Thomas Jefferson — Fascinating Facts

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, Virginia; died July 4, 1826, Monticello): The author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

Big accomplishments: Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term as president (1800-1804) were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France; his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812.

Background: His father, Peter Jefferson, was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families. Having inherited a considerable landed estate from his father, Jefferson began building Monticello when he was 26 years old. Three years later, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he lived happily for ten years until her death in 1782. Their marriage produced six children, but only two survived to adulthood. Jefferson never remarried.

The slavery issue: Jefferson inherited slaves from both his father and father-in-law. In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these lived at Monticello; the others lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia. Jefferson freed two slaves in his lifetime and five in his will and chose not to pursue two others who ran away. All were members of the Hemings family; the seven he eventually freed were skilled tradesmen.

Ascent to the presidency: Having attended the College of William and Mary, Jefferson practiced law and served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses in his early professional life. As a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence, which has been regarded ever since as a charter of American and universal liberties. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status, and that the government is the servant, not the master, of the people. After Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. He served as governor from 1779 to 1781, and in 1790 accepted the post of secretary of state under his friend George Washington. In 1800, he defeated John Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation.

How he died: Jefferson was succeeded as president in 1809 by his friend James Madison, and during the last 17 years of his life, he remained at Monticello. During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress. Jefferson embarked on his last great public service at the age of 76, with the founding of the University of Virginia. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, just hours before his close friend John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He was eighty-three years old, the holder of large debts, but according to all evidence a very optimistic man. Jefferson’s epitaph reads:

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE
DECLARATION
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
FOR
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826


 

  • Which two presidents died on the same day?

    Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day: July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. James Monroe died July 4, 1831.

  • How much did Thomas Jefferson spend daily on food?

    Thomas Jefferson often spent $50 a day (about $900 in 2014 dollars) on groceries for the lavish entertaining that he did. The wine bill for his eight-year presidency was $11,000 (equivalent to almost $200,000 in 2014).

  • Which of the Founding Fathers did not go to college?

    Of the Founding Fathers who became president, only George Washington did not go to college. John Adams graduated from Harvard; James Madison from Princeton; and Thomas Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary.