Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States and he was also one of the most influential men to have ever lived in the country.

Born on April 13, 1743 to a well-to-do family in Virginia, he was a quick student. His father died when he was 14, leaving 5,000 acres of land and many slaves to Jefferson, who built a home there known as Monticello. Jefferson entered college at 16 and graduated with highest honors two years later in 1762. With an intense hunger for knowledge, he studied philosophy, metaphysics, mathematics, and other subjects. In 1772, he married Martha Skelton and they eventually had six children together. Martha died from complications of the last child’s birth and he never remarried although he did take a slave woman, Sally Hemings, as a companion. He had six children with her.

In 1774, Jefferson’s journey to political greatness began. He had been trying to emancipate slaves in Virginia since 1769, and when the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774, he wrote a set of resolutions in protest. They would eventually be called A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Jefferson held the political belief that colonists should be able to govern themselves and that the Parliament was the legislative body of Great Britain, not the colonies. The First Continental Congress ultimately rejected his resolutions, but the framework had been laid.

In 1775, he served as a delegate at the Second Continental Congress right after the Revolutionary War had begun. The congress passed a resolution of independence a year later and Jefferson was one of five men to prepare it. Jefferson drew from inspirations like his own resolutions and other radical free-thinkers. He presented it to the congress on June 28, 1776. The congress edited the document to get rid of a passage that condemned Britain’s slave trade, and though Jefferson was unhappy with it, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved. That same year, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

From 1776 to 1781 he served as a state legislator, and later, Virginia’s governor. During that time, Jefferson made incredible accomplishments – he established laws that streamlined the judicial system, abolished the law of primogeniture, and established freedom of religion. He lobbied to abolish the death penalty and he almost succeeded. Jefferson did manage to outlaw the importation of slaves into Virginia although he still could not outlaw it despite his own personal beliefs. He also believed education was important and focused on reform – he founded the University of Virginia, the first college where religion had no place. When he went to Congress, he proposed that they set up currency exchange rates, and base American currency on the decimal system.

On May 7, 1784 Jefferson was elected a minister plenipotentiary, and he became minister to France in 1785. He lived in Paris and was a frequent guest of the city’s most important people, spending his time organizing trade agreements between European nations. He then served under George Washington as Secretary of State where he led the Democratic - Republican Party. He retired to his home in 1793 until he ran for Presidency in 1796. He lost to John Adams but was elected Vice President. In 1798, he and James Madison wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which declared that the government could not exercise power not explicitly given to them by the state.

In 1801, Jefferson became president. In office, he abolished some federal taxes and tried to get the country to depend more on customs revenue. In the “unconstitutional” Marbury v. Madison case, he threw out many of President Adams’ judges so that the Supreme Court could decide the outcome. Jefferson is also famous for winning the First Barbary War. In 1803, he made the Louisiana Purchase from France, greatly increasing the size of the United States. In 1807, he enacted the Embargo Act of 1807, a bill that barred trade with other nations.

After his second term as president, Jefferson left office. He passed away on July 4, 1826, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence had been signed.

When you perform a people search on Thomas Jefferson, you will see his influence on the United States.