Thomas Jefferson


The third president of the United States, a diplomat, statesman,
architect, scientist, and philosopher, Thomas Jefferson is one of
the most eminent figures in American history. No leader in the
period of the American Enlightenment was as articulate, wise, or
conscious of the implications and consequences of a free society
as Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, a
tobacco plantation in Virginia. His father, Peter Jefferson, was
a self-made success, and although uneducated he was a very
intelligent man. His mother, Jane Randolph was a member of one of
the most distinguished families in Virginia . Peter Jefferson
died when Thomas was 14 and left him valuable lands and property.
Denied a formal education himself, he directed that his son be
given complete classical training. He studied with Reverend Mr.
Maury, a classical scholar, for two years and in 1760 he attended
William and Mary College.

After graduating from William and Mary in 1762, Jefferson studied
law for five years under George Wythe. In January of 1772, he
married Martha Wayles Skelton and established a residence at
Monticello. When they moved to Monticello, only a small one room
building was completed. Jefferson was thirty when he began his
political career. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgess
in 1769, where his first action was an unsuccessful bill allowing
owners to free their slaves.

The impending crisis in British-Colonial relations overshadowed
routine affairs of legislature. In 1774, the first of the
Intolerable Acts closed the port of Boston until Massachusetts
paid for the Boston Tea Party of the preceding year. Jefferson
and other younger members of the Virginia Assembly ordained a day
of fasting and prayer to demonstrate their sympathy with
Massachusetts. Thereupon, Virginia's Royal Governor Dunmore once
again dissolved the assembly (Koch and Peden 20). The members met
and planned to call together an inter-colonial congress.
Jefferson began writing resolutions which were radical and better
written than those from other counties and colonies. Although his
resolutions were considered too revolutionary and not adopted,
they were printed and widely circulated and subsequently all
important writing assignments were entrusted to Jefferson.
When Jefferson arrived in Philadelphia in June, 1775, as a
Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress, he already
possessed, as John Adams remarked, "a reputation for literature,
science, and a happy talent of composition" (Koch and Peden 21).
When he returned in 1776, he was appointed to the five-man
committee, including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, which was
charged with the most momentous assignment ever given in the
history of America: the drafting of a formal declaration of
independence from Great Britain (Daugherty 109). Jefferson was
responsible for preparing the draft. The document, was finally
approved by Congress on July 4, 1776. Cut and occasionally
altered by Adams, or Franklin, or the Congress itself, the
Declaration is almost completely Jefferson's, and is the triumph
and culmination of his early career. At this time, had he wanted
to be a political leader, he could have easily attained a
position in government. Instead, he chose to return to Monticello
and give his public service to Virginia. Returning to the
Virginia House of Delegates in October 1776, Jefferson set to
work on reforming the laws of Virginia. He also proposed a
rational plan of statewide education and attempted to write
religious toleration into the laws of Virginia by separating
Church and State by writing the "Bill for Establishing Religious
Freedom."

In June of 1779, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia. He
commenced his career as a public executive, confident of his
abilities, assured of the respect and almost the affection of his
commonwealth. However, he took up his duties at a time when the
British were raiding Virginia. General George Washington did not
have resources available to send to Virginia. Jefferson, during
one of the raids, narrowly escaped capture at the hands of the
British troops; and the legislators were forced to flee from
their new capital city of Richmond. Jefferson, as head of the
state, was singled out for criticism and abuse. At the end of his
second term, he announced his retirement. General Washington's
approval of Jefferson's actions as Governor is in marked contrast
to the heated charges of dereliction of duty made by certain
members of the legislature. After Washington's approval the
legislature passed a resolution officially clearing Jefferson of
all charges (Smith 134,135).

Jefferson returned home to Monticello in 1781, and buried himself
in writing about Virginia. The pages of text turned into a
manuscript later known as the Notes on Virginia. This book, rich
in its minute analysis of the details of external nature as in
its clarification of moral political, and social issues, was read
by scientists of two continents for years to