Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). At the beginning of the American Revolution, Jefferson served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia.
As a reluctant candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson came within three votes of election. Through a flaw in the Constitution, he became Vice President, although an opponent of President Adams. In 1800 the defect caused a more serious problem. Republican electors, attempting to name both a President and a Vice President from their own party, cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives settled the tie. Hamilton, disliking both Jefferson and Burr, nevertheless urged Jefferson's election.
3rd President of the United States (1801–1809)
April 13, 1743, Shadwell plantation, Goochland County, Virginia
“Man of the People,” “Sage of Monticello”
College of William and Mary (graduated 1762)
No formal affiliation
January 1, 1772, to Martha Wayles Skelton (1748–1782)
Jefferson Peace Medal
Replica of Jefferson Peace Medal, 1801
This peace medal, coined during Jefferson's administration, suggests the President's important role in fostering westward expansion. Jefferson engineered the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the United States, and commissioned Lewis and Clark's expedition to explore the newly acquired western territories. Jefferson also encouraged William Henry Harrison, territorial governor of Indiana and future President, to acquire most of the midwest from Native American tribes through a combination of pressure and purchase.
January 14. Through the division of the estate of Jefferson's wife's father, John Wayles, the Jeffersons acquire by inheritance £4000 in debts as well as 135 additional slaves, among them Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings (c.1735-1807). Betty Hemings is the daughter of an African slave and an English sea captain and reportedly the mistress of John Wayles and mother of several of his children. Betty Hemings eventually has ten children, among whom are Robert, who works as Jefferson's valet; Martin, who acts as household butler; Sally (c.1773-1835), a chamber maid; John, who becomes a skilled cabinet-maker; and James, who trains in French cuisine in Paris and is employed as a chef. Documentation of Hemings family members, including Sally Hemings and the six children born to her who are noted in Monticello records, can be found in a report of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Unlike the members of other Monticello slave families, all of Sally Hemings' children who live to adulthood will gain their freedom. The youngest Hemings sons, Madison (b. 1805) and Eston (b. 1808), will be freed in Jefferson’s will.
Jefferson found the Unitarian understanding of Jesus compatible with his own. In 1822 he predicted that "there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian." Jefferson requested that a Unitarian minister be dispatched to his area of Virginia. "Missionaries from Cambridge [that is: Harvard Divinity School] would soon be greeted with more welcome, than from the tritheistical school of Andover." Jefferson's christology is apparent in these and similar letters, and also in one of his most famous writings, the "Jefferson Bible."
Evidence of Jefferson’s maturing ideas of freedom and self-government surfaced at the Capitol. As a law student, he stood enraptured at the doorway of the House of Burgesses, listening to Patrick Henry speak out against the Stamp Act. As a burgess, Jefferson continued to promote the idea of revolution. As a lawyer, he practiced at the General Court. In 1770, he defended a slave. Despite owning slaves all his life, he spoke then against slavery, saying under the law of nature, “we are all born free.”
Serving as President:
Jefferson was elected President in 1800 (defeating Adams). He was re-elected to a second term in 1804. His Vice-Presidents were Aaron Burr and George Clinton.
As President, Jefferson arranged the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase increased the area of the United States tremendously (it had an area of 828,000 square miles (2,155,500 square kilometers). Soon after (in 1804), Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to map the newly-acquired western US territory (they returned in 1806 with maps, newly-discovered animals, and information about Indian tribes).
This powerful advocate of liberty was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia, inheriting from his father, a planter and surveyor, some 5,000 acres of land, and from his mother, a Randolph, high social standing. He studied at the College of William and Mary, then read law. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, and took her to live in his partly constructed mountaintop home, Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson is rightly given much credit for emphasizing the importance of education in a democracy. He believed education for all to be a crucial part of the success of the "experiment" undertaken in 1776. He had faith in the "common man" and his ability to elect wise and virtuous leaders if that man were educated to do so. With this caveat in mind, Jefferson wrote the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, the Bill for Establishing a Public Library, and the Bill for Establishment of a System of Public Education, among others (Tozer, Violas, and Senese, School and Society, 30-31).
Jefferson saw the structure of education in four levels: elementary schools, grammar schools, universities, and life-long learning. He proposed dividing the states into small districts or wards. Along with supervising and supporting the schools, the individual wards would be responsible for the roads, police, elections, care of the poor, and some small judicial matters (31).
Thomas Jefferson -- author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia -- voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era. As public official, historian, philosopher, and plantation owner, he served his country for over five decades.