Author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of the United States. (1801-1809) Jefferson was among the most brilliant American exponents of the Enlightenment, the movement of 18th-century thought that emphasized the possibilities of human reason. A Virginia aristocrat, he had the time and resources to educate himself in history, literature, law, architecture, science, and philosophy; as diplomat and friend of French and British intellectuals, he had direct access to motivation and the opportunity to apply Enlightenment political philosophy to the task of nation- During his 20s, Jefferson read voraciously in Enlightenment philosophy, 17th-century English history, political theory, and law. Drawing on this learning, he drafted in1774a Summary View of the Rights of British America as instructions for Virginia’s delegates to the First Continental Congress, which met to consider the colonies’ grievances against Great Britain. Virginia leaders instead adopted a more legalistic set of instructions,, and Summary View was published anonymously as a pamphlet.
As Jefferson’s authorship became widely known, however, he moved suddenly into the front rank of American political theorists. In the pamphlet, Jefferson argued that the original settlers of the colonies came as individuals rather than as agents of the British government. The colonial governments they formed therefore embodied the natural right of expatriates from one country to select the terms of their subjection a new ruler. Colonial legislatures and the British Parliament, he asserted, shared power, and both were responsible for protecting the “liberties and rights” of the people. The Declaration of Independence, drafted principally by Jefferson in late June 1776 for the second Continental Congress, drew the implications of this historical view to their logical conclusion, proclaiming that the tyrannical acts of the British government gave the colonists the right to “dissolve the political bands” that had connected them with the mother country. Jefferson was born on April 13, 1773, at Shadwell in Ambermale County, Virginia .
His father was a plantation owner, and his mother belonged to the Randolph family, which was prominent in colonial Virginia. From his father and from his environment he acquired an intense interest in botany, geology, cartography, and North American exploration, and from his childhood teacher love of Greek and Latin. As a student at the College of William and Mary in the early 1760s, he studied under William Small, who knew in depth the Scottish Enlightenment, with its highly integrated approach to law, history, philosophy, and science. In George With , he found an equally gifted teacher of the law. Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767 and first elected to the Virginia House of his home, Monticello. Despite several desultory courtship’s, he did not seriously consider marriage until 1770, when he met Martha Wayles Skelton, a Wealthy widow of 23. They were In the election of 1800, Jefferson an his fellow Republican Aaron Burr received an equal number of electoral votes, thus creating a tie and throwing the presidential election into the House of Representatives.
After 36 ballots, the House declared Jefferson elected. As had Adams before him, Jefferson faced opposition from an uncompromising faction within his own party as well as from the Federalists. He steered a steady course between these two extremes, appointing some qualified Federalists to office and refusing a wholesale purge of officeholders inherited form the Adams administration. He supported repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, which had created a costly tier of federal appeals courts and would have encouraged appeals from state courts, but he opposed any assault on the independence of the Federalists-dominated judiciary; Jefferson’s three appointments to the Supreme Court, made between 1804 and 1807, were all strong nationalists and upholders of judicial independence During his first term his lifelong interested in the West and in American-French relations prompted his major presidential achievement, the purchase from France of Louisiana-all the western land drained by the Missouri and Missisipi rivers-and the organization of an expedition.
By William Clark and Meriwether Lewis to explore the British to respect US neutrality on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars, he persuaded Congress in 1807 to embargo all trade with Britain-a move that failed to elicit any concessions, devastated the nation’s economy for a generation, and alienated New England, which lived by foreign trade. After leaving office he retired to Monticello where he lived until his death on July 4, 1826, corresponding with John Adams about the great issues of revolution and constitutinalism, trying to preserve his declinig estate for his daughters instead of his creditors, and brooding aver the baneful effects of slavery. He was unwilling, for financial reasons, to free his own slaves, and he disagreed with abolitionist friends who held that blacks were equal to whites. His paradoxical beliefs in human dignity and in racial inferiority typified the dilemma of the country he had helped to create.