Thomas Jefferson was born today, on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia. The author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, 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, when the US encountered more difficulties on the domestic and foreign fronts, is remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France. However, 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 10 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.
Image: A likeness of Thomas Jefferson by sculptor Ivan Schwartz, is Richmond VA’s 7th public statue of the third president. It was installed in the extension of the Capitol building in 2013.
Words of Wisdom
HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
BORN APRIL 2, 1743
DIED JULY 4. 1826