Thomas Jefferson, best known for being the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of the United States, is an important figure in the formation of the country. His influences in the Constitution and state and federal laws go far beyond his direct participation. He is a very interesting character, with a very complex personality. He was an avid letter writer, over 18,000 letters that bear his signature still survive today. These letters, his books and notes, and legislation authored by him, along with his actions, paint a portrait of a man that many people are not familiar with.
Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, to Peter and Jane Randolph Jefferson, the oldest son of eight children, two sisters were older than him, and his only brother was the youngest child. Peter Jefferson's plantation, called Shadwell, was located about 3 miles from Charlottesville, VA, which at that time was pretty much a wilderness area.
Both Peter and Jane came from wealthy families, and Peter had done well himself, acquiring thousands of acres of land. Among the various tracts of land owned by Peter Jefferson was the hilltop that Thomas would eventually call Monticello. We know little about the Jeffersons, though Thomas was such a prolific writer, he wrote nearly nothing about his parents, most of what we know of them are from stories passed to the Jefferson's grandchildren by Thomas, his siblings, and other relatives.
Peter Jefferson was supposedly an uncommonly strong man, he was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, had little formal education but had read much and educated himself, accumulating 42 volumes, a sizable library at that time, for the Virginia backwoods. He, along with Joshua Fry, professor of mathematics at William and Mary College, surveyed the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina. They later made a detailed map of Virginia, and adjacent parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Thomas occasionally accompanied Peter on these expeditions. The elder Jefferson was a farmer and surveyor, and taught both to young Thomas along with the need of self-reliance. Interestingly, later, Thomas Jefferson taught surveying to Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
When Thomas was two, Peter, at the request of his best friend, William Randolph, whose wife had recently died, and whose own health was failing, moved his family to Randolph's huge estate at Tuckahoe, near Richmond, fifty miles from Shadwell, upon Randolph's death. Actually, Randolph had bought Shadwell himself, but upon learning that Jefferson had also desired it, gave it to Jefferson for the price of "Henry Weatherbourne's biggest bowl of arrack punch". This deed still exists today. Randolph had two daughters and a son, all older than Thomas. Randolph's son was also named Thomas, he and Jefferson had much hostility towards each other as adults. The Jeffersons remained at Tuckahoe for seven years, then returned to Shadwell, though Thomas remained at Tuckahoe to attend school.
Peter died when Thomas was 14 years old, leaving Thomas, as the oldest son, head of the family. Peter had obviously made a huge impression on his son, during his entire life, Thomas had a huge affinity for close friends, and he often took in the homeless.
Thomas Jefferson's formal education began when he was five, taught along with the other children by a tutor, Reverend William Douglas, hired by Peter. The school was at Dover church, located about five miles from Tuckahoe. Jefferson lived with the Douglases for nine months out of the year, and learned Latin, Greek, and French. We know nothing Jefferson during the five years he lived with Douglas, no correspondence between he and his parents exists. Jefferson attended Dover Church school until the death of his father, when he returned to Shadwell.
For the next two years, Jefferson attended school under Reverend James Maury, whose school later became fairly famous. Maury had an unusually good library, and besides classical education, was also interested in natural history, which probably influenced Jefferson.
At this point in his life, Jefferson shows a side of himself that continued throughout his life. Anything that Thomas became interested in became an obsession. For example, when he returned to Shadwell, he began keeping extremely detailed ledgers of all expenses, spent for the plantation, and for himself. He did this throughout his life, detailing every pence he spent for anything. He obviously was also obsessed with his education. As with the landed gentry at the time, there were always visitors at the plantation, along with the family. This also continued throughout his life, the visitors towards the end of his life almost "ate him out of the house". This "company", in a letter he wrote to John Harvie, was detrimental to his studies, and he had decided to attend William and Mary College, where he could further his studies in Latin and Greek, and begin studying mathematics. During this time, Jefferson also learned to play the violin. He once made the statement that he practiced the violin three hours a day for seventeen years.
At William and Mary, Jefferson was appalled at the lack of interest other students showed in studying, preferring drinking, smoking, and gambling, to hours of study after classes. Rather than associate with most of his fellow students, Jefferson associated with his professors, namely Dr. William Small, George Wythe, and Peyton Randolph. Evidently, rather than a student, Jefferson who was only 16-17 at the time, was accepted by these scholars as an equal, and Small introduced Jefferson to Virginia Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier. Jefferson spent many hours after classes involved in philosophical and political discussion, and attended and performed in musical concerts.
At the end of two years, Jefferson decided to leave William and Mary to study law. He studied law under George Wyeth. Most students of the day generally studied law for two years, Jefferson, fascinated with law throughout history, studied for five. He became an excellent office lawyer, but had no talent for court trials, being a poor public speaker. Surprisingly, during his lifetime, Jefferson gave very few public speeches, preferring quiet conversations.
During this time, Jefferson shows his lifelong love for detail. He began his first of several blank books that he would record events, thoughts and interests, the "Garden Book". He noted dates of planting fruits, vegetables, trees, and ornamentals, when they sprouted, bloomed, and were ready for harvest, and also thoughts about farmers themselves. He would later note details of gardens he visited in Europe in this book. He also began his "Commonplace Book" where he recorded thoughts, quotes, and transcribed passages from books that interested him. As early as 1765, Jefferson began thinking about independence from England, he wrote about statements he had heard while in Williamsburg at the House of Burgesses, especially those made by Patrick Henry, during the debates about the Stamp Act. Jefferson wrote of Henry, "He appeared to me, to speak as Homer wrote."
