3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Source: Library of Congress
The Presidential "Good":
The Presidential "Bad":
His Legacy: Before his death, Jefferson left detailed instructions about his grave, including a sketch of the design and what should be written on it: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, Father of the University of Virginia." He explained "because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered." While one can definitely agree that the Declaration of Independence is his biggest legacy, the others he listed are not well known. But with his words we know what he felt were his biggest accomplishments, and it's important to note that even though he served two terms as President, he mentions nothing of that time. It gives one an impression that he did not feel that the highest political role in the U.S. was something he valued as a major accomplishment, including anything he did during that time. What others would currently think of when it comes to Jefferson is the Louisiana Purchase, which added 828,000 square miles to the United States territory and greatly changed the future of the country. Jefferson, along with many others, helped make the political scene more hostile, using newspapers as a way to attack opponents, including personal attacks, even if they were untrue. He strongly believed in reducing government's role in the country, yet when he might reduce it in one area he would increase it in another. But what is most talked about when Jefferson is mentioned are his words that "all men are created equal"; many consider them odd words from a life-long slave owner and someone who didn't emancipate his slaves after his death (Author's note: He did free two slaves while he was alive and five in his will; all were members of the Hemings family and were skilled tradesmen. Also, due to Jefferson's enormous personal debts, many of the slaves served as collateral, which may be a reason they were not given their freedom.) As the country grew in size, he would successfully fight to stop the importation of slaves from other countries, yet he would support the expansion of slavery in the newly acquired southwestern territories. This is a great example of the man Jefferson was: a man of contradictions.
- Born April 13, 1742 on the family plantation called Shadwell, located east of Charlottesville, Virginia
- Peter, his father, was a successful planter, surveyor and cartographer who produced the first accurate map of the Province of Virginia; his mother Jane was from the prominent Randolph family who had descended from Scottish & English royalty
- Jefferson was the third of ten children, but the first of four sons; only six of them would survive to adulthood
- His father was appointed guardian of the newly deceased William Randolph's plantation and of his four children, so when Jefferson was two years old they all moved 60 miles east to the Randolph plantation so Peter manage affairs there
- He was tutored from a young age, along with his Randolph cousins
- The family moved back to Shadwell in 1752 when Jefferson was nine; he continued his schooling and began studying various languages, learned to ride horses and studied nature
- He was just 14 when his father died in 1757; the Shadwell plantation, along with land his father had purchased in 1835 just five miles west of there that he named Monticello, was split equally between Jefferson and his younger brother Randolph; Jefferson got Monticello and between 20-40 slaves. Their mother Jane would continue to live in the Shadwell home with the younger children.
- Until 1760 Jefferson studied additional classical languages as well as mathematics and literature with a Reverent James Maury, who was considered to be a "correct classical scholar", whom Jefferson boarded with fifteen miles north of Shadwell
- At the age of 16 he enrolled at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia; he continued his language improvement, was introduced to metaphysics, philosophy, English classics, political works, and even played violin; he was curious in all areas and was such a diligent student that he graduated in only two years
- Jefferson began building his home on the Monticello property, which would continuously be a work in progress, at the age of 26
- When he was 29, Jefferson met a 23-year old wealthy widow, Martha Wayles Skelton, who was attractive, gracious, popular, and an accomplished piano player; she was very attracted to Jefferson due to his own love of music & his talent on the violin and cello
- Jefferson & Martha married on January 1, 1772 at her father's home, and they moved into the stark, one-room brick house on the Monticello grounds
- They would have six children, five girls and a boy; only Martha (called Patsy) and Mary (called Polly) would survive to adulthood, and only Patsy would outlive both her parents
- After Martha's father died in 1773, they inherited 11,000 acres, 135 slaves and also the debts of his estate, which would take Jefferson and other co-executors of the estate years to pay off; this would be the start of Jefferson's continued financial problems throughout his life
- Jefferson's mother would die a few months before he wrote the Declaration of Independence; yet so little exists about her that it appears that she and her son did not have a close relationship, as he only references her death in one letter to her brother in England
- Throughout her late 20's & early 30's, Martha would suffer from diabetes and frequent bad health, which was weakened further each time she gave birth to another child
- A few months after giving birth to their last child, Lucy, Martha told Jefferson she could not bear to have another mother raise her children made him promise to never marry again if she were to die; it was a promise he made and would keep
- Martha died on September 6, 1782 at the age of 33 with Jefferson at her bedside; for three weeks he kept to his room, often pacing back and forth; later on he would often take long rides on secluded roads as he mourned his loss
- Jefferson's professional engagements would often keep him away from home, leaving his 200+ slaves to do the necessary work on not only his Monticello property, but several nearby properties that he also owned
- When Jefferson was sent to France in 1785 as American's minister (ambassador), his daughters Patsy (age 12) and Polly (age 7) would eventually join him; Polly would be accompanied by a 14 year old slave, Sally Hemings, who was the half-sister of Jefferson's deceased wife Martha; during this time he spent a great deal of time with John Adams and his family, and they all became very close (though years later politics would divide them so severely that it destroyed their bond)
- He developed a strong relationship with James Madison, a younger Virginian with a brilliant mind and someone who Jefferson connected with when it came to political views; he would also grow very close to Madison's wife Dolly, who helped him a great deal as an unofficial "First Lady" when Jefferson was President
- His two daughters would eventually marry political figures, and at times lives and/or served as the official hostess when he was President. His youngest daughter Polly would die in 1804 after giving birth to her second child; Abigail Adams, who had cared for the girl when they were all together in Europe, wrote a letter to Jefferson with her condolences, which opened up the lines of communication between the two families.
