Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743–1826)

Elder, John A., Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Oil painting on canvas, 30 x 25 in., Original by Gilbert Stuart. Virginia State Artwork Collection. Acquired 1887.

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States of America, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the Founding Father most closely associated with promoting the ideals of republicanism in the development of the United States government.

Jefferson was born at Shadwell near Charlottesville on April 13, 1743, to parents Peter Jefferson, a prosperous planter and a surveyor, and Jane Randolph Jefferson, who descended from one of the most distinguished families in Virginia. After attending the College of William and Mary, Jefferson practiced law and held office in the Albemarle County government, serving as a magistrate and county lieutenant.

He was elected to the House of Burgesses and represented Albemarle County from 1769 until independence. He was a member of the Continental Congress in both 1775 and 1776, where he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. After leaving Congress, he served as a member of the newly established Virginia House of Delegates until he was elected governor of the commonwealth of Virginia in 1779 for the first of two consecutive two-year terms. Jefferson faced heavy criticism from his political rivals, culminating in an investigation into his executive behavior following his flight from Richmond during an attack by the British. Despite being fully exonerated after an inquiry, Jefferson was left wary of public opinion and criticism. Jefferson's personal problems expanded when he lost his wife of ten years, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, in 1782. The couple had six children, but only two daughters lived into adulthood.

Thomas Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the U.S. Minister to France (1785–1789), and was therefore out of the country during the Constitutional Convention. His belief that a bill of rights should be added to the Constitution was cited in the Virginia Ratification Convention and helped persuade his friend and collaborator James Madison of the necessity of the Bill of Rights. Jefferson was the first secretary of state for the United States (1789–1793), the second vice president of the United States (1797–1801), and the third president of the United States (1801–1809). Major American historical events that occurred during Jefferson's presidency include the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806).

Jefferson had a wide range of interests and expertise. Politically, Jefferson idealized the independent yeoman farmer as the prime example of republican values, distrusted big cities and companies, and favored state's rights within a strictly limited federal government. He supported the separation of Church and State, and wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779). After his political career ended, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, which the General Assembly chartered in 1819. He died on July 4, 1826, and is buried at his home Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia. His tombstone is marked with the epitaph that he requested.

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
author of the
Declaration
of American Independence
of the
Statute of Virginia
for
Religious Freedom
and the Father of the
University of Virginia

Suggested Reading:

Bernstein, Richard. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Malone, Dumas. Thomas Jefferson: A Brief Biography. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993.

Related Links:

Malone, Dumas. Thomas Jefferson: A Brief Biography. Monticello