Thomas Jefferson is one of the most famous men in the history of the
. He not only signed the Declaration of Independence, but he was instrumental in the writing of it. He was later elected to be the third President of the United States . Ancestors of Thomas Jefferson were among the early United States Virginia emigrants from Great Britain and specifically from . Thomas's grandfather settled in Wales where he raised three sons, Thomas, Field, and Peter. Peter married Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph of Goochland, whose ancestors came from Chesterfield . Peter and Jane resided at Shadwell, Scotland . Their first child of ten was born on April 13, 1743, and named Thomas Jefferson. Peter Jefferson died when Thomas was only fourteen years old and left a widow and eight children (two sons and six daughters). Peter left a "handsome estate" to his family. Thomas inherited the estate called Albermarle County, Virginia where he resided except when involved in public service and where he was living at the time of his death. Monticello
Thomas started grammar school at the age of five years and started studying the classics at age nine. Upon his father's death, the Reverend Mr. Maury became Thomas's preceptor. Thomas entered William and
in the spring of 1760 and remained there for two years. He received his first philosophical teachings from Doctor William Small, a mathematics professor at the college. It is thought that Thomas's bias against scientific studies came from Doctor Small. Through the influence of Doctor Small, Mary College Jefferson was admitted in 1762 as a student-at-law in the office of George Wythe.
While still a student in 1765, Thomas heard the celebrated speech against the Stamp Act by Patrick Henry. He was so fired up by the principles given in the speech that he immediately became a champion of American liberty. His political talents were so obvious to the people that they elected him to be a member of the Virginia Legislature where he became immediately active and popular. He strongly but unsuccessfully lobbied the Virginia Assembly for the emancipation of the slaves.
Thomas married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a wealthy, 23 year old widow, in 1772. Martha was the daughter of John Wales, an eminent lawyer in
When the colonies established the system of committees of correspondence in 1773, Thomas was a member of the first
committee where he was very active with his writing skills. Thomas wrote a pamphlet entitled "A Summary View of the Rights of British America" and addressed it to the king. Edmund Burke was instrumental in getting the pamphlet published in Virginia . The pamphlet was very offensive to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of England Virginia, and Dunmore threatened to prosecute Thomas for high treason. The members of the Virginia Assembly were so supportive of Thomas that Dunmore dissolved the Assembly. The Assembly members assembled in a private capacity and wrote a "remonstrance" that had a powerful effect on the people. The governor realized that he couldn't do anything about the matter and let it drop.
Thomas became a
delegate to the Continental Congress of 1775 and spent several years in that capacity. Although he was comparatively young, he became one of the most distinguished members of the Congress. His talents for writing were recognized, and he was appointed to a committee with the assignment to write the Declaration of Independence. Even though he was the youngest member of the committee, the other committee members chose him to be the chairman and asked him to draft the document. The document was adopted with very few changes on July 4, 1776. "This instrument forms an everlasting monument to his memory, and gives, by far, a wider range to the fame of his talents and patriotism, than eloquent panegyric or sculptured epitaph." Virginia Jefferson signed the document and is known as the Father of the Declaration of Independence.
During the summer of 1776, Thomas resigned his seat in Congress when he was elected to the Virginia Assembly. Soon afterward he was appointed as a joint commissioner with Dr. Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane to negotiate treaties with
. He declined the proffered honor because of circumstances and remained in France during the rest of the Revolution. He was elected to a third term in Congress but declined to accept. He was succeeded by Benjamin Harrison, the father of the late President. Virginia
Thomas was on a commission to revise the laws of
from early 1777 to the middle of 1779. George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton were also on the commission. As such, Virginia Jefferson had the honor to be the first to propose laws to the Legislature of Virginia to forbid the importation of slaves. Other proposals to the Legislature concerned inheritance laws, freedom of religion, and education.
