Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson biography
White House Historical Association - Public Domain

Thomas Jefferson biography

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826). Politician, president, and historian. He was born in Shadwell, Virginia, United States. His father Peter Jefferson, planter and surveyor. His mother, Jane Randolph, belonged to one of the most distinguished families in Virginia. Peter and Jane were married in 1739. The Jefferson family settled in Tuckahoe for seven years. Thomas studied under the guidance of tutors in Tuckahoe but had to stop his apprenticeship because of economic reasons and his family decided to return to Shadwell. In 1752, he began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister. At the age of nine, he undertook studies with the Rev. James Maury of the Latin, Greek and French languages.

Peter Jefferson died when his son was 14 years old. At that time Thomas inherited from his father between 20 and 40 slaves and a property of formidable extension, took control of the property after the age of 21, building little by little, his future residence, Monticello. With the profits generated from the plantation, he paid for his studies of law, history, philosophy, and sciences at the College of William and Mary in the early 1760s. Three years later he married the widow Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he lived prosperously, resulting in this union six children, but only two of them reached adulthood. It is known that Jefferson had at least one son with a slave of his possession, Sally Hemings.

His professional life at the beginning was shaped to the right, served in the local government as a magistrate, lieutenant of the county and was accepted as a member of the Chamber of Burgesses. In 1769 he was elected for the first time to the Assembly of Virginia, was selected in the Assembly to make the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, required by the Second Continental Congress, the Declaration is considered as the constitutive act of American and universal liberties. This document proclaims that all men have equal rights, regardless of their birth, wealth or status, and that the government fulfills the role of servant, not the owner of the people.

“I believe, honestly, like you, that banking systems are more dangerous than armies”  Thomas Jefferson

While he served as legislator of Virginia between the years 1776-1779, great ambitions were raised, one of them reforming society guided by republican and enlightened ideas. With time and the maturation of his proposals generated the separation of powers between the State and the Anglican Church. After that, he was responsible for erecting the legislation that abolished the right of attachment and primogeniture, thus eliminating the two major limitations coming from the government to the right to private property.

Years later, Thomas Jefferson is employed as ambassador in France (1784-1789) where he witnessed the first phases of the French Revolution. When analyzing these events, he launched a proposal to establish reciprocal trade agreements with European nations, denying such benefits to the British. The proposal was not carried out. On the contrary, Washington declared American neutrality in the war between France and Great Britain.

He appeared as a presidential candidate of the Democratic-Republicans, when losing against John Adams by three electoral votes, was elected vice-president. Four years later, he retaliated, defeated John Adams and was named the president of the United States. During his government, he advocated the extension of suffrage, the suppression of any royal or aristocratic privilege, the purchase of the territory of Louisiana in 1803 and the support of the expedition of Lewis and Clark. His presidential term meant the emergence of a new state policy. This affirmation was observed in the ideas that he expressed through his presidential speeches, of an egalitarian and anti-elitist nature. His second presidential term, a period with more difficulties in internal and external spheres, is remembered for his efforts to maintain the neutrality of the nation amid the conflict between Britain and France; although it could not contain the war of 1812 with Great Britain. After finishing his presidential life he retired to Monticello, where he lived the rest of his life.

“A wrong opinion can be tolerated where reason is free to fight it.” Thomas Jefferson

His health began to deteriorate due to the appearance of several diseases, probably toxemia, uremia, and pneumonia. Over time his health was so fragile that he practically did not get out of bed. In addition, he spent long hours thinking about his ill-fated finances and debts. On June 24, he wrote his last letter to Roger Weightman, a journalist with the National Intelligence, ratifying his faith in the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

During his last hours of life, he was accompanied by his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, his doctor, Robley Dunglison, and some friends. Thomas Jefferson died in Charlottesville, Virginia, on July 4, 1826. After his death, his property, and slaves were sold in public auctions. Some decades later, and still today, several criticisms were made against Jefferson for the contradiction reported in the Statement in which he affirms that all people are equal before the law and their position as slavery, having hundreds of slaves on their property. However, Thomas Jefferson was at the time a spokesman for the aspirations of a new America and a policy based on liberal and enlightened ideas. He served his country for more than six decades as a public officer, historian, and philosopher.

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