Also, during this time, he began building Monticello, his home that he would continue to build, renovate, and improve throughout his life. Shadwell burned in 1770, and Jefferson then moved to the then very small house at Monticello. When Shadwell burned, Jefferson lost most of his library, the few books that survived were the Garden Book, the Commonplace Book, and a few books on English Common Law, the unwritten laws of the Angles and Saxons, that grew out of custom and the natural rights of peoples, prior to the signing of the Magna Carta.
Jefferson would later draw from Common Law when seeking origins of American law, writing the Declaration, in his numerous pamphlets, and in writing legislation. He felt that when unwritten law became written law, the liberties of man began to suffer. Common Law, "permitted men to live freely and to be freely active". He felt that when unwritten law was taken in hand by "sharp lawyers and biased judges, and by nobles and sycophantic priests", that wisdom and justice began to deteriorate. Jefferson spent years carefully studying these laws, and probably spent the most time studying the details of the history of property ownership.
About this time, Jefferson was elected to the Virginia assembly, the House of Burgesses. The first bill written and submitted to the legislature, was a bill giving the right to slave owners to give freedom to slaves. Unlike Georgia and the Carolinas, where giving a slave freedom was as simple as submitting a document to the local government, slaveowners were not allowed to give freedom to slaves. Jefferson also submitted a bill to abolish the African slave trade. Neither bill passed, mainly because the system was not set up to allow liberal reforms. At the time, Jefferson was among the largest slaveowners in the assembly. He would resubmit these bills later.
Late in 1771, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton. She had been widowed three years before, at 20 years old. Her father, John Wayles, was a very wealthy English-born lawyer and landowner. At Wayles' death, the Jeffersons inherited one hundred thirty five slaves, and some forty thousand acres of land, to add to the five thousand acres he already owned.
In 1774, after the closing of the Port of Boston, Jefferson and other assembly members came up with a resolution, the day that the port was to be officially closed would be set aside as a day of "fasting, humiliation, and prayer." In reply, Virginia governor Dunmore, acting as the king's agent, dissolved the Virginia assembly. Jefferson was elected by Albemarle County as one of two delegates at a Virginia convention to discuss actions that should be taken. The resolutions passed at this meeting were deeply tinged with Jefferson's ideas, and at this time Jefferson coined the term "states" to be used in place of "colonies". Jefferson was absent from the convention, but he had written a set of resolutions to be considered. This list later was in pamphlet form in England, named "A Summary View of the Rights of British America", and was a forerunner to the Declaration of Independence.
In September 1774, the congress met at Philadelphia. Though Jefferson wasn't selected to attend, he sent a list with the Virginia delegates for ideas to be considered by the congress. Nothing of real consequence came of the meeting, besides the opportunity for delegates from the northern colonies to become aware of Jefferson's writings.
In June, 1775, Jefferson was selected to be a delegate to the First Continental Congress. The man that would later become his dear friend, John Adams, wrote his wife Abigail of Thomas: "Mr. Jefferson came into congress in June, 1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression....Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive upon committees and in conversation-not even Samuel Adams was more so-that he soon seized upon my heart." Jefferson left Philadelphia on December 28th, though Congress had decided abandon plans to adjourn and sit in continuous session.
Jefferson returned to Monticello to his wife, who was pregnant with their third child, and ailing, pregnancy and childbirth was very hard on Martha Jefferson, and eventually killed her. Jefferson was also looking after 83 slaves, and taking care of some thirty relatives. In his garden, he experimented growing all sorts of European vegetables, especially those recommended to him by an Italian neighbor.
Congress reconvened on September 5, but Jefferson did not arrive until the 25th, his second child had died, and Martha was very ill. He stayed only until December 28. He, who wrote home once a week, had heard nothing from her or her relatives throughout the month of October, and probably was frantic with worry about her. At this time, Jefferson was completely politically inactive. He wrote no letters, made no annotations in the Garden or Commonplace Book, yet during that time, the revolution had begun, and an American flag had been raised. His mother died on March 31, 1776.
Jefferson did not arrive in Philadelphia until May 13. He left Virginia unaware of what would take place at this congress, unlike his friend John Adams, who left home with a "things to do" list, that included the line, "write a declaration of independence". On June 11, a committee was chosen to prepare a declaration of independence, Jefferson was the head of the committee because he received one more vote than anyone else, the other members were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Judge Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York.
First, Jefferson asked John Adams to write the document. Adams declined, and when Jefferson asked "Why not?", Adams sited, "You ought to do it....First, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the hear of this business...2nd, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise...3rd, you can write ten times better than I can." Jefferson replied, "Well, if you are decided, I will do as well as I can." It took Jefferson 18 days to complete the declaration, drawing heavily from the Common Law, discussing certain points with his colleagues, and submitting to various corrections and interlinear changes made by Franklin and Adams. Although Jefferson was so successful in embodying an expression of the "American spirit", only half his mind was in it, he was miserable being in Philadelphia with his wife sick in Monticello. He complained of severe headaches, most likely migraines, and was probably was in a severe depression.
Though the Declaration of Independence was widely celebrated throughout the colonies, it was many years later, well after the Revolution, before anyone knew who actually wrote it.
