Thomas Jefferson was a man who loved to learn. He could always be found with his nose in a book. Thomas was born on April 13, 1743 in Shadwell, a plantation in Virginia. He was the third child of Peter and Jane Jefferson. Peter Jefferson was a surveyor and his wife, Jane was the daughter to a wealthy Scottish planter. Because Peter Jefferson missed out on a formal education, he made sure that his son Thomas, received one. When Thomas was 14, Peter Jefferson died. One of his father's last wishes was for Thomas to get a classical education. Thomas soon joined Reverend James Maury, a well read Anglican pastor, at his parish and school in Fredricksburg. That is where Thomas was first introduced to the wonderful world of literary learning, in which he would fortify himself for the rest of his life. At 17, Jefferson went to Williamsburg to enroll in the College of William and Mary. Although fascinated by the town, the college was less impressive. The building was dull, and the students were all less advanced than himself. However, three men, William Small, George Wyth, and Francis Fauquier had a great influence on Thomas ideas and beliefs. In 1762, Thomas apprenticed George Wyth in becoming a student of law. For 5 years Jefferson would be running errands, attending meetings, and of course, studying law. In 1762, Thomas fell in love with 16 year-old Rebecca Burwell, who he was thinking of marrying. He tried to tell her of his marital intentions but he always got tongue tied talking with her. Rebecca married another man, who unknowing of Thomas' love for his Fiancée asked him to be the best man at the wedding. This event temporarily soured his thoughts on women. In 1767, at the age of 24, he was admitted to the bar of the General Court of Virginia. Although no Patrick Henrey (the great orator), he excelled at everything besides oratory. Jefferson was also still working on the Shadwell plantation, now experimenting with European plants. During this time, the first voices of revolt against Britain were being whispered.
After their victory over France, Britain wanted to gain more control in America. To pay for the war, Britain had created the Stamp Act. A fine thought for Brits, but an obnoxious slap to the Colonists. The Stamp Act of 1765 required a tax stamp on almost every colonial document. The colonists were distraught with the new Stamp Act because it had been passed and implemented on the colonists goods even though there were no representatives of the colonists in the British Parliament. This frustration of Taxation without Representation became a rally that would bring the colonists together against the British. Jefferson was in the audience the day that Patrick Henrey attacked the British policies, ending his speech with the words: "If this be treason, make the most of it." Due to the hostility towards the Stamp act, it was repealed. A year later, cries of anger were heard again from the colonies, when the Townshend Acts of 1767 passed, taxing ink, paper, tea, and glass. Both Jefferson's popularity and the hostility between England and the colonies were rising. In December, 1768, Jefferson was elected to the House of Burgesses. The House of Burgesses adopted resolutions that argued against Britains right to tax the Colonies. In response, the colonial governor, who favored the British, dissolved the House of Burgesses. The Virginia burgesses including Jefferson re-assembled in the Apollo room at the Raleigh Tavern, and decided to stop buying all goods from Britain. Other colonies followed suit, and Britain removed all the taxes except for the tea. Some weeks later, after provocation, British soldiers stationed in Boston fired on a mob of citizens, which propagandists quickly re-named the "Boston Massacre". This timely incident was another step towards raising dissension against Britain in the colonies, and towards full scale rebellion. Jefferson was now fully against British rule.
In February, 1770, Shadwell plantation burned to the ground. This disaster motivated Jefferson to complete a project he had started 3 years previous, the building of a new home. He named it "Monticello" or "Little Mountain". On January 1, 1772, Thomas married Martha Wayles Skelton, a 23 year old widow with one child (a boy named John). Of the six children born to them, only 2 would survive infancy. In addition, Thomas' step-son died in May, 1773. Happiness in Monticello always seemed to be mixed with much grief.
