Checked content

Thomas Jefferson

Related subjects: USA Presidents

Background Information

Arranging a Wikipedia selection for schools in the developing world without internet was an initiative by SOS Children. Before you decide about sponsoring a child, why not learn about different sponsorship charities first?

Thomas Jefferson
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale.
3rd President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
Vice President Aaron Burr
George Clinton
Preceded by John Adams
Succeeded by James Madison
2nd Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
President John Adams
Preceded by John Adams
Succeeded by Aaron Burr
1st United States Secretary of State
In office
March 22, 1790 – December 31, 1793
President George Washington
Preceded by John Jay (Acting)
Succeeded by Edmund Randolph
United States Minister to France
In office
May 17, 1785 – September 26, 1789
Appointed by Congress of the Confederation
Preceded by Benjamin Franklin
Succeeded by William Short
Delegate to the
Congress of the Confederation
from Virginia
In office
November 3, 1783 – May 7, 1784
Preceded by James Madison
Succeeded by Richard Henry Lee
2nd Governor of Virginia
In office
June 1, 1779 – June 3, 1781
Preceded by Patrick Henry
Succeeded by William Fleming
Delegate to the
Second Continental Congress
from Virginia
In office
June 20, 1775 – September 26, 1776
Preceded by George Washington
Succeeded by John Harvie
Personal details
Born (1743-04-13)April 13, 1743
Shadwell, Colony of Virginia
Died July 4, 1826(1826-07-04) (aged 83)
Charlottesville, Virginia
Resting place Monticello
Charlottesville, Virginia
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Martha Wayles
Children Martha
Lucy Elizabeth
Residence Monticello
Poplar Forest
Alma mater College of William and Mary
Profession Planter
College Administrator
Religion Christian Deist (unaffiliated deist)
Signature Th: Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743 O.S.) – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France.

Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. With his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and subsequently resigned from Washington's cabinet. Elected Vice President in 1796, when he came in second to John Adams of the Federalists, Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Elected president in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. With escalating trouble with Britain who was challenging American neutrality and threatening shipping at sea, he tried economic warfare with his embargo laws which only damaged American trade. In 1803, President Jefferson initiated a process of Indian tribal removal and relocation to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, in order to open lands for eventual American settlers.

A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages fluently and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello. While not a notable orator, Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his adult life.

Though Jefferson owned many slaves, he opposed the institution all his life and consequently treated and took care of them very well and expected them to work no more than free farmers. Since 1802 historians and others have been divided over the controversy of whether Jefferson was the father of one or more children belonging to Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello." Historians are in disagreement with how much Jefferson was committed to the anti-slavery cause. In 1807, President Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States. After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Jefferson remained a widower for the rest of his life; their marriage produced six children, of whom two survived to adulthood.

Though Jefferson has been criticized by many modern day scholars over the issue of slavery, he remains rated as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.

Early life and career

The third of ten children, Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743 OS) at the family home in Shadwell, Goochland County, Virginia, now part of Albemarle County. His father was Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor. He was of possible Welsh descent, although this remains unclear. His mother was Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph, a ship's captain and sometime planter. Peter and Jane married in 1739. Thomas Jefferson showed little interest in learning about his ancestry; he only knew of the existence of his paternal grandfather.

Before the widower William Randolph, an old friend of Peter Jefferson, died in 1745, he appointed Peter as guardian to manage his Tuckahoe Plantation and care for his four children. That year the Jeffersons relocated to Tuckahoe, where they lived for the next seven years before returning to Shadwell in 1752. Peter Jefferson died in 1757 and the Jefferson estate was divided between Peter's two sons; Thomas and Randolph. Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 7.8 sq mi) of land, including Monticello and between 20 and 40 slaves. He took control of the property after he came of age at 21. The actual amount of land and slaves that Jefferson inherited is estimated. The first known record Jefferson made in regards to slave ownership, was in 1774, when he owned 41.