After the Declaration was adopted, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were appointed to prepare a device for a United States seal. Jefferson's submission, not adopted, showed on one side the children of Israel in the wilderness, on the other appeared in his own words: "Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs, from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed."
Jefferson resigned from Congress on September 2, 1776, and returned to Monticello. Soon after his return, he was asked by the Continental Congress to accompany Benjamin Franklin and Silas Dean as ambassadors to France, the war was going badly and aid from France was going to be needed. Jefferson refused, giving his wife's illness as reason. Jefferson was highly criticized for his refusal by other members of the congress. That probably wasn't the only reason, he highly disliked national politics, and also very much wanted to return to his seat in the Virginia legislature, feeling that the time was right to reform the antiquated system of government, while the passion of revolution was fresh.
One month after his arrival, he took his seat in the Virginia legislature. It was here that Jefferson made perhaps his most important contributions to American government. The Monarchical and feudal institutions, along with laws and customs, were transplanted from England to Virginia with as little change as possible, and had been crystallized by the addition of slavery. Jefferson hoped to make significant reforms, especially personal rights. The Virginia code became a model for the other colonies, and later, the model for every state admitted into the Union.
The first reforms introduced by Jefferson focused on reform of the Judicial system. His plan broke the state court system into three distinct parts, County, Superior, and Supreme, and preserving the right of trials by jury. The bill passed unanimously. The next reforms Jefferson desired were eliminating the "laws of entail", and "primogeniture", a system of laws that kept estates, many as large as hundreds of thousands of acres, intact, and mostly unused, from generation to generation, and made it nearly impossible to purchase small tracts of land. This had created a form of feudal system in Virginia, and discouraged immigration to the state. Primogeniture was a law that allowed a landowner to pass his entire estate to the oldest son, and nothing whatsoever to the other children, often leaving them in poverty, purely for the reason of leaving the estate intact.
Jefferson wrote: "To annul this privilege," says he, "and instead of an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger than benefit to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society and scattered with equal hand through all its conditions, was deemed essential to a well-ordered republic. To effect it, no violence was necessary, no deprivation of natural right, but rather an enlargement of it by a repeal of the law. For this would authorize the present holder to divide the property among his children equally as his affections were divided; and would place them, by natural generation, on the level of their fellow citizens." The laws of entail were defeated, but a fight was put up by some of the larger land barons, and made Jefferson many lifelong enemies.
The next reforms, and among those that Jefferson was most proud of, were of the laws concerning religious freedoms. The "official church" of Virginia was the Anglican or Church of England, an Episcopal order, stemming from the grant made from the king to Sir Walter Raleigh in the original settling of the colony. The colony was divided into parishes, and in each was established a minister of the Anglican church, with a fixed salary of tobacco, a house, and land.
All inhabitants of the parish were taxed, whether or not they were members of the church. Other laws made it illegal for parents to refuse to have their children baptized in the parish church, an assembly of Quakers were illegal, and it was illegal for a ship's captain to bring a Quaker into the state, any Quaker in the state was imprisoned until he left the state. In 1705, an act of Assembly was passed declaring, if any person brought up in the Christian religion denied the being of God or the Trinity, or asserted there were more Gods than one, or denied the Christian religion to be true, or the scriptures to be of divine authority, he was punishable on the first offense by incapacity to hold any office or employment, ecclesiastical, civil or military; on the second, by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be a guardian, executor or administrator, and by three years imprisonment without bail. Baptist preachers were often imprisoned for disturbing the peace, Patrick Henry received his early fame by defending them. Assembly of Presbyterians was often harassed.
The battle for these reforms lasted months. The first reforms were when the Anglican conservatives agreed to repeal laws punishing unorthodox opinion and failure to attend church, as well as laws taxing dissenters for support of religious societies based on creeds in which they did not believe. The next concern was of the religious taxes. This was a question that parted the revolutionaries, Patrick Henry, supported by George Washington, supported religious taxes, but the reforms passed. Later, the struggle was renewed during the creation of the constitution, and Jefferson, ambassador to France at the time, depended on James Madison to fight off amendments to the bill that emphasized the word "Christian", who eventually was successful. Throughout his life, Jefferson took pride in the ordinance second only to the Declaration.
During the next year, it was considered by the legislature to eliminate the entire Virginia code and start anew, but Jefferson pushed through that reforming what was already there was the best idea. During this session, the entire Virginia code was rewritten, mostly by Jefferson. The chief points included:
1. The Repeal of the Law of Entails, which, though separately enacted at the first republican session, he incorporated into the Revised Code.
2. The Abrogation of the Right of Primogeniture and the equal division of inheritances among all the children or other representatives in equal degree.
3. The Assertion of the Right of Expatriation, or a republican definition of the rules whereby aliens may become citizens and citizens make themselves aliens.
4. The Establishment of Religious Freedom upon the broadest foundation.
5. The Emancipation of all Slaves born after the passage of the act and deportation at a proper age.-- not carried into effect.
6. The Abolition of Capital Punishment in all cases except those of treason and murder, and the graduation of punishments to crimes throughout upon the principles of reason and humanity.-- enacted with amendments. 7. The Establishment of a systematical plan of General Education, reaching all classes of citizens and adapted to every grade of capacity.-- not carried into effect.