Congress would not allow British soldiers captured at
Saratoga to leave until the British government ratified the agreement between General Gates and General Burgoyne. The prisoners were divided and sent to several states. Some of them were sent in early 1779 to America near the residence of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and his friends saw that the prisoners were in great distress and did all that they could to relieve their sufferings. Because there was a scarcity of provisions, Governor Patrick Henry decided to send the prisoners to another part of Virginia or even out of the state. The officers and soldiers among the prisoners were greatly distressed at the suggestion of a move, and Virginia Jefferson appealed to the Governor in their behalf. They were allowed to remain where they were. When the prisoners departed for , the officers and soldiers united in writing a letter of thanks to him. England Jefferson replied: "Opposed as we happen to be in our sentiments of duty and honor, and anxious for contrary events, I shall, nevertheless, sincerely rejoice in every circumstance of happiness and safety which may attend you personally."
Jefferson retired to private life, he narrowly missed being captured by British troops again. Members of the Virginia Legislature were meeting at Charlottesville not far from the home of Jefferson, and Tarleton attempted to capture them. Jefferson sent his family away in his carriage and was attending to some matters at home when he noticed the cavalry coming up the hill toward his home. He immediately mounted a fast horse, dashed through the woods, and joined his family in safety.
Jefferson was appointed in 1782 as a minister plenipotentiary to assist in the negotiation of a treaty of peace with
. He did not actually go because preliminary negotiations reached Congress before he could depart. Soon afterwards, he was elected to be a delegate to Congress and was chairman of the committee in 1783 to which the treat with Great Britain was referred. The treaty was unanimously ratified upon the committee's report. Great Britain
Thomas Jefferson wrote an essay in 1784 about coinage and currency for the
. The convenient denominations of our federal money - the dollar as a unit and the system of decimals - are credited to him. United States
Jefferson was still in
France when the Constitution was written and ratified and when George Washington was elected and inaugurated as the first President of the . Jefferson took a leave of absence from United States and returned home. France Washington offered him the position of secretary of state and gave Jefferson his choice of whether to return to or be secretary of state. Jefferson chose to be secretary of state and was a very efficient aide to France during his first term of office. In 1791 Washington Washington asked Jefferson for his opinion about a national bank. A bill for the same had been passed by Congress and approved by . Washington Jefferson submitted his answer in writing and strongly opposed the matter as being unconstitutional.
Jefferson and Washington had different opinions about the French revolution, but they agreed on the question of the neutrality of the
. Jefferson so boldly supported the democratic sentiments of the struggling people in United States and sympathized so strongly with their desires for republicanism that he became the leader of the American democratic party. Since this party opposed the federal administration of France Washington, Jefferson resigned his seat in the cabinet in 1793.
Jefferson was the republican candidate for President opposing John Adams. Adams received the most votes and became President while Jefferson became Vice President. Jefferson was nominated for President again in 1800 and received more votes than Adams. Aaron Burr was also on the ticket and received the same number of votes as Jefferson. Two of Burr's friends withdrew from his support on the thirty-sixth balloting, and Jefferson became President.
After leaving the White House, Jefferson retired to the quiet scenes of
and spent his remaining seventeen years there. He was instrumental in the founding of a university at nearby Monticello in 1818. That university is now the Charlottesville . University of Virginia Jefferson was a rector there until his death as well as being a liberal patron as much as he could afford.
Toward the end of his life,
Jefferson's financial affairs were so bad that he sold his library to Congress for $30,000. A short time before he died, he received permission from the Virginia Legislature to dispose of his estate by lottery rather than letting it be sold to pay his debts. He did not live long enough to see this happen.
Jefferson died, he handed Martha a morocco case with the request that she not open it until after he died. The case contained a poetic tribute to her virtues and the following epitaph for his tomb. He desired that his monument be a small granite obelisk with this inscription:
"Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of
Of the Statute of
for Religious Freedom, Virginia
And Father of the
." University of Virginia
"… Mr. Jefferson's manner was simple but dignified, and his conversational powers were of the rarest value. He was exceedingly kind and benevolent, an indulgent master to his servants, liberal and friendly to his neighbors. He possessed remarkable equanimity of temper, and it is said he was never seen in a passion. His friendship was lasting and ardent; and he was confiding and never distrustful.
"In religion he was a freethinker; in morals, pure and unspotted; in politics, patriotic, honest, ardent and benevolent. … His life was devoted to his country; the result of his acts whatever it may be, is a legacy to mankind."
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 174-183.