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Thomas Jefferson elected to the Continental Congress

Thomas Jefferson elected to the Continental Congress


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Future President Thomas Jefferson is elected to the second Continental Congress on March 27, 1775. Jefferson, a Virginia delegate, quickly established himself in the Continental Congress with the publication of his paper titled A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Throughout the next year, Jefferson published several more papers, most notably Drafts and Notes on the Virginia Constitution.

In June 1776, Congress put together a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. After much discussion, the committee chose Jefferson to compose the document. At just 33 years old, Jefferson finished writing his draft of what is considered the most important document in the history of democracy in just a few days. After a few minor changes, the committee submitted the draft, titled A Declaration by the Representatives in General Congress Assembled, to Congress on June 28, 1776. After some debate, the document was formally adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, under the new title, The Declaration of Independence.

In the following years, Jefferson drafted other historical documents including, in 1777, a bill establishing religious freedom that was formally enacted by Congress in 1786. He served as Virginia’s governor from 1779 to 1781, minister to France from 1784 to 1789 and the first U.S. secretary of state under President George Washington from 1790 to 1793.

Jefferson served as vice president under President John Adams from 1797 to 1801 and afterwards was elected the third president of the United States, a position he held for two terms from 1801 to 1809. After his presidency ended, Jefferson retired from public life to his home, Monticello, in Virginia. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826–50 years to the day after the signing of The Declaration of Independence. He was 83 years old.

READ MORE: Jefferson & Adams: Founding Frenemies


Thomas Jefferson elected to the Continental Congress - HISTORY

Thomas Jefferson, third president (1801 –1809) of the United States of America, was one of her Founding Fathers and a principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

Early Life

Using the Gregorian calendar as the basis of determining birth, Apr. 13, 1743 was designated as the day Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, then Edge Hill in Goochland (now Albemarle County), Virginia, into the Randolph family. His father, Peter Jefferson, believed to be of Welsh descent, was a surveyor and a planter of 5,000 acres of land which upon his death, was inherited by the young Jefferson at the age of 14 including the slaves. He studied mathematics, philosophy and metaphysics when he attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg from 1760-1762 at the age of 17 and met his influential mentor, law professor George Wythe. He indulged himself in reading French, Greek and Latin classics, and playing violin. He spoke five languages, collected books and wrote more than sixteen thousand letters. Jefferson graduated with highest honors in 1762. He later worked as a law clerk for Wythe during which stint he continuously read law and a variety of political works, and five years later in 1767, he was admitted to the Virginia bar. As a lawyer, he handled many cases of his clients from Virginia’s elite families, including the Randolph family.

At 26, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 and the following year, began building a neo-classical mansion, Monticello at the mountaintop which he had always wanted to do since childhood based primarily on the works of architect Andrea Palladio and his study on classical orders. As a delegate to the house, he wrote various resolutions against the Coercive Acts passed by the British Parliament in 1774. He argued that the authority of the British Parliament was confined only to Great Britain and does not encompass the colonies and that the colonists had the natural right to govern themselves. His first published work, A Summary View of the Right of the British America, was intended to serve as instructions for Virginia’s delegation to the First Continental Congress.

Jefferson married a wealthy 23-year old widow Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772 at age 29 and the couple had six children: (1) Martha Washington Jefferson (1772-1836) (2) Jane Jefferson (1774-1775) (3) stillborn or unnamed son (1777) (4) Mary Wayles Jefferson (1778-1804) (5) Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781) and (6) Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1785). Of the six only Martha, the oldest daughter lived beyond age 25 and together with Mary Wayles survived to adulthood.

Political Affairs

He became active in party politics when he helped organized the Committee of Correspondence for Virginia on March 12, 1773 composed of eleven members including himself. The committee was tasked to disseminate information regarding British actions on the eve of American Revolution. In June 1775 at age 32 he was elected as delegate to the 2nd Continental Congress soon after the Revolutionary War had begun and was appointed to a five-man committee created to prepare a Declaration of Independence for submission to the congress which ratified the final draft on July 4, 1776 two days after approving the accompanying resolution. It was said that during the 3-day debate Jefferson spoke not a word for or against the draft declaration. The preamble of the declaration became a lasting statement of human rights and the declaration itself, Jefferson’s major claim to fame.

Jefferson was elected as member of the Virginia House of Delegates in September 1776 serving for three years (1776-79) during which period he introduced reforms to update Virginia’s system of laws and judiciary. He attempted to eliminate capital punishment for all crimes except murder and treason and repeal of the death penalty law but was defeated.

When the Second Continental Congress adjourned, he returned to Virginia and was elected governor in 1779 at the age of thirty-six, succeeding Patrick Henry. He was re-elected in 1780 but resigned in 1781 after Virginia was invaded by British troops and burned the capital city of Richmond for which he was criticized. A British secret expedition to capture him was thwarted by a heroic action of Jack Jouett of the Virginia militia enabling Jefferson and his entourage to escape unnoticed. During his term as Governor he wrote the statute on religious freedom (enacted in 1786), transferred the capital to Richmond from Williamsburg and instituted reforms at the William and Mary College including the appointment of George Wythe as the professor of law and the adoption of an honor code.

