of 103

Thomas Jefferson

Published on January 2017 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 13 | Comments: 0



CREATIVE MANAGER Takeshi Takahashi
Century Publishing and Communications, Inc.
©2004 by Chelsea House Publishers,
a subsidiary of Haights Cross Communications.
All rights reserved. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
First Printing
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data applied for.
ISBN 0-7910-7602-4
candle can defy the darkness. It need not have the power of a
great searchlight to be a welcome break from the gloom of
night. So it goes in the assessment of leadership. He who lights the
candle may not have the skill or imagination to turn the light that
flickers for a moment into a perpetual glow, but history will assign
credit to the degree it is due.
Some of our great American presidents may have had a single
moment that bridged the chasm between the ordinary and the
exceptional. Others may have assured their lofty place in our
history through the sum total of their accomplishments.
When asked who were our greatest presidents, we cannot fail to
open our list with the Founding Fathers who put together this
nation and nursed it through the difficult years of its infancy.
George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and
James Madison took the high principles of the revolution
against British tyranny and turned the concept of democracy
into a nation that became the beacon of hope to oppressed
peoples around the globe.
Almost invariably we add to that list our wartime
presidents—Abraham Lincoln, perhaps Woodrow Wilson,
and certainly Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Nonetheless there is a thread of irony that runs through
the inclusion of the names of those wartime presidents:
In many aspects their leadership was enhanced by the
fact that, without objection from the people, they assumed
extraordinary powers to pursue victory over the nation’s
enemies (or, in the case of Lincoln, the Southern states).
The complexities of the democratic procedures by which
the United States Constitution deliberately tried to withhold
unchecked power from the presidency encumbered the
presidents who needed their hands freed of the entangling
bureaucracy that is the federal government.
Much of our history is written far after the events
themselves took place. History may be amended by a much
later generation seeking a precedent to justify an action
considered necessary at the latter time. The history, in a
sense, becomes what later generations interpret it to be.
President Jefferson in 1803 negotiated the purchase of
vast lands in the south and west of North America from the
French. The deal became knows as the Louisiana Purchase.
A century and a half later, to justify seizing the nation’s
steel mills that were being shut down by a labor strike,
President Truman cited the Louisiana Purchase as a case
when the president in a major matter ignored Congress
and acted almost solely on his own authority.
The case went to the Supreme Court, which overturned
Truman six to three. The chief justice, Fred Vinson, was
one of the three justices who supported the president.
Many historians, however, agreed with the court’s majority,
pointing out that Jefferson scarcely acted alone: Members
of Congress were in the forefront of the agitation to
consummate the Louisiana Purchase and Congress voted
to fund it.
With more than two centuries of history and precedent
now behind us, the Constitution is still found to be flexible
when honest and sincere individuals support their own
causes with quite different readings of it. These are
the questions that end up for interpretation by the
Supreme Court.
As late as the early years of the twenty-first century,
perhaps the most fateful decision any president ever can
make—to commit the nation to war—was again debated
and precedent ignored. The Constitution says that only
the Congress has the authority to declare war. Yet the
Congress, with the objection of few members, ignored this
Constitutional provision and voted to give President
George W. Bush the right to take the United States to war
whenever and under whatever conditions he decided.
Thus a president’s place in history may well be
determined by how much power he seizes or is granted in
re-interpreting and circumventing the remarkable document
that is the Constitution. Although the Founding Fathers
thought they had spelled out the president’s authority in
their clear division of powers between the branches of the
executive, the legislative and the judiciary, their wisdom
has been challenged frequently by ensuing generations.
The need and the demand for change is dictated by the
march of events, the vast alterations in society, the global
condition beyond our influence, and the progress of
technology far beyond the imaginations of any of the
generations which preceded them.
The extent to which the powers of the presidency will
be enhanced and utilized by the chief executives to come
in large degree will depend, as they have throughout our
history, on the character of the presidents themselves.
The limitations on those powers, in turn, will depend on
the strength and will of those other two legs of the three-
legged stool of American government —the legislative
and the judiciary.
And as long as this nation remains a democracy, the
final say will rest with an educated electorate in perpetual
exercise of its constitutional rights to free speech and a free
and alert press.
THE SECOND CONTINENTAL Congress opened on May 10,
1775, in Philadelphia. Many of the greatest men in the American
colonies had gathered to debate how they should deal with
the increasingly harsh policies of their king. King George III of
England, the ruler of the colonies, had passed unpopular taxes
without the colonists’ approval, increased the British military
presence in his colonies, and forced trade that was clearly unfair to
the colonists dependent on England.
Each colony had sent representatives to the Congress to help
determine the best course of action. The names of those connected
to the Congress—more than 50 men—would one day become
recognized as the leaders of the American Revolution: Patrick
Henry, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin,
George Washington, and others. Most of these men had
attended the First Continental Congress in the hope of
forcing the king to correct the injustices his government had
Thomas Jefferson was one of the lesser known delegates at
the Second Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia in 1775.
He was not yet recognized as a leader of the independence
movement, as were men such as George Washington and John
Adams, but his writing on the subject quickly earned him respect
and admiration.
committed. They wanted a fairer system—representation
in the British Parliament in order to participate in the
decisions that would govern life in the colonies.
The king had been unresponsive, and by the time the
Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia,
the mood among its members was less forgiving. Many of
them now felt that independence, rather than participation
in the British government, was the only solution. There
was talk of creating an army, appointing a commander
in chief, setting up a separate system of currency, and
printing what was called Continental money. The recent
battles at Lexington and Concord had made it clear that a
line had been crossed. Now troops were drilling in the
streets of Philadelphia, and there was talk of war.
The delegation from Virginia contained a new member,
one who had not attended the First Congress. He had
been selected to come to Philadelphia as a substitute for the
respected leader Peyton Randolph, who had been forced to
stay in Virginia. This substitute was Thomas Jefferson.
The Congress had its opening session on May 10, 1775,
but Jefferson did not arrive until June 21, riding into
Philadelphia in a fancy coach pulled by two horses. The
journey had taken him 10 days; he had become lost twice
during the trip.
Although Jefferson was new to the Congress, he was
not unknown to its members. The 32-year-old Virginian
had already earned a reputation as a writer —he had
drafted a paper outlining the relationship that he
thought should exist between the colony of Virginia and
England; the paper was designed to serve as instructions
to the men who had represented Virginia at the First
Continental Congress. The paper, published with the
title A Summary View of the Rights of British America,
had received much attention both in the colonies and in
England. It charged King George III with “abuse of power”
for his policies of taxation without representation and
of banning American goods and preventing free trade.
Perhaps even more noteworthy for a slave-owner, Jefferson
had included in A Summary View a proposal to bring an
end to slavery.
Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Jefferson was quickly
nominated to serve on a committee that had been set up
to outline the reasons why the colonies felt justified in
arming themselves against England. Jefferson was well
suited to the task. He held strong views but preferred to
express them on paper rather than saying them out loud.
The Continental Congress consisted of many of the greatest
speakers of that time. Jefferson’s skills were different. He
tended to operate quietly on the sidelines, and although at
six feet two inches he towered above many of his fellow
congressmen, few remembered him as impressive a figure as
his fellow Virginian George Washington, who was selected
commander in chief of the new Continental Army shortly
after Jefferson’s arrival.
Jefferson was thin and a bit gangly and not as social
as some of the more outgoing members of the
Congress. Fellow congressman John Adams offered his
thoughts on Thomas Jefferson after working with him
for about a year: “During the whole time I sat with him
in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences
together.” Jefferson’s written words more than made up
for his silence during debates, and he helped draft A
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up
Arms, the bold document that Congress sent to England
in 1775 to make it clear that the colonies would not
passively accept England’s policies.
Jefferson left Philadelphia in late July 1775 and
returned to Virginia to spend time with his wife and
family. He was soon reelected to the Congress and forced
to return to Philadelphia. It was a time of fast-moving
events in the colonies. The Continental forces suffered a
humiliating defeat near Quebec, Canada, but another
branch of the army successfully forced the British army
from Boston, which they had been occupying.
British forces were soon joined by Native Americans,
who fought fiercely against the colonists. Spies were
thought to be everywhere, and neighbors who had
once socialized together found themselves on opposite
sides, some proudly calling themselves “Loyalists,”
because they were loyal to England and King George III,
while others called themselves “Patriots,” because
they rallied around the cause of greater freedom for
the colonies.
When the members of the Second Continental
Congress gathered in Philadelphia in the spring of
1776, the mood was much more somber. Despite the
dramatic events in Boston and Canada, there had not
yet been a public call for independence. Members of
the Congress might speak of it in private or hint about
it in their letters, but the bold step of publicly declaring
that the colonies wished to be independent had not yet
been taken.
The Congress itself was still divided on this point.
Some believed that freedom could only be achieved by a
complete break with England, but others felt that the
goal should be greater representation in the British
Parliament and fairer policies from the king. In fact, six
of the colonies —Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey,
Maryland, Delaware, and South Carolina—had given
clear instructions to their delegates not to vote for any
independence movement.
Thomas Jefferson, the junior delegate from Virginia,
arrived at the Congress on May 14, 1776, already looking
forward to the day when he could leave Philadelphia. The
city was noisy, and smallpox was spreading. The British
Parliament had made it clear only a few months earlier
that any Americans who did not immediately declare their
loyalty to the king would be considered traitors and face
death by hanging. All trade with the American colonies
was outlawed. It was a desperate time.
Almost immediately after Jefferson’s arrival in
Philadelphia, Congress issued a statement calling on each
colony to set up its own individual system of government
and to write its own constitution. Jefferson felt torn,
knowing that he needed to remain in Philadelphia but
feeling desperate to be back in Williamsburg to help write
the constitution for what he then considered to be his
“new country”—Virginia.
Although Jefferson could not return to Virginia, he
did contribute to the colony’s new constitution. He
wrote three different drafts of the proposed document,
and many of his words made it into the final version of
the document, including the 20 “crimes” with which
Jefferson charged Britain. Writing this document helped
to shape Jefferson’s views of government, many of which
would appear in a document that he would draft for the
Continental Congress a few weeks later.
Another Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, took
the first bold step for independence. On June 7, Lee stood
up and began to utter historic words:
These United Colonies are, and of a right ought to
be, free and independent states, that they are
absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown,
and that all political connection between them
and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be,
totally dissolved.
Debates quickly followed. Many delegates could
not vote for independence until they received approval
from their individual colonies. Some argued that George
Washington’s military campaign seemed doomed to
failure and others that no formal written declaration of
independence should be made public until it was clear that
the people unanimously supported it.
Finally, after days of intense argument, it was agreed
that a final vote for or against independence would be
taken in 20 days, giving all of the delegations time to
send to their individual colonies for instructions on how
to vote. During the delay, it was agreed that a written
document —a declaration of independence —would
be prepared to illustrate the arguments for the
Congress’ actions.
Five men were selected to create this important
document: John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin
Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New
York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Thomas
Jefferson of Virginia. Jefferson’s presence on the
committee was, in part, a result of politics. The more
senior Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, would
probably have represented Virginia on the committee, but
he wanted to return to Williamsburg to help draft the
Virginia constitution—the document that was thought
to be much more critical at the time. Jefferson had also
hoped to go back to Williamsburg to contribute to the
constitution, but because he was junior to Lee, he was
forced to remain in Philadelphia.
Jefferson was ultimately chosen as chairperson of the
committee. The committee’s meetings were held in
secret, and no notes of their discussions were kept. As a
result, it is not clear when or how Thomas Jefferson was
chosen to write the first draft of the document that
Five men were selected to draft the Declaration of Independence
(clockwise from left): Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin
Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. Jefferson was the
chairman of the committee and borrowed from many sources when
he actually wrote the document, which underwent many revisions.
