1743-1826, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States,
born in Shadwell, near Charlottesville, Va. His father was the
Virginia magistrate and surveyor Peter Jefferson, and his mother,
Jane Welsh Jefferson, belonged to one of the most prominent families
in the colony. Jefferson was educated at the College of William and
Mary and was admitted to the Virgina bar in 1776. In 1772 he married
Martha Wayles Skelton, the daughter of a Virgina lawyer.
The French Revolution strengthened Thomas Jefferson's belief in the rights of man.
When he became secretary of state under President George Washington,
his concept of individualistic
democracy and a simple agrarian society brought him into conflict with
Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury.
Jefferson considered Hamilton's unprecedented proposal for a national
bank unconstituional, and criticized his colleague's
advocacy of a strong central government. Their differences led to
Jefferson's resignation from the cabinet in Dec 1793, and to the
emergence of two political factions: the Federalists Party, supporting
Hamiliton's principles, and the Democratic-Republican Party led by
As the Presidential candidate of his faction, Jefferson was defeated by
the Federalist John Adams in the election of 1796. Under the provisions
of the Constitution
that prevailed at that time, he became Vice-President, but took
little part in the Adams adminstration. He vigarously opposed the Alien
and Sedition Acts, which
he regarded as an attack on individual liberties. In the election of
1800 Jefferson became President
after receiving a tie in the electoral college with his fellow
Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr. The election
was decided in the House of Representatives, largely through the
influence of the federalist Hamilton, whose distrust of Burr
out-weighed his opposition to Jefferson.
The first President to take office in Washingon, D.C., Jefferson
called for national unity, declaring that "We are all Republicans,
we are all Federalists".
His recommendations for frugality in government were hindered by the
costs of the Tripolitan War, against the pirates of the Barbary Coast,
and by the Louisiana Purchase.
The latter, perhaps Jefferson's greatest achievement as President,
marked the beginning of a period of national expansion, which was
furthered by his support of the Lewis and Clark Expedition for the
exploration of the newly acquired territory. Jefferson also supported the
expeditions conducted by the soldier Zubulon Montgomery Pike in his
search for the source of the Mississippi R. and in his exploration of the
Reelected in 1804, Jefferson worked to protect American neutrality
during the Napoleonic Wars between France and Great Britian.
He rsponded to the harrassment of American shipping and the impressment
of sailors by proposing such measures
as the Embargo Act, which proved largely ineffective. He remained
committed to peaceful diplomacy, however, even after the
British frigate Leopard fired on the U.S. warship Chesapeake in June 1807.
In 1808 Jefferson, declining a third term, supported his secretary of
state James Madison as his successor. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826,
the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,
only a few hours before the death of his old colleague and rival,
Jefferson was one of the most prominent American representatives
of the period of intellecutal activity known as the Enlightenment.
A profound thinker and a man of extraordinary intellectual energy,
he proposed numerous reforms in the laws of his State and
and was a major advocate of education, notably in the University of Virginia,
which he founded in 1819. His conception of the rights of the
individual against the encroachments of government constitutes one
of the most important theoretical principles in the American system of law.
- Funk and Wagnalls ©
On the notes to the State of Virginia he made this statement:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation
be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction
in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?
That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for
my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep
On April 21, 1803, Jefferson wrote this letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush
(also a signer of the Declaration of Independence):
My views...are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very
different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who
know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am,
indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.
I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished any one to be;
sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others...
One Nation Under God
- New Encyclopedia