Note that Jefferson at this time attempted to begin the abolition of slavery, and to establish the public school system. The public school system, which was unique throughout the states, would be established three years later, along with the creation of a state university. The total reform of capital punishment wouldn't come about for nearly 20 years, but the remainder of Jefferson's reforms passed at the time. In May, 1778, Jefferson's bill for abolition of the African slave trade passed. Various letters written by Jefferson would later come to haunt him during the 1800 presidential election, Jefferson's desire for freedom of all religions instead of only Christianity would be misquoted by his enemies to appear that Jefferson was an atheist.
On June 1st, 1779, Jefferson was elected as governor of Virginia, having won by six votes over John Page, a long time friend. Soon after taking office, another long time friend, George Rogers Clark, leader of a Colonial partisan force operating against British forts in the west, sent a British captive from Detroit, ex-Lieutenant Governor, Henry Hamilton. Hamilton had been charged with various war crimes, including offering money to Indians for American scalps, and particularly, keeping American prisoners in irons. In retaliation, Jefferson threw him in jail and clapped him in irons, an action approved both by General Washington, and the Virginia Council of State. Washington also very much desired that Hamilton's atrocities be well publicized, hoping that it would help the war effort. The British army made official protests, so Jefferson, hoping to open the door to more prisoner exchanges, allowed Hamilton to return to England.
Jefferson most likely had a hard time as Governor...many people desired a "dictator" during that time, "with any power, legislative, executive, and judiciary, civil and military, of life and death over our persons and over our properties", and this offended everything that he stood for. Jefferson was much criticized because he was not that ruthless dictator, he was blamed for allowing the British to invade Virginia.
In 1781, the British under Benedict Arnold, sent a strong force up the James River. Jefferson acted promptly, but was accused for not acting promptly enough, by those who lost property in the invasion. He ordered out the militia, sent General Nelson forward, but both men and money were insufficient. He rode to Monticello, took his wife and children out of danger, then rode back to Richmond to supervise removal of stores. He literally rode his horse to death in the act. Later, after his defeat at Cowpens in South Carolina, General Cornwallis sent his cavalry leader, Lt Col Banastre Tarleton, well known for his ruthless tactics, to harass and if possible, capture Virginia state lawmakers and officials. The legislature fled, but Tarleton's raiders overtook and captured a few, including Daniel Boone.
On June 4th, Tarleton's men moved on to Monticello, where Jefferson, having completed his second and last term as governor only two days before, had returned with his wife and children. They had been warned in time, and after getting his family to safety, Jefferson himself escaped on horseback only a few minutes before the raiders arrived. The raiders left the next day, having had orders from Tarleton to "suffer nothing to be injured", probably in part a return for Jefferson's kindness to the British prisoners taken at Saratoga. Though Monticello was spared, Tarleton spent 10 days wrecking the area, including Jefferson's estate at Elk Hill. Jefferson said, "history will never relate the horrors committed by the British army in the Southern States of America," he accused the British of having destroyed all growing crops, burned all barns, butchered cattle for his army, and carried off all available horses. "Of those too young for service, he cut the throats, and he burned all of the fences on the plantation, so as to leave it an absolute waste...He carried off also about thirty slaves." He never forgave the British for this, and even as an old man he attacked them with his pen at every opportunity.
Having left the governorship, Jefferson retired to Monticello, with no intentions of ever entering politics again. He began work on the house at Monticello with earnest, in part introducing the Greek column into American architecture. On June 15th, Congress appointed Jefferson, along with Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens, as ministers plenipotentiary for negotiating peace with England, with the Empress of Russia as mediator. Again, Jefferson begged off the appointment due to his wife's weak state.
At home with his family, working in his garden, working on his house, Jefferson began 1782 happier than he had been in years. But, it was not to last. Martha was pregnant again, and gave birth to their sixth child on May 8. This time, childbirth so weakened her that she never recovered, she remained bedridden, and died on September 6th. Jefferson was at her beside the entire time. The last few weeks of Martha's life, Thomas was so overwrought with grief that he was delirious much of the time, and would faint without notice. Family and friends thought that he might not recover from his grief. On November 13th, Jefferson was again asked to attend peace negotiations, as England had agreed to further negotiations in the early spring. Jefferson decided that he would this time come to the country's call, and agreed to attend. Jefferson was unable to leave due to ice in Baltimore harbor, so he went to Philadelphia, to review documents in the Department of State, to familiarize himself with America's foreign affairs. Before he was able to leave for Europe, word came that a treaty had been signed in September, so Jefferson returned to Monticello.
In June, 1783, Jefferson was again elected to the Congress, now at Annapolis, he took his seat in November. Jefferson proposed the monetary system based on the dollar, which was adopted, proposed the method of locating and disposing of western lands that was adopted, and interceded in preventing the Congress from ratifying the treaty of peace with England without a quorum present. He also suggested that the states keep a committee of congressmen present at all times, to allow for a quorum of states to be present at all times, and to deep the confederation from falling apart. Since the war was over, members were less concerned about attending congress. This measure passed also.
On 7 May, 1784, Jefferson was asked by Congress to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams as minister plenipotentiary, to help them in negotiating commerce treaties with the European nations. He left Annapolis, went to Baltimore to get he oldest daughter, traveled to Boston, along the way visiting various major towns along the seaboard to inform himself of the state of commerce in each state. This would be Jefferson's only visit in his life to New England.
