Thomas Jefferson - who was he?

Since last week was the celebration of the Louisiana Purchase, I thought it might be nice to learn about a man not only responsible for it, but our third president – Thomas Jefferson. 

Jefferson was a man of diverse interests.  He worked himself hard every day and expected the same from those around him.  Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his daughter, Martha on her daily routine.  Jefferson had high expectations of his child.  His own wife had died and his advice was to be passed on to the woman watching over Martha. His daughter was but 10 years old at the time he wrote this in a letter to her.
“With respect to the distribution of your time, the following is what I should approve:
From 8 to 10, practice music
From 10 to 1, dance one day and draw another
From 1 to 2, draw on the day you dance, and write a letter next day
From 3 to 4, read French
From 4 to 5, exercise yourself in music
From 5 till bed-time, read English, write, etc.”

He was born on April 13, 1743 to Peter and Jane Jefferson.  His mother was Randolph, one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in Virginia.  The small family lived in the Tidewater area of Virginia on an estate called Shadwell.  They lived there for many years before the father moved them to Tuckahoe, a family estate to care for his cousin’s children.  They lived there for 7 years until the children were grown and then returned to Shadwell.  Thomas’ own father died when he was only 14 years old. 
The schedule he set for his daughter may seem too much but as a child, he set his own routine: 5 to 8 study agriculture, botany, zoology, chemistry, anatomy, and religion.  From 8 to 1 study law and politics; afternoons – study history with time out for a two-mile run in the country; every night study literature, languages, and oratory (speaking).

When he was only 16 he traveled to Williamsburg to attend William and Mary College.  While there he met Patrick Henry and they became good friends.  His mentor, George Wythe was a man he respected and he spent many evenings at the man’s home discussing the many topics he loved.  Thomas Jefferson studied law and soon became a prominent lawyer in 1767.  By the time he was 25 he was voted a member of the House of Burgesses, the ruling body in Virginia.  At the age of 26 he was a member of the House of Burgesses in Virginia. He wrote the Statute on Religious Freedom which outlined the separation of church and state.

He met a young lady while in Williamsburg, Martha Skelton.  They married on January 1st, 1773. He took his young wife to the home he had begun in 1770, Monticello, which means little mountain.  It was there that he began his life as a family man and continued years later as a grandfather when he retired from political life.

Revolution was in the air.  The king ordered the House of Burgesses disbanded and a new group voted in.  The people had other ideas and voted the same men back into office, one of them Thomas Jefferson.  In 1773, the burgesses met secretly at the Raleigh Tavern to discuss the unfair taxes placed on the colonies by the British government.  They all agreed something should be done.  The Boston Tea Party occurred six months later and war at their doorstep.

Thomas Jefferson was active during the War of Independence.  He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, the governor of Virginia (after his friend Patrick Henry), and then later as minister to France in 1785.  He was the youngest member of the Continental Congress.  Even though he suffered many personal losses during the years of the revolution, when congress called, he came.  His mother and a young daughter died during this time. 

He worked with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston to write the Declaration of Independence.  He worked in a rented room in the Graff House (now called the Declaration House) many hours into the night.  It took him 18 days to write the declaration.  When he presented it to Congress they made only a few changes before signing it.  On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Philadelphia and copies were sent to the other colonies to read to the people.

More fighting was going on.  France sent Lafayette (who was only 19 at the time).  He became friends with Jefferson.  In 1779, he became governor of Virginia. When English soldiers reached Virginia, they came after Jefferson who managed to send his family away and he slipped away in the woods that he knew so well.  He had 7 children but only 2 daughters survived and left him 11 (although some claim he had 12) grandchildren. 

Not long after the war was won, Jefferson left office as governor.  He wanted to stay with his family.  His wife had gotten very sick.  On September 6, 1782, his wife died. After weeks of seclusion, he finally left his home and headed back to Philadelphia where he helped the congress create new laws.  They decided the territories would become new states.  He also helped them decide on American money based on a 100 scale.  He went to France and was saddened by the poverty he saw there.

