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  • Thomas Jefferson

    • Home State: Virginia Age at Creation: 46 Previous Occupation: Politics/Law Hometown: Rural Traits: Intelligent, Scholar, Traveler, Angry, Drunkard, Paranoid

    Portrait of Jefferson in his late 50s with a full head of hair

    Early life and career

    Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743, Old Style, Julian calendar), at the family's Shadwell Plantation in the Colony of Virginia, the third of ten children.[14] He was of English, and possibly Welsh, descent and was born a British subject.[15] His father Peter Jefferson was a planter and surveyor who died when Jefferson was fourteen; his mother was Jane Randolph.[b] Peter Jefferson moved his family to Tuckahoe Plantation in 1745 upon the death of William Randolph III, the plantation's owner and Jefferson's friend, who in his will had named Peter guardian of Randolph's children. The Jeffersons returned to Shadwell in 1752, where Peter died in 1757; his estate was divided between his sons Thomas and Randolph.[17] John Harvie Sr. then became Thomas' guardian.[18] In 1753 he attended the wedding of his uncle Field Jefferson to Mary Allen Hunt, who became a close friend and early mentor.[19] Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 7.8 sq mi) of land, including Monticello, and assumed full authority over his property at age 21.[20]

    Education, early family life

    Thomas Jefferson's Coat of Arms

    Jefferson began his education together with the Randolph children by tutors at Tuckahoe.[21] Thomas' father Peter was self-taught, regretted not having a formal education, and entered Thomas into an English school at age five. In 1752, at age nine, he attended a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister and also began studying the natural world, which he grew to love. At this time he began studying Latin, Greek, and French, while also learning to ride horses. Thomas also read books from his father's modest library.[22] He was taught from 1758 to 1760 by the Reverend James Maury near Gordonsville, Virginia, where he studied history, science, and the classics while boarding with Maury's family.[23][22] Jefferson then came to know and befriended various American Indians, including the famous Cherokee chief Ontasseté, who often stopped at Shadwell to visit on their way to Williamsburg to trade.[24][25] During the two years Jefferson was with the Maury family, he traveled to Williamsburg and was a guest of Colonel Dandridge, father of Martha Washington. In Williamsburg the young Jefferson met and came to admire Patrick Henry, eight years his senior, and shared a common interest in violin playing.[26]

    Wren Building, College of William & Mary where Jefferson studied

    Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia at age 16 and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy with Professor William Small. Under Small's tutelage, Jefferson encountered the ideas of the British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. Small introduced Jefferson to George Wythe and Francis Fauquier. Small, Wythe, and Fauquier recognized Jefferson as a man of exceptional ability and included him in their inner circle, where he became a regular member of their Friday dinner parties where politics and philosophy were discussed. Jefferson later wrote that he "heard more common good sense, more rational & philosophical conversations than in all the rest of my life".[27] During his first year at the college he was given more to parties and dancing and was not very frugal with his expenditures; in his second year, regretting that he had squandered away much time and money, he dedicated himself to fifteen hours of study a day.[28] Jefferson improved his French and Greek and his skill at the violin. He graduated two years after starting in 1762. He read the law under Wythe's tutelage to obtain his law license while working as a law clerk in his office.[29] He also read a wide variety of English classics and political works.[30] Jefferson was well-read in a broad variety of subjects, which along with law and philosophy, included history, natural law, natural religion, ethics, and several areas in science, including agriculture. Overall, he drew very deeply on the philosophers. During the years of study under the watchful eye of Wythe, Jefferson authored a survey of his extensive readings in his Commonplace Book.[31] Wythe was so impressed with Jefferson that he later bequeathed his entire library to him.[32]

    The year 1765 was an eventful one in Jefferson's family. In July, his sister Martha married his close friend and college companion Dabney Carr, which greatly pleased Jefferson. In October, he mourned his sister Jane's unexpected death at age 25 and wrote a farewell epitaph in Latin.[33] Jefferson treasured his books and amassed three libraries in his lifetime. The first, a library of 200 volumes started in his youth which included books inherited from his father and left to him by George Wythe,[34] was destroyed when his Shadwell home burned in a 1770 fire. Nevertheless, he had replenished his collection with 1,250 titles by 1773, and it grew to almost 6,500 volumes by 1814.[35] He organized his wide variety of books into three broad categories corresponding with elements of the human mind: memory, reason, and imagination.[36] After the British burned the Library of Congress during the Burning of Washington, he sold this second library to the U.S. government to jumpstart the Library of Congress collection, for the price of $23,950. Jefferson used a portion of the money secured by the sale to pay off some of his large debt, remitting $10,500 to William Short and $4,870 to John Barnes of Georgetown. However, he soon resumed collecting for his personal library, writing to John Adams, "I cannot live without books."[37][38] He began to construct a new library of his personal favorites and by the time of his death a decade later it had grown to almost 2,000 volumes.[39]