The declaration ultimately excluded some of the points that Jefferson
considered most important.
would become the Declaration of Independence. It is likely
that because he was the chairperson of the committee and
because he was known to be a talented writer, he was the
logical choice.
The goals of the document were clear. It was not
intended to serve as a showcase for new ideas or new
arguments. Instead, it was designed to put down on paper,
in plain and simple terms, an explanation for why the
colonies had decided to fight for independence.
Thomas Jefferson set to work alone in his spacious
apartment, seated at a revolving chair and holding a small
folding desk that served as a portable writing tray on his
lap. Jefferson himself had designed both the chair and
folding desk and then hired a Philadelphia cabinetmaker
to make them.
Jefferson wrote steadily and quickly, working day
and night. He would later claim that he had not
consulted any books or documents but had simply sat
down and put on paper the thoughts that seemed to
best express the call for independence. It may be true
that he did not study other texts, but it is clear that he
did borrow from those with which he was familiar,
including his own writing (for example, A Summary
View of the Rights of British America, his draft of A
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up
Arms, and his drafts for the Virginia constitution) and
the declaration of rights for Virginia written by George
Mason. Mason’s writing contained the phrase “all men
are born equally free and independent, and have
certain inherent natural rights. . . . among which are
the enjoyment of life and liberty.”
Jefferson’s initial goal was to make it clear that King
George III had treated his American subjects unfairly
and so was no longer fit to rule over them. Jefferson
listed all of the ways in which the king had violated the
rights of the colonists and then continued by saying that
if it was justified for people to respond to a tyrant with
revolution, these people also had the right to set up a
new system of government.
Jefferson’s argument stressed that the Continental
Congress was a body of
representatives of the
people. In this role, it
had a duty to break ties
with the British king in
order to guarantee that
the American people could
continue to hold on to their
most basic rights —the
rights of life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness.
Jefferson wrote and
edited his work and
showed it to John Adams
and Benjamin Franklin.
They made suggestions
and then the document was shown to the remaining
committee members, who also made their own changes.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal; that
they are endowed by their creator with
inalienable rights; that among these are
life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness:
that to secure these rights, governments
are instituted among men, deriving
their just power from the consent of the
governed; that whenever any form of
government becomes destructive of
these ends, it is the right of the people
to alter or abolish it, & to institute new
government, laying its foundation on
such principles, & organizing its powers
in such form, as to them shall seem
most likely to effect their safety
& happiness.”
— The Declaration of Independence
At least 47 changes were made from the time Jefferson
wrote the first version to the time the document was
finally submitted to Congress. Exactly who made each
of these changes is not clear. Some of the phrases we most
identify with the Declaration of Independence were added
during the editing process, phrases like “separate and
equal” (changed from “equal and independent”) and
“they are endowed by their creator with inalienable
rights” (from the original “from that equal creation
they derive rights”).
The document was presented to the Congress on
June 28, when it was finally considered ready. On July 2,
the Congress voted to declare independence and then
began editing the declaration, making another 80
changes. It must have been difficult for Jefferson to
listen and take notes on the discussion, as one after
another of his phrases was cut or changed or as new
words were added. About one-fourth of what he had
originally written would be completely taken out of the
final document, but he sat silently, the records showing
that he did not debate or argue with anyone who suggested
a change.
When the final version was agreed on, two of
Jefferson’s most passionate arguments had been
removed. One was a paragraph that criticized the
English people for supporting the king when he sent
soldiers to “invade and destroy us.” The other was a
paragraph holding the king responsible for supporting
the slavery of Africans.
On the morning of July 4, 1776, the debate over the
document was finally closed and a vote was taken.
Twelve colonies voted in agreement with the declaration;
only one—New York—abstained. It would be several
days before the document was read out loud to cheering
crowds and another month before all the delegates
signed the final copy. Although the words were stirring
and the arguments for independence were firm, it would
be many years before the significance of that document
would be fully appreciated.
Discussion and debate over the Declaration of Independence finally ended
with a vote on the morning of July 4, 1776. New York abstained from voting, but
the other 12 colonies approved the document. George Washington, pictured
standing here, was one of its prominent supporters.
The American Revolution—and the country that
would be created at its end—would be marked by
these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit
of Happiness.
The cheering crowds made little impression on the
declaration’s author. The endless debates over his
words and the massive changes to each sentence had
left Thomas Jefferson exhausted. He was not focused
on where the declaration would lead the colonies. He
simply wanted to go home.
THOMAS JEFFERSON WAS born on April 13, 1743, in a simple
farmhouse on the edge of the Virginia wilderness to Peter and Jane
Jefferson. Their home, one of only three or four farms in the
county, was known as Shadwell. Occupying only about 1,000 acres,
it was a small farm compared to the vast estates owned by some
of his neighbors. The Jeffersons—Thomas, his parents, and his
two older sisters—lived in a modest one-and-a-half story home
overlooking the sparkling Rivanna River.
Thomas Jefferson’s earliest memory would be of a journey
made when he was two years old—a 50-mile ride over rutted
roads from his family’s home at Shadwell to a larger plantation in
the east, near Richmond. His father’s best friend had died
and in his will had named Peter as executor of his estate
and guardian of his two children. The Jeffersons spent the
next seven years at the estate known as Tuckahoe. Peter
spent much of that time working as a surveyor. He was
well paid for his dangerous journeys into the wilderness,
and he taught Thomas some of his surveying skills, as
well as taking him hiking, swimming, horseback riding,
Thomas Jefferson was born and lived most of his life in Virginia. His father,
Peter, named on this map, worked as a surveyor for a time. He taught
Thomas some surveying skills, which Thomas would later use when deciding
where to build his estate, Monticello, and how to landscape his property.
fishing, and hunting. By the time he was five years old,
Thomas was already able to read and was studying writing
and arithmetic from the tutor at Tuckahoe.
When Thomas was nine years old, the family
returned to their home, where Peter expanded the farm-
house—the family had grown to six children, and twins
were born a few years later. Peter spent more than half
of each week away from home, staking out claims in
Virginia’s southwestern wilderness. He decided that his
son would have the one thing he had never had: a
proper education. He sent nine-year-old Thomas away
to study and live with a tutor, as many young men of his
class did. There, Thomas learned French, Latin, and
Greek, as well as dancing and music. He also became a
skilled violin player.
Peter Jefferson died unexpectedly at the age of 49.
Thomas was only 14 years old when he inherited half
of his father’s land, his choice of his father’s two
plantations, and his father’s favorite servant. When he
turned 21, he would inherit the remainder of his
father’s estate. Peter also left Thomas his library of
books, his cherry-wood writing desk, and his surveying
tools. One of Peter’s final wishes was that Thomas
would continue his education.
Thomas Jefferson spent two years studying and living
with another tutor. When he reached age 16, he took
the next step that young, upper-class Virginia gentlemen
were expected to take: He enrolled in the College of
William and Mary. A university education was designed
to prepare these young men (women did not attended
college) to manage their own estates. They were to become
familiar with Latin, to be able to speak and write well,
to gain enough knowledge of math to be able to do
some basic surveying and manage the finances of
their estates, and to be
familiar with the laws of
Virginia. Men of Jeffer-
son’s class were expected
to eventually serve as
magistrates or elected
officials. At William and
Mary, in the colony’s
capital, Williamsburg,
they would be trained
to become the colony’s
future leaders.
Jefferson arrived in
Williamsburg in March
1760. It was his first trip
to this part of the colony,
and he was impressed by
the white townhouses lining Duke of Gloucester Street, the
coaches pulled by six horses, and the elegant brick capitol
building. He was quickly caught up in the excitement of the
city, enjoying the theater, horse races, and dances at the
Raleigh Tavern.
“In the first place as long as I stay at
the Mountains the Loss of one fourth of
my Time is inevitable, by Company’s
coming here & detaining me from
school. And likewise my Absence will in
a great Measure put a Stop to so much
Company, & by that Means lessen the
Expences of the Estate in Housekeep-
ing. And on the other Hand by going to
the College I shall get a more universal
Acquaintance, which may hereafter be
serviceable to me; & I suppose I can
pursue my Studies in the Greek & Latin
as well there as here, & likewise learn
something of the Mathematics.”
— Jefferson, in a letter dated
January 14, 1760 to a friend,
explaining why felt he would
benefit from a college education
He began his studies on March 25, 1760, and spent
slightly more than two years at the college, living on
campus. When Jefferson arrived, William and Mary was
more than 60 years old and was organized into a prep
school or grammar school, an Indian school attended by
a few Native Americans, a divinity school for training
future clergymen, and a philosophy school (in which
Jefferson was enrolled). There were only two professors
assigned to the philosophy school —in fact, there were
only seven faculty members in total and no more than
100 students.
The professor who would most influence Jefferson
was Dr. William Small, who had been brought from
Scotland to teach physics, metaphysics, and mathematics
but soon ended up teaching nearly every class. He
taught Jefferson ethics and rhetoric (the study of effec-
tively using language) and clearly influenced much of
Jefferson’s thinking.
Small also introduced Jefferson to a man who
would become another mentor: the prominent
Williamsburg attorney George Wythe. By early 1761,
Jefferson had decided to study law. At the time, there
were no formal law schools for aspiring attorneys.
Instead, a young man would become a kind of apprentice
to a practicing lawyer, paying a fee to study law with
him and assisting him with his business.
George Wythe was considered the best legal mind
in Virginia. He practiced before the Virginia General
Court —the highest court in the colony. Jefferson
wanted to study with the best and to then join the
legal elite.
In April 1762, Thomas Jefferson began studying law
with George Wythe. Wythe lived in an impressive home
near the Governor’s Palace. He charged Jefferson and
his other legal assistants no fee but expected them to
work hard. Every morning, Jefferson walked from his
rented rooms to Wythe’s home, where he spent several
hours immersed in assigned reading from Wythe’s huge
library. In Wythe’s office, Jefferson followed the details
of the various cases as Wythe carefully explained what
he was doing and why. As Jefferson learned more, he
was allowed to do more, first handling legal research and
then helping with preparation and eventually helping
handle cases. Jefferson accompanied Wythe to court in
Williamsburg and to the country courts.
It was through Wythe that Jefferson was introduced
to the royal governor of Virginia, Francis Fauquier.
Jefferson would later described Fauquier as “the ablest
man who ever filled that office.” Fauquier focused on
maintaining good relations between the colonists and
the king, and he was tremendously popular. He was fond
of music and science and invited Jefferson to dinner
at his elegant mansion and later to participate as an
amateur musician in concerts given at the palace.
Jefferson did have one serious romance while in
Williamsburg. When he was 20, he met 16-year-old
Rebecca Burwell, a beautiful young girl whose family
was deeply involved in the governing of the colony.
Jefferson considered asking her to marry him and
finally decided to speak to her one night while dancing
in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern. Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson learned about the law from George Wythe, who lived in
this house near the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia. Wythe was
considered one of Virginia’s best legal minds, and he required hard work and
diligence from those he taught.
had prepared and rehearsed a wonderful, romantic
speech, but when the time came to speak, he choked
and stammered out a few confusing words in between
long, awkward pauses. Finally, he hinted to Rebecca
that he had an important question to ask her that he
would ask at another time.
He waited too long. Another man proposed to
Rebecca, and she accepted. Jefferson decided to put
aside all thoughts of love—at least for a while—and
focus on the law.
In 1767, 24-year-old Jefferson was admitted to the
bar of the General Court of the colony of Virginia. It
was the highest court in the colony, with authority over
civil and criminal cases. At least half of the new lawyer’s
business would be in the distant county courts, providing
legal counsel over generally small matters, usually
involving disputes over land or estates. He spent a great
deal of time during the seven years he served as a
lawyer traveling from one county to another.
