Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a notable man for his significant contribution and involvement to the history of the United States. Jefferson was most known for being the third President in the country and his authorship of the Declaration of the Independence. Before, during, and after his presidency, Jefferson also accomplished many other things. In Virginia, Jefferson contributed to the implementation of religious freedom and founded the University of Virginia. Jefferson also became the first Secretary of State in the U.S., acted as vice president, and a delegate in the U.S. Congress. Jefferson was also involved in the Lewis and Clark expedition - a valuable part of American history and the establishment of currency in the country. Jefferson put the decimal system in place and changed currency in American from the British Pound to the Dollar. The succeeding parts of the discussion will focus on the life of Thomas Jefferson, from birth to death, with a focus on his various achievements and how he was able to accomplish them.
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Early Years and Education
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 in a plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia to parents Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph. When Jefferson’s father inherited a Tuckahoe Plantation, his parents and seven siblings moved to Tuckahoe in 1745. Jefferson and his siblings spent their childhood in Tuckahoe. After seven years, the Jeffersons moved back to Shadwell in Virginia where his father was appointed to serve a prestigious position as a Colonelcy of the Albemarle County. Thus, at a very young age, Jefferson was exposed to politics. In Albemarle, Jefferson’s father signed them up for school run by a Scottish minister. In the local school, the students were taught basic courses including languages such as Latin, Greek, and French. It was around this time that Jefferson’s father died. From 1758 to 1760, Jefferson attended a parish boarding school run by James Maury where classical education was followed and taught, with special concentration on courses like history and science.
Jefferson attended college in the College of William & Mary when he was 16. There, Jefferson studied philosophy, mathematics, metaphysics, literature where he studied the empirical works of John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton, and continued learning Latin and Greek. Jefferson was fond of Locke, Bacon, and Newton’s work. Jefferson also became a member of the Flat Hat Club, which runs the student newspaper at the College. In college, Jefferson was known for his penchant for evening parties, playing the violin and wine tasting. In 1762, Jefferson received highest honors upon graduation and then continued to study law. In 1767, Jefferson took the bar examination in the state of Virginia and passed.
According to Catlett, part of knowing and understanding Jefferson involves the study of his law practice. When he was in college, Jefferson was mentored in law by George Wythe. Jefferson was known was for dedication to the course because of his insistence of studying it for five years as opposed to the usual two-year law course that other students signed up for. It was important for Jefferson to fully understand law before his practice. Therefore, after five years of studying, Jefferson established his own practice in 1767. Jefferson’s casebook showed “sixty-eight items and seemed to indicate that Jefferson spent his entire first year in court”. In his practice, Jefferson complied with the rules for lawyers during that time, especially the rule where lawyers had to take all the cases brought to their attention. Unlike lawyers today, those during Jefferson’s time were not awarded the luxury to choose which cases they will take or specialize in a particular area of law. During his practice, Jefferson took up civil cases and criminal cases, but one of the most notable cases he tried for is the Boiling v. Boiling case because he was up against his mentor, Wythe. The case was about a conflict between the Boiling brothers fighting over a will left by their father. In the end, Jefferson won the case.
In 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton. People said that Jefferson and Skelton got along very well, primarily because they share a passion for music. While Jefferson plays the violin, Skelton was played the piano and harpsichord. Jefferson and Skelton had six children. Although the two enjoyed a satisfying life together, Skelton died in 1782 due to illness. During his married life, Jefferson became a delegate to the Second Continental Congress (1775) when he was appointed to write the Declaration of Independence, member of the House of Delegates in Virginia, and the minister to France. Jefferson allegedly had affairs with a concubine through whom he fathered four other children.
Jefferson’s political career began when he wrote “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” In the script, Jefferson talked about his dream of America’s independence. The book expressed “a clear political opinion, straight political claims, and really revolutionary aims”. Jefferson based his ideas on Locke’s natural law and natural rights and demanded for better ruling in the country where people in American could be treated justly, especially the slaves. Jefferson stood up for equality in America and argued that, “all men are equal in British America and in Great Britain and that they therefore should be treated equally”. Jefferson’s script was also influenced by his knowledge of religion and God.
Jefferson became popular because of his script and was subsequently called on by the Continental Congress to write the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote a first draft of based on the Virginia Constitution that he also co-authored. In the committee, Jefferson finished the proposal for the Declaration along with other four members. The Declaration was finalized and approved in July 4, 1776, hence, the celebration of Independence Day. Months later, Jefferson returned to Virginia to serve as a delegate of the House. During his term, Jefferson transformed Virginia through the legislation and implementation of various laws that “abolish primogeniture, establish freedom of religion, and streamline the judicial system”. One of the most prominent achievements of Jefferson as a delegate of the House in Virginia is the 1779 Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. In the Act, Jefferson wrote: “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods”.
From 1784 to 1789, Jefferson served as the Minister to France. Jefferson visited France often with his oldest child, Martha. During his term as Minister to France, Jefferson asked John Adams’ help to establish treaties with Morocco. Jefferson busied himself with issues concerning foreign relations between America and other countries since the government had no issues with the French. Moreover, Jefferson studied architecture and enjoyed the arts in Paris. Jefferson also befriended radical philosophers in France, from which Jefferson understood the causes and the events that happened before the French Revolution.
In 1789, Jefferson was appointed as the first Secretary of State in the U.S. As Secretary of State, Jefferson was known for his contributions in the establishment of good foreign affairs and resolving conflicts between Federalists and Republicans. Jefferson also helped implement fiscal policies that were against Alexander Hamilton’s current policies. While Hamilton “favored business development and urban commercial interests,” Jefferson focused on a more democratic approach to implementing fiscal policies. Jefferson emphasized the importance of implementing policies where national banking supported agricultural and democratic freedom. During negotiations and debates over the banking system in the U.S., Jefferson lost and resigned from his post. Shortly after, Jefferson became Vice President.
As Vice President, Jefferson sought to let democracy influence laws and policies in the country. During that time, the “Alien and Sedition Acts” was passed by Congress due to the threats of Napoleon Bonaparte’s military government. However, Jefferson opposed the Act because it was unconstitutional and he claimed that it suppressed the people’s “freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of political opposition”. With the help of Madison, Jefferson created a way to implement State Rights that supported civil liberties for the people.
Although Jefferson failed to secure a presidential position for many years, he won in 1800. During his term, Jefferson’s Vice Presidents were Aaron Burr (1801-1805) and George Clinton (1805-1809). Jefferson assigned James Madison as Secretary of State. Jefferson handled the First Barbary War – the conflict between the U.S. and Barbary in Africa. Initially, Jefferson sought to address the issue diplomatically by paying tributes but when the pirates demanded more, Jefferson chose to go to war. The U.S. won the war. Jefferson was also known for his involvement in the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Since Jefferson wanted to explore the American frontier, he appointed Lewis and Clark to send a group of explorers to the Mississippi River. Through the exploration, Jefferson’s government was able to develop science through their increased knowledge of geography, among other discoveries. The expedition also expanded the American settlement. In good faith, Jefferson enacted the Native American policy through which the Native American settlements were considered as independent from his administration. In 1804, Jefferson ran again for presidency and won. His term ended in 1809.
The combined health problems due to old age caused Jefferson’s death in July 4, 1826.
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