struggle. Jefferson was accused of inconsistency for having sanctioned the Louisiana Purchase (q.v.), for if he had applied the strict construction principle of the Constitution here as in such acts of Congress as the establishment of the national bank, this territory could not have been purchased, there being no provision in the Constitution allowing territorial expansion. But Jefferson's political sagacity kept him from refusing this great opportunity, and his wish of expansion caused him to advocate earnestly the purchase of Florida from Spain. It was 13 years later before his desire was accomplished. The second administration of Jefferson was not so successful as the first. It opened with a war against the Tripolitan pirates who were plundering American commerce. The outcome of this war was to increase our influence among the nations of the world. The last years of the second term were marked with difficult complications arising out of the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon tried to prevent the United States from trading with England, and England retaliated by attempting to cut off all commercial relations between the United States and France. Many American vessels were seized by both England and France. Adding to this indignity, England claimed the right to search American vessels for English seamen, and an English war vessel actually fired on an American man-of-war, killing three of the crew and wounding 18. Jefferson tried to meet the restrictions on American commerce by the Non-Importation Bill and the Embargo Act. To enforce the measures all of the New England ships would have been shut up in American harbors. The New England merchants preferred to run the risk of losing their ships to keeping them without traffic; therefore they began to abuse the President and his policy. The result was that Congress felt forced to repeal the Embargo Act. Jefferson always claimed that had the embargo been enforced the United States would have gained its rights without the second war with England in 1812. See Embargo in the United States.
On 4 March 1809, Jefferson retired from the White House, and spent the remaining 17 years of his life at Monticello. In these latter days he was known as the “Sage of Monticello,” and to his home came people of prominence from all parts of the world to consult with him on great questions of politics and economics. Often his housekeeper had to provide beds for 50 guests. The demands which were made on his hospitality were so great that he died a bankrupt. During this period of his life he did all that he could to encourage better methods in agriculture, to reform the government of Virginia and to develop in it a batter system of education. The crowning event of his life was the establishment of the University of Virginia (q.v.) in 1819. He died on 4 July 1826, just 50 years from the day that has made him famous in all history, and by a singular coincidence his old rival and political antagonist, John Adams, passed away on the same day, Jefferson asked that three things be inscribed on his tomb: “Author of the Declaration of Independence; of the Statute for Religious Liberty in Virginia, and Founder of the University of Virginia,” — three acts which have made him famous.
Jefferson stands in history for (1) Republican government and the sovereignty of the people; (2) Opposition to privileged orders of nobility and the entail system; (3) Universal education and local circulating libraries; (4) Separation of Church and State; (S) Freedom of thought and speech; (6) Local self-government; (7) Economy in government and small public debt; (8) A policy of peace; (9) Political equality and universal suffrage; (10) Strict construction of the Constitution and the sovereignty of the States; (11) Well-trained militia and small standing army; (12) Metallic money, either gold or silver, as a standard, and no paper legal tender; (13) Opposition to bounties and monopolies; (14) Emancipation and deportation of slaves; (15) Expansion of the United States to include Louisiana, Florida, Cuba and Canada; (16) Maintenance of Indian reservations; (17) Judiciary beyond the control of the legislative or executive branches of government; (18) Small navy; (19) Opposition to nepotism; (20) Rotation in office; (21) Opposition to all secession movements, North or South. This review will show that Jefferson probably gave to the world more broad principles of government than any other man. Whenever republican forms of government exist there the name of Jefferson will always be uttered with reverence and respect. Important monuments to Jefferson are as follows: by David d'Angers in the Capitol, Washington, a copy in the New York city-hall, and one at Angers, France; by Galt, at the University of Virginia; by Ezekiel, in Louisville, Ky.; by Hiram Powers, in Hall of Representatives, Washington; by Partridge, at Columbia University; and by Valentine, in Richmond. Va.
The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)
Bibliography. — Adams, H. B., ‘Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia’ (Washington 1888); Bryce, James, ‘University and Historical Addresses’ (New York 1913); Channing, ‘The Jeffersonian System’ (ib. 1906); Curtis, W. E., ‘True Thomas Jefferson’ (Philadelphia 1901)-; Dodd, W. E., ‘Statesmen of the Old South’ (ib. 1911); Dunlap, J. R., ‘Jeffersonian Democracy’ (ib. 1903); Foley, ‘Jefferson Cyclopedia’ (ib. 1900); Ford, P. L., ‘Writings of Thomas Jefferson’ (10 vols., ib., 1892-99); Forman, ‘Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson’ (Indianapolis 1900); Littleton, Martin W., ‘Monticello’ (New York 1912); id., ‘One Wish: An Appeal for the Purchase by the United States of the Home of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello’ (ib. 1912); Morse, T. J., ‘Thomas Jefferson’ (Boston 1898); Patton, ‘Jefferson, Cabell, and the University of Virginia’ (New York 1906); Parton, James, ‘Life of Thomas Jefferson’ (Boston 1874); Randall, ‘Life of Thomas Jefferson’ (ib. 1858); Randolph, T. J., (editor), ‘Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson’ (4 vols., Charlottesville, Va., 1829); Schouler, James, ‘Thomas Jefferson’ (New York 1897); Trent, W. P., ‘Southern Statesmen of the Old Régime’ (ib. 1897); Tucker, G., ‘Life of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States’ (2 vols., Philadelphia 1837); Watson, T. E., ‘Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson’ (New York 1903); Williams, J. S., ‘Thomas Jefferson: His Permanent Influence on American Institutions’ (ib. 1913). For bibliographies of Jefferson, consult Tompkins, H. B., ‘Biblioteca Jeffersoniana’ (New York 1887) and Johnston, R. H., ‘Contribution to a Bibliography,’ in Thomas Jefferson's ‘Writings’ (Monticello ed., Vol. XX, Washington 1905). Consult also Lambeth and Manning, ‘Thomas Jefferson as an Architect and Designer of Landscapes’ (Boston 1913) and Kimball, S. F., ‘Thomas Jefferson as Architect,’ in Architectural Quarterly (Vol. II, Cambridge, Mass., 1914); Muzzy, D. S., ‘Thomas Jefferson’ (1918).