“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.” Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence July 4th, 1776.
I’ll bet you think you know him, but Jefferson was so much more than most people think. Jefferson was an inventor, gardener, architect, macaroni lover, prehistoric bone collector, pirate fighter, founding foodie, and a passionate patriot. From his childhood of education, powerful political career, and later work, Jefferson was working tirelessly for his country. He was Thomas Jefferson.
On April 13th 1743, Jane and Peter Jefferson, after having two other children, brought Thomas Jefferson into the world. She would later give birth to his seven younger siblings. At the age of nine, his formal education began when he was sent to a private school where he was taught things like Latin and Greek. His education was continued under Reverend James Maury, who taught Jefferson literature, classical language, and math. Three years later, in 1760, he began attending the College of William and Mary where he stayed for 3 years. Appalled by the frivolity of those his age, he befriended men like George Wythe, the first American law professor, under whom Jefferson would later read law in a tough law apprenticeship that lasted five years. After passing the Bar in 1767, he went on to work as a lawyer for eight years. During this time, he married Martha Skelton, with whom he would have six children, though only one outlived him. Jefferson was elected to the Virginia House of Burgess and wrote “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” This is when his journey toward political fame and historical relevance truly begins.
Throughout his life Jefferson’s motto was, “It is wonderful how much can be done if we always keep doing.” The impact of these words on him can be seen very clearly in his political career. Not only was he constantly moving and pushing forward in his work, but also in inventing, gardening, and writing. His mind was not just focused on politics, but was also filled with invention ideas. Some of Jefferson’s creations were: the swivel chair, a macaroni machine, and a hand-held document copier.
During his time in both the Virginia House of Burgess and the Continental Congress, his gifts lent him more toward writing than verbal debate on the floor. This is why, at the age of thirty-three, Jefferson was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. In seventeen days, using no references, Jefferson wrote of how the tyranny of English rule would no longer be tolerated and how every person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a principle he did not apply to the enslaved people Jefferson owned. After a period of reading, editing, and re-reading, it was adopted on July 4th, 1776.
For most of the remainder of the war, Jefferson was serving on the Virginia House of Delegates, where he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, precursor to the First Amendment. Elected June 1st 1779, Jefferson became Governor of Virginia, a job at which he did not particularly excel. Torn between the war effort and the protection of his state, he resigned June 4th 1781. Sadly, tragedy struck his family when his beloved wife died September 6th 1782. This hit him hard, not leaving the house for weeks. In 1785, Jefferson was appointed Benjamin Franklin’s replacement as Ambassador to France. His time there brought him closer to his friends, Abigail and John Adams, who was the Ambassador to England at that time. It also gave him a renewed appreciation for his country after seeing the horrid conditions of the common folk in France.
He returned to America in 1789 to learn that he had been appointed Secretary of State for President George Washington. Tensions between the Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, a major figure of the opposing party, caused him to resign in 1793. After that Jefferson became the defacto leader of his party, the Republican Democrats. he ran for the still relatively new office of President in 1796, losing to John Adams by 3 votes. In those days, the person with the second most votes became Vice President, but unfortunately the fact that we were from opposing parties made for both a dysfunctional administration and friendship. Four years later, in 1800, Jefferson ran once more, only to tie with Aaron Burr. It was settled by Congress in his favor.
Once in office, Jefferson did many great things such as lower the national debt by one third, end the harassment of American sailors by pirates, and buy the Louisiana Territory from France. After his Presidency, Jefferson retired to Monticello, having done much to shape the country into what it is today.
After retiring, Jefferson slowed down, but not by much. He spent much of his later life constantly writing letters. This is when he rekindled his friendship with John and Abigail Adams. Jefferson rebuilt his beloved Virginia farm, Monticello, adding and tweaking it as time went on. As a big proponent of education, he helped found the University of Virginia in 1825. Alas, all this was not free. Jefferson experienced financial problems later in life, leading him to sell his expansive library to the government. This became the basis for the Library of Congress. After many, many years of working for his country, Thomas Jefferson passed away on July 4th 1826, the exact same day as his dear friend, John Adams, and the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which spoke of principles that he passionately believed in but found challenging to apply universally.
His life was filled with hard work and a love for his country. He worked tirelessly for his country as a writer, lawyer, delegate, governor, ambassador, Vice President, President, Thomas Jefferson.