Biography of Thomas Jefferson


THOMAS JEFFERSON, third President of the United States, was the son of a planter, and was born at Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, April 2nd 1743. He studied at William and Mary College, Williamsburg; and after leaving college was engaged some years in the practice of law. In 1769, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he joined zealously with the revolutionary party. In 1773, as a member of the Assembly, he took a prominent part in the measures which resulted in the calling of the Continental Congress, to which he was sent as a delegate, and where he drew up the immortal Declaration of Independence. During the revolutionary war he was governor of Virginia, and in 1784, was sent as minister to France, where his manners, accomplishments, and more solid qualities, did much to secure to America the powerful alliance that insured her success. Returning in 1789, he was appointed by Washington, as Secretary of State, a post due to his abilities, his influence, and his distinguished services. The Federal Constitution had been adopted, and the two parties which soon divided the country, began to develop themselves. Washington, John Adams, Jay, and Hamilton, were in favor of a strong centralized government; Jefferson led the party in favor of States' rights, and a Federal government of restricted and carefully defined powers. The first party took the name of Federalists; the latter were at first called Anti-Federalists, then Republicans, and finally adopted the title first given them as a reproach, of Democrats. When Washington retired, after eight years of service as President, and a new election took place, the two leading candidates, as leaders of the opposing parties, were John Adams and Jefferson. Adams having the largest number of votes was declared President, while Jefferson having the next highest number, became Vice-president, in 1797. The strife of these parties culminated in 1800, when Jefferson and Aaron Burr, were elected President and Vice-presidcnt, against John Adams, the Federalist candidate. On entering upon the presidency, he reduced the government to a republican simpicity, made a few removals and resolutely refused to appoint any of his own relatives to office, saying that he "could find better men for every place than his own connections." The most important act of his administration, was the purchase of Louisiana from France. At the end of eight years he retired to his residence at Monticello; but he did not retire to a repose of idleness; he kept up an immense correspondence, and dispensed the hospitalities of his mansion to visitors from every part of the world, and founded the University of Virginia, of which he was for many years the rector. Though born and educated in the first rank of colonial life, he was a democrat in theory and practice; he held that the "world is governed too much" and that "that government is best that governs least." Though a large slaveholder, he labored for a prohibition of the slave-trade, and of slavery in the territory beyond the Ohio river, and advocated emancipation in Virginia. His writings consist mostly of State papers and letters. His only literary work was his Notes on Virginia, published in 1782. He had one child, a daughter, and has numerous descendants. His death was very remarkable; it occurred on the 4th of July, 1826, when the nation was celebrating the Declaration of Independence, which he had written. John Adams, the second president, who had signed the Declaration with him, died on the same day, and almost the same hour.