After his wife’s death in 1782 Jefferson again became a delegate to the Congress albeit mourning, and in 1784 he drafted the report that was the basis for the Ordinances of 1784, 1785, and 1787. He was minister to France from 1785 to 1789, when George Washington appointed him secretary of state. As Minister to France he sympathized with the French Revolution. As Secretary of State (1790-1793) he argued over the funding of the debts of the war and other fiscal policies with Alexander Hamilton comparing him and the Federalists with “Royalism”. He supported France against Britain during the conflict in 1793 believing that the success of the French Army would facilitate political success at home. When he retired to Monticello in 1793 Jefferson continued to oppose Hamilton’s policies and praised the French revolution which he refused to disavow even during the violence of the Reign of Terror. Jefferson’s strong faith in the consent of the governed conflicted with the emphasis on executive control espoused by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and he resigned on Dec. 31, 1793.

The Election of 1796

Due to political differences and developments of sharp conflicts, two separate political parties began to form, the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. The Republicans, headed by Jefferson, attacked Federalist policies, sympathized with France’s revolutionary cause and opposed strong centralized government. In the 1796 presidential election Jefferson was the Democratic-Republican candidate for president John Adams won the election, and Jefferson became vice president through a flaw in the Constitution which caused a more serious problem. As presiding officer of the Senate, he was concerned about the absence of rules governing its proceedings.

The Election of 1800

In 1800, Jefferson and Aaron Burr received equal Electoral College votes the House of Representatives elected Jefferson president. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1801 before Chief Justice John Marshall at the new capital in Washington, D.C., a time when partisan strife was growing. Jefferson was a strong advocate of westward expansion major events of his first term were the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the winning of the first U.S. war overseas (Barbary War) and the Lewis and Clark expedition. He slashed army and navy expenditures, eliminated the tax on whiskey and cut the budget.

The Barbary War

The Barbary War was a result of Jefferson’s refusal to pay tribute or bribe to Barbary States for the protection of American ships against North African piracy favoring instead fighting the pirates than paying the bribe. The Barbary pirates were harassing American commerce in the Mediterranean. The Louisiana Territory was sold by Napoleon of France to the United States for $15 million in 1803 thus doubling the size of the United States. The constitutionality of the acquisition had never been raised. Napoleon believed he could no longer defend the French territory in America and was facing imminent war against Britain. France was also facing bankruptcy.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition and Westward Expansion

In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) consisting of 45 men and led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was sent by Jefferson to explore the new (Louisiana) territory (and beyond), open the American west to settlement and for scientific and geographical data purposes including finding a “direct & practicable water communication across the continent, for the purposes of commerce”. The expedition reached the Pacific Ocean by November 1805 and provided information concerning the topographical features and the natural resources, as well as the Indian tribes. The president also signed the Military Peace Establishment Act on March 16, 1802 which directed the establishment of corps of engineers to be stationed at West Point in the state of New York and to be constituted as the U.S. Military Academy. The scientific and military learning institution formally commenced on July 4, 1802. Other first-term accomplishments include: (1) pardoned people imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts (2) signed into law segregating the U.S. postal system by forbidding blacks to carry mail (3) repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 and (4) repealed federal taxes in favor of customs revenue.

The Embargo Act

An important development during his second term was the passage of the Embargo Act, barring U.S. ships from setting sail to foreign ports. Jefferson established the University of Virginia and designed its buildings. He ordered his former vice president Aaron Burr tried for treason in 1807 but was acquitted. He was increasingly preoccupied with keeping the nation from involvement in the Napoleonic wars. The Embargo Act was promulgated to restrict American ships from engaging in foreign trade between the years 1807 and 1812, which led to the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain. It was repealed by Congress at the end of Jefferson’s second term for being unpopular. The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves was signed into law and went into effect January 1, 1808, stating that no new slaves were permitted to be imported into the United States effectively ending the legal transatlantic slave trade or “piracy” of slaves. His public and private positions on slavery failed to convince historians of its proper interpretations specially when he declared his opposition to slavery as an institution and wanted to end it but personally depended on enslaved labor to support his household and plantations.

Life After Presidency

Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 a few years after leaving the Presidency. A full slate of elective courses were offered within that ensemble of buildings and ground which innovative architectural design was both inspired by him and viewed as an expression of his aspirations for both state-sponsored education and an agrarian democracy. It was designed as the capstone of Virginia’s educational system.

After he became a widow at age 40, his health deteriorated by July 1825 and was bedridden since then. He died from uremia, severe diarrhea and pneumonia on July 4, 1826, on the same day as John Adams (the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence). All his possessions, including his slaves and Monticello were sold in consequence of his financial debts in 1831. He was buried at the family cemetery at Monticello.

Analysis of DNA taken from descendants of Jefferson and Sally Hemings, one of his slaves of mixed-race, revealed a very high probability of Jefferson fathering at least one, perhaps all, of her six known children. The 38-year intimate relationship with Sally and the Hemingses would have been called a “shadow family”. However, most biographers publicly stated their being convinced of Jefferson’s paternity of Hemings’ children and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation issued a report in 2000 supporting Jefferson’s paternity. In 1998 a DNA study showed a genetic match between the Hemings descendant and the Jefferson line.