In December 1773, a group of people dressed like Indians boarded the British ship Dartmouth and dumped it's entire cargo of tea into the Boston harbor. The British swiftly closed the harbor in response to the "Boston Tea Party". To compensate for the tea, Britain restricted the Massachusetts colony's rights. This action was referred to as the "Intolerable Acts" by the Americans. In another secret meeting in the Raleigh Tavern, the Virginians proposed a committee of every colony's delegates to form a sort of "Continental Congress". This way, an attack against one colony, would be asserted as an attack against all the colonies. Although Jefferson believed that the colonies should be governed only by themselves, many leaders still wanted a more cautious approach, namely trying to solve the current problems and remain under British rule. In 1774, Thomas Jefferson presented his views in his essay A Summary View of the Rights of British America. In the essay he stated that America was under no special obligation to remain under control by Britain, the first settlers had severed all ties to Britain and had gained their right to create a new society. The Continental Congress assembled in September 1774. It officially condemned most British tax measures, and formed the Continental Association, bringing the colonies into an agreement that they would not import or buy British goods. In Massachusetts, minutemen were drilling and stocking arms, to be ready to fight on a minute's notice. Fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord with skirmishes between British soldiers and Colonial militia. The war had begun. August 1775, King George III declared that his American subjects were engaged in open rebellion. People gave up hope of reaching a peaceful settlement. Many families were torn apart by conflicting loyalties between their old and new homeland. Jefferson was elected into the Continental Congress in 1775, at only 33 years of age. After the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, members of Congress voted to put America in a state of ready defense. Formation of an army was now authorized. George Washington was put in command of the army after the battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill. The Congress was charged with tasks necessary during war like finding supplies.
Jefferson briefly returned to Monticello, only for his infant daughter, Jane Randolph, to die soon after he arrived. Even though his wife and mother were in poor health Thomas had to return to congress. In January 1776, Thomas went back, to find his wife ill, but recovering, and his mother failing rapidly. Jefferson remained until after his mother died. Published in January 1776 Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense began to circulate. It made the perfect case for American independence. In June a committee of 5 delegates was selected to create a declaration of the colonies independence. The committee consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was selected to draft the document. He began work immediately. Jefferson took lodging at the home of Benjamin Randolph, on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Jefferson asked Randolph (A cabinetmaker) to construct a portable writing desk for him for which to draft the Declaration on. He would later give the desk to his granddaughter as a wedding present. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson penned a document that was dignified and whose content was unmistakable. On July 2 1776, Congress voted in favor of making the war with Britain a war for independence. For two and a half days the Congress edited the declaration, South Carolina and Georgia, two colonies based on slaves argued that they wanted to strike out the statement that faulted the king for the continuation of the African slave trade. On July 4th, 12 of the 13 colonies approved the Declaration. New York approved it 11 days later. Soon, the document had been signed by 56 of 58 delegates. John Dickinson and Robert Livingston had declined to sign.
Although often arguing against the slave trade, Jefferson had many slaves of his own. He called slave trading barbaric, unjust, and morally wrong, yet had over 250 slaves at his death. In 1820, Jefferson wrote of his fears of the nation being torn apart due to the war over slavery. Jefferson also established a personal crusade for the lowering of status of prominent families while giving more to the poorer people. Thomas looked forward to the day when hard work and responsibilities controlled allotted land, not birthrights. He also strove for public education. Jefferson also strove for freedom of worship, for at that time, governments would force certain religions unto the people. He received much resentment, for spending most of the time at Monticello during his three years in Virginia's assembly (1776-79). However, in June 1779, at 36 Jefferson was appointed governor of Virginia.
In May, 1779, a month before Jefferson became governor, a British fleet deployed 1,800 soldiers into Virginia. During this time, Jefferson was continuously working to get more colonial troops and supplies. January 1781, Benedict Arnold lead British troops into Richmond, Virginia's capitol. Jefferson and the rest of the government fled to Charlottesville. The end of 1781 brought the resignation of Thomas' governership. He had low popularity poll numbers for the rest of his life because of that resignation. He became a bitter man due to the continuous verbal assaults from his detractors. Back at Monticello, he began work on Notes on the State of Virginia. On September 6, 1782, Jefferson's wife, Martha, died. She had never recovered from the birth of their 6th child, Lucy Elizabeth, who died at the age of 2. Jefferson's eldest daughter, Martha, who was nicknamed Patsy, was with Thomas through most of his immense grief and depression. Often, they would ride horses together. Jefferson was unable to work, burdened with gloom.
Patsy helped Jefferson overcome this gloom, and in November, 1782, Jefferson was elected, along with three other Americans, to go to Paris and discuss peace negotiations with the British. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, the other two representatives, were already in Paris. Jefferson immediately left for Philadelphia, arriving in December 1782, only to have his trip to Paris postponed due to the boat being icebound. After three months of waiting, the trip became unnecessary, because the treaty of Paris was signed February 3, 1783. The independent colonies, no longer ruled by Britain, joined together in a confederation.