His law practice was a successful one, but it did not
bring him fame or a great fortune. Instead, it helped
him build a network of contacts and friendships.
While his practice was growing, however, he also had
responsibilities as a landowner. At the age of 21, he had
inherited an additional portion of his father’s estate.
He was now considered the head of the household at
Shadwell (where his mother lived) and was responsible
for overseeing the business of the plantation there. He
also decided to build his own home on a hilltop about
two miles from Shadwell. He called the place Monticello
(meaning “little mountain” in Italian), and he drew up
the plans for a house placed on a spot he had loved ever
since he was a boy.
The spot on which he had chosen to build was
unusual for colonial America. It was a heavily wooded
area at the very top of the hill. Jefferson loved the view,
and the combination of an elegant home set in the
midst of wild, natural beauty appealed to him. He
decided to design his home himself and began sawing
lumber and planting fruit trees in 1767.
In October of 1768, Jefferson decided to run for a
seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. He was only 25
years old, but he already had many important friends
in the capital and he had taken on an important
project in the region: opening up the Rivanna River
to navigation. Tobacco from farms on the Rivanna,
including Shadwell, had to be transported by land
to the point where the Rivanna met the James River.
Jefferson believed that it might be possible to transport
crops by water —a solution that would save time and
expense—if the river could be cleared of rocks. He
took a canoe and traveled along the river, surveying to
find the spots where rocks might prevent boats from
moving. He approached the local legislature, received
authorization to attempt a project to remove the rocks,
and then approached his neighbors for financial support
for the project. Jefferson succeeded in getting the
Rivanna cleared, and soon most of the county’s tobacco
and produce was transported along that river. Jefferson
would look upon the Rivanna River project as one of
his most significant accomplishments.
In 1769, Jefferson took his place as Albemarle
County’s representative in the House of Burgesses. The
relationship between England and its colonies was
changing dramatically. Jefferson wanted to be involved
in whatever the change might bring.
WHEN THOMAS JEFFERSON took his seat in the House of
Burgesses, the colony of Virginia and all of the American
colonies were experiencing a gradual change in the tone of their
relationship with England. In 1763, the seven-year-long conflict
known in America as the French and Indian War had finally
ended. The conflict had been fought between English and
French forces over the rights to territory in America, and the
fighting had spread to Europe, where it was called the Seven
Years’ War. When the conflict ended, Britain was faced with
crushing debt, the cost of fighting on so many fronts for so
many years.
Because the conflict had “officially” begun in America,
many in Britain believed that the colonists should have the
responsibility of paying some of the war debt. The British
Parliament agreed and passed a law in 1765 instituting a
new tax called the Stamp Act.
This drawing celebrates the repeal of the Stamp Act, an issue that Jefferson
encountered during his time in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. The 1765
passage of the Stamp Act, which taxed most items made of paper by
requiring them to have an official stamp, caused much debate and fueled
the colonies’ desire for independence. The Stamp Act was repealed in 1769.
The tax affected nearly every colonist. Almost every
official document and piece of business printed on
paper —newspapers, advertisements, bills, legal doc-
uments, deeds, diplomas, and even playing cards—had to
carry an official stamp. The stamp was expensive and
increased the cost of printing and distributing any item
carrying it.
Jefferson was at the Virginia capital on May 30, 1765,
when a young lawyer named Patrick Henry spoke out
against the Stamp Act. Henry argued that the power to
tax citizens did not belong to England but instead to
the General Assembly of Virginia. He spoke of “American
freedom,” a radical term to an audience that thought of
itself first as English and then as Virginian. Up to that time
there had been no sense of the colonies as anything other
than separate British settlements, but with his speech
Henry suggested that the colonies might have unified
ideals and interests —ideals and interests that were
separate from those of England.
The speech horrified many of the other delegates, who
began calling out “Treason! Treason!” Henry responded,
“If this be treason, make the most of it!”
Parliament was ultimately forced to repeal the
Stamp Act, but in 1769, when Jefferson took his seat in
the House of Burgesses, the issue of taxes was once
more sparking protest in the colonies. New taxes
known as the Townshend Acts had been passed by
Parliament to tax any goods the colonies imported—
things like paper, paint, glass, and tea. Violent protests
broke out in the colony of Massachusetts, and the
House of Representatives of that colony sent a letter to
the legislative bodies of all of the other colonies asking
them to stand united against the Townshend Acts. The
British authorities responded by ordering the royal
governors of each colony to dissolve any legislature
that approved the Massachusetts request and to send
any colonial “traitors” to London for trial.
Jefferson and the other members of the House of
Burgesses had met for only nine days when the challenge
became clear—support the protestors in Massachusetts
or stand with the king. The House issued a declaration
that confirmed its loyalty to the king but stated that the
power to tax the colonists lay with the House, not with
the British Parliament.
By that time there was a new royal governor in the
colony of Virginia, the Baron de Botetourt. He had some
sympathy for the colonists he governed, but he had been
given clear instructions from England. He summoned
the burgesses and informed them that because of their
actions, the House of Burgesses was now dissolved.
Jefferson and the others then walked over to the Raleigh
Tavern and resumed their meeting.
The colony of Virginia would play a historic role in
the revolution to come, and much of what transpired
had its beginnings in the group gathered at the Raleigh
Tavern over the course of the next few days. The day
after the House of Burgesses was formally dissolved,
Thomas Jefferson signed his first significant public
document —a document that had been drafted by
George Mason and brought to the meeting by George
Washington, the representative from Fairfax County.
The document was an agreement stating that the signers
would buy none of the taxed British goods until the
Townshend Acts were lifted. All 89 members of the
House of Burgesses signed the document and then
drank toasts to the king and Governor Botetourt. They
still considered themselves British subjects, but for
Jefferson and the others an important step had been
taken: They were beginning to recognize that the
colonists had certain rights —rights that might conflict
with the interests of Britain.
Governor Botetourt called for new elections in September,
and all members of the House of Burgesses who had
supported the boycott on British goods were reelected. In
fact, the only ones who were not reelected were those who
had not supported the boycott.
At the House’s opening session, Governor Botetourt
announced that Britain did not wish to heavily tax its
American subjects and that Parliament would soon be
lifting the taxes on paper, paint, and glass. One important
item was omitted from the list: tea.
Jefferson felt that the tax on tea was every bit as
unjust as the Townshend Acts had been. In June 1770, he
signed another document with other Virginia burgesses
and merchants promising to continue his boycott of
British goods until all of the taxes, including the one on
tea, had been repealed.
Jefferson’s duties expanded when, at the age of 27,
he became the chief commander of the Virginia militia
in Albemarle County. As Jefferson was assuming this
new responsibility, he learned that Governor Botetourt
had died. His death affected the course of events in
Virginia: Botetourt had attempted to negotiate with the
colonists, but his replacement would not be quite so
willing to compromise.
In the fall of 1770, Jefferson met an attractive young
widow named Martha Skelton. She was five-and-a-half years
younger than he and cheerful, friendly, and outgoing. She
was also a talented musician and singer.
Jefferson married Martha on January 1, 1772. It was
the beginning of a happy time for him, and the marriage
gave a new urgency to his plans for Monticello. The family
home at Shadwell had burned to the ground in 1770, so
now Jefferson focused on creating an impressive home on
the top of the mountain.
The construction was difficult, particularly at the
earliest stages. The woods were thick, and both water and
building materials had to be transported to the top of
the mountain. Jefferson pored over architectural books,
determined to create something quite different from the
homes he saw in Williamsburg. He loved the ancient,
classical style and wanted something similar for Monticello—
something serene and dignified.
He focused not only on the structure of the building, but
on the grounds as well. Jefferson studied and experimented
with different plants and different types of fruit trees,
designing a blend of landscaped grounds existing in the
midst of wilderness. He made detailed notes in something
he called his Garden Book, in which he recorded the
successes and failures of different plantings, as well as the
weather at Monticello.
Jefferson wanted to create a new design for his home,
something that borrowed from the best of ancient tradi-
tions but was unique. His thoughts about his home were
in many ways similar to the thoughts he would later
develop about America. Both the shaping of his home and
the shaping of his country would become tasks that would
occupy him for the rest of his life.
Jefferson’s first daughter was born in late September
of 1772. She was named Martha, but the family called
her Patsy. Less than two years after Patsy’s birth, in
April of 1774, another daughter, named Jane Randolph,
was born. It was a happy time for Jefferson. The plans
for Monticello were becoming reality, and his family
was growing.
The happy times would not last. Jane Randolph would
die after living only 18 months. Things in the colonies
were becoming difficult as well: British authorities
announced a new law closing the port of Boston on
June 1, 1774, as punishment for the Massachusetts Bay
Colony’s continuous acts of rebellion, including dumping
tea into Boston Harbor in protest of the hated tax, an
incident known as the Boston Tea Party.
Jefferson had been busy with personal matters and had
The Boston Tea Party was an act of rebellion against the Townshend Acts,
which taxed paper, paint, glass, and tea. Colonists dressed as Indians
boarded British ships and dumped the cargo, 50 tons of tea, into Boston
Harbor. The British government responded by closing the harbor. Colonial
leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, were angered by the British actions.
This incident also fueled the desire for independence.
not been deeply involved with the House of Burgesses
when the new royal governor —John Murray, Earl of
Dunmore —had arrived in Williamsburg. Governor
Dunmore was markedly different from Governor Botetourt.
He held several titles and had previously served as the
royal governor of New York, but his arrogance won him
few friends among the colonists.
Jefferson was outraged at the closing of Boston’s
port and equally concerned that many in Virginia failed
to understand that this was not merely a matter that
affected Massachusetts but an act of tyranny that
affected them all. He proposed a general day of fasting
and prayer to demonstrate union with the people of
Massachusetts and then was able to persuade another of
the burgesses who was noted for being very religious —
a representative named Robert Carter Nicholas —to
introduce the idea in the House, where it was passed
Governor Dunmore did not take long to respond.
He announced that the House was dissolved, and once
more the representatives solemnly moved to the
Raleigh Tavern. There, the representatives agreed that
the time had come to call for a meeting of representa-
tives from each colony to discuss their mutual concerns
and made the important decision that “an attack on
any one colony should be considered as an attack on
the whole.” They called for an election of representa-
tives from each of Virginia’s counties to select the men
who would represent Virginia at this meeting and they
decided that the meeting would begin on September 5th
in Philadelphia.
With these decisions, the group of Virginia legislators
began the process that would bring the colonies together.
What some in England viewed as a Boston rebellion would
soon clearly be something else: a revolution.
Jefferson was elected to represent Albemarle County
at the meeting in Williamsburg, the meeting that would
select Virginia’s representatives to the gathering of the
colonies in Philadelphia. He had been deeply involved in
the protest movement and had placed on paper his
thoughts about what Virginia’s position should be.
As Jefferson traveled to Williamsburg, he became sick
with dysentery and was forced to return home. It was very
bad timing for a man who clearly hoped to shape Virginia’s
political future. Seven other men were chosen to serve as
Virginia’s representatives to the congress of colonies; it was
an impressive group that included George Washington
and Patrick Henry.
Because Jefferson could not be at the meeting in
person, he decided to present his ideas on paper. He
sent copies of his ideas to delegates Peyton Randolph
and Patrick Henry. Jefferson would later write:
“Whether Mr. Henry disapproved the ground taken, or
was too lazy to read it (for he was the laziest man in
reading I ever knew) I never learned: but he communi-
cated it to nobody.” Randolph, however, did share his
copy with his fellow delegates, many of whom
approved it. It was thought a bit too bold to become
Virginia’s official position, but Jefferson’s thoughts
became public.