He arrived in Paris on August 6th, with a letter from Congress suggesting to the powers of Europe some improvements for international commerce, mostly the end of harassment of merchant vessels of uninvolved nations during wartime. The ministers of the new country were not taken seriously, and none of these measures were adopted.
In March 1785, Jefferson replaced Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. Jefferson's biggest concern at the time was commerce, direct trade between America and France for the various raw goods produced in America. Jefferson very much desired to start direct trade of tobacco with France. Some inroads were made, but generally, the French were happy with the way that trade was already being carried out, going through English brokers, who paid off French politicians. Also, Jefferson asked the French to intercede with the problem of the Barbary pirates attacking American vessels, but the French were at peace with the pirates and had no desire to interrupt that peace. Jefferson and Adams were able to secure loans and guarantees with Dutch bankers to secure credit for American debts incurred during the revolution.
Though the King did not accept Jefferson, he was readily accepted by the intellectuals and thinkers of France, who shared his love of philosophy, economics, science, and the arts, notably the Marquis de Lafayette, who he had become close friends with while governor of Virginia, the philosopher Marquis de Condorcet, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, and Du Pont de Nemours. These people became the leadership of the Enlightenment, which hoped to free Europe from absolute monarchy, and were the early leaders of the French Revolution. Jefferson saw first hand while in Europe, how a government could truly oppress the people, and was appalled. He was favorable to the ideas of the future revolutionaries, and later was highly criticized by many politicians in America for bringing back the "poisoned" ideas of the French Revolution, though actually, instead of a student, the intellectuals of France saw Jefferson as a teacher. They were fascinated by Jefferson, and also Franklin and Adams, men from this young country that had recently thrown off the bonds of the British monarchy.
While in Europe, Jefferson toured gardens and estates in England, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. He wrote feverishly in the Garden Book, and got all sorts of ideas for Monticello, in architecture, new crops, and garden design. He was fascinated by numerous inventions of the time, especially the invention of the steam engine, and guns using interchangeable parts, two ideas that would propel American into the industrial revolution in the next century. He visited the various winery regions of Europe, and became such a connoisseur that later, when he was president, his table wines became famous. He was also interested in the various cuisine of Europe. He is generally credited for introducing deep fried potatoes (French fries) to America.
His daughters were schooled in a monastery near Paris, until 1789, when Martha, the oldest, informed him that she desired to remain at the monastery to become a nun. Jefferson, a lifelong protestant, promptly removed them from the school.
Jefferson left Paris on the heels of the beginning of the French Revolution. Among the last sites he witnessed in France was at the site of a bridge being built. The French court had hired German and Swiss soldiers for protection. The people had massed around a pile of stones, facing about one hundred German cavalry, and two hundred Swiss soldiers. The people parted as Jefferson's carriage approached, forming a lane for him to pass through, and as he passed, the people attacked the Germans with the stones. The Germans charged, but could not withstand the attack. When the Swiss did not move to rescue them, the Germans retreated. He left Paris in September, 1789.
Jefferson arrived at the port of Norfolk in November, with only one thought...retiring from public life at his beloved Monticello. The ship that his family returned on caught fire, and Jefferson's baggage was barely saved. They spent about 4 weeks visiting friends, and returned home December 23. Jefferson's desire was not to be, awaiting his return was a letter from now president George Washington, declaring his desire to nominate Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. Jefferson delayed his answer, long enough for the president to send James Madison to persuade Jefferson's acceptance, and finally left Monticello on March 1, 1790, for New York. He stopped in Philadelphia to pay his respects to Benjamin Franklin, who he would see for the last time, Franklin died one month later.
When Jefferson entered Washington's cabinet, though the US Constitution had been written and ratified, the question of politics and government were still undecided. Though the United States had adopted a republican form of government, there were still many people, mostly the wealthy, that preferred some type of monarchy. The sentiments were becoming more favorable towards creditors than debtors, and the agricultural states of the south were losing influence to the mercantile states of the north. Jefferson felt that the north was profiting at the expense of the south. The chief proponent for the problems Jefferson had with the new government was Alexander Hamilton, Washington's Secretary of the Treasury, who called the British government "the best in the world". Jefferson was so overwrought with worry over the country's success that he was having severe headaches, and long periods of depression. The first real problem between Hamilton and Jefferson was the issue of the US Government assuming Revolutionary War debts. Congress was undecided over the issue, and there were threats of secession, as the debts were mostly owed by northern businesses, but most government revenues came from southern planters. Jefferson suggested a compromise, that the debts be assumed, but that the capitol, whose location was still undecided, would be located in the south. The compromise worked, but it was at this point that Jefferson's dislike of Hamilton and his ideas were publicly obvious. Hamilton also proposed a federal bank and tariffs, both measures favored the manufacturing north and hurt the agricultural south. Hamilton favored a national debt, which Jefferson truly abhorred. The chasm between the two men eventually became so obvious that President Washington had to intervene.
To take his mind of of the economic and government policies that he felt would destroy the new country, Jefferson poured himself into the design of the new capitol. He hired Benjamin Banneker, a free African-American, as assistant to the commission to lay out the capitol, who hired Andrew Ellicott of Baltimore to survey it, and Jefferson commissioned Major l'Enfant, who had preceded Lafayette as volunteer from France in the Continental Army, to design it. During this time, the temporary capitol moved from New York to Philadelphia.