One of Jefferson's many plans for the newly formed union included the orderly addition of more states, to prevent the uncontrolled expansion of settlers. In May 1784, congress elected Jefferson to a three-man group to negotiate treaties of commerce within European states. He would be heading to Paris with the same contemporaries. Jefferson sailed from Boston, with Patsy, to Paris. He marveled at all the sites in Paris. With bookstalls lining the banks of the Seine river, Jeffersons love of knowledge had reached it's pinnacle. He saw much misery in the French people though. He stayed in France for five years, in which he was made minister to France. Also during those years, the French Revolution broke out. Due to his diplomatic post, he could not mention his feelings on the issue. Back in America, economic disaster was creeping up on the country. In 1786 Daniel Shay led a group of farmers in a minor rebellion. Although easily put down, 'Shay's Rebellion' showed the leaders of the country a strong central government was urgently needed to protect the laws and peace of the new country. Although disliking it, Jefferson also realized the need for government control, and after weeks of debate in Independence Hall, a new constitution was released. And although Few leaders were satisfied with the constitution, and he didn't fully agree with it, Jefferson made sure that people knew he supported it.
In November, 1789, Jefferson returned to America, where George Washington had just become president a few months earlier. . Washington asked Jefferson to be the nation's first secretary of state. Thomas wanted to return to Paris, knowing that assuming that office would be a hard job that he didn't want to deal with. Finally, after persuasion from Washington and Madison, he agreed to accept the job. Before Jefferson left to fill his position in New York, his daughter Martha married her second cousin, Thomas Randolph. Jefferson was pleased with this choice for Thomas Randolph was a well educated and wealthy man. Martha's sister, Mary married John Eppes, a future congressman. Jefferson arrived in New York in March, 1790. Jefferson soon met his colleagues: The Secretary of War Henry Knox, Attorney General Edmund Randolph, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson and Hamilton would soon become fierce political competitors. Hamilton believed that there should be a strong federal authority in all matters of the public. By taking over the treasury, Hamilton faced an enormous challenge, because the country had a huge debt to other countries and it's own people. He proposed taxation for all imported goods as well as taxes on manufacture and sale on goods within the United States. By the time Jefferson had reached New York, some of his plans were already in place. Jefferson immediately objected. Jefferson felt like his government was becoming an oppressor. Hamilton and Jefferson were constantly arguing over the degrees of governmental power. Jefferson believed that the constitution gave limited powers to the government while Hamilton felt that it gave broad powers to the government. Over arguments like these, two political parties came into being. The Republicans with Jefferson and Madison, and the Federalists with Hamilton and John Adams. Washington's dicisions during the first year often favored Hamiltons approach. Both sides had newspapers that would spur attacks at the opposite party. The Federalist's paper, "The Gazette of the United States" often referred to Washington as "his Highness", which further convinced Jefferson that the Federalists wanted to turn the country to a monarchy. Jefferson became even more worried when he saw Washington wearing his powdered wig, sword, and yellow gloves. In 1781 the United states government was moved to Philadelphia. In 1792, the war between Britain and France erupted once again. Although declared neutral, Jefferson and many others wanted to help the French because of the Frenchs support in the revolution. The Federalists on the other hand wanted to stay on Britain's good side, because they were the largest trading partner. In 1792, weary with public life, Jefferson resigned his post as Secretary of state and headed back to Monticello, and his daughter.
Once Jefferson retired, he relished his ignorance of current politics to the level of bragging about it. He still stayed somewhat informed through local papers and conversation with old friends. Jefferson was now 50 years old. He loved taking hour long horse rides over his land. He was also trying to discover new inventions to make life and work easier. At heart, Thomas Jefferson was also an amateur inventor. Even though Jefferson had strayed away from politics, he still complained to his friends that the average farmer did not know enough of his nations affairs. In July, 1794, president Washington raised an army of 15,000 volunteers to put down a rebellion of farmers in Pennsylvania angry about the whisky taxes. In September of 1796, Washington made his farewell address, resigning after two terms. In the next election, John Adams was the Federalist candidate, while Madison and Jefferson were the two likely Republican nominees. Each wished the other to run, but in the end Jefferson became the Republican candidate. Adams barely won the election, putting Jefferson into the vice-president chair which was the procedure at the time. The man having the second largest amount of votes became Vice-president. The country now had a Federalist President and Republican Vice-president.