Jefferson’s Accomplishments and Inventions

Jefferson was a farmer with tobacco as his main cash crop. He was also an inventor with samples include the design for a revolving bookstand to hold five volumes at once, the “Great Clock, and helped improve the polygraph and moldboard plow. He helped popularize the Neo-Palladian architectural style in the United States and advocated the growing and smoking of hemp. As a republican, his vision was that of an agricultural nation of independent and civic-conscious farmers. He distrusted and disliked banks and bankers in opposition to borrowing. While he believed that each man has “certain inalienable rights”, he did not support gender equality and opposed female involvement in politics. He was known as the “agrarian democrat” who shaped the thinking of his nation. His religious views were considered varied in practice and belief. He opposed orthodox Christianity, remained hostile to the Catholic Church and embraced Unitarianism as a belief and the religious philosophy of Deism. He held to the view that God was a material being.


Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States of America.

Thomas Jefferson was born in Goochland (later Albemarle) County, Virginia, in 1743. In 1760, he enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. After graduation, he studied law and passed the Virginia bar exam. He worked as both a lawyer and a farmer and lived near Charlottesville, Virginia at his plantation called Monticello. He also pursued a political career and served in the House of Burgesses, the lower chamber of Virginia's legislature.

Jefferson became a committed patriot and played an important role in the American Revolution. He represented Virginia in both the First and Second Continental Congresses. The members of the Second Continental Congress selected Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. The document consisted of two parts. Listed first were a number of rights that the Congress felt that English colonists deserved. The second part of the Declaration was a description of the numerous ways that England had denied these rights to its colonists. The Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, although several battles in the Revolutionary War had occurred over the previous year.

In September 1776, Jefferson participated in Virginia's constitutional convention. His most important contribution was the establishment of religious freedom and the separation of church and state in Virginia. In 1779, the voters of Virginia elected Jefferson governor. The British attacked Richmond, Virginia's capital, in 1781 and forced the governor and legislature to flee. Shortly thereafter, Jefferson resigned as governor and encouraged Virginia to elect someone with military experience to the position. He retired to Monticello but within two years, he returned to politics and government.

In 1783, Virginia selected Jefferson to represent the state in the Confederation Congress. The next year, Jefferson wrote the text of the Ordinance of 1784. This act called for the land north of the Ohio River, west of the Appalachian Mountains, and east of the Mississippi River to be divided into ten separate states. The states would first be territories. They would remain territories until they had the same population as the least populous state in America. At that point, the territories would become states with the same rights as the original thirteen states. The Ordinance of 1784 also guaranteed self-government to the residents of the territories.

In 1784, the Congress appointed Jefferson as its ambassador to France. The French government had been America's most important ally during the American Revolution. Jefferson became a supporter of Louis XVI's overthrow and remained committed to the French Revolution in spite of the violence that followed. Although he was absent from America from 1784 until 1789, Jefferson also made known his opinions about the United States Constitution and the subsequent Bill of Rights.

Jefferson returned home in 1789 and President George Washington selected him to become Secretary of State. Jefferson became a strong advocate for a weak central government and an economy based on agriculture. The beliefs of Jefferson and several of his friends and associates led to the creation of the Democratic-Republican Party. The Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, favored a strong federal government and an industrialized economy similar to that of England. The views of Hamilton and his friends about the United States resulted in the Federalist Party. These two parties dominated political thought for the next thirty years. Washington tended to support Hamilton. In 1793, Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State and returned to Monticello. In 1796, Jefferson ran against John Adams for the presidency. Jefferson lost his bid for president but became vice president. In 1800, Jefferson ran for the presidency again and won the election.

Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801, the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, DC. As president, Jefferson's major accomplishment was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Jefferson roughly doubled the size of the United States by buying the Louisiana Territory from France for fifteen million dollars. The Louisiana Purchase extended westward from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and northward from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. Jefferson also was president when Ohio became the seventeenth state in the United States in 1803. Jefferson was a strong supporter of Ohio statehood and removed Arthur St. Clair, the Federalist-leaning governor of the Northwest Territory, in 1802, to help speed Ohio's admittance to the Union. In 1808, Jefferson refused to seek a third term as president. He retired to Monticello in 1809.

Jefferson helped reestablish the Library of Congress in 1815 by donating his 6,500-volume book collection to the effort. The British had destroyed the original Library of Congress during the War of 1812. He was also one of the founders of the University of Virginia. He died on July 4, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


Thomas Jefferson: Governor of Virginia

This week, we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s 270th birthday—April 13, 1743—and look at one particular year in his life, 1781. That year did not begin auspiciously for Jefferson, and on April 13 he would have matters on his mind more weighty than his birthday. He was in the second of his two terms as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The 10 months that preceded the great American victory at Yorktown were harrowing ones for the Governor, the General Assembly, and the rest of the Virginia government. Once in January and again in May, the British attacked and forced the evacuation of the new state capital at Richmond. To make matters worse, the initial British assault was led by none other than Benedict Arnold, the traitor who had escaped the Continental Army only months before, when his plan to turn over West Point to the British was discovered and foiled.

Before becoming Governor, Jefferson had spent 15 months in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he drafted the Declaration of Independence in June 1776. In September, he returned home and was elected to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. Three years later, at the age of 36, Jefferson was elected governor. Jefferson was reelected in 1780.

