Served: March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
Born: April 13, 1743
Birthplace: Shadwell, Colony of Virginia
Died: July 4, 1826
Occupations: Planter, college administrator
Political Party: Democratic-Republican
Spouse: Martha Wayles Skelton
The President Who Knew Too Much
If there is one United States president who is as well known for his accomplishments outside of his presidency as for those during, it is Thomas Jefferson.
Like John Adams, Jefferson began his political career under George Washington’s presidency as the first secretary of state. However, Jefferson resigned from this post when he co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party. He then went on to serve as vice president under Adams, until he was finally elected as president in 1800.
In addition to his political career, Thomas Jefferson is known for his educational interests, specifically in the fields of language, science, invention, religion, and philosophy.
Thomas Jefferson’s Pets
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Young Thomas Jefferson: A Brilliant Mind
From a young age, Jefferson studied a wide variety of subjects, including nature, science, history, Latin, Greek, and French. Later in his life he learned Spanish, bringing the total amount of languages he knew up to five.
Jefferson graduated from the College of William & Mary at 18 and began working as a law clerk. In 1767 he was admitted to the Virginia bar and began practicing law in colonial Virginia.
When Jefferson’s father died, he inherited half of the Jefferson estate, including Monticello, the property Jefferson spent his life remodeling and where he chose to spend his remaining years after retiring from politics.
In 1772 Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton and together they had six children, with only two of them reaching adulthood. Jefferson was devoted to his wife, and after her death he suffered a period of deep depression and never remarried.
Jefferson’s Political Life
Along with John Adams, he was chosen to serve on the committee charged with writing the Declaration of Independence and was nominated by Adams as the principal writer.
Once independence was gained, Jefferson served on the Virginia House of Delegates and was then elected as governor of the state of Virginia. However, his term as governor was beset by scandal when he escaped capture by the British cavalry and then failed to return to the capital once the threat was cleared.
After the death of his wife, Jefferson was appointed to succeed Benjamin Franklin as the minister to France, and when he returned in 1789 he was asked by President Washington to serve on the cabinet as secretary of state.
It was during this time that Jefferson began a lifelong feud with Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Party. Unfortunately, his feud with Hamilton only served to drive a rift between him and Washington. When he left the cabinet, Washington never spoke to him again.
It didn’t take Jefferson long to return to politics, and in 1796 he became vice president after losing the presidency to Adams. However, throughout his vice presidency he performed many acts to undermine Adams, and some historians have even argued that had these acts been uncovered he would have been labeled as treasonous. This included a written threat for Kentucky to secede from the nation.
Jefferson finally won the presidency during the 1800 elections against Aaron Burr. During Jefferson’s second term, Burr was tried with treason under Jefferson’s orders, but he was acquitted on all charges. Jefferson’s presidency was beset by scandal and criticism, especially during the 1807 Embargo Act, which caused the American economy to suffer and which was repealed by Jefferson during the final days of his presidency.
Did You Know…?
- Jefferson had a lifelong love of books and his collection numbered in the thousands. He chose to donate this collection to the Library of Congress after the library lost its books in a fire during the American Revolution. However, he began collecting books again, and he quickly amassed a new library at Monticello.
- In 1783 Jefferson was appointed as the Virginia delegate to the newly formed Congress of the Confederation. During his tenure, he proposed that American currency be based on the decimal system, which is the same systems we use today.
- Although Jefferson owned slaves, he publicly denounced slavery many times during his political career. He proposed bills to make slavery illegal and his original draft of the Declaration of Independence included passages denouncing slavery and Great Britain’s involvement in the trade. He also signed a bill in 1807 to abolish slavery, which was not passed by Congress. In his old age, he freed several slaves, although not all.