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Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt

Thomas Jefferson, President 1801-1809

Fun Facts About Thomas Jefferson

Born on April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was a leading figure in our country’s quest for independence. A native of Virginia, Jefferson also played important roles in the early history of our fledgling nation as its Minister to France, Secretary of State and third President.

A true Renaissance man, Jefferson is known for his many talents in writing, economics, religion and philosophy as well as horticulture and mathematics. He spoke 6 languages including English, French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish. He also had a love for the written word, having written over 19,000 letters in his lifetime.

A Multi-Talented Thinker

Jefferson was an inventor, lawyer and educator. He graduated from the University of William and Mary at the age of 18, two years after he enrolled in 1762. He was the designer of Monticello, the Virginia State Capital and The Rotunda at the University of Virginia among other notable buildings. His influential style has become known as “Jeffersonian Architecture”. Monticello and The Rotunda are both World Heritage Sites.

He Went on a Hunger Strike (and Encouraged Others to Join Him)

As a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, Jefferson called for a day of prayer and fasting in support of the citizens of Boston when the British government closed the harbor in response to the Boston Tea Party. As he had hoped, this action allied Virginia with the Patriots’ cause in Massachusetts and fueled opposition to the Intolerable Acts.

He Was the Major Pen of the Declaration of Independence

At the age of 33, Jefferson was one of the youngest delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He became acquainted with John Adams, a leader of the Congress, and through this budding friendship, Jefferson was appointed to the Committee of Five that was tasked with drafting the Declaration of Independence. Over the next 17 days, he would create the first draft. Jefferson is considered by many to be the primary author of the document because the committee left intact more than 75 percent of his original draft. Many believed that John Adams would be the primary author of this important document, but he had persuaded the Committee to choose Jefferson instead. The preamble is regarded as one of the most enduring statements of human rights and the phrase “all men are created equal” is considered one of the most well-known expressions in the English language. Jefferson was an eloquent writer, but did not fancy himself a public speaker, and chose to show his support of the Patriot cause through written correspondence.

Writing to Justify the Actions of Discontent Bostonians

In 1774, Jefferson penned a pamphlet entitled “A Summary View of the Rights of British Americans”. In the pamphlet, he outlined a set of grievances that the colonies had against King George III. Jefferson also wrote that “an exasperated people” who felt oppression, when given the chance, would act out in defiance. The perfect example of this defiance was the “destruction of the tea”, or what would become known as the Boston Tea Party. Like his colleagues George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson believed the act was destruction of private property subject to local laws, but his pamphlet outlined why it was justified as an act of political protest.

His Proudest Moments

Jefferson’s grave is inscribed with an epitaph of the three things of which he was the proudest. They are his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, the Statute of Virginia that guaranteed religious freedom and his founding of the University of Virginia in 1819. There is no mention of him being President on his gravestone.

A Family Man

Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, in 1772. He fathered six children, though only two daughters survived to adulthood. Throughout his life, Jefferson had twelve grandchildren; several of them having lived with him at Monticello. Jefferson loved to play with his grandchildren, teaching them how to play chess and a game called Goose. (Goose was one of the first board games in the United States, rather similar to our modern version of Chutes and Ladders.) After his wife died, historians believe he began a relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves. After his death, Jefferson’s daughter allowed Hemings to live as a free woman in Charlottesville until she died in 1835. DNA tests in 2000 show a familial gene common between their descendants.

A Controversial Start to His Presidency

It was only after the chaotic election of 1800 between Jefferson and John Adams that Congress decided to ratify the 12th Amendment to the Constitution. The debacle occurred when Jefferson received the same number of electoral votes as his running mate Aaron Burr and Burr refused to concede the election. The House of Representatives decided the election after 36 ballots on February 17, 1801. They chose Jefferson as President and Burr as Vice President.

Landmark Acquisition

Early in his presidency, Jefferson was able to achieve one of the greatest acquisitions of his political career with the Louisiana Purchase, which more than doubled the size of the United States. The 529,000,000-acre tract of land is one of the most fertile on Earth and eliminated the nation’s reliance on other countries for its food. Jefferson did not believe the Constitution gave him the power to make the $15 million land acquisition, but agreed with Congress to make the purchase. He appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition known as the Corps of Discovery to explore the newly acquired territory. Sacagawea, who both men acknowledged as providing an indispensable service, accompanied them on the journey.

Lifelong Connection

After meeting at the Second Continental Congress in 1775, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams became lifelong friends. Their relationship deepened through years of letter-writing, including letters written between Abigail Adams and Jefferson. They spent years in France together as Jefferson and Adams served as trade ministers in Europe. The two remained close friends despite their political differences; that is, until Jefferson beat Adams in the Election of 1801 to become President of the United States. They resumed their close friendship after about 10 years of separation. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Legend holds that Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier. They were the last surviving members of the original group of Patriots that became known as America’s Founding Fathers. Jefferson and Adams also share the distinction of being the only Declaration of Independence signatories who would later serve as President.

He Lives On

In addition to the Jefferson Memorial near the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., he is immortalized on the $2 bill, the nickel and as one of the figures of Mount Rushmore. The memorial in the nation’s capital, featuring a 19-foot tall statue of Jefferson, was dedicated in 1943 on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

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