Thomas Jefferson


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[Thomas Jefferson Biography] [Thomas Jefferson Motto] [Thomas Jefferson Quotes]

[Thomas Jefferson Inauguration] [Jeffersonian Policy]

Jefferson, THOMAS, third President of the United States; born in Shadwell, Virginia, April 2, 1743; was educated at the College of William and Mary; studied law under George Wythe; and was admitted to the bar in 1767. From 1769 to 1775 he was an active member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. In that body he introduced a bill empowering masters to emancipate their slaves. On January 1, 1771, he married Martha Skelton, a rich and beautiful young widow who was twenty-three years old. He was a member of the committee of correspondence of Virginia, which he assisted in forming, and was engaged in active public life until his retirement from the Presidency of the United States. In 1774 he wrote his famous Summary View of the Rights of British America, which, it is believed, procured for him a place in the list of American traitors denounced by the British Parliament. He had taken an active part against the Boston port bill. Mr. Jefferson took his seat in the Continental Congress in June, 1775, when he was thirty-two years of age. In that body he served on the most important committees, and in drawing up state papers. On the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, to Mr. Jefferson was assigned the duty of writing that important paper, which he advocated and signed. True to the proclivities of his nature in favor of human liberty, he introduced a clause censuring slavery, which was stricken out. In October, 1776, he retired from Congress to take part in his own State affairs, and for two years and a half was employed in revising the laws of Virginia and procuring some wise enactments, such as abolishing the laws of primogeniture, giving freedom to convicts, etc. During the entire Revolutionary War Jefferson was very active in his own State, serving as its governor from June, 1779 to 1781.


Thomas Jefferson's Home at Monticello

At the time of his retirement from the chair, Cornwallis, invading Virginia, desolated Jefferson's estate at Elk Hill, and he and his family narrowly escaped capture. Mr. Jefferson was again in Congress in 1783, and, as chairman of a committee, reported to that body the definite treaty of peace with Great Britain. Assisting the suggestions of Gouverneur Morris, he proposed and carried a bill establishing the decimal system of currency. In 1785 he succeeded Dr. Franklin as minister at the French Court, where he remained until 1789, when he returned and took a seat in George Washington's cabinet as Secretary of State. In France he had published his Notes on Virginia, and he had there become thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the French revolutionists previous to the bloody era of 1793. Not finding at home the same enthusiastic admiration of the French people in their struggle against "the conspiracy of the kings," he became morbidly suspicious of a monarchical party in the United States that might overthrow the government. He formed and led an active party called "Republican" or "Democratic," and there was much acrimonious feeling soon engendered between that and the Federal party, of which Alexander Hamilton was the active leader. Mr. Jefferson was an able leader of the Democratic party, and secured so large a following that in 1800 he was elected President, and served eight years, retiring in March, 1809, when he withdrew from public life and retired to his seat at Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia Among the important events of his administration were the purchase of Louisiana, an exploration of the continent from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, and difficulties with France and Great Britain on account of their violation of the rights of neutrals. Mr. Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia (1819) at Charlottesville, Va., and was its rector until his death, which occurred on the same day, and almost at the same hour, as that on which John Adams died, who was his associate in drafting the Declaration of Independence, and signing it, just fifty years before (July 4, 1826).

Thomas Jefferson's Personal Appearance

Jefferson was a keen politician, though no speaker; a man of great learning and fine scholarly as well as scientific attainments, and in conversation extremely attractive. His house was the resort of learned men of his own country and of Europe. In person he was tall and slender, with sandy hair, florid complexion in his youth, and brilliant gray eyes, a little inclining to brown. He was buried in a family cemetery near his house at Monticello, and over his grave is a granite monument, bearing the inscription, written by himself, and found among his papers after his death, "Here lies buried Thomas Thomas Jefferson's SealJefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia." Mr. Jefferson regarded slavery as a moral and political evil, and did much to alleviate its hardships. His correspondence with men of all classes was voluminous, for he was a fluent writer and had a very wide acquaintance. Few men have exerted as much influence in establishing the free institutions of the United States as Thomas Jefferson. He adopted for the motto of his private seal that of Oliver Cromwell—"Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." See LEWIS, MERIWETHER.

British Attempt to Capture Jefferson

When, in the early summer of 1781, Cornwallis was overrunning a portion of Virginia, he sent Tarleton with his cavalry to capture the Virginia Assembly sitting at Charlottesville, and also Governor Jefferson, who lived 2 miles from that place. On the way Tarleton destroyed twelve wagon-loads of clothing intended for Greene's army in North Carolina. Within 10 miles of Charlottesville, Tarleton detached Captain McLeod, with a party of horsemen, to capture Governor Jefferson at Monticello, while he pressed forward. On his way he captured some members of the legislature, but when he arrived at Charlottesville the remainder, forewarned, had fled and escaped. McLeod's expedition to Monticello was quite as unsuccessful. Jefferson was entertaining several members of the legislature, including the presiding officers of both houses, when the British cavalry were seen coming up the winding road towards the mansion. Jefferson immediately sent his family away, while he and the others escaped on horseback. Jefferson had not been gone ten minutes when McLeod rode up and found the house deserted.

Presidential Election of 1800

The leaders of the two great parties nominated their respective candidates for the Presidency in 1800, the Federalists choosing to vote for John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; the Democrats, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. There was a breach in the Federal party, owing to extended dislike of Adams, and the Democrats used the Alien and Sedition Laws with powerful effect against him. The Federalists were defeated. Jefferson and Burr had each seventy-three votes in the electoral college, and, according to the provisions of the Constitution, the election was carried into the House of Representatives. There exciting scenes occurred. Two or three members, too sick to appear otherwise, were brought to the House on beds. For seven days the balloting went on. After it was ascertained that a Democrat was elected, the Federalists all voted for Burr, as being less objectionable than Jefferson; but the friends of the latter were stronger than all opposition, and he was elected. The whole Federal party were mortified and humiliated by the triumph of Jefferson, their archenemy. He was inaugurated March 4, 1801. See  LOUISIANA ; MAZZEI, PHILIP



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