Monday, December 28, 2009
My VIP for this week is Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). He is best remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and as a great President. He is also famous as a diplomat, political thinker and a founder of the Democratic Party. He did not considered himself to be a professional politician but a public-spirited citizen and practical thinker. Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, a family estate of more than 2,500 acres in Virginia. As the oldest son in a family of two boys and six girls, Jefferson inherited Shadwell at age 14 when his father died. The estate was managed by a guardian until Jefferson was 21. He was a tall, red-haired Virginian boy who developed interests in hunting, fishing, horseback riding and canoeing. He also learned to love music and to play the violin. He began his formal education with a tutor and spent two years at the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg. As a boy he learned Latin, Greek, and French. During his years at William and Mary, he formed many of his ideas about humanity and God. He began studying law in 1762 and was admitted to the bar in 1767. Jefferson was reared in the Anglican Church but learned to distrust organized religion. He wrote the following in his old age: "To love God with all thy heart and they neighbor as thyself is the sum of religion." At age 29, Jefferson married a young widow named Martha Wayles Skelton (Oct. 19, 1748-Sept. 6, 1782). According to legend, two rival suitors withdrew after watching Thomas and Martha play a duet on the harpsichord and violin. He designed and supervised the building of a new home at Shadwell and called it Monticello. The home was not yet finished when the bridal couple moved into it. They had one son and five daughters, but only two daughters lived to maturity. Martha died in 1782 after only ten years of marriage. He never remarried and reared his two daughters alone. Jefferson was a revolutionary leader but never fought in the Revolutionary Ward because he thought he could do greater good by staying in Congress. He was appointed to be on a committee with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston to write a declaration of independence. The committee unanimously asked Jefferson to prepare the draft and approved it with few changes. Congress made some changes but adopted it on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence remains Jefferson's greatest accomplishment. Congress sent Jefferson to France to work with Benjamin Franklin. He became minister when Franklin resigned and went back to America. Jefferson was in France when the Constitution of the United States was written. His friend, James Madison, sent him a draft of the Constitution, which he approved but urged that a bill of rights be included in it. Jefferson's political career included being a member of the Continental Congress, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, governor of Virginia, Congressman (again), minister to France, secretary of state, vice president and two terms as President of the United States. While Vice President, he also served as leader of the Senate, at which time he wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice For the Use of the Senate of the United States, which is still is use today. Jefferson was the first United States President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. He was also the first President to live in the White House, which was only partly built when he moved in. While Jefferson's daughter Martha Randolph served as hostess of the White House from time to time, his most popular hostess was Dolley Madison, the wife of his secretary of state. Jefferson's grandson, James Randolph, was the first child born in the White House. Jefferson was a poor public speaker but was a great writer. He was the first President to send his annual message to Congress rather than deliver it. This practice continued until Woodrow Wilson revived the tradition of the President appearing before Congress to deliver his remarks. The area of United States doubled in size in 1803 (May 2) with the Louisiana Purchase. This purchase ranks as one of Jefferson's greatest achievements even though it was a French idea. Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to help the American minister Robert Livingston negotiate with France for New Orleans and the Floridas. Before Monroe arrived in Paris, Livingston made a modest proposal for New Orleans. Livingston was astounded when the French foreign minister asked, "What would you give for the whole of Louisiana?" Negotiations, which took place after Monroe's arrival, helped the United States to gain control over the Mississippi River and to almost double its area. Jefferson felt like he was stretching the Constitution to make this purchase, but the Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of 24 to 7. Other highlights of Jefferson's administration include: 1) War with Tripoli (1801-1805); 2) The United State Military Academy opened (July 4, 1802). 3) The Supreme Court decided the case of Marbury v. Madison (Feb. 24, 1803); 4) The Lewis and Clark Expedition set out for the Northwest (May 14, 1804); 5) Amendment 12 to the Constitution was adopted (Sept. 25, 1804); 6) The act prohibiting the importation of African slaves became law (Jan. 1, 1808). Even though many people urged Jefferson to run for a third term, he chose to follow the example of George Washington. He retired from the presidency at age 65 after serving two terms. He retired from politics but was consulted on public affairs. James Madison and James Monroe, his successors in the White House, freq1uently sought his advice. Jefferson had little money left. He sold his library of more than 6,400 volumes to Congress to replace the books destroyed by the British when they burned the Capitol during the War of 1812 (1812-1815). He was aided by public contributions in his later years. After his death, Monticello passed out of his family. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the same day that John Adams died. It was exactly fifty years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He was buried beside Martha at Monticello. He wrote the following inscription for his tomb stone: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & Father of the University of Virginia." He ranked these accomplishments higher than being President of the United States. Jefferson left many good and famous quotes. I like the following ten statements, which he wrote in a letter to his namesake, Thomas Jefferson Smith, dated February 21, 1825: "1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do today. 2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself. 3. Never spend your money before you have it. 4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. 5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold. 6. We never repent of having eaten too little. 7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly. 8. How much pain have cost the evils which have never happened. 9. Take things always by their smooth handle. 10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred." Facts for this blog are from an article by Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, pp 76-87.