Thomas Jefferson (Shadwell, Virginia; April 2Jul./April 13, 1743-Charlottesville, Virginia; July 4, 1826) was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the third president of the United States of America, holding office between 1801 and 1809. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the nation.

Family

He was the third of ten children of Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor; and Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph. Peter and Jane were married in 1739.

Before William Randolph (his mother’s cousin and his father’s friend) died, he appointed his progenitor manager of the Tuckahoe plantation and guardian of his four children.

In that year the Jeffersons settled in Tuckahoe, where they lived for seven years before returning to Shadwell in 1752.

Peter Jefferson died when Thomas was fourteen years old and the estate of his property was divided inheriting approximately 5000 acres (2,000 h) of land, including Monticello, and between twenty and forty slaves.

He took control of the estate after the age of majority at twenty-one.

Studies

Thomas Jefferson began his education under the direction of tutors at Tuckahoe, alongside Randolph’s children. In 1752, he enrolled in a school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister.

At age nine, he began studying Latin, Greek and French. He studied under the Reverend James Maury from 1758 to 1760 and boarded at the Reverend’s home near Gordonsville, Virginia. In the early 1760s, he studied law and philosophy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect” that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Thomas Jefferson.

Politician

In 1769 Thomas Jefferson was first elected to the Virginia Assembly.

In 1774 he drafted a set of instructions for Virginia delegates to the first Continental Congress.

In this brief, Summary view of the rights of British America, he recounted that the early colonists arrived as private individuals rather than as agents of the British government.

Thus, the official governments they formed embodied the natural right of a country’s expatriates to choose the terms of their submission to a new sovereign.

Declaration of Independence

In 1776 he was one of the principal drafters of The Declaration of Independence for the Second Continental Congress.

While serving as a Virginia legislator (1776-1779), he attempted to reform society along republican and enlightened lines.

When he succeeded in getting his proposal to separate state power from the Anglican Church accepted, he became responsible for legislation abolishing the right of entail (inheritance of land through a particular line of descendants) and primogeniture (inheritance only to the eldest son), thus eliminating the two major government restrictions on the right to private property.

As his most important achievement while serving as a Virginia legislator, he enacted the Virginia Statute for Freedom of Worship, passed in 1786, which prohibited states from funding any type of religious organization.

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

Thomas Jefferson.

Secretary of State

When he left office he retired to Monticello to work on his Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he speaks about social, political and economic life in the 18th century.

He was again elected as a delegate to Congress and in 1784 wrote the report that was the basis for the Ordinances of 1784, 1785 and 1787.

As ambassador to France (1784-1789) he witnessed the early stages of the French Revolution.

As Secretary of State, Jefferson submitted a proposal he himself had drafted while a member of Congress in 1783 to establish reciprocal trade agreements with European nations and deny such benefits to the British.

The proposal was not carried out. His hopes for rapprochement with Britain and France evaporated when Washington declared American neutrality in the French-British war.

In 1796 he was nominated as a candidate for the presidency by the Republican Party. In 1797 he was elected vice president in the administration of the Federalist John Adams.

He represented the Republican current (as opposed to the Federalist, of Adams).

President of the United States

In the elections of 1800 Jefferson and Aaron Burr, obtained equal number of electoral votes, so the election of president had to be resolved by the House of Representatives, which, after 36 ballots, elected Jefferson president.

During his administration he advocated the extension of suffrage and the suppression of any royal or aristocratic privilege. His arrival to the presidency meant “the advent of a new policy, almost a revolution”.

Although his mandate was later more lukewarm and possibilist, his ideology and discourse, markedly egalitarian and anti-elitist, departed in some aspects from that defended by the other founding fathers.

After the end of his presidency in 1809, Jefferson retired to Monticello, where he lived until his death in 1826.

Marriage and children

In 1772, he married a widow, Martha Wayles Skelton. They had six children. Martha died on September 6, 1782; Jefferson was widowed and did not remarry.

Slaves

Jefferson had at least one child with a slave in his possession, Sally Hemings. Genetic analysis showed that Jefferson was the father of at least Hemings’ youngest son, whom his mother would christen Eston Hemings Jefferson.

Sally, who was mulatto and 29 years his junior, and her children always lived in the slaveholding area of Monticello, the estate of the politician, scientist and philosopher.

The contradiction between his declaration that all people are equal and the maintenance of hundreds of slaves on his property has always been the great reproach levied against Jefferson.

Last years

During his last twenty-five years of life he had to struggle with illnesses such as migraines, dysuria or chronic diarrhea. The latter, an ailment that along with others would lead to his death.

His health began to deteriorate in July 1825 due to a combination of several diseases, probably toxemia, uremia, and pneumonia.

In May 1826 his health was so fragile that he could hardly get out of bed. He spent most of his waking hours going over his finances and debts.

On May 22 he made a final entry in a ledger noting the price of lamp oil at one dollar twenty-five cents per gallon and the cost of lighting his farm for the last month.

On June 24 he wrote his last letter, to Roger Weightman, a reporter for the National Intelligencer, reaffirming his faith in the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.

Death

During his last hours of life he was accompanied by his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, his physician, Robley Dunglison, and other family members and friends. Thomas Jefferson died in Charlottesville, Virginia, on July 4, 1826.

Although he was born into a wealthy slave-owning family, he had many financial problems and died in debt. After his death, his possessions and slaves were sold at public auction beginning in 1827.

References:

Thomas Jefferson – Facts, Presidency & Children – HISTORY

10 facts about Thomas Jefferson for his birthday – National Constitution Center

Thomas Jefferson | The White House

Thomas Jefferson | Biography, Political Career, & Facts | Britannica