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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, musician, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the country's third president from 1801 to 1809. Between 1797 and 1801, he served as the second vice president of the United States under John Adams, and between 1790 and 1793, he served as the first secretary of state of the United States under George Washington. Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, was a proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights for certain groups of people, inspiring American colonists to secede from the United Kingdom and form a new nation; he produced formative documents and decisions at both the state and national levels.

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Background

Thomas Jefferson was the third of ten children born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell Plantation in the Colony of Virginia. He was born a British subject and was of English and maybe Welsh ancestry. His father, Peter Jefferson, was a landowner and surveyor who died when Jefferson was fourteen, and his mother, Jane Randolph, was a planter and surveyor. After the death of William Randolph III, the plantation's owner and Jefferson's friend, who had nominated Peter as guardian of Randolph's children in his will, Peter Jefferson moved his family to Tuckahoe Plantation in 1745. In 1752, the Jeffersons returned to Shadwell, where Peter died in 1757, leaving his estate to his sons Thomas and Randolph. After that, Thomas' guardian was John Harvie Sr. He attended his uncle Field Jefferson's wedding to Mary Allen Hunt in 1753, the latter of whom would become a close friend and early mentor. Thomas received 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 7.8 square miles), which included Monticello. At the age of 21, he acquired full control of his land.

In Tuckahoe, Virginia, Jefferson and the Randolph children began their schooling with tutors.

Thomas' father, Peter, was self-taught and, regretting his lack of formal education, enrolled his son in an English school when he was five years old. He began attending a local school operated by a Scottish Presbyterian preacher when he was nine years old, and he also began studying the natural world, which he grew to adore. He began studying Latin, Greek, and French at this time and learning to ride horses. Thomas read novels from his father's small library as well. From 1758 to 1760, he was schooled by Reverend James Maury near Gordonsville, Virginia, where he boarded with Maury's family and learned history, physics, and the classics. During this time, Jefferson met and befriended several American Indians, including the well-known Cherokee chief Ontasseté, who would frequently stop in Shadwell on his route to Williamsburg to trade. During his two years with the Maury's, Jefferson visited Williamsburg and stayed with Colonel Dandridge, Martha Washington's father. In Williamsburg, the young Jefferson met and admired Patrick Henry, an eight-year-old violinist with mutual passion.

At 16, Jefferson enrolled at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to study mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small. Jefferson was exposed to the concepts of the British Empiricists, such as John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton while studying under Small's guidance. George Wythe and Francis Fauquier were introduced to Jefferson by Small. Small, Wythe, and Fauquier saw Jefferson as a gifted man and welcomed him into their inner circle, where he became a regular at their Friday dinner parties when politics and philosophy were discussed. "I heard more common good reason, more rational & intellectual discourse than in all the rest of my life," Jefferson later wrote. He spent more time and money on parties and dancing during his first year at college and was not particularly economical with his spending; during his second year, sorry that he had lost so much time and money, he dedicated himself to fifteen hours of study per day. Jefferson enhanced his French and Greek skills, as well as his ability to play the violin. He completed his studies two years after beginning in 1762. While working as a law clerk in Wythe's office, he studied the law under his instruction to get his law license. He was also a voracious reader of English classics and political publications. Jefferson was well-versed in a wide range of disciplines, including history, natural law, natural religion, ethics, and various branches of science, including agriculture, in addition to law and philosophy. He leaned heavily on philosophers in general. Jefferson compiled a summary of his copious readings in his Commonplace Book throughout his years of study under Wythe's watchful eye. Jefferson so took Wythe that he bequeathed his entire library to him later.

The Declaration of Independence

Jefferson primarily wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson advocated the document's social and political principles before Washington's inauguration. At the outset of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, he was one of the youngest delegates to the Second Continental Congress, where a formal declaration of independence from Britain was overwhelmingly endorsed.

In June 1775, just after the war began, Jefferson chose his words for the Declaration of Independence, where the idea of independence from Britain had long been popular among the colonies. He was influenced by the Enlightenment principles of individual holiness and Locke and Montesquieu's writings.

He sought out John Adams, the Congress's rising star.

They became close friends, and Adams backed Jefferson's election to the Committee of Five, which was tasked with drafting a declaration of independence in response to Congress's passage of the Lee Resolution, which declared the United Colonies independent. The group had intended for Adams to write the document, but Adams persuaded them to choose Jefferson instead.

Over the next seventeen days, Jefferson met with other committee members and relied on his proposed Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources.

The other committee members made some revisions, and on June 28, 1776, a final draft was given to Congress.

On Monday, July 1, Congress began debating the declaration's contents, resulting in removing a fourth of the text, including a phrase critical of King George III and "Jefferson's anti-slavery provision."

Although Jefferson objected to the alterations, he did not openly express his displeasure with them.

The Congress ratified the Declaration on July 4, 1776, and delegates signed it on August 2; in doing so, they committed treason against the Crown. The phrase "all men are created equal" has been dubbed "one of the best-known lines in the English language," containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history," and it appears in Jefferson's preamble.


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Last Modified: Oct 12 2021
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