During 1791 and 1792, the French Revolution had begun, and in 1793, King Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette, and a dear friend of Jefferson's, Adrien Duport, had been executed. In February, 1793, England declared war on the new French government. In America, generally, the wealthy took the side of the British, and the masses took the side of France. This further widened the gap between Jefferson's ideas and Hamilton's. In December of that year, Jefferson resigned his cabinet seat, and returned to Monticello.
Three years later, in the 1795 election, Jefferson was elected vice president under John Adams. He actually favored Adams being president and he vice president. He accepted, likely due to the fact that with Washington out of office, the government needed someone in office as opposed to a monarchy as he, and also due to the fact that Hamilton had quit the government, and the possibility that someone even more hostile to Jefferson's beliefs and ideas might take his place. Also, it is quite possible that Jefferson needed the money. In his many years of absence, overseers had run his plantations with such inefficiency that he was losing money, and that coupled with his extravagant lifestyle, Jefferson was broke, as were many other large southern landowners, due to misuse and overuse of land, the inefficiency of slave labor, and other poor farming practices.
During Washington's administration, government had unofficially separated into two political parties, the Federalists, of which Alexander Hamilton was among the leading figures, and the Republicans, of which Jefferson eventually became the leader. President Washington was very much opposed to the thought of separate political parties. The Federalists felt that a very strong central government was necessary for the survival of the country, preferably a monarchy or something very near, that too much democracy gave the people too much power. The Republicans believed, as Jefferson, that a free country depended on a federal government having limited powers, with the people having much more freedom if the power of the government was at the state level. President Adams, who disliked Hamilton, and not truly a Federalist, tended to agree with federalist ideas, especially after the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
Up to this point, since 1775, Jefferson and John Adams had been very dear friends. Jefferson wrote of an incident after a farewell party given by George Washington, Jefferson and Adams left the party at the same time and walked down the street together. They talked about sending James Madison to France to bid for peace, and the cabinet's hostility to the idea. Jefferson wrote, "when we came to Fifth Street, where our road separated, his being down Market Street, mine along Fifth...we took leave....and he never after that said one word to me on the subject, or ever consulted me as to any measures of the government". During his vice presidency, Jefferson was totally shut out of the executive branch.
During 1797 and 1798, the country was in fear of being invaded by England, France, or Spain. President Adams' fear was so great he signed the Federalist written "Alien and Sedition Acts", which a few years prior he probably would have considered treasonous. The Federalists favored going to war with these countries, partially due to Hamilton's desire for military glory, and further aggravated by the public's opinion of the "XYZ Affair", which made Jefferson and future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall bitter enemies. Hamilton had been Washington's personal aide during the Revolution, and had always been in Washington's favor. Congress called for the army to be reinstated, with Washington as commander, in 1798. Washington made Hamilton his second-in-command, which with the former president's advanced age, basically made Hamilton commander, and with the totally ineffective Secretary of War James McHenry, Hamilton felt that he could also control that post.
Jefferson correctly felt that though the "war party" would have no trouble raising officers, mostly from Federalist families, that they would have a hard time finding soldiers interested in military glory. With the death of Washington in late 1799, Hamilton realized that his opportunity had passed. President Adams, who had been pushed towards war with France by the Federalists, suddenly decided that the decisions made in his cabinet were those of Hamilton's and he hadn't been consulted, and decided that peace with France was more desirable than war, and in 1800, negotiated a new peace with France. The Federalist Party did not survive this, they nearly disappeared in two years, and dissolved some fifteen years later.
In 1798, when it became obvious that the Federalists were in too dominating a position, the Republicans began withdrawing their representatives from Congress and concentrating them in the state legislatures. There was a conference at Monticello where Jefferson was asked to "sketch" resolutions aimed at the Federalists' constitution for the new state of Kentucky. This resolution contained the ideas that formed the foundation of the Jeffersonian political doctrine:
1. That the United States Constitution is a compact.
2. That the several states could not admit "unlimited submission" to the central government.
3. That they had delegated to the government certain definite powers.
4. That the government as created by the compact could not be "the exclusive or final judge" of its own powers.
5. That when the government assumed undelegated powers, "its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force".
These resolutions, after slight modifications, were adopted by the Kentucky legislature in 1798, and by the Virginia assembly after modification by James Madison, two months later. The Federalists fought the resolutions by a great fight to take over the Virginia legislature in the 1799 election, aided by George Washington and Patrick Henry, but failed, further contributing to their fall from power. Actually, as the Alien and Sedition acts were still in force at the time, Jefferson probably could have been tried for treason for submitting these thoughts.
In 1800, Jefferson was nominated by the Republicans as presidential candidate for the presidency, with Aaron Burr as vice president. The Federalists nominated John Adams and Charles Pinckney, a general in the army whose criticism of France was well known. During that year, Adams fired the two strongest Federalists in his cabinet, which caused Alexander Hamilton to write a pamphlet attacking Adams. Aaron Burr got a copy of this pamphlet prior to its public release, and circulated it where it would hurt Hamilton the most. This began a series of events between the two men that ended in the famous dual. This pamphlet worked against Hamilton, and in the end hurt the Federalists even more. Jefferson was attacked during the election for many things he had written, mainly for his support of the French Revolution, though he no longer supported the French government, now run by Napoleon Bonaparte. Jefferson was also attacked for his freedom of religion reforms in the Virginia state constitution, mostly led by the clergy of New England. Certain things he had written had been taken out of context, and he was made to appear to be an atheist. Jefferson later wrote to Dr. Joseph Priestly, "To the corruptions of Christianity, I am, indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus Himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which He wished any one of us to be; sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others; ascribing to Him every human excellence; and believing He never claimed any other."