Without Jefferson’s knowledge, someone had his
Patrick Henry is depicted here uttering his famous phrase, “Give me liberty
or give me death.” Henry, another delegate from Virginia at the Continental
Conventions, was one of the most radical and most vocal leaders of the
independence movement. Thomas Jefferson first became involved in the
movement after hearing Henry speak, and Jefferson sent his ideas about the
colonies to Virginia delegates Henry and Peyton Randolph, who communicated
Jefferson’s thoughts to the convention.
ideas printed in a 23-page pamphlet. His name did not
appear on the original,
which was given the title
A Summary View of the
Rights of British America.
It was distributed in
Williamsburg and within
a year had been reprinted
in Philadelphia and cir-
culated in England.
Jefferson would even-
tually become known as
the author of these bold
arguments. His pamphlet
would earn him the repu-
tation of being a leading
revolutionary writer—a
reputation that would
contribute to his selection as the author of the Declaration
of Independence.
“They know, and will therefore say, that
kings are the servants, not the proprietors
of the people. Open your breast, sire, to
liberal and expanded thought. Let not
the name of George the third be a blot
in the page of history. . . . The great
principles of right and wrong are legible
to every reader; to pursue them requires
not the aid of many counsellors. The
whole art of government consists in the
art of being honest. Only aim to do your
duty, and mankind will give you credit
where you fail. No longer persevere in
sacrificing the rights of one part of the
empire to the inordinate desires of
another; but deal out to all equal and
impartial right.”
— Jefferson, A Summary View of
the Rights of British America
DESPITE THE IMPORTANCE the Declaration of Independence
would play in shaping the United States, Jefferson—like the
majority of his fellow delegates—felt the greatest loyalty to his
home colony. There was at that time no sense of a single, unified
government; instead, the members of the Continental Congress
had gathered in Philadelphia to form a unified front against
Britain. Jefferson considered himself a Virginian, not an
“American,” and after the delegates voted for independence
and war became increasingly likely, Jefferson wanted to be
where he believed the most important action was taking
place: Williamsburg.
He remained in Philadelphia from May to early
September 1776, but as fall came, he became increas-
ingly impatient to be back in Virginia. His focus was
not on the act of declaring independence—it was on
what would follow.
Benjamin Franklin was another vocal leader of the independence
movement. Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Silas Deane intended
to sail to France in 1776 in order to negotiate a treaty with the
king. Jefferson ultimately declined to go because his wife, Martha,
was ill. He joined the Virginia House of Delegates instead.
Jefferson finally left Philadelphia in early September,
traveling for six days before arriving home at Monticello.
Only a month would pass before he was again asked to
serve all of the colonies, this time in a delegation with
Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane to travel to France
and negotiate a treaty.
Jefferson was tempted. He had earlier discussed
the possibility with Benjamin Franklin of traveling
to France together to meet with the French king.
However, Martha had been sick for some time, and
Jefferson did not want to be away from her for the long
period of time a trip abroad would involve. He refused
the appointment.
Instead, he took Martha with him when he traveled
to Williamsburg, where they were able to live comfort-
ably as guests of the Wythes. Jefferson joined the new
legislature—the House of Delegates —on October 7,
1776, determined to shape a revolutionary government
in Virginia.
For the next three years, Jefferson would serve as a
legislator, and it was a period that would be a source of
great pride to him. He was active both in the day-to-day
business of the legislature—helping raise additional
infantry battalions, setting the value of coins —and in
more long-range plans for Virginia, many of which
would not take place until after his term in the legisla-
ture had ended.
Many of Jefferson’s ideas focused on his concerns
about human rights. There is clearly a conflict here:
Jefferson on more than one occasion proposed to abolish
the slave trade and wrote passionately about perceived
and potential human rights abuses, but he continued to
be a slave-owner.
As a legislator, Jefferson tackled the issue of slavery by
creating an elaborate proposal that would gradually phase
out the practice. He believed that Virginia’s economy—
and the prejudices of its people—would not permit a
shift in the status of the approximately 200,000 slaves
in Virginia that would free them all at once. Instead, he
proposed that the children of all slaves, when born after a
certain date, would be considered free. They would be
educated and, when adults, they would be settled in a
community outside of Virginia, probably somewhere
farther west, where they would set up an independent
society. White immigrant settlers from Europe would be
brought in to perform the labor that had previously been
done by slaves. It was a radical plan—too radical, perhaps,
for a society that relied heavily on slave labor. The plan
never passed.
Jefferson raised the issue of slavery on several occa-
sions throughout his life but took no decisive action to
free his own slaves. He made some provisions to free
them upon his death, but when Jefferson died, his estate
was in debt and most of the slaves —viewed as part of
the estate’s “assets”—were sold.
As a member of Virginia’s wealthiest class, Jefferson
did take steps to eliminate the potential for greed that might
simply replace one form of royalty, the British king, with
another, a dominant group of Virginia aristocrats. Quite
early in his term as a legislator, Jefferson decided to
address the issue of land and property distribution by
proposing to eliminate the ancient English laws of
“entail” and “primogeniture” that had been a part of the
colony’s legal code. In entail, a property owner could
specify that his land was never to be divided or sold off,
and his wishes had to be obeyed, even one hundred years
after he died. Under primogeniture, when a father died
before writing a will, all of his property was given to the
oldest son and legally could not be divided with any other
brothers or sisters. Both of the proposals to abolish these
laws ultimately passed.
Jefferson also knew that education served as a class
divider in the colonies. He believed that Virginia’s
future should be based on the creation of a new class
system, one in which leaders were selected based on
their natural abilities rather than on money and titles
they had inherited. He created a plan for a new school
system in which every county would be divided into
small school districts with no more than 100 children
per school. Children would be educated for free for
three years; they could then continue if their parents
paid an additional sum. The brightest students would
be selected from each school and sent on for higher
education free of charge.
It was a farsighted plan, one that provided educational
opportunities for the best students regardless of their
ability to pay. It also required that the citizens of the
county pay a tax to support this public education system,
with the wealthiest inhabitants paying a greater share of
the cost. It was never put
into full practice.
Jefferson also fought
hard to ensure religious
freedom in Virginia.
Many critics later labeled
him an atheist for his
efforts to ensure that
there was no official state-
sponsored church or
religion in Virginia, but
he believed that religion
was a private matter.
Jefferson’s position was
that the government of
Virginia should neither
support nor oppose any kind of church or religion but
instead leave them all alone.
Jefferson’s responsibilities extended beyond his work as a
legislator. He was the head of Albemarle County’s militia—
although he played little direct role in military action—and
also served as a justice of the peace. He continued to
oversee planning and planting at Monticello.
Family matters also occupied Jefferson. On May 28,
1777, Jefferson was at Monticello when his only son was
“Difference of opinion is advantageous
in religion. . . . Let us reflect that it
[the earth] is inhabited by a thousand
millions of people. That these profess
probably a thousand different systems
of religion. That ours is but one of that
thousand. That if there be but one right,
and ours that one, we should wish to
see the 999 wandering sects gathered
into the fold of truth. But against such
a majority we cannot effect this by
force. Reason and persuasion are the
only practicable instruments. To make
way for these, free enquiry must be
indulged; and how can we wish others
to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves.”
— Jefferson, Notes on the
State of Virginia, 1781
born. Sadly, the infant lived for only three weeks. A little
more than a year later, on August 1, 1778, a daughter was
born. She was given the name Mary and eventually the
nickname Polly.
On June 1, 1779, 36-year-old Jefferson was elected to
serve as the governor of Virginia. Jefferson accepted the
appointment with some hesitation. His experience had
been in the legislative branch, not the executive, and in
any event, the powers of Virginia’s governor had been
created with real limitations. The governor was elected
by the Assembly to serve a one-year term. He could serve
no more than three years, or three terms. The real power
lay with the Assembly; the governor could really only
make recommendations, reports, and discussions.
Governor Jefferson came into office at a time of crisis.
Virginia’s military lacked vital equipment and supplies,
and the commonwealth lacked the money to pay for
them. Virginia was also under attack. One month before
Jefferson became governor, British forces had attacked at
Hampton Roads. Almost 2,000 British soldiers poured into
the Portsmouth region, burning towns and destroying
tobacco crops and supplies. The Virginia militia was little
match for the well-trained British forces.
Jefferson struggled to obtain supplies for Virginia’s
militia, writing frequently to General George Washington
to keep him posted on the results of battles and the
progress of the invading force. He also persuaded the
Assembly to relocate Virginia’s capital from Williamsburg
to Richmond—a location that would be closer to the
geographic and population center of Virginia. In April 1780,
the capital was officially relocated to the small town of
1,800 people.
By the time the capital was moved, both Virginia
and the revolutionary effort were in trouble. British
forces were threatening Virginia from land and sea, and
the Continental Army had suffered many defeats. A
hoped-for alliance with the French had failed to happen.
In January 1781, British forces attacked Richmond,
burning large sections of the new capital. Jefferson
was almost captured, but he escaped on horseback,
British General Lord Cornwallis surrendered in October, 1781, unofficially
ending the Revolutionary War. In January 1781, during Jefferson’s term as
governor of Virginia, British forces attacked Richmond. He asked not to be
reappointed when his term ended, believing that he was not the right man
to lead Virginia through the war.
setting up a temporary capital in Charlottesville, close
to Monticello.
Because Virginia threatened to fall into British hands,
Jefferson asked the legislature not to reappoint him as
governor. He believed that he was not the man to lead
at this critical moment —he felt that he did not have the
necessary talents to plan military responses to the invasion.
He faced intense criticism for his handling of the invasion
and would later be labeled a coward for leaving office at a
time when Virginia was in danger. The Virginia legislature
would later launch an investigation into charges against
him. His term as governor ended on June 1, 1781.
Only a few months later, British forces at Yorktown,
Virginia, would be defeated by the combined efforts of
American troops led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron
von Steuben, a French naval fleet, and Washington’s
troops marching from the north. The British commander,
Lord Cornwallis, was forced to surrender in October
1781. Virginia was saved, but Jefferson was home
in Monticello.
The stress of his time as governor would soon be
followed by personal sorrow. A daughter born to Jefferson
and his wife, named Lucy Elizabeth, in November 1780
died on April 15, 1781. In May 1781, Martha gave birth
to another daughter named Lucy Elizabeth, but the
difficult childbirths proved to be too much for Martha.
She was ill for several months, and Jefferson remained
by her side, helping care for her and writing in a room
close to her sickbed. She died on September 6, 1782.
Jefferson’s grief was intense. Monticello had become
a place full of sad memories, and the father of three
young girls was left to cope with professional and
personal tragedy alone. American forces were finally
finding victory, but for the man whose words had
helped launch the revolution, these triumphs seemed
distant and remote. As he shared with a friend, “A single
event wiped away all my plans and left me a blank which
I had not the spirits to fill up.”
IN NOVEMBER OF 1782, Congress again asked Jefferson to travel
to Paris to negotiate a peace treaty with the British. Jefferson felt ready
to leave the sad memories Monticello held, and he agreed to join
Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who were already in Europe.
In December, Jefferson left for Philadelphia, where he was
scheduled to board a ship for France. The boat, however, was
trapped in ice outside Baltimore. Jefferson waited for several
weeks for the boat to be freed before learning that his trip was
no longer necessary. A peace treaty between the British and
Americans was signed in Paris on February 3, 1783, officially
ending the Revolutionary War.
While waiting to cross the Atlantic, Jefferson had
spent time in Philadelphia meeting with members of
Congress, many of them old friends. He returned to
Monticello in May, but the time spent discussing the
Jefferson, captured here in this 1786 portrait, was asked again
to travel to France to negotiate a treaty with Britain in 1782. He
agreed to meet John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, who were
already there, but his boat was delayed by ice in Baltimore. A
peace treaty was signed between the British and Americans on
February 3, 1783, officially ending the Revolutionary War.
shaping of the new nation had inspired him to once
more consider playing a part in the government being
formed. In June 1783, he was again elected to serve as
Virginia’s delegate to the Congress, which he joined when
it convened in November.