Jefferson began his childhood education under the direction of tutors at Tuckahoe along with the Randolph children. In 1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister. At the age of nine, Jefferson began studying Latin, Greek, and French; he learned to ride horses, and began to appreciate the study of nature. He studied under Reverend James Maury from 1758 to 1760 near Gordonsville, Virginia. While boarding with Maury's family, he studied history, science and the classics.

At age 16, Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, and first met the law professor George Wythe, who became his influential mentor. He studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small, who introduced the enthusiastic Jefferson to the writings of the British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. He also improved his French, Greek, and violin. A diligent student, Jefferson displayed an avid curiosity in all fields and graduated in 1762, completing his studies in only two years. Jefferson read law while working as a law clerk for Wythe. During this time, he also read a wide variety of English classics and political works. Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

Throughout his life, Jefferson depended on books for his education. He collected and accumulated thousands of books for his library at Monticello. When Jefferson's father Peter died Thomas inherited, among other things, his large library. A significant portion of Jefferson's library was also bequeathed to him in the will of George Wythe, who had an extensive collection. After the British burned the Library of Congress in 1814 Jefferson offered to sell his collection of more than six thousand books to Congress for about four dollars a book. After realizing he was no longer in possession of such a grand collection he wrote in a letter to John Adams, "I cannot live without books". Always eager for more knowledge, Jefferson immediately began buying more books and continued learning throughout most of his life.

Marriage and family

After practicing as a circuit lawyer for several years, Jefferson married the 23-year-old widow Martha Wayles Skelton on January 1, 1772. Martha Jefferson was attractive, gracious and popular with her friends; she was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. They had a happy marriage. She read widely, did fine needle work and was an amateur musician. Jefferson played the violin and Martha was an accomplished piano player. It is said that she was attracted to Thomas largely because of their mutual love of music. During the ten years of their marriage, Martha bore six children: Martha, called Patsy, (1772–1836); Jane (1774–1775); an unnamed son (1777); Mary Wayles, called Polly, (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1785). Only Martha and Mary survived to adulthood.

After her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha and her husband Jefferson inherited his 135 slaves, 11,000 acres (4,500 ha; 17 sq mi) and the debts of his estate. These took Jefferson and other co-executors of the estate years to pay off, which contributed to his financial problems. Later in life, Martha Jefferson suffered from diabetes and ill health, and frequent childbirth further weakened her. A few months after the birth of her last child, Martha, age 33, died on September 6, 1782. Jefferson was at his wife's bedside and was distraught after her death. In the following three weeks, Jefferson shut himself in his room, where he paced back and forth until he was nearly exhausted. Later he would often take long rides on secluded roads to mourn for his wife. As he had promised his wife, Jefferson never remarried.


Jefferson's Home Monticello
Monticello west lawn in October 2010

In 1768, Jefferson began construction of his primary residence, Monticello, on a hilltop overlooking a 5,000 acre plantation. Construction was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by Jefferson's slaves. Jefferson moved into the South Pavilion (an outbuilding) in 1770, where his new wife, Martha, joined him in 1772. Turning Monticello into a neoclassical masterpiece after the Palladian style would be his continuing project.

While Minister to France during 1784–1789, Jefferson had opportunity to see some of the classical buildings with which he had become acquainted from his reading, as well as to discover the "modern" trends in French architecture then fashionable in Paris. In 1794, following his service as Secretary of State (1790–93), he began rebuilding Monticello based on the ideas he had acquired in Europe. The remodeling continued throughout most of his presidency (1801–09). The most notable change was the addition of the octagonal dome.

Lawyer and House of Burgesses

Jefferson was a lawyer in colonial Virginia from 1768 to 1773 with his friend and mentor, George Wythe. Jefferson's client list featured members of Virginia's elite families, including members of his mother's family, the Randolphs. Beside practicing law, Jefferson represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses beginning on May 11, 1769 and ending June 20, 1775. Following the passage of the Intolerable Acts by the British Parliament in 1774, Jefferson wrote a set of resolutions against the acts. These were later expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, in which he expressed his belief that people had the right to govern themselves.