In January 1797, Jefferson headed back to Philadelphia to take his position as Vice-president. His meeting with John Adams, his former patriot peer, was pleasant, open and friendly as they respected each other. But differences in their beliefs about how the government should be run soon pitted the two old compatriots against each other. The Jay treaty was a British friendly act. France felt threatened and betrayed by the US and Briton alliance, so French ships started interfering with US trading vessels. In May 1797, President Adams formed a 3-man party to discuss a treaty with France. Frances three agents said a treaty would be discussed only when the US loaned France a large sum of money and paid a bribe of $240,000 to the French foreign minister, Charles Tallyrand. Of course the American trio refused and although there were many small naval skirmishes, no war ever started. In those skirmishes, the American Navy, 54 strong, captured 93 French vessels. Hostility grew, and the Adams administration started the Alien Act, which was approved by the Federalist dominated Congress. The Alien acts empowered the president to remove any noncitizens he considered dangerous to the nation. Jefferson had to prove that this violated the Constitution, so he sent messages covertly through others to all the states, protesting against the Alien Acts. This protest was called the Kentucky Resolutions. Of course, Jefferson never officially publicized his beliefs, for he was not only a Republican, but also the Vice-president and it was still important for the young nation to see their leaders had strength through cohesiveness. The Alien Act prompted Jefferson to try to oust the Federalists, so he set his mind to running in the upcoming 1800 election. With the Federalists vote split between the supporters of Hamilton and the Adams supporters, Jefferson topped Adams in the popular vote. Jefferson hadn't won yet, for he was tied with Aaron Burr and due to the rules of the time the winner would be chosen in the House of Representatives. On the 36th ballot, Jefferson became president and Burr vice-president. He was now president of the United States, commander and chief of the republic he helped to create.
Jefferson was inaugurated March 4, 1801. Jefferson selected James Madison as secretary of state, and Albert Galliten as secretary of the treasury. For other posts, Jefferson picked men from Pro-Federalist states, trying to widen the Republican support. Jefferson Believed all of Washington to be cold and impersonal. Jefferson found himself in a sticky position for before leaving office, John Adams appointed 40 federalists judges, to serve the court. These judges, once they accepted the appointment, could not be removed and could influence public policy for the Federalists. Although he had assigned the posts before leaving office, The judges commissions had not yet been sent out for acceptance. Jefferson told Madison not to send them, bringing about the case of Marbury v. Madison.
During this time France negotiated all of the western territories in America from the Spanish. Obviously this threatened Americas safety and expansion. Although the United States was ready to buy just the port of New Orleans for $10 million, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, because of loss of supplies and men, offered the entire West for $11,250,000. Jefferson jumped at the offer and now the country had 800,000 square miles of rich, uncharted land. Jefferson assembled an expedition team with Meriwether Lewis, a friend, as it's leader, sharing the post with Captain William Clark, another old friend from the military. The plan was to find the source of the Missouri river, the Pacific Ocean. This long journey became famous as the expedition battled every difficulty imagined. At times Jefferson had given up Lewis and Clarks expedition as lost, but after many months, they made it back to St. Louis with many stories to tell about the richness of the United States western territories. Thomas Jefferson had made possible and began Americas surge to the west.
By 1806, the Republicans held the White House, Congress , and most state governments. In the 1804 election, Jefferson carried almost every state. For Jefferson's second term, the Vice President was George Clinton. It wasn't Aaron Burr, because Burr had shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and fled justice, engaging in a plot to form an independent nation in the west. The Ex-Vice-president was eventually found and arrested, then acquitted from the treason charge due to lack of evidence.
Battles were breaking out between England and France, and both countries were interfering with American trade. Although the country and Federalists cried for war, Jefferson chose peace. He made provision to strengthen the weak navy, and stopped trade with France and England with the Embargo Acts. Jefferson had over calculated the foreign need of American goods, and ended up hurting American merchants more than anything else with this act. With his second term coming to an end, Jefferson's popularity was at rock bottom. The old patriot and idealist was tired of the arguing and politics involved in government. His ideals of freedom, rights and responsibilities had grown into something that he loved yet, because of its very nature, ideas about freedom of thought and speech could not be stopped from evolving away from its basic premise. Monticello awaited him at the end of his term.
This time, Jefferson returned to Monticello to stay. Once back, Jefferson returned to inventing and designing new devices. One of his inventions, the Polygraph, was a machine that wrote with a second pencil whatever the first was writing. A sort of ancient copier. After the library of congress was burned, he offered the country 13,000 volumes from his personal library. Jefferson also created a university, Central College (Now called University of Virginia), for which he was named the school rector. Jefferson asked that only three accomplishments be written on his grave: That he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, That he authored the Virginia statute for Religious Independence, and that he was the father of the University of Virginia. He felt those deeds best kept the ideals he lived by. The freedom of personal rights, the freedom to choose personal belief, and the never ending quest for knowledge. Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence at the age of 83. In Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams also died on July 4th, a few of his deathbed words being " And Thomas Jefferson still survives." He was right in more ways than he could have imagined.
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