With the war over, Congress governed the “confederation
of states” loosely. Most delegates still felt that their
primary loyalty was to their home states. Discussions
about a national system of money and a standardized
system of weights and measures —among others —
frequently broke down into quarrels or lengthy debates.
It was Jefferson who proposed that the new nation’s
currency should be the dollar and that the monetary
system should be divided by tens and hundreds, a
proposal that ultimately passed.
Jefferson also influenced the shaping of America’s
west. He believed that provisions should be made for
the settling of western territories and that plans should
be made to eventually add these territories to the union
as new states. He ultimately outlined the possible
boundaries for 14 new states, even naming 10 of them.
Only two of these names were used: Michigania and
Illinoia, which would become the states of Michigan
and Illinois.
Congress soon shifted its attention from national to
international matters, determining that for the union of
states to succeed, it was vital to quickly establish commercial
treaties with as many countries as possible. In May of 1784,
Congress voted to send an additional minister—Jefferson—
to assist John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in their
efforts to negotiate these treaties. Jefferson traveled to
Boston with his oldest daughter, Patsy, and then caught
a ship across the Atlantic.
The culture and architecture of Paris thrilled Jefferson
when he arrived in early August. He would spend the next
five years there, negotiating trade treaties and, when both
Franklin and Jefferson left France, serving as the new
nation’s minister to France.
He sent for his two younger daughters, hoping to
have his family reunited in France, but tragically he
learned that Lucy Elizabeth had died while he was away.
Seven-year-old Polly eventually joined him after traveling
first to London, where she was the guest of John Adams
and his wife, Abigail.
Jefferson had kept in close contact with Adams,
who was serving as America’s minister to Britain. It
was Adams who sent Jefferson a copy of the new U.S.
Constitution that had been drafted during a four-month-
long convention in Philadelphia. Jefferson was disturbed
by the document, worrying that the presidency the
Constitution called for made the executive branch far
too powerful. He even wrote to George Washington, the
man who was expected to become the first president,
expressing his concern that the Constitution allowed the
president unlimited terms and that this might lead to a
kind of monarchy in America.
While in Paris, Jefferson was struck by the contrast
between the elegant lifestyle of the French royalty and
aristocrats and the stark poverty of a large section of the
French population. By July 1789, the discontent of
the poor would burst forth in revolution. As a diplomat,
Jefferson was unable to publicly speak out in support of
one side or the other, but he continued to stress the
importance of a government that was a true representative
of its people and that preserved individual rights
and liberties.
Jefferson believed that the French people were not
ready for a republican form of government similar to
that being created in America, but he did feel that the
revolution in France would gradually lead to a shift away
from the monarchy and toward a more representative
form of government. He believed that this would take
place in a fairly orderly way and was shocked when the
protests turned violent.
He wrote to Congress and requested six months’ leave
to return to Virginia and take care of personal business.
He also wanted to bring his daughters back to the United
States. His oldest daughter, Patsy, was talking about
becoming a nun, so Jefferson hoped to take her home
to Virginia and introduce her to some young men. He
also wanted to enroll Polly in an American school. He set
sail from England in October 1789, believing that he
would be returning to France in a few months’ time.
When he arrived at the port of Norfolk, Virginia, on
November 23, however, he read in the newspapers that
George Washington had appointed him to be the nation’s
first secretary of state.
Jefferson traveled home, where Washington’s letter
formally asking him to accept the position waited.
Jefferson was astonished by how Virginia had changed
during his years away and equally surprised at the
enthusiastic crowds that greeted him as he traveled
toward Monticello. Some urged him to accept the national
position; others urged him to consider serving in Virginia’s
assembly again.
Jefferson considered his options for two months,
waiting until only a few weeks before Washington’s
inauguration before finally agreeing to become a part
of the first president’s cabinet. On March 1, 1790, he
traveled to the national capital, New York City, to take
his new position. He had delayed his trip until after
Patsy’s wedding—the plan to guide her away from a life
in the convent had worked quite well!
Jefferson was familiar with the other members of
Washington’s government. Alexander Hamilton was the
new secretary of treasury, Henry Knox was the secretary
of war, Edmund Randolph (Jefferson’s cousin) was the
attorney general, and John Adams had been elected vice
president. Jefferson had worked with all of them before
and thought that they would work well together to help
shape the new nation.
Washington, though, was not one to delegate. He
expected all issues of importance to be brought to him for
final approval, running the nation as he had his army.
The cabinet functioned more like Washington’s assistants,
George Washington was the unanimous choice for the first president of the
United States. He asked Thomas Jefferson to join his cabinet as the first
secretary of state. Jefferson considered turning down the position to serve in
the Virginia legislature again, but ultimately decided to accept Washington’s
offer. Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, but Jefferson did not
take his position until March of 1790.
bringing urgent matters to his attention and then carrying
out his instructions.
Jefferson soon found himself in disagreement with
Alexander Hamilton over several critical matters. Postwar
America was in debt, both to Americans and to the foreign
nations that had helped with the revolution. Hamilton’s
position was that the new national government should
assume the responsibility for paying all war debts, both
those of the nation and those of the individual states.
He proposed to pay off these debts by taxing imports
and placing taxes on certain American-manufactured
items, such as whiskey. Hamilton also supported a
national bank, one that would oversee the banks of the
individual states.
Jefferson strongly opposed these economic policies.
He was already concerned about creating a national
government that might quickly become as oppressive as
England had been to its colonies. Hamilton’s taxation
plans seemed to justify his concerns.
The two also disagreed on the position America should
take as war threatened to break out in Europe. In May
1790, news reached America that Spanish naval vessels
had taken command of British ships off Vancouver Island.
Jefferson believed that if war came, America should
assume a position of neutrality, continuing to do business
with as many nations as possible. Hamilton, stepping into
the area of foreign policy, met with an agent of the British
government in Canada and indicated that America might
support Britain in the event of war.
The differences between Hamilton and Jefferson
would cause other political leaders to take sides—a split
that would ultimately lead to the formation of two political
parties. Those allied with Jefferson and his fellow
Virginian James Madison—those who believed that any
powers not specifically granted in the Constitution to the
national government should remain under the control of
the individual states —were known as Democratic-
Republicans, often referred to at that time as Republicans
(although they were not necessarily what today would be
called Republicans). Those who supported Alexander
Hamilton—people who believed that the national gov-
ernment should take whatever steps were necessary for the
common good, unless those steps specifically contradicted
the Constitution—were known as Federalists.
The issue of war debt soon caused an even deeper
conflict among political leaders. Many of the southern
states had already paid off their war debt and deeply
resented any new taxes that would force them to assume
responsibility for the debts of northern states. Jefferson
feared that the feelings were so strong that they might lead
to civil war. He finally agreed to work out a compromise
with Hamilton. In the deal, it was agreed that Hamilton’s
economic plan for debt repayment would be passed in
exchange for a commitment to relocate the national
capital farther south, along the Potomac River on a stretch
of territory between Maryland and Virginia. While the
new city was being constructed, the capital would be
temporarily moved from New York to Philadelphia.
Foreign policy soon sparked new conflict between
the Federalists and Republicans. War broke out between
France and Britain in 1792, and debate soon followed
about which side America should support. Hamilton,
John Adams, and other Federalists believed that America
should side with England, its leading trading partner.
They were horrified at the violence that had marked the
French Revolution. Jefferson and the Republicans felt
that Americans owed greater loyalty to France, which
had so recently helped them overthrow Britain during
their own revolution.
Washington soon settled the debate. He announced
that America would be neutral.
Jefferson’s own enthusiastic support for the French
cause began to diminish with the arrival of the French
ambassador Edmond Genet in early 1793. Genet was
warmly greeted by Jefferson and mistook the secretary of
state’s welcome for a willingness to override Washington’s
stated policy of neutrality. He became outspoken in his
criticism of the president and then traveled to Charleston,
South Carolina, where he tried to recruit Americans to
help launch land and sea attacks against the Spanish
territory of Florida. He encouraged French boats to attack
British vessels and then have them towed to Charleston
where their goods could be sold.
Jefferson protested on several occasions to Genet, who
ignored him. Jefferson finally was forced to ask the French
government to recall their ambassador, but by that time
the French government had been overthrown and the new
Thomas Jefferson generally supported the ideals of the French
Revolution and thought that the United States should, as well.
However, his enthusiasm for the French cause began to wane
when the French ambassador, Edmond Genet (right), tried to
influence Washington (center) and Jefferson to abandon America’s
position of neutrality in the French conflict with England.
authorities were busy executing their political opponents.
Genet pleaded for his life and was allowed to remain in the
United States, although no longer as France’s ambassador.
The messy dealings with Genet, the conflict with
Hamilton, and his own disappointment about the
direction in which the new nation was heading had all
exhausted Jefferson. He announced to Washington in
July 1793 that he would be stepping down at the end
of the year. Washington begged him to stay on, but
Jefferson refused.
Jefferson remained at Monticello for the next three years,
focusing on his home while keeping informed about
political developments from a distance. He created a system
of crop rotation to restore some of the fertility to his
farmlands, and he planted peach trees. He was interested
in making his farm more modern and economical and
devised new farm tools, including an improved plow and
a new, compact, horse-powered threshing machine.
He also focused on improving his house, taking apart
much of Monticello and then rebuilding it in a way that
would double its size. He designed a new rotunda for the
top of the mansion and added small private staircases.
Despite his claims to be enjoying his retirement and
his comment to George Washington in 1794, “I cherish
tranquility too much to suffer political things to enter my
mind at all,” Jefferson remained very much involved in
political discussions. A friend and fellow Republican,
Congressman James Madison, kept him informed about
events in the capital, and it was Madison who, in 1796,
began mentioning Jefferson’s name as a candidate for the
presidency when it became clear that George Washington
would not serve a third term.
The presidential election of 1796 seems quite unusual
to modern eyes. The two leading candidates, Thomas
Jefferson and Vice President John Adams, did not
campaign for office. Adams spent much of the time
leading up to the election at his home in Massachusetts
and Jefferson remained at Monticello. A large portion
of the campaigning was done by Federalist and
Republican newspaper editors, who published vicious
attacks on the opposing side that were frequently based
on little more than gossip and rumor. Jefferson was
criticized for being a coward, a quitter, and an atheist;
Adams was labeled as a monarchist (someone who hoped
to shape America into a kingdom).
Under the terms then spelled out in the Constitution,
the president was elected based on the votes of the
electoral college, with each electoral college member being
required to cast two votes for two different candidates for
president. The man who received the most votes would
become president; the runner-up would be elected vice
president. When the votes were counted, John Adams had
been elected president and his political opponent, Thomas
Jefferson, had been elected vice president.
Thomas Jefferson returned to Philadelphia on March 2,
1797. His retirement of three years was over.
It can be imagined how difficult it might be to have two
candidates with very different political views trying to
work together as president and vice president. Adams and
Jefferson did have a history of friendship dating back to
John Adams became the second president of the United States,
and Jefferson, as the runner-up in the election, became vice
president. The two men had been close friends for years, but
they fell out over their political ideals (Adams was a Federalist,
Jefferson was a Republican).
their experiences drafting the Declaration of Independence
and then representing American interests in Europe after
the war. Adams’ inaugural speech supported the idea of a
more unified government.
The good feeling did not last long after the inaugu-
ration. A private letter Jefferson had written while at
Monticello—a letter highly critical of the “aristocratical
party [the Federalist party]” and its efforts to link
American interests with that of Britain—was published
in a Federalist newspaper, embarrassing Jefferson and
angering Adams.