Political career from 1775 to 1800

The Declaration of Independence,
Facsimile copy of 1823

Declaration of Independence

Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress beginning in June 1775, soon after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. He didn't know many people in the congress, but sought out John Adams who, along with his cousin Samuel, had emerged as a leader of the convention. Jefferson and Adams established a friendship that would last the rest of their lives; it led to the drafting of Jefferson to write the declaration of independence. When Congress began considering a resolution of independence in June 1776, Adams ensured that Jefferson was appointed to the five-man committee to write a declaration in support of the resolution. After discussing the general outline for the document, the committee decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. The committee in general, and Jefferson in particular, thought Adams should write the document. Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson, who was reluctant to take the assignment, and promised to consult with the younger man. Over the next seventeen days, Jefferson had limited time for writing and finished the draft quickly. Consulting with other committee members, Jefferson also drew on his own proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources. The other committee members made some changes. Most notably Jefferson had written, "We hold these truths to be sacred and un-deniable..." Franklin changed it to, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." A final draft was presented to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled."

Jefferson viewed the Independence of the American people from the mother country Britain as breaking away from "parent stock", and that the War of Independence from Britain was a natural outcome of being separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Jefferson viewed English colonists were compelled to rely on "common sense" and rediscover the " laws of nature". According to Jefferson, the Independence of the original British colonies was in a historical succession following a similar pattern when the Saxons colonized Britain and left their mother country Europe hundreds of years earlier.

After voting in favour of the resolution of independence on July 2, Congress turned its attention to the declaration. Over three days of debate, Congress made changes and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade. While Jefferson resented the changes, he did not speak publicly about the revisions. On July 4, 1776, the Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence and the delegates signed the document. The Declaration would eventually be considered one of Jefferson's major achievements; his preamble has been considered an enduring statement of human rights. All men are created equal has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language", containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who based his philosophy on it, and argued for the Declaration as a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.

Virginia state legislator and Governor

Miniature Portrait of Jefferson by Robert Field (1800)

After Independence, Jefferson returned to Virginia and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for Albemarle County. Before his return, he commented on the drafting of the state's constitution; he continued to support freehold suffrage, by which only property holders could vote. He served as a Delegate from September 26, 1776 – June 1, 1779, as the war continued. Jefferson wanted to abolish primogeniture and provide for general education, which he hoped to make the basis of "republican government." He also wanted to disestablish the Anglican church in Virginia, but this was not done until 1786, while he was in France as US Minister. After Thomas Ludwell Lee died in 1778 Jefferson was given the task of studying and revising the state's laws. Jefferson drafted 126 bills in three years, including laws to establish fee simple tenure in land and to streamline the judicial system. In 1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" and subsequent efforts to reduce control by clergy led to some small changes at William and Mary College, but free public education was not established until the late nineteenth century. In 1779, at Jefferson's behest, William and Mary appointed his mentor George Wythe as the first professor of law in an American university.

In 1779, at the age of thirty-six, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia by the two houses of the legislature. The term was then for one year, and he was re-elected in 1780. As governor in 1780, he transferred the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond. Jefferson served as a wartime governor, as the united colonies continued the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. In late 1780, as Governor he prepared Richmond for attack by moving all military supplies to a foundry located five miles outside of town. General Benedict Arnold learned of the transfer and captured the foundry. He also delayed too long in raising a militia. In January 1781 he evacuated Richmond as the war got closer. In early June 1781, Cornwallis dispatched a 250-man cavalry force commanded by Banastre Tarleton on a secret expedition to capture Governor Jefferson and members of the Assembly at Monticello but Jack Jouett of the Virginia militia thwarted the British plan by warning them. Jefferson escaped to Poplar Forest, his plantation to the west. Jefferson believed his gubernatorial term had expired in June, and he spent much of the summer with his family at Poplar Forest. His tenure as governor in general, and his decision to flee the capital in particular, was heavily criticized at the time, and has been criticized by historians ever since. The members of the General Assembly had quickly reconvened in June 1781 in Staunton, Virginia across the Blue Ridge Mountains. They voted to reward Jouett with a pair of pistols and a sword, but considered an official inquiry into Jefferson's actions, as they believed he had failed his responsibilities as governor. Jefferson was not re-elected again.