During this period, Jefferson and the Assembly decided to move the government from Williamsburg to Richmond in the expectation that it would be safer from British invaders. Williamsburg was located between the James and York Rivers and easily reached from the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay, while Richmond was farther inland. They also battled the British and their Indian supporters in the state’s western counties, known today as the states of West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

After fighting George Washington to a standstill in previous years in Canada and the Northeast, Sir Henry Clinton and British government leaders looked to the south for a decisive victory and an opportunity to divide the United States. British efforts in the north had not been decisive, and the British surrender at Saratoga in September 1778 had been a disaster. Gen. Charles Cornwallis was sent to South Carolina and then to North Carolina.

Cornwallis achieved mixed results in the south, with major victories at Charleston and Camden in South Carolina, but faced setbacks at Kings Mountain and Cowpens, South Carolina, and Guilford Court House, North Carolina. Meanwhile, Benedict Arnold escaped to British lines and asked Clinton for a command. He was assigned to lead a force to invade Virginia. Cornwallis began to move north and east and considered a union with Arnold’s army in southeast Virginia, where he would have access to the sea and potentially the protection of the British Navy.

Although Jefferson was skilled in many fields and had been in charge of the Virginia militia before becoming Governor, he was not a soldier or military strategist, a fact he readily acknowledged. However, as Governor, it was his duty to prepare Richmond and the entire state against invasion. He called out the militia and moved weapons, munitions, and military supplies to a foundry five miles outside of town. Arnold learned of the transfer and later captured the foundry and other stores of supplies. Jefferson delayed too long in raising a militia, but the blame was not all his. He received little support from the Assembly, but they had little to give.

Virginia’s treasure and young men had been sent north to fight with Washington or south to confront the British advancing from that direction. However, as the accounts below illustrate, Jefferson appreciated and understood the need for military intelligence. When the British came, he jumped on his horse not to escape or evade his obligations but to rally Virginia’s defense, as hopeless as that might have been.

Jefferson monitored British activity to the south to ascertain any plans for future movement. He reported to Washington: “I received advice that on the [November 22nd] instant the enemy’s fleet got all under way [from Charleston, South Carolina] and were standing towards the [Virginia] Capes. . . . This I hourly expected but it did not come till this evening, when I am informed they all got out to sea in the night of the 22d. What course they steered afterwards is not known.” (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Gen. Washington, Nov. 26, 1780. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers).

In December 1780 and early January of 1781, Arnold led British ships and 1,600 British regulars in raids along the James River and found little organized opposition. In Richmond, they forced government officials to flee the city and destroyed both private homes and government buildings. British plans called for Cornwallis to march east to join forces with Arnold.

For Jefferson, the invasion of Virginia began in earnest on the morning of New Year’s Eve, 1780. He would scarcely have time to be concerned with anything else for the next 10 days. The following entries come from Jefferson’s Diary of the Arnold Invasion and were written by Jefferson in the third person.

Sunday. Richmond. 1780. Dec. 31.

At 8. A.M. the Governor [Th: J.] receives the first intelligence that 27 sail of ships had entered Chesapeak bay, and were in the morning of the 29th. just below Willoughby’s point, the Southern cape of James river, their destination unknown.

[1]781. Jan. 2. Tuesday.

At 10. A.M. information is received that they had entered James river, their advance being at Warrasqueak bay. Orders were immediately given for calling in the militia, ¼ from some, and ½ from other counties. . . . The Governor directs the removal of the Records into the country, and the transportation of the military stores from Richmond to Westham, there to be carried across the river.

Thursd. Jan. 4.

The Governor . . . rode up to the Foundery, a mile below Westham, ordered Capts. Boush and Irish, and Mr. Hylton to continue all night waggoning to Westham the arms and stores still at the Foundery, to be thrown across the river at Westham then proceeded to Westham, to press the transportation there across the river, and thence went to Tuckahoe [northwest of Richmond], to take care of his family, which he had sent that far in the course of the day. He arrived there at 1. aclock in the night.

Sat. Jan. [6.]

The Governor returned to Britton’s had measures taken more effectually to secure the books and papers there. The enemy, having burnt some houses and stores, left Richmond, after 24. hours stay there, and encamped at Fourmile creek, 10. miles below and the Governor went to look to his family at Fine creek.

Thursd. Jan. 11.

At 8. A.M. the wind due West and strong, [the enemy] make good their retreat down the river.

(Excerpts from the Diary of Thomas Jefferson, 1796. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.)

After this foray into central Virginia, British forces under Arnold and Phillips concentrated at Portsmouth, Virginia, along the Atlantic coast. Jefferson and the Assembly returned to Richmond and continued to build what little defense they could for Virginia. Their resources overextended, they appealed to the penniless and powerless Continental Congress, to other Governors and states that stood no better, to the American commissioners in Europe, and George Washington stationed with his Army near New York City.

Washington did send a small force of 1,000 under Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette. He also consulted with General Rochambeau, Commander of the French Army, and they were in contact with Admiral de Grasse of the French Navy, hoping to find the right time and combination for a decisive victory, on sea or land.