Support for France also continued to be a divisive
issue. French ships had begun to interfere with American
ships as they passed through trade routes. The crisis
deepened when French agents attempted to extract a
bribe from American representatives sent by President
Adams to negotiate a treaty with France. It seemed to
many that war with France was inevitable, and the
government took steps to prepare for a coming conflict.
In one controversial action in 1798, the Federalist-
controlled Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The Alien Act gave the president new powers to expel any
foreigners that he felt might threaten national security
and extended the period of time foreigners must live
in America before they could apply for citizenship.
The Sedition Act stated that anyone publishing false or
malicious statements against the president, his government,
or Congress could be fined or put in prison.
Jefferson was outraged at these acts, viewing them as a
clear attempt to silence any political opposition—the
majority of those fined and imprisoned under the Sedition
Act were Republican editors —and a violation of the
Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. He
decided to take action. Although as vice president he was
a member of the government in power, he began to focus
on strengthening his own party and planning for his own
run for the presidency.
By 1798, Jefferson had mapped out his strategy—a
letter-writing campaign that would spread his thoughts
around the country via influential Republican supporters
and newspapers. In these
letters, Jefferson outlined
his belief that the powers
of individual states must
be preserved. He argued
against what he described
as attempts to transfer all
of the powers of the states
to the federal government
and the powers of the
federal government to its
executive branch. He called
for a smaller, more cost-
effective government, using
any leftover tax revenue
to pay off the national debt.
He opposed a standing
army in peacetime and
“I am for preserving to the States the
powers not yielded by them to the
Union, & to the legislature of the Union
its constitutional share in the division of
powers; and I am not for transferring all
the powers of the States to the general
government, & all those of that govern-
ment to the Executive branch. I am for a
government rigorously frugal & simple,
applying all the possible savings of the
public revenues to the discharge of the
national debt; and not for a multiplica-
tion of officers & salaries merely to
make partisans, & for increasing by
every device, the public debt, on the
principle of its being a public blessing.”
— Jefferson, in a letter to influential
Massachusetts Republican Elbridge Gerry,
in which Jefferson outlined his platform
to become president of the United States
in the 1800 election
felt that the states’ militias were sufficient for defense
unless the country were invaded. Jefferson also restated
his commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of
religion. He avoided personal attacks against Adams—
but many of his supporters did not.
The Election of 1800 marked a new era in American
politics —the era of dirty campaigning. The candidates,
Adams, Jefferson, and another Republican named
Aaron Burr, did not campaign directly: The contest was
principally waged in the newspapers and pamphlets.
Both men were victimized by rumors and gossip, and
their reputations and records were criticized. Adams
was further crippled by attacks from within his own
Federalist party as Alexander Hamilton worked to
unseat the president and advance a candidate he thought
he could control more easily.
When the electoral college votes were counted, the result
was a tie: Both Thomas Jefferson and fellow Republican
Aaron Burr had received 73 electoral votes; John Adams
had received 65. Under the existing Constitution, a tie
would be decided in the House of Representatives, which
was still dominated by Federalists (although the election
had shifted the balance of power, the new representatives
had not yet taken office).
The House of Representatives, meeting on February 11,
1801, in the new and unfinished Capitol building in
Washington, D.C., opened the state electoral votes and
discovered that a tie still existed. In the afternoon, balloting
began with no state changing its electoral votes. The
House had committed to keep voting on the question until
a president was chosen, and so every hour on the hour
another vote was taken, and the vote still remained tied.
The voting continued all night for 27 ballots before the
House finally voted to stop voting until the next day.
For four days, the House met and voted without being
able to choose a president. They agreed to adjourn for
Sunday before resuming the balloting on Monday, still
without success.
Finally, Alexander Hamilton, working behind the
scenes, pressured a Delaware congressman named
James A. Bayard to change his vote from Burr to Jefferson.
Hamilton was no friend to Thomas Jefferson, but he liked
Burr even less. Bayard refused to vote for Jefferson, but he
finally agreed to cast a blank ballot. He was joined by a few
Federalist delegates from Vermont and Maryland, who
also cast blank ballots. Thomas Jefferson was finally
elected president on the 36
The election of 1800 symbolized the end of the
Federalist party, the party of George Washington and so
many who had helped shape the nation. It was a kind of
second revolution, a peaceful transition of government
from one group to another.
SHORTLY BEFORE NOON on March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson
left his boardinghouse and began walking toward the Capitol.
Congressmen escorted him as he made his way through the muddy
streets. Jefferson wanted to underline the difference between his
inauguration and those of Washington and Adams. He wore a
simple suit and walked rather than riding in a fancy horse-drawn
carriage. He was the first president to be inaugurated in the still-
unfinished Capitol, and he wanted his inauguration to celebrate a
new era in American politics.
The Capitol was an appropriate site for Jefferson’s inauguration.
It was Jefferson who had insisted that the building be built on a
hill, placing it higher than the President’s House (as the
White House was then known) to show that the will of the
American people (through their representatives) should
be more important than the will of a single president.
John Adams was not there to witness his successor sworn
in. He had slipped out of the city only a few hours earlier.
Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as president on March 4, 1801,
and was the first president inaugurated at the Capitol building,
which was unfinished at the time. Jefferson preferred simplicity,
opting to wear a plain suit and walk to the Capitol. His inauguration
speech stressed the idea of unity, particularly between Republicans
and Federalists.
Jefferson’s inaugural address restated many of the
principles that he had expressed throughout the campaign.
He expressed a desire for unity with Federalists and
noted his commitment to protect the equal rights of the
minority as well as the majority.
Jefferson formed his cabinet carefully. His friend
James Madison was appointed secretary of state. Jefferson
moved into the still-unfinished President’s House on
Pennsylvania Avenue, struggling to fill the vast space with
his small staff while devising plans to landscape the still
muddy and barren grounds around the building.
John Adams had left
a political problem for
Jefferson. Just before his
term ended, Adams had
appointed more than
40 Federalists to serve
as judges. Because judges
served for unl imited
terms and because the
judiciary provided a
checks-and-balances role
to the government, it
was Adams’ last attempt
to ensure that Federalist ideas still continued to shape the
government. Adams’ letters of appointment to the judges
had been signed but not delivered; Jefferson was furious
at Adams’ action and refused to allow the letters to be
delivered by Secretary of State Madison.
“All will, of course, arrange themselves
under the will of the law, and unite in
common efforts for the common good.
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred
principle, that though the will of the
majority is in all cases to prevail, that
will to be rightful must be reasonable;
that the minority possess their equal
rights, which equal law must protect,
and to violate would be oppression.
Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite
with one heart and one mind.”
— Jefferson, First Inaugural Address,
March 4, 1801
The nominees, however, had learned of their appoint-
ments, and four of them, led by William Marbury, took
their case to the Supreme Court, where another Federalist
judge, John Marshall, was serving as chief justice. In the
case, which became known as Marbury v. Madison, the
Supreme Court ruled that although Marbury and the
others should not have been denied their appointments,
the law Marbury used to bring the case to the Supreme
Court was not constitutional. The judges did not take
office. This case would establish the right of the Supreme
Court to declare a congressional law unconstitutional, a
practice known as “judicial review.”
Jefferson’s presidency set a new standard for many
subsequent presidencies. Jefferson was popular and used
his personal influence to help shape policy. He formed
strong working relationships both with his cabinet and
with Republican leaders in the House and Senate. He
worked long days, rising at 5:00 A.M. and doing paperwork
until 9:00 A.M., when he would meet with important
visitors or members of his cabinet. He held meetings in
the morning and then had cabinet meetings or wrote
letters until 1:00 P.M., when he would go for a horseback
ride. He had dinner at 3:30 P.M., throwing elegant dinner
parties for 12 invited guests three times a week. At these
parties, his French chef would offer creative dishes, includ-
ing the brand-new dessert ice cream. Jefferson paid the
costs of this entertaining out of his own salary. Dinner
ended by 6:00 P.M. and Jefferson would spend a few more
hours reading and writing letters.
Shortly after he became president, Jefferson learned that
France and Spain had signed a secret treaty in which the
huge Spanish territory of Louisiana would be turned over
to France. Jefferson quickly moved to stop the treaty.
When this proved unsuccessful, he attempted to purchase
the territory of Florida from Spain. Jefferson was concerned
that if France took over the territory, it might block
American trade along the Mississippi and that a French-
occupied New Orleans might be a convenient spot for
launching an attack against America.
Jefferson was concerned that French possession of the Louisiana Territory
would block trade along the Mississippi River. He decided to offer to purchase
the land from France. He sent James Monroe, pictured here, to meet with the
French. Monroe was successful: He was able to buy all of the territory for
$15 million, doubling the size of the country. Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark
to explore the land.
Jefferson sent an envoy—James Monroe—to negotiate
with the French, authorizing him to offer up to $9 million
for New Orleans and Florida. To Jefferson’s amazement, the
French asked if he might be interested in buying all of
Louisiana—an 800,000-square-mile territory stretching
from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains. They quickly
agreed on the price of $15 million, and thus the United
States more than doubled in size.
Next, Jefferson persuaded Congress to fund an expedi-
tion to explore this new American land, appointing
Shortly after becoming president in 1800, Thomas Jefferson learned that
France and Spain had signed a secret treaty that would give the Spanish
territory of Louisiana to France. Spain was too weak to pose a threat to
America, but Jefferson worried that a French-held New Orleans might
block American access to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River—a
key trade route for American meat and grain—and that France might
launch attacks on American territory from the west.
Jefferson sent an envoy to the French to offer a deal: $9 million for New
Orleans and a portion of Florida. What he did not know was that France, led
by its emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, would soon be involved in war with
Britain. Napoleon worried about a possible attack on Louisiana from British-
held Canadian territory and he needed money to help finance his war.
Jefferson’s envoy offered his sum for New Orleans and was shocked when
the French asked if he might be interested in buying the rest of Louisiana
at the same time. A price was agreed on: $15 million, slightly more than
Jefferson had been willing to pay for New Orleans alone. With it, Jefferson
effectively doubled the size of the nation, adding more than 800,000 square
miles of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains.
The Louisiana Purchase
Meriwether Lewis, his cousin, to lead the expedition and
explore the soil, the plant and animal life, and the potential
for fur trade. William Clark, who had served with Lewis in
the army, was appointed as co-leader. The expedition set
out in May 1804, attempting to do what had never before
been done—travel the Mississippi River to its source and
attempt to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean. For the next
two years, Lewis and Clark and their team would combat
harsh weather and terrain, attacks from Indians and wild
animals, and disease before returning with valuable details
of the newest part of America.
Jefferson’s achievement in adding this vast new territory to
America contributed to his landslide reelection in 1804.
Sadly, the news of his reelection was overshadowed by the
death of his 24-year-old daughter, Polly, in childbirth. For
his inauguration, Jefferson—mourning his daughter’s
death—was dressed completely in black and rode soberly
in a carriage to the ceremony.
Despite his strong victory, Jefferson was criticized by
Federalist newspapers, many of which suggested that he
had become involved with one of his own slaves, Sally
Hemings. These attacks prompted Jefferson to suggest in
his Second Inaugural Address that publications that
published lies and slander should be prosecuted—a
marked change from his fervent support for freedom of
speech and freedom of the press in the election of 1800.
Jefferson’s second term was marked by conflict in
Europe. Jefferson had stated that America’s position in the
seemingly endless war between Britain and France would be
neutral, but both countries were soon attacking American
trading vessels. British forces even began practicing
impressement, kidnapping American sailors and forcing
them to join the British navy.
Jefferson resisted the demands for war but instituted a
boycott of French and British goods known as the Embargo
Act of 1807. The act proved to be damaging for American
merchants, who were dependent on goods from America’s
leading trade partners. It brought on an economic depres-
sion, and a smuggling trade grew up along the Canadian
border, essentially making the embargo pointless.