The election resulted in a Jefferson-Burr tie for the presidency. There was a push for the Federalists to support Burr, which drove Hamilton further into the background, and made the party even weaker. The election went to the House of Representatives, and the vote lasted six days. In the end, Jefferson was president and Burr vice president. Adams spent the last hours of his presidency appointing Federalists to federal posts, including making John Marshall, who now was an enemy of Jefferson's, to the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Adams left the "president's house" (not yet being named the "White House") without so much as a farewell to Jefferson.
Jefferson's inauguration was a simple, dignified affair, held in the uncompleted Capitol building. On his right was Aaron Burr, who had just missed the culmination of an avid ambition, on his left was Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson's blood kin, and now his bitter enemy. In a low voice, Jefferson gave this address, which from that moment forward would become America's basic political thinking:
1. "Though the will of the majority is to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable...the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression"
2. "Let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions."
3. "We are all Republicans-we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."
4. "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others?"
5. "A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned."
6. "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none."
In 1873, while he was still minister to France, Jefferson was interested in sending a party to explore the country between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. At that time, he had tried to get General George Rogers Clark interested in such a journey, though Clark refused due to health reasons. A few years later, still in France, he met an American that he thought would be even better than Clark for the job, John Ledyard, who was planning a project to enter the west by taking a ship from Russia. Jefferson agreed to fund the project, which failed due to the fact that Russia's Catherine II suspected Ledyard of being a spy, and expelled him from Russia to Poland. When Jefferson took office as president, he engaged as his secretary the son of a couple who had been his neighbors for years in Albemarle County, Meriwether Lewis. He had been a hunter since he was a child, he entered the army as a private and had become captain, he had been part of the military force that put down the Whiskey Rebellion, and had traveled as far west as Detroit, during which time he had developed a hobby for making notes on nature. Jefferson hired Clark as his secretary, with all of this in mind, to eventually send him on an exploration party. During the next two years, Jefferson sent Clark to various cities to learn from experts the various things he would need to know for the journey...botany, navigation, science, surveying, and the use of mathematical instruments. After the treaty for the Louisiana Purchase had been signed, Jefferson, in a secret letter to congress, informed them of the need for such an expedition, and received approval. Jefferson, a lifelong lover of nature and science, was as excited about the expedition as if he were going himself. He hired William "Billy" Clark, younger brother of General Clark, as second in command.
In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a large army to the island of San Domingo, for the purpose of putting down the revolution government that had taken the island over in 1791. The island had been owned by a few thousand slave-owning French planters, and the half-million slaves had revolted, getting the fever of freedom from the French Revolution. The planters escaped to the southern US, and had established themselves there. Napoleon favored the idea of establishing his empire in the New World, colonies in San Domingo and Louisiana would overawe the young United States, and keep Great Britain at bay. After taking San Domingo, Napoleon intended for his army to then move to Louisiana.
Jefferson had supported the revolution as Secretary of State. Trade had been established with the new government. As president, Jefferson supported the new government, and encouraged congress to continue furnishing supplies to the government.
The French army arrived, arrested Toussaint, the leader of the revolution government, sent him back to France, and began taking over the island. But, the soldiers began dying of various tropical diseases, and within a few months, the entire force was dead. Napoleon decided that he could not hold Louisiana without holding San Domingo, and decided to negotiate a sale of Louisiana to the United States, using the money to help fund his war with England. Jefferson negotiated in secret with his old friend from his French ministry days, Du Pont de Nemours, at the same time that he had ministers R. R. Livingston and James Madison. On May 2, 1803, Livingston and Monroe signed the treaty transferring Louisiana to the United States for fifteen million dollars.
Jefferson was highly criticized for the purchase, as it was unconstitutional, Jefferson had purchased the territory without consent of congress. The Federalists raged, but the people, eager for new land, approved. Further violating his principles of freedom, Jefferson persuaded congress to give him power as president over the entire border of the territory, thus giving him power without consent over the thirty thousand inhabitants of the territory. Also, Jefferson determined that the United States also had a claim over West Florida, which was actually owned by Spain, but the borders were disputed with France. Spain, being in no position to go to war with America, protested, but did nothing else. Congress made the ports in West Florida a US Customs district. Florida would officially become part of the US under James Monroe in 1819.
In the 1804 election, Jefferson was reelected by a margin of 162 to 14, as was his vice president, George Clinton. Jefferson's second inaugural address pointed out his distaste with "the influence of seditious intruders operating on the prejudices and ignorance of the indians". Jefferson hoped that the Indians would eventually learn agriculture and home crafts, and that eventually "our settlements and theirs might meet and blend together." Jefferson raised the question of what to do with surplus government funds once the national debt was paid. Jefferson did not hesitate to recommend that the revenue, when liberated by the redemption of the public debt, "should, by a just repartition among the States and a corresponding amendment of the Constitution, be applied in time of peace to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great objects of public utility within each State."
Other than the Louisiana Purchase and the Louis and Clark expedition, no other major events happened during Jefferson's presidency, mainly less important events that shaped the government of the young country.
