Remembering the Monumental Accomplishments of President Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president, is one of the most significant leaders in the entire history of the United States. We would hope every single American has heard the stories of his life, but perhaps many of his accomplishments have eluded the minds of most today.
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13th, 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia. He was one of ten children, and of English descent. Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia at 16 years of age, two years after his father passed away. There, he was introduced to George Wythe, who became a professor and mentor to the future president. Wythe would later sign the Declaration of Independence and mentor future Senator Henry Clay and future Chief Justice John Marshall.
While studying law and clerking for Wythe, Jefferson studied the classics, philosophy, natural law, ethics, agriculture, and science simultaneously. Wythe was so taken with Jefferson that he gifted him his entire library, which would later be destroyed in a fire but replaced three years later in 1773. Decades later, Jefferson would donate 6,000 books of his collection (that began with Wythe) to the Library of Congress after the English destroyed the structure in 1814.
After being admitted to the bar in 1767, Jefferson became a delegate in the Virginia House where he introduced legislation to reform slavery by allowing masters to emancipate their slaves themselves, instead of going through the government. Jefferson hoped for Slavery’s abolition by drafting a law which would ban the importation of new slaves from Africa and prohibit slavery in the Northwest Territory.
He then took seven cases for slaves looking for freedom, and even waived the fee for one of them, and gave another man money to escape. While arguing for the freedom of these men, Jefferson stated that “Under the law of nature, all men are born free, everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty…”.
Many still point out that Jefferson was a slave owner himself. As reprehensible and evil the institution of slavery is, many argue that there was a clear contradiction within him, as he knew deep-down that the issue of slavery was morally wrong. It is clear through Jefferson’s writings that he felt powerless in solely being able to solve this moral issue in his lifetime, as he believed that trying to tackle Slavery would destroy the newly founded U.S. before it would be able to defend itself.
Jefferson soon penned the American Declaration of Independence, which was ratified on July 4th, 1776. In it, he penned one of the most, if not the most influential sentence in American history: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
In 1777, Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This disestablished the Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed religious freedom to individuals of all faiths. Before this statute, the Church of England forced citizens to attend and was able to tax them for tithes. Jefferson’s new law in Virginia set the foundations for the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, which all Americans know today.
On June 1st, 1779, he became the Governor of Virginia for two one-year terms, where he moved the capital to Williamsburg to Richmond. Jefferson also pushed measures for religious freedom and public education. In 1782, Jefferson’s wife, Martha, passed away and caused him to be bedridden for weeks and in total grief. Before she passed, Martha promised him to not remarry and he accepted her wishes.
In 1783, the future president became a delegate from Virginia in the U.S. Congress of the Confederation. In 1785, Jefferson became the 2nd U.S. minister to France, and became the 1st Secretary of State in American history 5 years later. He became John Adam’s Vice President after he lost his presidential bid to him in 1796. During these years, Jefferson championed anti-Federalist philosophies— contrary to the views of Adams— by ensuring that the federal government would not trample on state rights.
In the presidential election of 1800, Jefferson ran and eventually won in the three-way race against John Adams and Aaron Burr— becoming the nation's third president. In his campaign, Jefferson criticized Adams and the Federalist congress for passing the ‘Alien And Sedition Acts’, which made it significantly more difficult for people to become U.S. citizens, made it illegal to criticize the U.S. government, and made it harder for immigrants to vote. Jefferson pointed out the unconstitutionality of the laws and believed that they were actually designed to suppress members of his Democratic-Republican party.
Jefferson in 1800 | Painted by Rembrandt Peale
While president (1801-1809), Jefferson had a plethora of accomplishments. He pardoned all those who were unfairly imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts. He also authored the Louisiana purchase which doubled the size of the U.S by adding around 828,000 square miles of land brought from France. This caused him to commission the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore and map out this new territory. The third president also banned the African slave trade in 1808, lowered the national debt and federal spending, and led U.S. efforts in the Second Barbary War. Although his efforts in the war did not succeed, it laid the foundation for establishing American greatness across the world. President Jefferson also helped establish the U.S. military academy at West Point and greatly set the foundations for American ideals. He was greatly influenced by the works of John Locke, Montesquieu, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton among many.
After his presidency at age 76, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His original vision for the school was for people to freely arrive and study until they felt adequately educated. The president also designed the main area of the campus, as well as his Monticello home a couple of miles away, among other projects. Aside from his gifted talents in architecture, Jefferson was also an inventor and a lover of gadgets like the polygraph, which duplicated letters.
Jefferson's Monticello Home | Photo: Jonathan Hillyer
President Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams died on the exact same day— July 4th, 1826— 50 years to the day of America’s independence. Jefferson’s grave reads: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the American Declaration of Independence, of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia”.
Jefferson remains one of the most influential figures in U.S. history. He was not a perfect man— no one is— but his story and contributions to American society must never be forgotten.
Keyden Smith-Herold is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Analytical. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org