The Life of Thomas Jefferson
Advocate for Liberty
Remembered mainly as the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is also remembered as one of the most brilliant men in the history of the United States.
Born in Albermarle County, Virginia, Jefferson inherited 5,000 acres of farmland from his father and the high social standing of his mother. Jefferson studied at the College of William and Mary, after which he studied law. In 1772, Jefferson married a widow named Martha Wayles Skelton and took her to live at the uncompleted Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence
Contemporary accounts of Jefferson describe him as being tall, freckled and slightly awkward. He did not have the oratorical gifts of George Washington or John Adams, but became widely known as an excellent writer, when at the age of 33 he was asked to write the Declaration of Independence at the First Continental Congress in 1775. For this reason, Jefferson was known as the silent member because he spoke very little, yet is remembered as the author of one of the most important political documents in world history since the Magna Carta in 1215. He also devoted his life to protecting and up-holding the ideals that the Declaration of Independence embodies. In 1786 he introduced a bill into the Virginia House of Burgesses ensuring religious freedom.
In 1785, he succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the Minister to France. However, his pro-French sympathies created a conflict with Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. Their differing viewpoints continued to cause problems when they both served in the administration of George Washington during his two terms as the first President of the United States. The conflict with Hamilton eventually led to Jefferson’s resignation in 1793.
In the meantime, the United States was becoming sharply divided by politics as what had been loose political coalitions solidified into clearly defined political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Jefferson became one of the leading voices in the Democratic-Republican Party.
In 1796, Jefferson reluctantly became his party’s presidential candidate. Despite this, he came to within three votes of winning. However, a constitutional loophole allowed Jefferson to became Vice President in John Adams’ administration.
In the 1800 election, the same loophole caused more serious problems. The Republicans in the Electoral College wanted both the President and the Vice President to be from their own party. As a result, there was a tied vote in the House of Representatives, as the Republicans were divided between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Even though, he did not see eye to eye with Jefferson on many issues, Alexander Hamilton nevertheless pushed for Jefferson’s election.
By the time Jefferson became President, the Quasi-War Crisis had been resolved and the expenses of the Army and the Navy had been cut by Congress. While in office Jefferson was successful in reducing the budget, as well as revoking the unpopular whiskey tax, which was introduced by George Washington. Jefferson also managed to reduce the national debt and dispatched the US Navy to the Mediterranean to battle the Barbary Pirates, who were interfering with American merchant vessels in the area.
Like Washington and Adams before him, much of Jefferson’s energy was devoted to keeping the United States out of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1803, Jefferson had to wrestle with his qualms about the constitutionality of land acquisition before purchasing the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.
After leaving office, Jefferson returned to Monticello to pursue personal projects, such as his plans for the University of Virginia. Jefferson also maintained a long correspondence with John Adams.
Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died a few hours apart on July 4, 1826.
Works CitedThomas Jefferson. The White House. The United States Government, Jan.30/09
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- February 2, 2009 / 1:02 am
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