Before the Presidency:
- After graduation his first job was as a law clerk to one of the most brilliant minds in the country at the time, and at night he would read books on the law; he would be admitted to the Virginia bar at the age of 25 in 1767 and would take up practice as a circuit lawyer
- Was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 to 1774, playing an active role in the organization of the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, which represented an underground group of political agitators which worked to oppose the British rule of the colonies
- He published a piece called "Summary View of the Rights of British America" in 1774, which many felt best articulated the colonial position for independence from Britain
- When the Second Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia in June 1775, Jefferson attended as one of several delegates from Virginia; he would be appointed to a committee of five to write a declaration of independence, which included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman, all whom strategically deferred to Jefferson to draft the document given his strong writing style and the fact he represented the most influential southern colony of Virginia
- Jefferson's draft of the declaration included a statement of principles and then a list of grievances; after deleting a section attacking King George III for slave trafficking and changing a few other issues of substance, after three days of debate the "Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" was approved on July 4, 1776 (Author's note: it was never called a "Declaration of Independence" by the Congress)
- Jefferson returned to Virginia and served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates until 1779, where he successfully abolished primogeniture, so that legally land and estates would not be automatically passed onto eldest sons only; it would change the future of inherited concentrations of wealth
- With the efforts of his friend James Madison, Jefferson helped pass the Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom; he opposed the use of religion by government as a means of granting privileges or imposing duty upon citizens. It was his fear that religion would hinder the development of a natural elite, moral and ethical group of aristocrats who would lead the nation, as he looked upon all established religions as "cultural artifacts."
- Fought for a free public education system for all white males, with at minimum being educated to the point of literacy at lower schools while those with more intelligence would be allowed to go on into a system of higher education; he felt the only barriers to a student's admittance to a university should be his own intellectual limits (Author's note: though obviously he did support certain barriers such as the color of ones skin or being female)
- In 1779 was elected to a one-year term as Governor of Virginia at the age of 36 by the two houses of representatives; was re-elected for a second term the following year; unfortunately during this time the British began to overrun most of Virginia and his administration was forced to abandon the capital of Richmond. When the British tried to capture Jefferson at his home in Monticello, he fled, barely escaping; many saw this as a cowardly refusal to stand his ground, and this action would follow him the rest of his political career. This would leave him feeling rejected and embarrassed; this, along with the concern about his wife's health, led him to resign in 1781.
- As the Revolutionary War was coming to a close, Jefferson was sent as Virginia's representative to the Confederation Congress, whose job was to form a system of government for the new country. His main contributions included the establishment of the decimal system as the nation's basis of measurement and putting temporary control of western territories under Congressional control. He would also include a proposal to prohibit slavery in new states created outside of the original thirteen, which was rejected by a vote of 7 to 6 in committee.