While in France one of his daughters died so he sent for his remaining daughter, Polly.  (Patsy was already with him).  Polly arrived with a young slave, Sally Hemings.  (Evidence has shown he had a relationship with Ms. Hemings and had several children with her over his remaining lifetime.  While kept a secret for hundreds of years, the truth was proven through DNA testing).

While in France, he met with his friend the Marquis de Lafayette. He tried to help France write laws to help the people but the French Revolution started and he was barely able to leave himself once the king and queen of France were captured.  The entire country was overrun with poverty and he had hoped to help the government rectify the situation.  The French Revolution occurred in that country with people touting the very things he and written in his Declaration of Independence for our country.

Jefferson became Secretary of State for George Washington.  He ran for president but lost to John Adams and became his Vice President.  The two disagreed on many topics.  A split occurred in the voting populace at this time.  Those who favored Adams were known as Federalists and those who followed Jefferson were called anit-Federalists, Democrat-Republicans, or just simply Republicans.  Jefferson ran against Adams and won the election in 1801.  This upset Adams greatly who left the capital before Jefferson was even inaugurated in 1801.  They would remain on the outs for years until Abigail sent a letter to console him when his daughter died.  At that time, the men renewed their friendship.

He was a simple man, even while president.  He was rumored to have greeted a foreign dignitary wearing his farmer’s clothes and slippers.  The man was offended but the people loved him.  During his presidency he accomplished many things. 

We think the race for president between Bush and Gore was tight – when Jefferson ran against Aaron Burr, the votes were tied.  The final vote went to the House of Representatives.  The House had to take 36 votes before Jefferson was declared the winner and Burr was made his Vice President.  Because of this, the Constitution was amended so that the position of President and Vice President would have separate ballots (no longer would the loser have to become Vice President).   Today we have a totally different voting procedure for President and Vice President.

Lewis and Clark Expedition
Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to reach the Pacific Ocean.  They left in 1803 and did not return until 1805, nearly 2 ½ years later.  They secured Sacagawea as their guide and with her help, Lewis and Clark were able to communicate with Native American tribes along the way.  The men brought back many plants and animals, including two grizzly bears that Jefferson let roam on the White House grounds.

The Louisiana Purchase
He offered to buy the Port of Orleans and France offered to sell the entire Louisiana territory.  They were too busy fighting the British.  They sold it for about $15 million.  Ironically the US had to borrow money from the Bank of England in order to make the purchase.  They offered promissory notes in exchange and then repaid the debt later.  What is iron is that the French feared the English would send ships to the new land and take it over, so in a way, the new territory belonged to a British bank.  Like in when we purchase a home – we take out a mortgage.  In this case, we took out a mortgage to purchase the Louisiana territory which eventually became ours when we paid back the loan. 
Napoleon regretted the treaty immediately.  Spain was furious because they felt the land  belonged to them, not France. Jefferson threatened war with Spain if they caused a problem.  Spain backed down because of their inferior navy.  Spain transferred its holdings to France who then transferred it all to the US.

During his presidency, he convinced Congress to ban the slave trade in 1808.  Unfortunately thousands were still smuggled into the country to be sold afterwards. As president he slashed military spending, cut the budget, and reduced the national debt.  He used his power though to purchase the Louisiana territory from Napoleon in 1803.  He easily won a second term in 1804.  He was president from 1801 to 1809
After his presidency, he returned to Monticello.  He enjoyed his life there – inventing, playing with his grandchildren, and having lavish parties with his neighbors.  At one point his debts were so great the American people sent him money to pay them.  Even so, when he died, his home had to be sold.  Although he freed 5 slaves in his will, over 200 had to be sold to pay his debts (some were his own children by Sally Hemings). He continued to advise his friends Monroe and Madison during their presidencies, but otherwise, he led a quiet life until his death.  His two major accomplishments after the presidency include – selling over 6,000 books to the government when theirs were destroyed during the War of 1812.  He was very involved in starting the University of Virginia.  He rode his horse every day the many miles to oversee the construction.  He felt it was one of his greatest accomplishments.

He died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1826, on the same day as John Adams. 
On his tombstone he wanted written:
Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of Independence
Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom,
And the father of the University of Virginia.

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