Member of Congress

Memorial plaque on the Champs-Élysées, Paris, France, marking where Jefferson lived while U.S. Minister to France.
Memorial plaque marking where Jefferson lived while U.S. Minister to France.

Following its victory in the Revolutionary War and peace treaty with Great Britain in 1783, the United States formed a Congress of the Confederation (informally called the Continental Congress), to which Jefferson was appointed as a Virginia delegate. As a member of the committee formed to set foreign exchange rates, he recommended that American currency should be based on the decimal system; his plan was adopted. Jefferson also recommended setting up the Committee of the States, to function as the executive arm of Congress. The plan was adopted but failed in practice. Jefferson wrote an ordinance banning slavery in all the nation's territories though it wasn't passed into law. He later resigned from Congress when he was appointed as minister to France.

Minister to France

When Jefferson's wife Martha died, friends such as John Adams noted that the widower Jefferson seemed so depressed that he might be suicidal. They believed that sending him to France would take his mind off his wife's death, so he was appointed minister to France in 1785. During his nineteen day voyage enroute to France Jefferson taught himself how to read and write Spanish.

Still in his 40s, Jefferson was minister to France from 1785 to 1789, the year the French Revolution started. Months before Jefferson actually assumed the role as Minister to France he arrived in Paris on August 6, 1784 and four days later rode out to Passy to greet his old friend Benjamin Franklin. When the French foreign minister, the Count de Vergennes, commented to Jefferson, "You replace Monsieur Franklin, I hear," Jefferson replied, "I succeed him. No man can replace him." Jefferson attended the ceremony held at Passy bidding farewell to Franklin who departed for the United States on July 12, 1785.

Though France was at the brink of revolution, Jefferson's tenure there was generally an uneventful one. He often found it difficult to fill the shoes of his predecessor Benjamin Franklin, who at the time was one of the most famous people in the world. He enjoyed the architecture, arts, and the salon culture of Paris. He often dined with many of the city's most prominent people, and stocked up on wines to take back to the US. While in Paris, Jefferson corresponded with many people who had important roles in the imminent French Revolution. These included the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Comte de Mirabeau, a popular pamphleteer who repeated ideals that had been the basis for the American Revolution. WHile in Paris he wrote a letter to Edward Carrington expressing some of these ideals he held regarding the natural tendencies of government and its relationship to the people:

“the natural process of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground..”

Jefferson's eldest daughter Martha, known as Patsy, went with him to France in 1784. His two youngest daughters were in the care of friends in the United States. To serve the household, Jefferson brought some of his slaves, including James Hemings, who trained as a French chef for his master's service. Jefferson's youngest daughter Lucy died of whooping cough in 1785 in the United States, and he was bereft. In 1786, Jefferson met and fell in love with Maria Cosway, an accomplished Italian-English artist and musician of 27. They saw each other frequently over a period of six weeks. A married woman, she returned to Great Britain, but they maintained a lifelong correspondence. In 1787, Jefferson sent for his youngest surviving child, Polly, then age nine. He requested that a slave accompany Polly on the transatlantic voyage. By chance, Sally Hemings, a younger sister of James, was chosen; she lived in the Jefferson household in Paris for about two years.

Secretary of State

In September 1789 Jefferson returned to the US from France with his two daughters and slaves. Immediately upon his return, President Washington wrote to him asking him to accept a seat in his Cabinet as Secretary of State. Jefferson accepted the appointment.

