Thomas Jefferson spent most of his career in public office and made his greatest contributions to his country in the field of politics. He loved liberty in every form, and he worked for freedom of speech, press, religion, and other civil liberties. Jefferson was the 3rd president of the United States and best remembered as a great president and as the author of the Declaration of Independence.
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Jefferson’s interests and talents covered an amazing range. He became one of the leading American architects of his time and designed the Virginia Capital, the University of Virginia, and his own home, Monticello. He greatly appreciated art and music and tried to encourage their advancement in the United States. He also won lasting fame as a diplomat, a political thinker, and a founder of the Democratic Party.
Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, the family farm in Goochland County, Virginia. He was the third child in the family and grew up with six sisters and one brother. Two other brothers died in infancy. His father, Peter Jefferson, had served as surveyor, sheriff, colonel of militia, and member of House of Burgesses. Thomas’ mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, came from one of the oldest families in Virginia.
Thomas developed the normal interests of a country boy, such as hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and canoeing. He also learned to play the violin and to love music. When Jefferson was fourteen, his father died. Since he was the oldest son he became the head of the family. He inherited more than 2,500 acres of land and 20 slaves. His guardian, John Hairvie managed the estate until Jefferson was twenty-one.
At the age of nine, Jefferson began studies under a tutor. He learned Latin, Greek, and French. In 1760, at the age of sixteen, he entered the college St. William and Mary at Williamsburg. There, young Jefferson met two men, William Small and Judge George Wythe, who would have a great influence on him. Small was a professor of mathematics at the college. Small introduced his “…eager young disciple…(Worldbook)” to Wythe, one of the most experienced lawyers in the province. Through Small and Wythe, Jefferson became friendly with Governor Francis Fauquier. These four spent countless evenings at the governor’s mansion, talking and playing chamber music.
Jefferson spent two years at William and Mary. His studies and the companionship of these brilliant men stimulated Jefferson’s eager mind. “Hilton believes this is where he formed many of his ideas about humanity and God in their company (76)”. Jefferson had been reared in the Anglican Church, but he developed a distrust of organized religion. His views resembled the views of the Unitarians.
After finishing college in 1762, Jefferson studied law with George Wythe. “He watched with concern as tension grew between the American Colonies and Great Britain (Nardo 136)”. In 1765, Jefferson heard Patrick Henry give his famous speech against the Stamp Act, he saw it stir up the people. In 1767, Jefferson was admitted to the bar. He practiced law with great success until public service began taking all of his time. He divided his time between Williamsburg (college) and Shadwell. At Shadwell, he designed and supervised the building of his own home Monticello.
Development as a writer
Jefferson first drafted a bill for establishing religious freedom in 1777. When it was enacted in 1786, it firmly established the separation of church and state and provided the basis for the First Amendment’s clause on religion.
…War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. The First Amendment Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition…( First Amendment).
The Declaration of Independence, released by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, swept away an existing government as yesterday’s news, declared the principle that political sovereignty rests within the hands of each individual, and that it is the right and duty of citizens everywhere to institute a new government whenever their old one no longer serves their needs.
When Jefferson was selected to be the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, he responded “…the task is above my talents (Jefferson)”. On June 28, 1776, a committee of five was selected to make the rough draft of the Declaration.
The original draft was reviewed and revised by the Continental Congress before being approved. One of the most important changes made by the Congress was to delete language that denounced King George III for having promoted the slave trade among the colonies. Even with the changes, “Jefferson’s style had a clarity and tone any writer would applaud (Johnson)”. On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress.
At one time Jefferson held each of the important positions in the American political system. From 1779-1781 he was the governor of Virginia. In 1785 he was the United States minister to France. Jefferson was the secretary of state to George Washington, vice-president to John Adams, and from 1801-1809 (two consecutive terms) He was the president of the United States. His enormous contributions to the American legislature included his bills on religious liberty, and Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit. This decimal system of coinage allows Americans to keep accounts in dollars and cents.
He married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772. They settled at Monticello before it was finished. Together they had one son and five daughters, but only two children lived to maturity: Martha (1772-1836) and Mary (1778-1804). Mrs. Jefferson died in 1782, after only ten years of marriage, he never remarried.
Jefferson cultivated one of the finest gardens in America. He invented a decoding device, a lap desk, and an improved type of the moldboard plow. His library collection had over 6,400 books, it became a major part of the library of congress. Jefferson prepared a written vocabulary of the Indian language.
He arranged for the French sculptor Jean Houdon to come to America to make a statue of George Washington. Jefferson also posed for Houdon and for the famous American portrait painter Gilbert Stuart. He enjoyed playing the violin in chamber music concerts. Jefferson also founded the University of Virginia, “Of which he was very proud (Internet)”. He died in 1826 and left his family deep in debt. The Executor’s Sale in the winter of 1827 put up for sale 130 of his slaves. They sold all of his possession’s in three years.
Thomas Jefferson was a great and powerful leader who led a full and successful life in America. Even as a young boy, Jefferson was an independent thinker, which led him into a career in politics. Jefferson also was a great writer and inventor. Some of his writings include the Declaration of Independence and the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, both which shaped the nation into what it is today. Jefferson helped set a standard for the United States as well as the rest of the world. Without him, the United States would not be the land of justice, liberty and free.