As the presidential election of 1808 approached, many
of Jefferson’s supporters urged him to remain in office,
but Jefferson had long supported a peaceful transition of
government, and he felt that the presidency should not
be a lifetime appointment. He was annoyed with the
Americans who were ignoring the trade embargo and was
ready to return to Monticello.
Jefferson announced his decision to retire and
expressed his support for his friend James Madison as the
Republican candidate. Madison easily won election over
the Federalist candidate Thomas Pinckney. Jefferson’s
40 years of public service were finally at an end.
Thomas Jefferson returned to Monticello at age 65. His
daughter Patsy lived only a few miles from Monticello, and
she and her eight children were there to welcome him
when he returned.
Jefferson focused on his ongoing improvements to
Monticello, a project that he never finished—nor did he seem
to ever want to bring it to completion. When he returned
home, he brought souvenirs from the Lewis and Clark
expedition, as well as his own inventions: a calendar clock
run by weights, a revolving chair and revolving tabletop, and
a polygraph—a device designed to make duplicate copies.
Jefferson traveled only as far as Poplar Forest, a retreat that
he had built on his property in the shape of an octagon, with
an octagonal exterior and octagonal rooms placed around a
square dining room. He continued to focus on his flower and
vegetable gardens, experimenting with different plants and
making careful notes about the successes and failures.
Jefferson kept up detailed correspondences with his
many friends. As time passed, he put aside his anger at
John Adams’s last-minute judicial appointments and,
giving in to the pleading of a mutual friend, he began to
exchange letters with Adams. The correspondence would
last for the rest of their lives and provide a rich legacy of
the thoughts and memories of these two great minds.
Jefferson continued to follow political events as
conflict with the British led the country into the War of
1812. When invading British forces burned much of
Washington, including the congressional library, Jefferson
offered to sell his own personal library to Congress;
these 6,700 books would become the beginning of the
new Library of Congress.
One of Jefferson’s last projects was part of his continuing
emphasis on education as a way to ensure the development
of new generations of leaders. He decided to create a
university for Virginia, “an institution on which the
fortunes of our country may depend.” Jefferson purchased
land in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia, and then drew
up plans for the courses, the faculty to be hired, and,
of course, the design of the buildings and the campus.
He created the university library, a building with a large
rotunda whose ceiling would be sky blue and covered with
The British captured Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812 and burned
much of the city, including the Congressional library. Jefferson, who also
founded the University of Virginia, believed strongly in the importance of
education and offered to sell his personal library of about 6,700 books to the
government, thus beginning the Library of Congress.
stars designed to replicate the stars in the galaxy, forming
a planetarium. In November 1824, the University of
Virginia held its inaugural ceremonies, where Jefferson
was hailed as its founder.
In 1826, Jefferson was invited to attend ceremonies to
mark the 50
anniversary of the Declaration of Indepen-
dence, but his health was failing and he was not strong
enough to travel. On July 1, the 83-year-old patriot became
seriously ill. He drifted in and out of consciousness, waking
Thomas Jefferson always placed a great deal of importance on education.
Not only did he sell his large library to Congress, thereby starting the
Library of Congress that we know today, but he also founded the University
of Virginia in Charlottesville, near his home Monticello.
Jefferson imagined an “academic village” with ten pavilions. Each
pavilion would be dedicated to a particular subject; a professor would
live in the upstairs and teach in the classrooms that occupied the
pavilion’s downstairs. The campus would also include student housing
and temporary living quarters for visitors. Crowning the campus
would be a library, emphasizing learning and the development of the
human intellect.
Jefferson contacted the best minds of Europe and America and invited
them to become faculty members at the university. The University of
Virginia opened in March 1825 to its first 123 students.
Jefferson lived to see the first year of the new university’s operation,
often inviting students to dine with him on Sundays at Monticello. When he
died on July 4, 1826, many of the university’s students came and paid
their respects to the man who had founded their university and helped
found their nation.
The University of Virginia
on July 3 to ask his doctor, “Is it the Fourth?”He died shortly
after noon on July 4. John Adams, the only other surviving
signer of the Declaration of Independence, died only a few
hours later.
Before his death, Jefferson had written out the words
to be placed on the headstone of his grave:
Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
and Father of the University of Virginia.
The message shows that a great man lies buried in the
simple graveyard on the hillside of Monticello. It does not
mention that he also happened to be a president of the
United States.
George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
William Henry
John Tyler
James Polk
Zachary Taylor
Millard Filmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James Garfield
Note: Dates indicate years of
presidential service.
Source: www.whitehouse.gov
Chester Arthur
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
Grover Cleveland
William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Warren Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roo-
sevelt 1933–1945
Harry S. Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
William J. Clinton
George W. Bush
Article II of the Constitution of the United States outlines several require-
ments for the president of the United States, including:
W Age: The president must be at least 35 years old.
W Citizenship: The president must be a U.S. citizen.
W Residency: The president must have lived in the United States for
at least 14 years.
W Oath of Office: On his inauguration, the president takes this oath:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute
the office of President of the United States, and will to the best
of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of
the United States.”
W Term: A presidential term lasts four years.
The president has many distinct powers as outlined in and interpreted
from the Constitution. The president:
W Submits many proposals to Congress for regulatory, social, and
economic reforms.
W Appoints federal judges with the Senate’s approval.
W Prepares treaties with foreign nations to be approved by the
W Can veto laws passed by Congress.
W Acts as commander in chief of the military to oversee military
strategy and actions.
W Appoints members of the cabinet and many other agencies and
administrations with the Senate’s approval.
W Can declare martial law (control of local governments within
the country) in times of national crisis.
Many parts of the presidency developed out of tradition. The traditions
listed below are but a few that are associated with the U.S. presidency.
W After taking his oath of office, George Washington added,
“So help me God.” Numerous presidents since Washington
have also added this phrase to their oath.
W Originally, the Constitution limited the term of the presidency
to four years, but did not limit the number of terms a president
could serve. Presidents, following the precedent set by George
Washington, traditionally served only two terms. After Franklin
Roosevelt was elected to four terms, however, Congress
amended the Constitution to restrict presidents to only two.
W James Monroe was the first president to have his inauguration
outside the Capitol. From his inauguration in 1817 to Jimmy
Carter’s inauguration in 1977, it was held on the Capitol’s east
portico. Ronald Reagan broke from this tradition in 1981 when
he was inaugurated on the west portico to face his home state,
California. Since 1981, all presidential inaugurations have been
held on the west portico of the Capitol.
W Not all presidential traditions
are serious, however. One of
the more fun activities con-
nected with the presidency
began when President William
Howard Taft ceremoniously
threw out the first pitch of the
new baseball season in 1910.
Presidents since Taft have carried on this tradition, including
Woodrow Wilson, who is pictured here as he throws the first pitch
of the 1916 season. In more recent years, the president has also
opened the All-Star and World Series games.
Although George Washington
was involved with the planning of
the White House, he never lived
there. It has been, however, the
official residence of every presi-
dent beginning with John Adams,
the second U.S. president. The
building was completed approximately in 1800, although it has undergone
several renovations since then. It was the first public building constructed
in Washington, D.C. The White House has 132 rooms, several of which are
open to the public. Private rooms include those for administration and
the president’s personal residence. For an online tour of the White House
and other interesting facts, visit the official White House website,
A committee began planning the presidential seal in 1777. It was completed
in 1782. The seal appears as an official stamp on medals, stationery, and
documents, among other items. Originally, the eagle faced right toward the
arrows (a symbol of war) that it held in its talons. In
1945, President Truman had the seal altered so that
the eagle’s head instead faced left toward the olive
branch (a symbol of peace), because he believed
the president should be prepared for war but
always look toward peace.
Name: Thomas Jefferson
Birth date: April 13, 1743
Birth place: Shadwell, Virginia
Father: Peter Jefferson
Mother: Jane Randolph Jefferson
Wife: Martha Wayles Skelton
Children: Martha Washington Jefferson, Jane Randolph Jefferson, son
(died as an infant), Mary Jefferson, Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson,
and Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson.
Death date: July 4, 1826
Death place: Monticello, his home near Charlottesville, Virginia
Years in office: 1801–1809
Vice president: Aaron Burr (1801–1805); George Clinton
Occupations before presidency: Lawyer, planter, delegate, foreign
minister, governor, secretary of state, vice president
Political party: Democratic-Republican
Major achievements of presidency: Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark
Nickname: Sage of Monticello, Man of the People
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
(Washington, D.C.; http://www.nps.gov/thje/);
Monticello: The Home of Thomas Jefferson
(Charlottesville, Va.; http://www.monticello.org/)
1743 Thomas Jefferson is born at Shadwell in Virginia.
1757 Jefferson’s father, Peter Jefferson, dies.
1760 Jefferson travels to Williamsburg to attend the
College of William and Mary.
1762 Jefferson begins studying law with George Wythe.
1768 Jefferson is elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses
and begins plans for Monticello.
1772 Jefferson marries Martha Wayles Skelton.
1775 Jefferson is elected to the Continental Congress.
1776 Jefferson drafts the Declaration of Independence.
1777 Jefferson drafts the Virginia Statute for Religious
1779 Jefferson becomes governor of Virginia.
1783 Jefferson is elected to serve as a delegate to Congress.
1784 Jefferson travels to France to negotiate peace treaties.
1790 Jefferson becomes the first secretary of state for the
United States.
1796 Jefferson is elected vice president
1800 Jefferson is elected president.
1803 The Louisiana Purchase is concluded and the Lewis
and Clark expedition begins.
1809 Jefferson retires to Monticello.
1825 The University of Virginia opens.
1826 Jefferson dies on July 4.
Bowers, Claude G. The Young Jefferson, 1743–1789. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1945.
Boyd, Julian P., ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 1: 1760–1776.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950.
Brodie, Fawn M. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 1974.
Bruns, Roger. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,
Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of
Thomas Jefferson. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University
Press, 1987.
Gawalt, Gerard W. “Drafting the Declaration.” The Declaration of
Independence: Origins and Impact. Ed. Scott Douglas Gerber.
Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2002.
Hawke, David. ATransaction of Free Men. New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1964.
Jefferson, Thomas. Writings. New York: The Library of America,
Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the Virginian. Boston: Little, Brown
and Company, 1948.
McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster,
Peterson, Merrill D. Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1970.
Randall, Willard Sterne. Thomas Jefferson: A Life. New York: Henry
Holt and Company, 1993.
Wills, Garry. Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of
Independence. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1978.
Miller Center for Public Affairs
Monticello: The Home of Thomas Jefferson
University of Virginia
The White House: The Presidents of the United States
http://www.whitehouse.gov/ history/presidents/
American Heritage. Thomas Jefferson and His World. New York:
American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960.
Blumberg, Rhoda, ed. What’s the Deal? Jefferson, Napoleon, and the
Louisiana Purchase. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 1998.
Bruns, Roger. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,
Jefferson, Thomas. Writings. New York: The Library of America, 1984.
Weber, Michael. Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Vero Beach, Fla.:
Rourke Corporation, 1997.
The College of William and Mary: Thomas Jefferson
Grolier Online: The American Presidency
Miller Center for Public Affairs
Museum of Westward Expansion: Thomas Jefferson
and the Louisiana Purchase
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA):
The Declaration of Independence.