As Washington's Secretary of State (1790–1793), Jefferson argued with Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, about national fiscal policy, especially the funding of the debts of the war. Jefferson later associated Hamilton and the Federalists with "Royalism," and said the "Hamiltonians were panting after ... crowns, coronets and mitres." On May 23, 1792, Jefferson wrote a letter to President Washington describing the political alignments that were visible in the young nation. He urged the president to rally the citizenry in a party that would defend democracy against the corrupting influence of banks and monied interests. Historians recognize this letter as a milestone that defined the founding principles of today’s Democratic Party. Due to their opposition to Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison organized and led the anti-administration party (called Republican, and known later as Democratic-Republican). He worked with Madison and his campaign manager John J. Beckley to build a nationwide network of Republican allies. Jefferson's political actions and his attempt to undermine Hamilton nearly led Washington to dismiss Jefferson from his cabinet. Although Jefferson left the cabinet voluntarily, Washington never forgave him for his actions, and never spoke to him again.

The French minister said in 1793: "Senator Morris and Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton ... had the greatest influence over the President's mind, and that it was only with difficulty that he [Jefferson] counterbalanced their efforts." Jefferson supported France against Britain when they fought in 1793. Jefferson believed that political success at home depended on the success of the French army in Europe. In 1793, the French minister Edmond-Charles Genêt caused a crisis when he tried to influence public opinion by appealing to the American people, something which Jefferson tried to stop.

During his discussions with George Hammond, first British Minister to the U.S. from 1791, Jefferson tried to achieve three important goals: secure British admission of violating the Treaty of Paris (1783) ; vacate their posts in the Northwest (the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River north of the Ohio); and compensate the United States to pay American slave owners for the slaves whom the British had freed and evacuated at the end of the war. John C. Miller notes that after failing to gain agreement on any of these, Jefferson resigned in December 1793.

Jefferson retired to Monticello, from where he continued to oppose the policies of Hamilton and Washington. The Jay Treaty of 1794, led by Hamilton, brought peace and trade with Britain – while Madison, with strong support from Jefferson, wanted "to strangle the former mother country" without going to war. "It became an article of faith among Republicans that 'commercial weapons' would suffice to bring Great Britain to any terms the United States chose to dictate." Even during the violence of the Reign of Terror in France, Jefferson refused to disavow the revolution because "To back away from France would be to undermine the cause of republicanism in America."

Election of 1796 and Vice Presidency

As the Democratic-Republican (then called Republican) presidential candidate in 1796, Jefferson lost to John Adams, but had enough electoral votes to become Vice President (1797–1801). One of the chief duties of a Vice President is presiding over the Senate, and Jefferson was concerned about its lack of rules leaving decisions to the discretion of the presiding officer. Years before holding his first office, Jefferson had spent much time researching procedures and rules for governing bodies. As a student, he had transcribed notes on British parliamentary law into a manual which he would later call his Parliamentary Pocket Book. Jefferson had also served on the committee appointed to draw up the rules of order for the Continental Congress in 1776. As Vice President, he was ready to reform Senatorial procedures.

With the Quasi-War underway, the Federalists under John Adams started rebuilding the military, levied new taxes, and enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson believed that these acts were intended to suppress Democratic-Republicans rather than dangerous enemy aliens, although the acts were allowed to expire. Jefferson and Madison rallied opposition support by anonymously writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which formed the basis of State's rights, declaring that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it by the states. Though the resolutions followed the " interposition" approach of Madison, Jefferson advocated nullification. At one point he drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede. Jefferson's biographer Dumas Malone argued that had his actions become known at the time, Jefferson might have been impeached for treason.

In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson warned that, "unless arrested at the threshold," the Alien and Sedition Acts would "necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood." The historian Ron Chernow says, "[H]e wasn't calling for peaceful protests or civil disobedience: he was calling for outright rebellion, if needed, against the federal government of which he was vice president."