- In 1785, Jefferson was sent to France as America's minister (which we would call an ambassador today), where he negotiated commercial treaties; during this time he would find himself greatly enlightened by the French culture, especially the philosophers and artists
- Until he left France in 1789, Jefferson would often correspond with fellow Virginian and member of the Confederation Congress, James Madison, having vast discussions regarding the new system of government, the U.S. Constitution that Madison had taken the lead in writing, and Jefferson's strong opinion regarding a separate Bill of Rights to help safeguard basic civil liberties
- President George Washington asked Jefferson to be his Secretary of State, which he reluctantly agreed to, but he found that Washington was greatly influenced by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was constantly overriding Jefferson's attempts regarding foreign matters, leaving Jefferson to feel frustrated and useless
After the Presidency:
- Jefferson happily returned immediately to Monticello, where he would spend the rest of his days focusing on his passions, many in which he kept meticulous and detailed daily records of everything, including things like weather, in which he shared with others in the hopes of creating a national database of meteorological information
- He kept busy, pursuing natural history and science through research, experimentation and even inventions
- Spent an enormous amount of time on the development of the University of Virginia, which included the designing of the buildings, setting the curriculum and selecting the faculty
- Even with his vast amount of land and the positions he held over time, Jefferson constantly struggled with personal money issues and had a great deal of debt that he was constantly trying to keep under control, yet he could never stop himself from spending
- During his life Jefferson collected books and had the largest personal library in the country; after the British burned the Library of Congress in Washington during the War of 1812, Jefferson sold 6,487 books from his personal collection to the U.S. government for approximately $24,000 to begin a new Library; he regretted the sale as he could not live without his books, and the money he received didn't come close to paying his debts. He would begin to replenish his book collection and purchased several thousand books before his death, putting him even further in debt.
- Jefferson would often entertain guests at his home and provide them with fine wine and foods; sometimes as many as fifty guests would spend the night
- He wrote constantly to his friends all over the world, which included former President John Adams, in which through these letters they were able to settle their differences and renew their strong bond that would last the rest of their lives. Both of them would die on the same day July 4, 1826 from poor health.
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Related Places to Visit:
Independence National Historical Park
520 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Independence Hall is where the United States was formed; it was the meeting place of the Continental Congress members, the Declaration of Independence was first read here & then signed, & the U.S. Constitution was also drafted & signed here. Men representing each of the 13 colonies met in these rooms, often during the hot, miserable summer months, debating a separation from Britain & more importantly, what this new form of government would look like & how it would be able to stand the test of time.
In December 1790, the capital of the U.S. was moved from New York City to Philadelphia. This had been part of a negotiation early on as everyone had opinions on where the capital should be. New York City was too far north, and Philadelphia was given its time in the spotlight mainly because of the historical significance. Several of the buildings used to run the government are part of the Park. Ten years later in May 1800, the U.S. capital was moved to its final place of Washington City (now Washington, D.C.). The area chosen was considered to be centrally located between the northern and southern states, but the land chosen was nothing but swamp land so the city had to be built from scratch, mostly with slave labor.
In addition to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and more than a dozen other buildings are on the property to visit. Benjamin Franklin's grave is also within walking distance.
Photography by Visions on Fourth Street
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
900 Ohio Drive SW
Washington, D.C. 20242
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a circular, colonnaded structure in a classic style that was introduced to the U.S. by Jefferson himself. Using Jefferson's own architectural tastes, the intention of the design was to showcase Jefferson's contributions as a statesman, architect, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, adviser of the U.S. Constitution, President, & founder of the University of Virginia.
The Memorial was approved by Congress in 1934, and the present-day location at the Tidal Basin was selected in 1937. The site caused some controversy as it required the removal of Japanese flowering cherry trees. There was also concern that it would compete with the nearby Lincoln Memorial. Finally in a ceremony on November 15, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the first cornerstone of the Memorial.
The bronze statue of Jefferson inside the Memorial looks towards the White House, is 19 feet tall and weighs five tons. Among the interior walls of the memorial are five quotations from Jefferson's writings that illustrate the principles to which he dedicated his life.
Photography by Visions on Fourth Street
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Monticello is more than a home, it's a a day long retreat into Jefferson's world. People can start at the visitors center, which provides details on life at Monticello, including the life of Jefferson's slaves. One can visit the inspirational home designed by Jefferson piece by piece, and depending on what type of pass you get, you can visit the first floor and potentially the second floor as well. Visitors view and walk along the 1,000 foot long garden terrace that served as a garden and also as a laboratory, as Jefferson grew 250 varieties of more than 70 different species of vegetables, meticulously keeping notes on the details of their growth.
The Jefferson family cemetery is also on the property, where Jefferson is buried underneath an obelisk marker along with his wife. The marker is not an original, as the original one fell into disrepair, so in 1882 Congress approved funding for the one that stands there today.
There are even two miles of trails for hiking and biking. This is a very large property, and given the size people are given various options of transportation to get from one place to another. There is also a cafe on the property for a place to replenish in between stops.
Probably the best feature is that there is a "sunset pass" option that allows visitors to be at the home at sunset, and even allows access to the third floor dome. Visitors can watch the sunset from the mountain, something Jefferson likely did often from this beautiful location. This tour is not always offered, so check their website for details.
Photography through Google's Images for Re-Use Program