    Lawyer and House of Burgesses

    Chamber of House of Burgesses
    House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Jefferson served 1769–1775

    Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767, and lived with his mother at Shadwell.[40] He represented Albemarle County as a delegate in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 until 1775.[41] He pursued reforms to slavery, with legislation in 1769 to give masters control over the emancipation of slaves, taking discretion away from the royal governor and General Court. He persuaded his cousin Richard Bland to spearhead the legislation's passage, but opposition was strong.[42]

    Jefferson took seven cases for freedom-seeking slaves[43] and waived his fee for one who claimed that he should be freed before his minimum statutory age.[44] Jefferson invoked the Natural Law to argue, "everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person and using it at his own will ... This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because it is necessary for his own sustenance." The judge cut him off and ruled against his client. As a consolation, Jefferson gave his client some money, conceivably used to aid his escape shortly thereafter.[44] He later incorporated this sentiment into the Declaration of Independence.[45] He also took on 68 cases for the General Court of Virginia in 1767, in addition to three notable cases: Howell v. Netherland (1770), Bolling v. Bolling (1771), and Blair v. Blair (1772).[46]

    The British parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774, and Jefferson wrote a resolution calling for a "Day of Fasting and Prayer" in protest, as well as a boycott of all British goods. His resolution was later expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, in which he argued that people have the right to govern themselves.[47]

    Monticello, marriage, and family

    Monticello plantation house
    Jefferson's home Monticello in Virginia

    In 1768, Jefferson began constructing his primary residence Monticello (Italian for "Little Mountain") on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre (20 km2; 7.8 sq mi) plantation.[c] He spent most of his adult life designing Monticello as architect and was quoted as saying, "Architecture is my delight, and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements."[49] Construction was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by Jefferson's slaves.[50]

    He moved into the South Pavilion in 1770. Turning Monticello into a neoclassical masterpiece in the Palladian style was his perennial project.[51] On January 1, 1772, Jefferson married his third cousin[52] Martha Wayles Skelton, the 23-year-old widow of Bathurst Skelton, and she moved into the South Pavilion.[53][54] She was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. Biographer Dumas Malone described the marriage as the happiest period of Jefferson's life.[55] Martha read widely, did fine needlework, and was a skilled pianist; Jefferson often accompanied her on the violin or cello.[56] During their ten years of marriage, Martha bore six children: Martha "Patsy" (1772–1836); Jane (1774–1775); an unnamed son who lived for only a few weeks in 1777; Mary "Polly" (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and another Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1784).[57][d] Only Martha and Mary survived to adulthood.[60]

    Jefferson's daughter Martha

    Martha's father John Wayles died in 1773, and the couple inherited 135 slaves, 11,000 acres (45 km2; 17 sq mi), and the estate's debts. The debts took Jefferson years to satisfy, contributing to his financial problems.[53]

    Martha later suffered from ill health, including diabetes, and frequent childbirth further weakened her. Her mother had died young, and Martha lived with two stepmothers as a girl. A few months after the birth of her last child, she died on September 6, 1782, with Jefferson at her bedside. Shortly before her death, Martha made Jefferson promise never to marry again, telling him that she could not bear to have another mother raise her children.[61] Jefferson was grief-stricken by her death, relentlessly pacing back and forth, nearly to the point of exhaustion. He emerged after three weeks, taking long rambling rides on secluded roads with his daughter Martha, by her description "a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief".[60][62]

    After working as secretary of state (1790–93), he returned to Monticello and initiated a remodeling based on the architectural concepts which he had acquired in Europe. The work continued throughout most of his presidency and was completed in 1809.[63][64]

    Revolutionary War

    Declaration of Independence

    Declaration of Independence
    U.S. Declaration of Independence – 1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy

    Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. The document's social and political ideals were proposed by Jefferson before the inauguration of Washington.[65] At age 33, he was one of the youngest delegates to the Second Continental Congress beginning in 1775 at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, where a formal declaration of independence from Britain was overwhelmingly favored.[66] Jefferson chose his words for the Declaration in June 1775, shortly after the war had begun; the idea of independence from Britain had long since become popular among the colonies. He was inspired by the Enlightenment ideals of the sanctity of the individual, as well as the writings of Locke and Montesquieu.[67]

    He sought out John Adams, an emerging leader of the Congress.[68] They became close friends and Adams supported Jefferson's appointment to the Committee of Five formed to draft a declaration of independence in furtherance of the Lee Resolution passed by the Congress, which declared the United Colonies independent. The committee initially thought that Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson.[e]

    Jefferson consulted with other committee members over the next seventeen days and drew on his proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources.[70] The other committee members made some changes, and a final draft was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776.[71]

    The declaration was introduced on Friday, June 28, and Congress began debate over its contents on Monday, July 1,[71] resulting in the omission of a fourth of the text,[72] including a passage critical of King George III and "Jefferson's anti-slavery clause".[73][74] Jefferson resented the changes, but he did not speak publicly about the revisions.[f] On July 4, 1776, the Congress ratified the Declaration, and delegates signed it on August 2; in doing so, they were committing an act of treason against the Crown.[76] Jefferson's preamble is regarded as an enduring statement of human rights, and the phrase "all men are created equal" has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history".[73][77]

    Virginia state legislator and governor

    Governor's Palace
    Governor's Palace, Governor Jefferson's residence in Williamsburg

    At the start of the Revolution, Colonel Jefferson was named commander of the Albemarle County Militia on September 26, 1775.[78] He was then elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for Albemarle County in September 1776, when finalizing the state constitution was a priority.[79][80] For nearly three years, he assisted with the constitution and was especially proud of his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which prohibited state support of religious institutions or enforcement of religious doctrine.[81] The bill failed to pass, as did his legislation to disestablish the Anglican Church, but both were later revived by James Madison.[82]

    In 1778, Jefferson was given the task of revising the state's laws. He drafted 126 bills in three years, including laws to streamline the judicial system. He proposed statutes that provided for general education, which he considered the basis of "republican government".[79] Jefferson also was concerned that Virginia's powerful landed gentry were becoming a hereditary aristocracy and he took the lead in abolishing what he called "feudal and unnatural distinctions."[83] He targeted laws such as entail and primogeniture by which a deceased landowner’s oldest son was vested with all land ownership and power.[83] [g]

    Jefferson was elected governor for one-year terms in 1779 and 1780.[85] He transferred the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond, and introduced additional measures for public education, religious freedom, and inheritance.[86]

    During General Benedict Arnold's 1781 invasion of Virginia, Jefferson escaped Richmond just ahead of the British forces, which razed the city.[87][88] He sent emergency dispatches to Colonel Sampson Mathews and other commanders in an attempt to repel Arnold's efforts.[89][90] Jefferson then visited with friends in the surrounding counties of Richmond, including William Fleming, a college friend of his in Chesterfield County.[91] General Charles Cornwallis that spring dispatched a cavalry force led by Banastre Tarleton to capture Jefferson and members of the Assembly at Monticello, but Jack Jouett of the Virginia militia thwarted the British plan. Jefferson escaped to Poplar Forest, his plantation to the west.[92] When the General Assembly reconvened in June 1781, it conducted an inquiry into Jefferson's actions which eventually concluded that Jefferson had acted with honor—but he was not re-elected.[93]

    In April of the same year, his daughter Lucy died at age one. A second daughter of that name was born the following year, but she died at age three.[94]

    In 1782, Jefferson refused a partnership offer by North Carolina Governor Abner Nash, in a profiteering scheme involving the sale of confiscated Loyalist lands.[95] Unlike some Founders in pursuit of land, Jefferson was content with his Monticello estate and the land he owned in the vicinity of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Jefferson thought of Monticello as an intellectual gathering place for his friends James Madison and James Monroe.[96]

    Notes on the State of Virginia

    In 1780, Jefferson received from French diplomat François Barbé-Marbois a letter of inquiry into the geography, history, and government of Virginia, as part of a study of the United States. Jefferson organized his responses in a book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).[97] He compiled the book over five years, including reviews of scientific knowledge, Virginia's history, politics, laws, culture, and geography.[98] The book explores what constitutes a good society, using Virginia as an exemplar. Jefferson included extensive data about the state's natural resources and economy and wrote at length about slavery and miscegenation; he articulated his belief that blacks and whites could not live together as free people in one society because of justified resentments of the enslaved.[99] He also wrote of his views on the American Indian, equating them to European settlers in body and mind.[100][101]