Cornwallis and his underling—the infamous calvaryman Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton—received orders to move east. They would lead the next attack on Richmond and the surrounding area, including the temporary capital at Charlottesville and Jefferson’s nearby Monticello. In the midst of the crisis, Jefferson’s second term came to an end.

In the next segment, we will continue the story of Jefferson’s last months as Governor.


Thomas Jefferson elected to the Continental Congress - HISTORY

Thomas Jefferson was truly a Renaissance man. A brilliant scholar, inventor, naturalist, and architect, Jefferson played the violin, spoke six languages, conducted archeological investigations of Native American mounds, founded the University of Virginia, and assembled a 10,000-book library which became the foundation of the Library of Congress. His writing talent produced the historic Declaration of Independence, the document that boldly told King George that the colonies would no longer accept his rule. Jefferson's political savvy led him to hold a number of governmental positions before becoming president: he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses when he was only 25, served in the Continental Congress, became governor of Virginia, a diplomat in Europe where he helped negotiate the treaties that ended the Revolutionary War, secretary of state under Washington, and vice president under John Adams. During his presidency, Jefferson doubled the size of the country by purchasing the territory of Louisiana.


Thomas Jefferson - One of America's Founding Fathers

Birth: April 13, 1743
Death: July 4, 1826 (age 83)
Colony: Virginia
Occupation: Plantation Owner, Lawyer, Politician
Significance: Primary Author and Signer of The Declaration of Independence (at the age of 33) served as the second Governor of Virginia (1779-1781) served as second United States Minister to France (1785-1789) served as the first Secretary of State (1790-1793) served as the second Vice President of the United States (1797-1801) served as the third President of the United States (1801-1809)

Entrance to Politics

The Declaration of Independence

Revolutionary War

After the signing of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson returned home to Virginia and served in the Virginia House of Delegates where he was a crucial figure in the finalization of the Virginia Constitution.

In 1779, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia, and he was re-elected the following year. Jefferson struggled to govern Virginia in the midst of the Revolutionary War, but he was able to make progress on many of his goals including guaranteeing religious freedom for Virginians, strengthening public education, and economic reforms. In 1781, the Virginia capital of Richmond was burned to ground by British forces led by Benedict Arnold. Jefferson was able to escape Richmond and travel to Monticello, but he faced criticism for his decision to return home amidst the chaos and was not elected to a third term.

Minister to France

In 1783, Jefferson was elected to the Continental Congress (Congress of the Confederation) and began serving just as the United States secured victory in the American Revolutionary War. In 1784, Jefferson was appointed by Congress to travel to Paris to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in negotiating treaties with European nations. In 1785, when Benjamin Franklin left France to return to Philadelphia after many years of being abroad, it was Jefferson who was chosen to succeed Franklin in the important position of Minister to France.

Jefferson remained in France for years and was still in Paris in 1789 when the storming of the Bastille set off the French Revolution. Jefferson remained in Paris during the beginning of the French Revolution, and he even offered advice to the Marquis de Lafayette, an American Revolutionary War Hero who had become a major figure in the French Revolution. Jefferson even consulted the Marquis de Lafayette as he wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, an enormously influential document that was designed as a basic charter of human liberties and the principles of the French Revolution.

While Jefferson was in Paris and while the United States Constitution was written in Philadelphia in 1787, Jefferson was still able to influence America's new government through his correspondence with James Madison, who is considered the primary author of the Constitution. Madison had faced criticism from some members of the Constitutional Convention for not including a Bill of Rights in his proposed new government which would protect the rights of individuals and states from the enhanced powers of a stronger federal government. Members of the Constitutional Convention led by George Mason even refused to sign the United States Constitution over this dispute. Jefferson was among those who favored the addition of a Bill of Rights and used his influence with Madison to convince Madison to support the addition of a Bill of Rights, which Madison himself would go on to write.

Secretary of State

While Jefferson was working abroad, back in America, a new government was established under the Constitution of the United States, and George Washington was elected President of the newly established Federal government. Jefferson returned to Monticello in 1789 and was named the first Secretary of State under the Constitution by President Washington.

Jefferson quickly became a rival of fellow cabinet member of Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson opposed Hamilton’s ambitious economic plans which included the Federal government taking on all of the Revolutionary War debts accumulated by the states and the establishment of a national bank. Jefferson fought against Hamilton's goals, but in the end, Washington sided with Hamilton and proceeded with his economic plans.

Jefferson became increasingly aligned with fellow Virginian James Madison who was also concerned with increasing Federal authority, and that Hamilton's proposals such as The First Bank of the United States, would provide an avenue for the wealthy to corrupt American politics. Together, Jefferson and Madison formed the Democratic-Republican party, and they sought to oppose Hamilton’s Federalist Party.

While no longer in Paris, Jefferson still supported the cause of the French Revolution from afar and when Britain began clashing with revolutionary France, Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans were firmly on the side of the French. Jefferson grew frustrated that Washington and his cabinet were aligning themselves with Britain instead. As it became clear that his influence in Washington’s cabinet was limited, Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State at the end of 1793, and he returned to Monticello.

Vice President of the United States

Back in Virginia, Jefferson remained involved in politics and increasingly criticized Washington’s foreign policy decisions. In particular, Jefferson felt that the Jay Treaty with Britain was far too conciliatory and was afraid the Federalists were too aligned with the British Monarchy.

