Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

  • Born on April 13, 1743 in Shadwell, Goochland County, Virginia.
  • Parents: Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph. Siblings: Jane, Mary, Elizabeth, Martha, Peter, unnamed son, Lucy, Anna, and Randolph.
  • Began his formal education at age 9 studying Greek, Latin, and French. From 1758 to 1760 he studied science, history, and the classics.
  • Studied Liberal Arts at College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, graduating two years later in 1762.
  • Studied Law and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.
  • Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 and served until its dissolution in 1774.
  • Married Martha Wayles Skelton (1748–1782) on January 1, 1772. Children: Martha (1772–1836); Jane (1774–1775); an unnamed son (1777); Mary, also called Maria or Polly, (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1785).
  • Elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.
  • At age 33, drafted the Declaration of Independence.
  • Served as Virginia governor from 1779–1780.
    Appointed Commissioner to France in 1784 joining John Adams and Benjamin Franklin as a negotiator for commercial treaties with European countries
    Appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France in 1785 (until 1789).
  • Became the first Secretary of State in 1789 (until his resignation in 1793) under George Washington’s government.
  • Became Vice President under John Adams in 1796. He wrote the “Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States” during his term.
  • Built Monitcello, his primary residence on a 5,000 acre plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia, which he inherited from his father. Construction began in 1768 with work continuing throughout much of his life.

Presidency

Protrait by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1805

Protrait by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1805

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1801 at the Senate Chamber, U.S. Capitol.
  • Vice President 1801–1805: Aaron Burr; Vice President 1805–1809: George Clinton.
  • He authorized the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 for $15 million.
  • He sent a U.S. naval squadron to the Mediterranean to fight Barbary pirates who were harassing U.S. commercial shipping. The First Barbary War lasted from 1801 to 1805.
  • In his first term as President, he was able to reduce the national debt by one-third by cutting the expenditures of the Army and Navy, cutting the budget, and eliminating the unpopular tax on whiskey.
  • Signed the Military Peace Establishment Act in 1802 that established the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on July 4th of the same year.
  • He appointed Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark to lead the expedition to explore the Louisiana Territory, which lasted from May 1804 to September 1806.
  • Signed the 1807 Embargo Act imposing a commercial embargo against Great Britain and France. The U.S. economy suffered greatly from the stifled overseas trade caused by the Act. It was revoked on March 1, 1809.
  • Signed a bill into law officially segregating the US Postal system in which blacks were prohibited from delivering mail.
  • Repealed the Midnight Judges Act or the Judiciary Act of 1801 signed into law by John Adams.
  • Refused to recognize the new republic of Haiti for fear it would entice American slaves in the south to seek independence.
  • Favored the assimilation and acculturation of Native Americans into European–American ways.
  • Signed the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves in 1807, which went into effect on January 1, 1808.
  • Appointed three Associate Justices to the Supreme Court: William Johnson (1804), Henry Brockholst Livingston (1807), and Thomas Todd (1807).
  • Left Washington for his Monticello estate on March 4, 1809, after James Madison’s inauguration, and never returned.

Post-presidency

Protrait by Charles Wilson Peale, 1791

Protrait by Charles Wilson Peale, 1791

  • Sold his vast collection of books to the Library of Congress in 1815 after the building was burned down by the British in 1814.
  • He founded the University of Virginia in 1819 and designed the University grounds and its buildings. The University opened in 1825 and Jefferson served as its first rector until his death in 1826.
  • Pursued his interests in science and natural history after his retiring from the presidency.
  • Served as President of the American Philosophical Society from March 3, 1797 until January 20, 1815.
  • Could not attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1826 where he and John Adams were to be honored. They both died on that day.
  • Died July 4, 1826 at Monticello on the same day as John Adams, the second U.S. President.
  • Designed his own tombstone and wrote his epitaph, which reads, “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 was buried at the family gravesite in Monticello after a simple ceremony attended by family and friends.
  • His daughter Martha had to sell most of his possessions, including Monticello, to settle all of his debts.
  • Owned as many as 150 slaves in his lifetime and freed a total of nine, most of whom were the children of Sally Hemings with whom he is believed to have had an intimate relationship.
  • Along with George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, is one of the faces carved into the Mount Rushmore Memorial.
  • The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated to him on April 13, 1943, his 200th birthday.
  • The Library of Congress’ main building was renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building on June 13, 1980.
  • Monticello was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. In 1987, Monticello and the University of Virgnia were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • In 1998, a DNA test revealed that a male Jefferson was the father of the children of Sally Hemings, who was Thomas Jefferson’s slave until his death.