    Notes was first published in 1785 in French and appeared in English in 1787.[102] Biographer George Tucker considered the work "surprising in the extent of the information which a single individual had been thus far able to acquire, as to the physical features of the state";[103] Merrill D. Peterson described it as an accomplishment for which all Americans should be grateful.[104]

    Member of Congress

    Legislative chamber
    Independence Hall Assembly Room where Jefferson served in the Continental Congress

    The United States formed a Congress of the Confederation following victory in the Revolutionary War and a peace treaty with Great Britain in 1783, to which Jefferson was appointed as a Virginia delegate. He was a member of the committee setting foreign exchange rates and recommended an American currency based on the decimal system which was adopted.[105] He advised the formation of the Committee of the States to fill the power vacuum when Congress was in recess.[106] The Committee met when Congress adjourned, but disagreements rendered it dysfunctional.[107]

    In the Congress's 1783–84 session, Jefferson acted as chairman of committees to establish a viable system of government for the new Republic and to propose a policy for the settlement of the western territories. He was the principal author of the Land Ordinance of 1784, whereby Virginia ceded to the national government the vast area that it claimed northwest of the Ohio River. He insisted that this territory should not be used as colonial territory by any of the thirteen states, but that it should be divided into sections that could become states. He plotted borders for nine new states in their initial stages and wrote an ordinance banning slavery in all the nation's territories. Congress made extensive revisions, and rejected the ban on slavery.[108][109] The provisions banning slavery, known as the "Jefferson Proviso," were modified and implemented three years later in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and became the law for the entire Northwest.[108]

    Minister to France

    Young Thomas Jefferson
    Portrait of Thomas Jefferson while in London in 1786 at 43 by Mather Brown

    In 1784, Jefferson was sent by the Congress of the Confederation[h] to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in Paris as Minister Plenipotentiary for Negotiating Treaties of Amity and Commerce with Great Britain and other countries.[i] Some believed that the recently widowed Jefferson was depressed and that the assignment would distract him from his wife's death.[111] With his young daughter Patsy and two servants, he departed in July 1784, arriving in Paris the next month.[112][113] Jefferson had Patsy educated at the Pentemont Abbey. Less than a year later he was assigned the additional duty of succeeding Franklin as Minister to France. French foreign minister Count de Vergennes commented, "You replace Monsieur Franklin, I hear." Jefferson replied, "I succeed. No man can replace him."[114] During his five years in Paris, Jefferson played a leading role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.[115]

    In 1786, he met and fell in love with Maria Cosway, an accomplished—and married—Italian-English musician of 27. They saw each other frequently over a period of six weeks. She returned to Great Britain, but they maintained a lifelong correspondence.[116]

    During the summer of 1786, Jefferson arrived in London to meet with John Adams, the United States Ambassador to Britain. Adams had official access to George III and arranged a meeting between Jefferson and the king. Jefferson later described the king's reception of the men as "ungracious." According to Adams's grandson, George III turned his back on both Adams and Jefferson in a jesture of public insult. Jefferson returned to France in August.[117]

    Jefferson sent for his youngest surviving child, nine-year-old Polly, in June 1787, who was accompanied on her voyage by a young slave from Monticello, Sally Hemings. He had taken her older brother James Hemings to Paris as part of his domestic staff and had him trained in French cuisine.[118] According to Sally's son, Madison Hemings, the 16-year-old Sally and Jefferson began a sexual relationship in Paris, where she became pregnant.[119] The son also indicated Hemings agreed to return to the United States only after Jefferson promised to free her children when they came of age.[119]

    While in France, Jefferson became a regular companion of the Marquis de Lafayette, a French hero of the American Revolutionary War, and Jefferson used his influence to procure trade agreements with France.[120][121] As the French Revolution began, he allowed his Paris residence, the Hôtel de Langeac, to be used for meetings by Lafayette and other republicans. He was in Paris during the storming of the Bastille and consulted with Lafayette while the latter drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.[122] Jefferson often found his mail opened by postmasters, so he invented his own enciphering device, the "Wheel Cipher"; he wrote important communications in code for the rest of his career.[123][j] Unable to attend the 1787 Convention, Jefferson supported the Constitution but desired the addition of the promised bill of rights.[124] Jefferson left Paris for America in September 1789, intending to return to his home soon.



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