As it became clear that President Washington would not seek a third term in office, the stage was set for an intense 1796 election between his Federalist Vice President, John Adams, and Democratic-Republican leader Thomas Jefferson, two old friends who had grown into political rivals. The bitter election of 1796 was further complicated by fighting within the Federalist Party between Adams and Hamilton. Hamilton tried to bypass Adams and elect Adams’ Vice President candidate, Thomas Pinckney, as President.

While Hamilton’s scheming failed, it did succeed in creating a mess in which Thomas Jefferson lost to John Adams, but he secured more votes than his running mate, and thus became John Adams’ Vice President. This awkward situation was part of the reason for the creation of the 12th Amendment which would simplify the process by which the President was elected and ensured that the running mate of the winning Presidential Candidate would win the Vice Presidency.

While serving as Vice President, Jefferson worked against President John Adams and publicly attacked many of Adams’ decisions, including his entrance into a Quasi-War with France, and the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made certain type of dissent against the government illegal.

During this time, Jefferson was also named President of the American Philosophical Society, a scholarly society formed by Benjamin Franklin over half a century earlier. The Philosophical Society was located in Philadelphia where Jefferson was served as Vice President of the United States, but Jefferson remained its president, even after he left Philadelphia. Jefferson eventually resigned as the leader of the American Philosophical Society before finally resigning in 1815.

In the meantime, Jefferson prepared for the 1800 election, in which Jefferson once again faced off against John Adams. The election was highly contentious with both parties attacking the other, but this time, it was Jefferson who defeated Adams and became America’s third President.

President of the United States

Later Years

Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia

Jefferson first came to Philadelphia in 1775 as a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress which met at Independence Hall. While in Philadelphia, Jefferson was chosen to write The Declaration of Independence and did so while living at the Declaration House. After The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress, Jefferson signed The Declaration of Independence before returning home to Virginia where he served as Governor.

Jefferson returned to Philadelphia in 1783 to serve in the Congress of the Confederation before leaving again to serve as a diplomat in Paris, France. In 1790, Jefferson again returned to Philadelphia where he continued to serve as President George Washington's Secretary of State. After a brief trip to Virginia, Jefferson returned to Philadelphia after being elected Vice President in 1797. While Vice President, Jefferson presided over the U.S. Senate, which met on the second floor of Congress Hall while the Capital city was in Philadelphia. During this time, Jefferson also served as the President of the American Philosophical Society, which met at Philosophical Hall in Philadelphia.

Inside the West Wing of Independence Hall, is an exhibit titled "Great Essentials," which contains original copies of the historic documents that were signed in Independence Hall, including Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. A plaque commemorating Jefferson for signing The Declaration of Independence can be found on Signers' Walk on the 600 block of Chestnut Street (between 5th and 6th Street). Signers' Garden pays tribute to the Founding Fathers, including those such as Jefferson who signed The Declaration of Independence. Today, Independence Hall, the Declaration House, Congress Hall, American Philosophical Society, Signers' Walk and Signers' Garden are all stops visited along The Constitutional Walking Tour!


External Research Collections

Library of Congress Manuscript Division

American Philosophical Society

The Morgan Library Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts

The Rosenbach Museum & Library

University of Virginia Alderman Library

Virginia State Library and Archives

Brigham Young University Archives

Brooklyn Historical Society The Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library

Bryn Mawr College Special Collections

Clermont State Historic Site

College of William and Mary Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, Earl Gregg Swem Library

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library

Connecticut Historical Society

Copley Press, Inc. J.S. Copley Library

Dartmouth College Rauner Special Collections Library

Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

The Filson Historical Society Special Collections

Grolier Club

Huntington Library

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Kentucky Historical Society Library

Knox College Archives and Special Collections, Seymour Library

Lynchburg Public Library

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale The elder of two sons in a family of 10, Jefferson was born in 1743 at Shadwell, a frontier plantation in Goochland (present Albemarle) County, Va. But two years later his father, Peter, a self-made surveyor-magistrate-planter who had married into the distinguished Randolph family, moved his family eastward to Tuckahoe, a plantation near Richmond. His reason for doing so was a promise he had made to his wife's recently deceased cousin, William Randolph, to act as guardian of his son. Young Jefferson passed most of his boyhood in the Randolph home, beginning his elementary education with private tutors.

In 1752, when Jefferson was about nine years old, the family returned to Shadwell. His father died five years later and bequeathed him almost 3,000 acres he became head of the family. In 1760, at the age of 17, he matriculated at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg. An incidental benefit of this education was the chance to observe the operation of practical politics in the colonial capital. He was graduated in 1762, studied law locally under the noted teacher George Wythe, and in 1767 was admitted to the bar.

At Shadwell, Jefferson assumed the civic responsibilities and prominence his father had enjoyed. In 1770, when fire consumed the structure, he moved to his nearby estate, Monticello, where he had already begun building a home. Two years later, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow. During their decade of life together, she was to bear six children, one son and five daughters, but only two of the latter reached maturity.

Meanwhile, in 1769 at the age of 26, Jefferson had been elected to the House of Burgesses, in Williamsburg. He was a member continuously until 1775, and aligned himself with the anti-British group. Unlike his smooth-tongued confreres Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, Jefferson concentrated his efforts in committee work rather than in debate. A literary stylist, he drafted many of the revolutionary documents adopted by the House of Burgesses.

