Who: Thomas Jefferson
What: 3rd President of the United States, 2nd Vice President of the United States, 1st United States Secretary of State, Founding Father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, architect, agriculturalist, astronomer, writer, palaeontologist and polymath
Where: Born Shadwell, Virginia; died Charlottesville, Virginia
Why: Presided over the Louisiana Purchase, the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Lewis Clark expedition and the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade
When: Born April 13, 1743; died July 4, 1826
“The government is best that governs least” – Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was born into a planter family, the third of ten children. He studied philosophy, metaphysics and mathematics at the College of William and Mary, graduating in just two years, and worked as a lawyer. As a member of the Second Continental Congress, he was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence. He was minister to France from 1785-1789, and was chosen by George Washington to be the first Secretary of State. He believed in small federal government, strong state governments, and on these principles founded the Democratic Party. He ran against John Adams in the 1796 election, and was elected Vice President by virtue of receiving the second highest tally.
He defeated Adams in the 1800 election, and served two full terms. After the Louisiana Purchase, he sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new land, passed the Embargo Act of 1807, making foreign trade illegal. This isolationist policy was repealed after just two years, but lessened American reliance on foreign merchants and set a strong economic foundation for the isolationist policy it would follow for the next century. He also brought Ohio into the Union as the 17th state, crucially passing the Ordinance of 1787 which prohibited slavery in the new territories and states, fuelling the issue that would eventually lead to the Civil War. After his presidency he founded the University of Virginia, and died in 1826 on the same day as his rival and friend John Adams, aged 83.
Facts about Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, who died in 1782, aged 33. He had six children by her
He was the first widower to serve as President
He was a seriously avid reader. After the British burned Washington DC in the War of 1812, Jefferson donated 6,500 books from his personal collection to help rebuild the Library of Congress
He was a prolific writer. The Library of Congress has preserved 27,000 documents of his, as well as the Declaration of Independence. He also wrote the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom and his own epitaph, which did not mention his two terms as President of the United States, but his authorship of the Declaration
He learned to play the violin, as well as French, Greek and Latin on top of his studies
He was an accomplished architect, designing the rotunda for the University of Virginia, the Virginia State Capitol, his private plantations Monticello and Poplar Forest and the Farmington Country Club
He is memorialised as one of the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore, as well as the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.
Despite the immortal phrase he etched into the Declaration of Independence, that ‘all men are created equal’, Jefferson is notorious as a slave-holder. He may have fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Heming. He owned hundreds of slaves in his lifetime, and suspected that African-Americans were inferior in intelligence