Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Presidents: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born April 13th, 1743 and passed away on July 4th, 1826. He was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801-1809). At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779 -1781). Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris, France. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790-1793) serving under President George Washington. With his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and subsequently resigned from Washington's cabinet. Elected Vice President in 1796, when he came in second to John Adams of the Federalists, Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Elected president in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. With escalating trouble with Britain who was challenging American neutrality and threatening shipping at sea, he tried economic warfare with his embargo laws which only damaged American trade. In 1807, President Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States. In scholarly surveys Jefferson remains rated as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, though since the late-twentieth century, he has been increasingly criticized by many historians, often on the issue of slavery.

A leader in the enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages fluently and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello. While not a notable orator, Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his adult life.

Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves, yet he was opposed to the ultimate continuation of the institution of slavery throughout his life and privately struggled with the dilemma of slavery and freedom and its compatibility with the ideals of the American Revolution. Historians are in disagreement with how much Jefferson was committed to the anti-slavery cause. After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Jefferson remained a widower for the rest of his life; their marriage produced six children, of whom two survived to adulthood. In 1802, allegations surfaced that he was also the father of his slave Sally Hemings’ children. In 1998, DNA tests revealed a match between her last child and the Jefferson male family line. Although some historians have noted that the evidence can also support other possible fathers, most have concluded that Jefferson had a long relationship with Hemings and fathered at least one and likely all of her six children, four of whom survived to adulthood.

Jefferson also remains to this day, the highest ranking public official to ever go on record to report a UFO. However, the term “UFO” wasn’t yet used at that time.

The third of ten children, Thomas Jefferson was born at the family home in Shadwell, Goochland County, Virginia, now part of Albemarle County. His father was Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor. He was of possible Welsh descent, although this remains unclear. His mother was Jane Rudolph, daughter of Isham Randolph, a ship's captain and sometime planter. Peter and Jane married in 1739. Thomas Jefferson showed little interest in learning about his ancestry; he only knew of the existence of his paternal grandfather.

Before the widower William Randolph, an old friend of Peter Jefferson, died in 1745, he appointed Peter as guardian to manage his Tuckahoe Plantation and care for his four children. That year the Jefferson’s relocated to Tuckahoe, where they lived for the next seven years before returning to Shadwell in 1752. Peter Jefferson died in 1757 and the Jefferson estate was divided between Peter's two sons; Thomas and Rudolph. Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres of land, including Monticello and between 20 and 40 slaves. He took control of the property after he came of age at 21.

Jefferson began his childhood education under the direction of tutors at Tuckahoe along with the Randolph children. In 1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister. At the age of nine, Jefferson began studying Latin, Greek, and French; he learned to ride horses, and began to appreciate the study of nature. He studied under Reverend James Maury from 1758 to 1760 near Gordonville, Virginia. While boarding with Maury's family, he studied history, science and the classics.

At age 16, Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, and first met the law professor George Wythe, who became his influential mentor. He studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small, who introduced the enthusiastic Jefferson to the writings of the British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. He also improved his French, Greek, and violin. A diligent student, Jefferson displayed an avid curiosity in all fields and graduated in 1762, completing his studies in only two years. Jefferson read law while working as a law clerk for Wythe. During this time, he also read a wide variety of English classics and political works. Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

Throughout his life, Jefferson depended on books for his education. He collected and accumulated thousands of books for his library at Monticello. When Jefferson's father Peter died Thomas inherited, among other things, his large library. A significant portion of Jefferson's library was also bequeathed to him in the will of George Wythe, who had an extensive collection. After the British burned the Library of Congress in 1814 Jefferson offered to sell his collection of more than six thousand books to Congress for about four dollars a book. After realizing he was no longer in possession of such a grand collection he wrote in a letter to John Adams, “I cannot live without books”. Always eager for more knowledge, Jefferson immediately began buying more books and continued learning throughout most of his life.

After practicing as a circuit lawyer for several years, Jefferson married the 23-year-old widow Martha Wayles Skelton on January 1st, 1772. Martha Jefferson was attractive, gracious and popular with her friends; she was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. They had a happy marriage. She read widely, did fine needle work and was an amateur musician. Jefferson played the violin and Martha was an accomplished piano player. It is said that she was attracted to Thomas largely because of their mutual love of music. During the ten years of their marriage, Martha bore six children: Martha, called Patsy, (1772-1836); Jane (1774-1775); an unnamed son (1777); Mary Wayles, called Polly, (1778-1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781); and Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1785). Only Martha and Mary survived to adulthood.

After her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha and her husband Jefferson inherited his 135 slaves, 11,000 acres and the debts of his estate. These took Jefferson and other co-executors of the estate years to pay off, which contributed to his financial problems. Later in life, Martha Jefferson suffered from diabetes and ill health, and frequent childbirth further weakened her. A few months after the birth of her last child, Martha, age 33, died on September 6th, 1782. Jefferson was at his wife's bedside and was distraught after her death. In the following three weeks, Jefferson shut himself in his room, where he paced back and forth until he was nearly exhausted. Later he would often take long rides on secluded roads to mourn for his wife. As he had promised his wife, Jefferson never remarried.

Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress beginning in June 1775, soon after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. He didn't know many people in the congress, but sought out John Adams who, along with his cousin Samuel, had emerged as a leader of the convention. Jefferson and Adams established a friendship that would last the rest of their lives; it led to the drafting of Jefferson to write the declaration of independence. When Congress began considering a resolution of independence in June 1776, Adams ensured that Jefferson was appointed to the five-man committee to write a declaration in support of the resolution. After discussing the general outline for the document, the committee decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. The committee in general, and Jefferson in particular, thought Adams should write the document. Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson, who was reluctant to take the assignment, and promised to consult with the younger man. Over the next seventeen days, Jefferson had limited time for writing and finished the draft quickly. Consulting with other committee members, Jefferson also drew on his own proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources. The other committee members made some changes. Most notably Jefferson had written, “We hold these truths to be sacred and un-deniable…” Franklin changed it to, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” A final draft was presented to the Congress on June 28th, 1776. The title of the document was “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.”

After voting in favor of the resolution of independence on July 2nd, Congress turned its attention to the declaration. Over three days of debate, Congress made changes and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade. While Jefferson resented the changes, he did not speak publicly about the revisions. On July 4th, 1776, the Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence and the delegates signed the document. The Declaration would eventually be considered one of Jefferson's major achievements; his preamble has been considered an enduring statement of human rights. All Men Are Created Equal has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language“, containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history“. The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who based his philosophy on it, and argued for the Declaration as a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.

In 1779, at the age of thirty-six, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia by the two houses of the legislature. The term was then for one year, and he was re-elected in 1780. As governor in 1780, he transferred the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond. Jefferson served as a wartime governor, as the united colonies continued the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. In late 1780, as Governor he prepared Richmond for attack by moving all military supplies to a foundry located five miles outside of town. General Benedict Arnold learned of the transfer and captured the foundry. He also delayed too long in raising a militia. In January 1781 he evacuated Richmond as the war got closer. In early June 1781, Cornwallis dispatched a 250-man cavalry force commanded by Banastre Tarleton on a secret expedition to capture Governor Jefferson and members of the Assembly at Monticello but Jack Jouett of the Virginia militia, thwarted the British plan by warning them. Jefferson escaped to Poplar Forest, his plantation to the west. Jefferson believed his gubernatorial term had expired in June, and he spent much of the summer with his family at Poplar Forest. His tenure as governor in general, and his decision to flee the capital in particular, was heavily criticized at the time, and has been criticized by historians ever since. The members of the General Assembly had quickly reconvened in June 1781 in Staunton, Virginia across the Blue Ridge Mountains. They voted to reward Jouett with a pair of pistols and a sword, but considered an official inquiry into Jefferson's actions, as they believed he had failed his responsibilities as governor. Jefferson was not re-elected again.

Following its victory in the war and peace treaty with Great Britain, in 1783 the United States formed a Congress of the Confederation (informally called the Continental Congress), to which Jefferson was appointed as a Virginia delegate. As a member of the committee formed to set foreign exchange rates, he recommended that American currency should be based on the decimal system, his plan was adopted. Jefferson also recommended setting up the Committee of the States, to function as the executive arm of Congress. The plan was adopted but failed in practice. Jefferson wrote an ordinance banning slavery in all the nation's territories though it wasn't passed into law. He later resigned from Congress when he was appointed as minister to France.

In September 1789 Jefferson returned to the US from France with his two daughters and slaves. Immediately upon his return, President Washington wrote to him asking him to accept a seat in his Cabinet as Secretary of State. Jefferson accepted the appointment.
As Washington's Secretary of State (1790-1793), Jefferson argued with Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, about national fiscal policy, especially the funding of the debts of the war. Jefferson later associated Hamilton and the Federalists with “Royalism,” and said the “Hamiltonians were panting after ... crowns, coronets and mitres”. Due to their opposition to Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison organized and led the anti-administration party (called republican, and known later as Democratic-Republican). He worked with Madison and his campaign manager John J. Beckley to build a nationwide network of Republican allies. Jefferson's political actions and his attempt to undermine Hamilton nearly led Washington to dismiss Jefferson from his cabinet. Although Jefferson left the cabinet voluntarily, Washington never forgave him for his actions, and never spoke to him again.

Jefferson supported France against Britain when they fought in 1793. Jefferson believed that political success at home depended on the success of the French army in Europe. In 1793, the French minister Edmond-Charles Genet caused a crisis when he tried to influence public opinion by appealing to the American people, something which Jefferson tried to stop.
During his discussions with George Hammond, first British Minister to the U.S. from 1791, Jefferson tried to achieve three important goals: secure British admission of violating the Treaty of Paris (1783) ; vacate their posts in the Northwest (the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River north of the Ohio); and compensate the United States to pay American slave owners for the slaves whom the British had freed and evacuated at the end of the war. John C. Miller notes that after failing to gain agreement on any of these, Jefferson resigned in December 1793.