Jefferson utilized the same methods in the Continental Congress (1775-76), where his decisiveness in committee contrasted markedly with his silence on the floor. His colleagues, however, rejected several of his drafts the first year because of their extreme anti-British tone. But by the time he returned the following May after spending the winter in Virginia, the temper of Congress had changed drastically and by July, the Continental Congress voted to separate from Great Britain. Jefferson, though only 33 years old, was assigned to the five-man committee chosen to write a document explain to the world why the colonies had chosen such a drastic course of action. His associates assigned to the task to Jefferson, and today he is perhaps best known as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

A notable career in the Virginia House of Delegates (1776-79), the lower house of the legislature, followed. Jefferson took over leadership of the "progressive" party from Patrick Henry, who relinquished it to become governor. Highlights of this service included revision of the state laws (1776-79), in which Jefferson collaborated with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, and authorship of a bill for the establishment of religious freedom in Virginia, introduced in 1779 but not passed until seven years later.

Although not helped in his term as governor (1779-81) by wartime conditions and constitutional limitations, Jefferson proved to be a weak executive, even in emergencies hesitating to wield his authority. When the British invaded Virginia in 1781, he recommended combining the civil and military agencies under General Thomas Nelson, Jr., and virtually abdicated office. Although he was later formally vindicated, the action fostered a conservative takeover of the government and his reputation remained clouded for some time.

Jefferson stayed out of the limelight for the next two years, during which time his wife died. In 1783 he reentered Congress, where he sponsored and drafted the Ordinance of 1784, forerunner of the Ordinance of 1787 (Northwest Ordinance). In 1784 he was sent to Paris to aid Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in their attempts to negotiate commercial treaties with European nations. During his five year stay, Jefferson succeeded Franklin as Minister to France (1785-89), gained various economic concessions from and strengthened relations with the French, visited England and Italy, absorbed European culture, and observed the beginnings of the French Revolution.

Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789. In the years that followed interspersed with pleasant interludes and political exile at Monticello, he filled the highest offices in the land. Ever averse to political strife, he occupied these positions as much out of a sense of civic and party duty as personal ambition.

Aggravating normal burdens and pressures were Jefferson's feuds with Alexander Hamilton on most aspects of national policy, as well as the vindictiveness of Federalist attacks. These clashes originated while Jefferson was Secretary of State (1790-93) in Washington's Cabinet. Unlike Hamilton, Jefferson sympathized with the French Revolution. He favored states’ rights and opposed a strong central government. He also envisioned an agricultural America, peopled by well-educated and politically astute yeomen farmers. Hamilton took the opposite position.

These political and philosophical conflicts resulted in time in the forming of the Federalist Party and Democratic-Republican Party, which Jefferson cofounded with James Madison. In 1793, because of his disagreements with Hamilton and Washington's growing reliance on Hamilton for advice in foreign affairs, Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State. For the next three years, he remained in semi-retirement at Monticello.

In 1796 Jefferson lost the presidential election to Federalist John Adams by only three electoral votes and, because the Constitution did not then provide separate tickets for the president and vice president, became vice president (1797-1801), though a member of the opposing party. In 1800 the same sort of deficiency, soon remedied by the 12th Amendment, again became apparent when Democratic-Republican electors, in trying to select both a president and vice president from their party, cast an equal number of votes for Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. Only after a tie-settling election in the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives (that rended both parties) did Jefferson capture the presidency Burr became vice president.

Jefferson, who was the first Chief Executive to be inaugurated at the Capitol, called his victory a "revolution." Indeed, it did bring a new tone and philosophy to the White House, where an aura of democratic informality was to prevail. And, despite the interparty acrimony of the time, the transition of power was smooth and peaceful, and Jefferson continued many Federalist policies. Because the crisis with France had terminated, he slashed army and navy funds. He also substantially reduced the government budget. Although he believed in an agrarian America, he encouraged commerce.

From 1801-05 Jefferson deployed naval forces to the Mediterranean to subdue the Barbary pirates, who were harassing American vessels. During his term, to counter English and French interference with neutral American shipping during the Napoleonic Wars, he applied an embargo on foreign trade for the purpose of avoiding involvement. But this measure proved to be unworkable and unpopular.

Jefferson's greatest achievements were in the realm of westward expansion, of which he was the architect. Foreseeing the continental destiny of the nation, he sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06) to the Pacific, though he knew it had to cross territory claimed by foreign powers. While that project was being organized, Jefferson's diplomats at Paris consummated the Louisiana Purchase (1803), which doubled the size of the United States and extended its boundaries far beyond the Mississippi.

In 1809 Jefferson retired for the final time to Monticello. He continued to pursue his varied interests and corresponded with and entertained statesmen, politicians, scientists, explorers, scholars, and Indian chiefs. When the pace of life grew too hectic, he found haven at Poplar Forest, his retreat near Lynchburg. His pet project during most of his last decade was founding the University of Virginia (1819), in Charlottesville, but he also took pride in the realization that two of his disciples, James Madison and James Monroe, had followed him into the White House.