Jefferson sought to free America from the "clutch and influence of Europe". "To do this, America must develop her own institutions and cut loose from those of England and the rest of the Old World." In numerous letters and papers of this period, he emphasized his primary aim, which formed the basis for the later Monroe Doctrine:
"I consider Europe at present as a world apart from us."
"What is the whole system of Europe towards American but an atrocious and insulting tyranny?"
"We consider the interests of Cuba, Mexico, and ours as the same, and that the object of both must be to exclude all European influence from this hemisphere."
"The comparison of our governments with those of Europe is like a comparison of heaven and hell. England, like the earth, may be allowed to take the intermediate station."
Though Jefferson was determined to see the country grow strong before engaging in any war, he was not able to maintain a peace policy with the Barbary States on the north coast of Africa. Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli for years had demanded and got tribute from the chief naval powers, including America under Washington and Adams. In 1801 Jefferson sent four naval vessels under Commodore Dale to protect American shipping. Dale instituted armed convoys in such a way that the pirates for the time being withdrew. Eventually, they gave up their predatory attacks, after Jefferson had retired from the presidency.
In 1803, in the case of Marbury vs Madison, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall made their first landmark decision, the establishment of judicial review, that the court had the power to decide if laws made by the congress were constitutional. The court had the power to declare laws deemed unconstitutional as null and void. Jefferson considered this as abolishing the offset of one branch of the government by the others, and was consolidating supreme power in the nation's judges, and was convinced that the court was being controlled by the enemies of rule by the people.
In 1807, Aaron Burr was indicted for high treason, under suspicion of forming an army to possibly create a western empire with the aid of Spain. Jefferson, slow to believe in Burr's guilt, eventually issued a proclamation for his arrest. Jefferson was pleased at the display of loyalty shown by several states in the arrest of Burr.
In 1805, Jefferson was attacked by a scandal that though did not hurt him, would give him much grief. Some thirty years before, when he was about twenty five years old and unmarried, Jefferson had admittedly made advances towards the wife of one of his dear friends, Jack Walker. Walker had found out years later, and though was probably unhappy about it, he had never mentioned it to Jefferson. Walker, after much coercion from Jefferson's kinsman and bitter enemy, "Lighthorse" Harry Lee, claimed that Jefferson had "made attempts on Mrs. Walker's virtue for over ten years." After weeks of attacks, the matter finally dropped, with Walker giving his forgiveness to his old friend. During the scandal, another matter was brought to attention, which was not given serious attention at the time.
White slave owners sleeping with slaves, called miscegenation, was somewhat common in Virginia. It was generally not spoken of outright, one of those things that people gossiped about.
Sally Hemings was a slave, the daughter of Betty Hemings and her owner, John Wayles, Jefferson's father-in-law. She and her mother, along with 9 of her 12 brothers and sisters, became Jefferson's property in 1776 after the death of John Wayles. The Hemings became favored "house slaves" at Monticello, and Betty supposedly personally took care of Martha Jefferson in her last days. Sally, at fourteen accompanied eight year old Mary Jefferson to France in 1787, following her brother James Hemings who had previously accompanied Jefferson. It is not known, but assumed that Sally lived at the Abbaye de Panthemont with Mary.
According to Jefferson's records, Sally had four surviving children. Beverly born in 1798, was allowed to leave the plantation in late 1821 or early 1822 and, according to his brother, passed into white society in Washington, D.C. Harriet born in 1801, also left Monticello in 1821 or 1822, probably with her brother, and passed for white. Madison Hemings born in 1805, was given his freedom in Jefferson's will. Eston Hemings born in 1808, moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in the 1830s; there he was a well-known professional musician before moving about 1852 to Wisconsin, where he changed his name (to Eston Jefferson) along with his racial identity. Both Madison and Eston Hemings made known their belief that they were sons of Thomas Jefferson.
Sally Hemings was never officially freed by Jefferson. It seems most likely that Jefferson's daughter Martha Randolph gave Sally "her time," a form of unofficial freedom that would enable her to remain in Virginia (the laws at that time required freed slaves to leave the state within a year)
Descendants of Jefferson, beginning with his surviving daughter, denied that the children of Sally Hemings were fathered by Jefferson. Visitors to Monticello often commented on Sally's children looking much like Jefferson. DNA testing in 1998 was inconclusive.
Jefferson left Washington DC in the spring of 1809. He spent the rest of his life as "the sage of Monticello", writing, improving his house and plantation, and enjoying his family. After much coercion by friends, he began writing an autobiography, but he soon tired of writing about himself, and it took him many years to complete.
Jefferson and John Adams began corresponding again in 1804, and had become dear friends again. They constantly wrote each other for the rest of their lives.
In 1825, classes began at Jefferson's long-lived dream, The University of Virginia. He personally designed much of the college, including the rotunda, which still stands today.
Thomas Jefferson died on the morning of July 4, 1826, a few hours before John Adams died. Jefferson was buried at his beloved Monticello, the inscription, written by Jefferson himself, reads:HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.
Jefferson-Champion of the Free Mind; Philips Russell; Dodd, Mead, & Company; NY, 1956
Thomas Jefferson-An Intimate History; Fawn M. Brodie; W.W. Norton & Company; NY, 1974
Autobiography/Notes on the State of Virginia/Public and Private Papers/Addresses/Letters; Thomas Jefferson; Library of America; NY, 1984
Life of Thomas Jefferson; B. L. Rayner; 1834. The University of Virginia Website: http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/biog/index.html