Declaration of Independence

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. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thomas Jefferson

                    Thomas Jefferson is one of the most famous men in the history of the United States.  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 Virginia emigrants from Great Britain and specifically from Wales.  Thomas's grandfather settled in Chesterfield where he raised three sons, Thomas, Field, and Peter.  Peter married Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph of Goochland, whose ancestors came from Scotland.  Peter and Jane resided at Shadwell, Albermarle County, Virginia.  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 Monticello where he resided except when involved in public service and where he was living at the time of his death.

                    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 Mary College 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, 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 Virginia.

                    When the colonies established the system of committees of correspondence in 1773, Thomas was a member of the first Virginia 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 England.  The pamphlet was very offensive to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of 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 Virginia 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."  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 France.  He declined the proffered honor because of circumstances and remained in Virginia 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.

                    Thomas was on a commission to revise the laws of Virginia from early 1777 to the middle of 1779.  George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton were also on the commission.  As such, 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 America 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 Virginia 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 Jefferson appealed to the Governor in their behalf.  They were allowed to remain where they were.  When the prisoners departed for England, the officers and soldiers united in writing a letter of thanks to him.  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 was elected as Governor of Virginia in June 1779 to succeed Patrick Henry.  The latter period of his administration was a period of great difficulty and danger.  American traitor, Benedict Arnold, joined with British troops and Tory troops and brought predatory warfare to Virginia.  They spread desolation with fire and sword all along the James RiverRichmond, the capital of Virginia, was partially destroyed, and Governor Jefferson and his council narrowly escaped capture.  Jefferson tried in vain to capture Arnold, but the traitor was too cautious to be captured.

                    After 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 Great Britain.  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.

                    Thomas Jefferson wrote an essay in 1784 about coinage and currency for the United States.  The convenient denominations of our federal money - the dollar as a unit and the system of decimals - are credited to him.

                    Jefferson was appointed in May 1784, along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as a minister to negotiate treaties of commerce with foreign nations.  Jefferson was appointed to succeed Benjamin Franklin as minister at the French court.  Taking his eldest daughter with him, Jefferson reached Paris in August 1784.  He remained in France until October 1789 and was popular among the literati and the leading writers of the day.

                    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 United States.  Jefferson took a leave of absence from France and returned home.  Washington offered him the position of secretary of state and gave Jefferson his choice of whether to return to France or be secretary of state.  Jefferson chose to be secretary of state and was a very efficient aide to Washington during his first term of office.  In 1791 Washington asked Jefferson for his opinion about a national bank.  A bill for the same had been passed by Congress and approved by WashingtonJefferson 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 United States.  Jefferson so boldly supported the democratic sentiments of the struggling people in France 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 Washington, Jefferson resigned his seat in the cabinet in 1793.

                    In 1796 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.

                    Jefferson was elected to a second term in 1804.  The most famous accomplishment of his administration was the purchase of Louisiana from France.  The area known as Louisiana at that time covered more than a million square miles.  The United States agreed to pay France $15 million.  France allowed $4 million of that amount to be applied as "payment of indemnities for spoliations during peace."  Another great accomplishment of the Jefferson Administration was the order for the Louis and Clark expedition to explore the region of the Rocky Mountains and westward to the Pacific Ocean.  This expedition traveled overland from the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Columbia River.

                    Jefferson began the practice of communicating with Congress by written message rather than by a personal address.  This practice was followed by others Presidents until Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress about joining World War I.  Since the time of Wilson, all Presidents have given the annual State of the Union address to Congress.

                    After leaving the White House, Jefferson retired to the quiet scenes of Monticello and spent his remaining seventeen years there.  He was instrumental in the founding of a university at nearby Charlottesville in 1818.  That university is now the 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 became quite ill in the spring of 1826 and by June he was confined to his bed.  About the first of July he seemed to improve, and his friends thought he might be recovering.  He was convinced that he was going to die and gave his directions.  On July 3, he asked what day it was.  Upon being told that it was July 3, he expressed his desire to live long enough "to breathe the air of the fiftieth anniversary of his country's independence."  The morning of July 4, he expressed his gratitude to his friends and servants for their care and then said in a distinct voice:  "I resign myself to my God, and my child to my country."  These were his last words for he died about noon on Independence Day.  In a remarkable coincidence, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams - men who composed the Declaration of Independence and signed it, men who were each elected to be President of the United States - died about the same hour on the fiftieth anniversary of Independence Day.

                    Jefferson died at age 83 and was survived by his eldest daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph who was named in honor of Martha Washington.  She married Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. who became Governor of Virginia from 1819-1822. 

                    Just before 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
                                THOMAS JEFFERSON
                Author of the Declaration of Independence,
            Of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom,
                   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.

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