Painfully distressing to Jefferson, however, was the woeful state of his finances. His small salary in public office, the attendant neglect of his fortune and estate, general economic conditions, and debts he inherited from his wife had taken a heavy toll. When a friend defaulted on a note for a large sum, Jefferson fell hopelessly into debt and was forced to sell his library to the government. It became the nucleus of the Library of Congress.

Jefferson died only a few hours before John Adams at the age of 83 on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is buried at his beloved Montiecello, below an epitaph of his own composing:


Rise to Prominence

Jefferson was born into the Virginia planter elite. He graduated from the College of William & Mary in 1762, studied law, and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 and served until the British dissolved the House in 1774. Jefferson was a leading activist in the U.S. independence movement. In 1773, he was a founding member of Virginia's Committee of Correspondence, which disseminated anti-British views, and, in 1774, he published A Summary View of the Rights of British America .

Jefferson was elected as a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, and, in 1776 when he was thirty-three years of age, he drafted the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, Jefferson returned to Virginia and served as a Delegate (1776-1779) and then as Governor (1779 and 1780). He served as a Delegate to the Confederation Congress from 1783 to 1784 and played a major role in shaping federal land policy. Jefferson joined John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in Paris in 1784 to negotiate commercial treaties with European powers. The following year, he succeeded Franklin as Minister to France (1785-1789) before becoming Secretary of State.

A founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jefferson was elected Vice President in 1796 and served two terms as President (1801-1809).


University of Virginia, Debt, and Death

The signal achievement of Jefferson&aposs last years was the founding of the University of Virginia. Harkening back to his early efforts to establish a system of public education in Virginia , in 1817 he described the projected institution as "a bantling of 40. years birth & nursing." In March 1814 Jefferson had joined the board of trustees of the Albemarle Academy, a moribund secondary school in Charlottesville. He immediately persuaded his fellow trustees to elevate their ambitions to the collegiate level. The General Assembly rechartered it in 1816 as Central College and again on January 25, 1819, as the University of Virginia. It opened its doors to students on March 7, 1825. At every stage Jefferson was the prime mover, drafting needed legislation and managing the lobbying to obtain its passage and the necessary appropriations. He also served as rector (leader) of the board of visitors, designed the buildings and generally supervised their construction, recruited a largely European faculty, charted the curriculum and chose books for the library, and drafted regulations for the staff and rules for student conduct. Jefferson&aposs influence manifested itself in the design of a dispersed layout of pavilions and dormitories rather than a lone central edifice, the omission of a chapel or mandatory church attendance, a decentralized administrative structure, and the granting of great freedom to students in their daily activities and choice of courses.

In 1812 Jefferson and John Adams had begun an exchange of letters that reconciled the old friends who had become political adversaries. Their correspondence is one of the most remarkable in American letters and touched on religion and philosophy, history and the classics, and politics and the meaning of the American Revolution of which they had been central figures. Jefferson remained interested in politics during his retirement, and when asked he occasionally offered advice to his successors, James Madison and James Monroe. He refused , however, to endorse proposals looking to the end of slavery that did not provide for resettlement of freed people elsewhere. In a memorable phrase he explained that "we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other." In 1820, after Congress prohibited slavery in the western territory north of 36° 30&apos latitude (with the exception of Missouri), Jefferson wrote "this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union."

In 1818 Jefferson had endorsed notes totaling $20,000 for his eldest grandson&aposs father-in-law and his own old friend, the former governor Wilson Cary Nicholas , whose bankruptcy the following year left Jefferson responsible for the sum and thereby insolvent. He had, moreover, lived beyond his means for most of his life and continued to do so until the end. Jefferson&aposs last-known letter concerned payment of duties on a shipment of wine. By early in 1826 the situation was so desperate that Jefferson conceived the idea of paying off his creditors by conducting a lottery with Monticello as the prize. The General Assembly approved the plan, but Jefferson&aposs death ended the scheme and left his estate with $107,273.63 in debts and far-fewer assets. Beginning in January 1827, several auctions dispersed most of his personal estate, including more than 100 slaves.

Jefferson died at Monticello at 12:50 p.m. on July 4, 1826. The exact cause is uncertain, but a variety of ailments including a urinary tract infection made his last months so painful that he resorted to large doses of laudanum. He was lucid almost to the end and asked several times if he had made it to the fourth of July. John Adams died later that day, and the demise of both statesmen on the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Declaration of Independence was widely regarded at the time as a divine stamp of approval on the American political experiment.

Jefferson ordered that an obelisk be erected to mark his grave in the family cemetery at Monticello and that it be inscribed only with his life dates and with what he regarded as his three most important achievements: author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. Ever since his death Jefferson has kept his hold on the American imagination, even as his true character remains elusive. Each generation has claimed and quoted him on both sides of almost every important question. He has been described as a committed abolitionist and hypocritical slaveholder, as an apostle of democracy and a southern aristocrat, and as an advocate of limited government and expansive architect of Manifest Destiny. In 1874 one of his early biographers, James Parton, suggested, "If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right." Whatever historians may make of this maxim, the general public seems never to have doubted it.


Watch the video: Thomas Jefferson:Από τη διακήρυξη της Ανεξαρτησίας στο σήμερα. ΕΡΤ (September 2022).

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