University of Virginia
The White House: The Presidents of the United States
Adams, Abigail, 59
Adams, John, 65, 82
criticism of, 68
death of, 85
and the Declaration
of Independence,
17–18, 20, 70, 85
as foreign minister,
on Jefferson, 13–14
and peace treaty,
and the presidential
election of 1796,
and the presidential
election of 1800,
and the revolution
against the British,
7, 11
as U.S. president,
69–70, 74–76, 90
as vice president, 61,
Adams, Samuel
and the revolution
against the British,
Alien and Sedition Acts,
American colonies
and British taxes, 10,
13, 35–39, 41
independence move-
ment of, 11–16,
22–23, 33–38, 41,
43, 46
and peace treaties,
American Revolution,
7, 23, 43, 46, 52–57
leaders of, 11
Bayard, James A.,
Bonaparte, Napoleon,
emperor of France, 79
Boston, Massachusetts,
14, 59
closing the harbor of,
protests in, 40–41,
Boston Tea Party, 41
Botetourt, Baron de
death of, 39
as royal governor of
Virginia, 37–39,
Britain. See England
Burr, Aaron
as Jefferson’s vice
president, 91
and the presidential
election of 1800,
Burwell, Rebecca
and Jefferson, 30–31
Bush, George W.
as war president, 8
Carter, Jimmy
as U.S. president,
Clark, William
and the Lewis and
Clark Expedition,
Clinton, George
as Jefferson’s vice
president, 91
Concord, Massachusetts
battle at, 12
College of William and
Jefferson student at,
27–28, 92
Native American
school at, 28
Constitutional Conven-
tion, 59
Continental Army
creation of, 12–13
defeats of, 14–15,
victories of, 54–55
Continental Congress,
56–58, 92, see also
United States Congress
first, 11–13, 43
representatives in, 20,
second, 10–17
vote on the Declaration
of Independence, 21
Cornwallis, British
General Lord
surrender of, 53–54
Cronkite, Walter
foreword, 6–9
Deane, Silas
travels to France,
Declaration of the Causes
and Necessity for Taking
Up Arms, A, 19
America’s refusal to
accept England’s
policies, 14
Declaration of Indepen-
dence, 84
drafting of, 17–21,
goals of, 19–20
and Jefferson, 17–20,
23, 45–46, 85, 92
new system of govern-
ment in, 20
vote on, 21–23
Political Party, 68–69,
71, 81
Jefferson’s party,
64–65, 75, 91
support of France,
65–66, 70
England, 60
and the American
Revolution, 7,
13–16, 33–34,
36–38, 43, 45–46,
53, 56
debts of, 34–36
and the French and
Indian War, 34
military of, 10, 14,
52–54, 82–83
parliament of, 12, 15,
36–38, 40–41
and peace treaty,
surrender of, 54
and taxing of the
colonies, 10, 13,
35–39, 41
at war, 63, 65–66, 79,
Embargo Act of 1807,
Fauquier, Francis
royal governor of
Virginia, 29
Federalists Political
Party, 68–69, 75–77,
Hamilton’s party,
64–65, 72–73
support of England,
65, 70
France, 56
and the French and
Indian War, 34
government of, 60, 65
and the Louisiana
Purchase, 78–79
peace treaties with,
47–48, 70, 92
revolution in, 60, 65
and treaty with Spain,
at war, 65–66, 79, 81
Franklin, Benjamin
and the Declaration of
17–18, 20
as foreign minister,
and peace treaty,
and the revolution
against the British,
travels to France,
French and Indian War,
Genet, Edmund
criticism of Washing-
ton, 65–66
French ambassador,
George III, King of
England, 14
abuse of, 13, 20–21
and taxing of the
colonies, 10–13
Hamilton, Alexander
disagreements with
Jefferson, 63–65, 67
and the presidential
election of 1800,
as secretary of treasury,
Hemings, Sally
Jefferson’s slave, 80
Henry, Patrick
and the Continental
Congress, 43–44
and the revolution
against the British,
11, 36
Jefferson, Jane Randolph
(mother), 24, 31, 91
Jefferson, Jane Randolph
(daughter), 91
birth of, 40
death of, 40
Jefferson, Lucy Elizabeth
(second daughter),
birth of, 54
death of, 54
Jefferson, Lucy Elizabeth
(third daughter),
birth of, 54
death of, 59
Jefferson, Martha
“Patsy” Washington
(daughter), 59–60,
81–82, 91
birth of, 40
wedding of, 61
Jefferson, Martha
Wayles Skelton (wife),
death of, 54
illness of, 47–48, 54
marriage of, 39, 92
Jefferson, Mary “Polly”
(daughter), 59–60,
death of, 80
birth of, 52
Jefferson, Peter (father),
24, 91
death of, 26, 92
as surveyor, 25
Jefferson, Thomas
birth of, 24–25,
cabinet of, 76–77
as chief commander
of the Virginia
militia, 39
childhood of, 25–26
criticism of, 54, 68,
and currency, 58
death of, 49, 84–85,
and the Declaration of
17–21, 23, 45–46,
70, 84–85, 92
as delegate to
Congress, 12–15,
58, 91–92
disagreements with
Hamilton, 63–65,
education of, 25–30,
on education, 50–51,
as foreign minister,
58–60, 91
as governor of Virginia,
51–55, 91–92
and human rights,
inauguration speech
of, 74–76, 80
influences on, 28–30
inventions of, 82
as lawyer, 31, 91–92
and the Louisiana
Purchase, 7–8,
78–80, 91–92
“man of the people,”
marriage of, 39, 92
as planter, 51, 82, 91
as president, 73,
91–92, 74–81, 85
and the presidential
election of 1796, 68
and the presidential
election of 1800,
and the presidential
election of 1804, 80
on religious freedom,
and the revolution
against the British,
and romance, 29–31,
“sage of Monticello,”
as secretary of state,
60–67, 91–92
and shaping of the
west, 58
and slavery, 13, 21, 49
travels of, 59–60, 92
and the University of
Virginia, 83–84
as vice president,
68–72, 91–92
and the Virginia
House of Burgesses,
32–38, 42
and the Virginia’s
House of Delegates,
writings of, 12–14,
Knox, Henry
as secretary of war,
Lafayette, Marquis de,
Lee, Richard Henry
and the Continental
Congress, 17
Lewis and Clark Expedi-
tion, 78–80, 82,
Lewis, Meriwether
and the Lewis and
Clark expedition,
Lexington, Massachusetts
battle at, 12
Library of Congress,
Lincoln, Abraham
as wartime president,
Livingston, Robert
and the Declaration of
Louisiana Purchase,
7–8, 78–80, 91–92
Madison, James, 64, 68
and the revolution
against the British,
as secretary of state,
as U.S. president, 81
Marbury v. Madison,
Marbury, William, 77
Marshall, John, 77
Mason, George
and the declaration of
rights for Virginia,
19–20, 38
protests in, 37, 40–42
Monroe, James
and the Louisiana
Purchase, 78–79
as U.S. president, 89
construction of,
Jefferson’s home, 25,
32, 48, 51, 54–57,
61, 67–68, 70,
81–82, 84–85,
Murray, John
royal governor of
Virginia, 42
Native Americans
assistance to British,
school at the College
of William and
Mary, 28
New York City, New York
nation’s capital, 61,
Nicholas, Robert Carter,
Philadelphia, Pennsylva-
nia, 47, 56–57
constitutional conven-
tion in, 59
and the Continental
Congress, 10–15,
nation’s temporary
capital, 64, 68
Pickney, Thomas, 81
Presidential election of
1796, 68
Presidential election of
1800, 71–73
Presidential election of
1804, 80
Presidential election of
1808, 81
Presidents of the United
States, 86–90
and the constitution,
fact file of, 88–90
powers of, 8, 88
and the Presidential
Seal, 90
and tradition, 89
and the White House,
75–76, 90
Randolph, Edmund
as attorney general,
Randolph, Peyton, 12
and the Continental
Congress, 43–44
Richmond, Virginia
British attack on, 53
new capital of Virginia,
Roosevelt, Franklin
as wartime president,
7, 89
Seven Years’ War, 34,
see also French and
Indian War
Shadwell, Virginia,
31–32, 39
Jefferson’s birthplace,
24, 91–92
Sherman, Roger
and the Declaration of
Small, William Dr.
influence on Jefferson,
and treaty with
France, 78–79
at war, 63
Stamp Act (1765),
Steuben, Baron von, 54
Summary View of the
Rights of British
America, A
abuse of King George
III in, 13
proposal to end slavery
in, 13
written by Jefferson,
13, 19, 45
Taft, William Howard
as wartime president,
Thomas Jefferson
Memorial, 91
Townshend Acts, 36–38,
Truman, Harry S.
as U.S. president, 8,
Tuckahoe Estate
Jefferson family on,
United States of America
government branches
of, 9, 64, 71
war debts of, 64
and wartime, 8,
United States Congress,
8, 70, 77, 79, 82,
88–89, see also Conti-
nental Congress
formation of, 58, 60
United States Constitu-
tion, 8–9
drafting of, 59
and freedom of
speech, 71
and presidency
requirements, 7, 59,
64, 68, 88–89
United States Supreme
and Marbury v.
Madison, 77
University of Virginia
Jefferson as founder
of, 83–84
opening of, 92
Vinson, Fred, 8
Virginia, 25, 29, 31, 34,
constitution of, 16,
17, 19
declaration rights for,
delegation from,
economy of, 49–50
Jefferson as governor
of, 51–55, 92
laws of, 27
militia of, 39, 51–52
role in the American
revolution, 37,
Virginia’s House of
Burgesses, 92
Jefferson in, 32–38,
Virginia’s House of
Jefferson in, 47–48
Virginia Statute for
Religious Freedom
Jefferson’s drafting of,
85, 92
War of 1812, 82–83
Washington, D.C., 91
British attack of, 82–83
as U.S. capital, 72, 90
Washington, George
appointments of,
as commander in chief
of the Continental
Army, 13, 16, 52, 54
and the Continental
Congress, 43
and the Declaration of
Independence, 22
as president of the
U.S., 59–67, 74,
and the revolution
against the British, 7,
11, 38
Williamsburg, Virginia
capital of Virginia, 15,
17, 27, 29–30, 36, 39,
42–43, 45–46, 48, 92
Wilson, Woodrow
as wartime president,
7, 89
Wythe, George, 48
Jefferson’s apprentice-
ship with, 28–30, 92
Yorktown, Virginia
British surrender at, 54
11: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
18: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
22: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
25: Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Geography & Map Division, G3880
1755.F72 Vault
30: © David Muench/CORBIS
35: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
41: © Hulton/Archive, by Getty Images
44: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
47: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
53: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
57: © Associated Press, AP
62: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
66: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
69: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
LC-USZ62-13002 DLC
75: © Bettmann/CORBIS
78: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
83: Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
86-87: Courtesy Library of Congress,
“Portraits of the Presidents and First
Ladies” American Memory Collection
Cover: © Associated Press, AP
Thank you to Celebrity Speakers Intl. for coordinating Mr. Cronkite’s
contribution to this book.
Heather Lehr Wagner is a writer and editor. She earned an M.A. in
government from the College of William and Mary and a B.A. in
political science from Duke University. She has written several books
for teens on social and political issues and is also the author of
George Washington, John Adams, and Ronald Reagan in the GREAT
Walter Cronkite has covered virtually every major news event during
his more than 60 years in journalism, during which he earned a
reputation for being “the most trusted man in America.” He began
his career as a reporter for the United Press during World War II,
taking part in the beachhead assaults of Normandy and covering the
Nuremberg trials. He then joined CBS News in Washington, D.C.,
where he was the news anchor for political convention and election
coverage from 1952 to 1980. CBS debuted its first half-hour
weeknight news program with Mr. Cronkite’s interview of President
John F. Kennedy in 1963. Mr. Cronkite was inducted into the
Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1985 and has written
several books. He lives in New York City with his wife of 59 years.

Sponsor Documents


No recommend documents

Or use your account on DocShare.tips


Forgot your password?

Or register your new account on DocShare.tips


Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link to create a new password.

Back to log-in