Thomas Jefferson was one of the greatest men to occupy the Office of President, author of the Declaration of Independence, yet a slave holder, an enigma.
Thomas Jefferson was many things in life an inventor, architect, archeologist, naturalist, a lawyer, legislator, violinist, and linguist.
Jefferson was also the author of the Declaration of Independence and enigmatically for a man who professed the equality of mankind, a slaveholder.
Perhaps he recognized the contradictions in he own life when he wrote these words to be engraved on his tombstone:
“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia” with no mention of his elected offices nor of his accomplishments as President of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743, the third of ten children, on a plantation in western Virginia owned by his father, Peter Jefferson, a prominent in Albemarle County. He began attending a local boarding school at the age of nine in 1752, being trained in languages and mathematics.
At the age of fourteen, in 1757, his father died and young Jefferson inherited 5,000 acres of land and dozens of slaves. The year 1760 saw Jefferson enter the College of William and Mary from which he graduated with highest honors in 1762. For the next five years he read law with the prominent Virginia lawyer George Wythe and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.
He became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 and served until 1774, Jefferson played an active role in organizing the Virginia Committee of Correspondence during this period. He also married a wealth young widow, Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772 and the young couple took up residence in a one room house on his Virginia plantation which would become Monticello.
The Declaration of Independence
Besides be a prominent lawyer, landholder, and member of the legislature, Jefferson attracted a wider reputation with the publication of his essay, “Summary View of the Rights of British America” in 1774.
He was also gain a reputation as a Virginia radical through his association with Patrick Henry.
When the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia began considering a resolution of independence the appointed a committee of five prominent delegates to draft a document. The committee members were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman and Jefferson. It was decided that Jefferson would compose the draft, a decision based upon his powerful writing style and the fact that he represented Virginia, the most influential southern colony.
Jefferson in Politics 1776-1800
From 1776 to 1779 he served in the Virginia House of Delegates, formerly House of Burgesses, during which time he authored famous Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom was well as more than one hundred other bills.
From 1779 to 1781 he was Governor of Virginia and oversaw the move of the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond. During this time the British had overrun most of the state and Jefferson left for his home at Monticello. This action of fleeing rather than standing his ground resulted in public ridicule which he was never able to live down.
His wife Martha died in childbirth in late 1782 which left him devastated.
He was called to perform various service for the government over the next few years with the most important being his appointment as minister to France from 1785 to 1789. While in France he corresponded with members of the Constitutional Convention being held in Philadelphia in 1787-88.
First United States Secretary of State
In 1790 he became the first Secretary of State for the first President of the United States George Washington. His four years in office were marked by conflict with Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury principally over issues related to payment of war debts believing that each state should pay their own rather than an equal division.
He left office at the end of Washington’s first term and became an informal leader of the opposition to the policies being put forth by Hamilton.
Campaign and Election of 1796
When Washington decided not to run, Jefferson decided to enter the race. The Southern electoral votes which would have made him president were manipulated by Hamilton. As, such, he received the second most ballots and became John Adams’s Vice President.
In 1800, Jefferson was prepared to win and did so due to the unpopularity to Adams’ administration.
Jefferson as President
The nation was growing and public policies and practices would be tried over his two terms. The first new state, Ohio would be admitted to the Union. The territory of the United States would be doubled by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. in his second term interference of both France and Britain would forebode the War of 1812.