Jefferson retired to Monticello, from where he continued to oppose the policies of Hamilton and Washington. The Jay Treaty of 1794, led by Hamilton, brought peace and trade with Britain – while Madison, with strong support from Jefferson, wanted “to strangle the former mother country” without going to war.

Working closely with Aaron Burr, Jefferson rallied his party and ran for the Presidency in 1800. Jefferson and Burr received the most electoral votes, but since neither had a majority, the election was decided in the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives. Though the Federalists wanted neither Jefferson nor Burr to be president, Hamilton convinced his party that Jefferson would be a lesser political evil than Burr and that such scandal within the electoral process would undermine the new constitution. On February 17th, 1801, after thirty-six ballots, the House elected Jefferson President and Burr Vice President. Jefferson owed his election victory to the South's inflated number of Electors, which counted slaves under the three-fifths compromise. After his election in 1800, some called him the “Negro President“.

Jefferson took the oath of office on March 4, 1801, at a time when partisan strife between the Democratic-Republican and Federalist parties was growing to alarming proportions. As a result of his two predecessors' administrations, as well as the state of events in Europe, Jefferson inherited the presidency with relatively few urgent problems. Though he and his supporters attempted to dismantle several of the accomplishments of his two predecessors, notably the national bank, military, and federal taxation system, they were only partially successful.

Ideas for a national institution for military education were circulated during the American Revolution. In May 1801 the Secretary of War Henry Dearborn announced that the president had appointed Major Jonathan Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, to direct organizing to establish such a school. Following the advice of George Washington, John Adams and others, in 1802 Jefferson and Congress agreed to authorize the funding and construction of the United States Military Academy at West Point on the Hudson River in New York. On March 16th, 1802, Jefferson signed the Military Peace Establishment Act, directing that a corps of engineers be established and “constitute a Military Academy.” The Act would provide well-trained officers for a professional army. On July 4th, 1802, the US Military Academy at West Point formally started as an institution for scientific and military learning.

In his second term, Jefferson's popularity suffered because the problems he faced, most notably those caused by the wars in Europe, became more difficult to solve. Relations with Great Britain had always been bad, due partly to the violent personal antipathy between Jefferson and the British Ambassador, Anthony Merry. During Jefferson's first term, Napoleon's position was relatively weak and as such negotiations were possible. After Napoleon's decisive victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, however, Napoleon became much more aggressive, and most American attempts to negotiate with him were unsuccessful. Jefferson responded with the Embargo Act of 1807, directed also at Great Britain. This triggered economic chaos in the US and was strongly criticized at the time, as it continues to be. Due to political attacks against Jefferson, in particular those by Alexander Hamilton and his supporters, he used the Alien and Sedition Acts to counter some of these political adversaries. In 1807, Jefferson ordered his former vice president Aaron Burr tried for treason. Burr was charged with conspiring to levy war against the United States in an attempt to establish a separate confederacy composed of the Western states and territories, but he was acquitted. The US Constitution of 1787 provided for protection of the international slave trade for two decades, during which planters of the Lower South imported tens of thousands of slaves, more than during any other 20-year period. In 1807 congress passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, which Jefferson signed into law and which went into effect January 1st, 1808. While the act established severe punishment against the international trade, it did not regulate the domestic slave trade.

By 1815, Jefferson's library included 6,487 books, which he sold to the Library of Congress for $23,950 to replace the smaller collection destroyed in the War of 1812. He intended to pay off some of his large debt, but immediately started buying more books. In honor of Jefferson's contribution, the library's website for federal legislative information was named THOMAS. In 2007, Jefferson's two-volume 1764 edition of the Quran was used by Rep. Keith Ellison for his swearing in to the House of Representatives. In February 2011 the New York Times reported that a part of Jefferson's retirement library, containing 74 volumes with 28 book titles, was discovered at Washington University in St. Louis.

Jefferson's health began to deteriorate in July 1825, and by June 1826 he was confined to bed. His death is considered to be from a combination of various illnesses and conditions including toxemia, uremia and pneumonia. By May 1826 Jefferson's health was so frail that he was virtually a shut in and spent most of his waking hours going over his finances and debts. On May 22 Jefferson made his last entry in the 'Farm Book', noting the price of lamp oil at a dollar twenty five cents a gallon and the cost of lighting his estate for the last month. On June 24 Jefferson wrote his last letter, to a Washington newspaper, the National Intellgencer, where he once more reaffirmed his faith in the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. On July 3rd Jefferson was overcome by fever. Realizing he would never leave Monticello again he was forced to decline an invitation to Washington to attend a fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Declaration.

On July 4th at ten minutes before one o'clock Jefferson died at the age of 83.

Source: Wikipedia

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - Creative Commons

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