Chernow believes that Jefferson "thus set forth a radical doctrine of states' rights that effectively undermined the constitution." He argues that neither Jefferson nor Madison sensed that they had sponsored measures as inimical as the Alien and Sedition Acts. The historian Garry Wills argued, "Their nullification effort, if others had picked it up, would have been a greater threat to freedom than the misguided [alien and sedition] laws, which were soon rendered feckless by ridicule and electoral pressure." The theoretical damage of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions was "deep and lasting, and was a recipe for disunion". George Washington was so appalled by them that he told Patrick Henry that if "systematically and pertinaciously pursued", they would "dissolve the union or produce coercion." The influence of Jefferson's doctrine of states' rights reverberated to the Civil War and beyond. According to Chernow, during the Quasi-War, Jefferson engaged in a "secret campaign to sabotage Adams in French eyes." In the spring of 1797, he held four confidential talks with the French consul Joseph Letombe. In these private meetings, Jefferson attacked Adams, predicted that he would only serve one term, and encouraged France to invade England. Jefferson advised Letombe to stall any American envoys sent to Paris by instructing them to "listen to them and then drag out the negotiations at length and mollify them by the urbanity of the proceedings." This toughened the tone that the French government adopted with the new Adams Administration. Due to pressure against the Adams Administration from Jefferson and his supporters, Congress released the papers related to the XYZ Affair, which rallied a shift in popular opinion from Jefferson and the French government to supporting Adams.


Election of 1800 and first term

Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office on March 4, 1801, at a time when partisan strife between the Democratic-Republican and Federalist parties was growing to alarming proportions. He had worked closely with Aaron Burr, and after rallying support for his party Jefferson and Burr received the most electoral votes, but since neither had a majority, the election was decided in the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives.

Though the Federalists wanted neither Jefferson nor Burr to be president, Hamilton convinced his party that Jefferson would be a lesser political evil than Burr and that such scandal within the electoral process would undermine the new constitution.

Jefferson negotiated with Delaware representative James Asheton Bayard II through Maryland representative, Samuel Smith, to secure Bayard's support in breaking the electoral college deadlock.

On February 17, 1801, after thirty-six ballots, the House elected Jefferson President and Burr Vice President. Jefferson owed his election victory to the South's inflated number of Electors, which counted slaves under the three-fifths compromise.

He was sworn in by Chief Justice John Marshall at the new Capitol in Washington DC. In contrast to the preceding president John Adams, Jefferson exhibited a dislike of formal etiquette. Unlike Washington, who arrived at his inauguration in a stagecoach drawn by six cream colored horses, Jefferson arrived alone on horseback without guard or escort. He was dressed in plain attire and after dismounting, retired his own horse to the nearby stable.

Regarded by his supporters as the 'People's President' news of Jefferson's election was well received in many parts of the new country and was marked by celebrations throughout the Union. After his election some of his political opponents referred to him as the "Negro President", with critics like the Mercury and New-England Palladium of Boston stating that Jefferson had the gall to celebrate his election as a victory for democracy when he won "the temple of Liberty on the shoulders of slaves." As a result of his two predecessors' administrations, as well as the state of events in Europe, Jefferson inherited the presidency with relatively few urgent problems. Though he and his supporters attempted to dismantle several of the accomplishments of his two predecessors, notably the national bank, military, and federal taxation system, they were only partially successful.

Administration, Cabinet and Supreme Court appointments

Painting of Jefferson wearing fur collar by Rembrandt Peale, 1805
Painting of Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805)
The Jefferson Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Thomas Jefferson 1801–1809
Vice President Aaron Burr 1801–1805
George Clinton 1805–1809
Secretary of State James Madison 1801–1809
Secretary of Treasury Samuel Dexter 1801
Albert Gallatin 1801–1809
Secretary of War Henry Dearborn 1801–1809
Attorney General Levi Lincoln, Sr. 1801–1804
John Breckinridge 1805–1806
Caesar A. Rodney 1807–1809
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert 1801
Robert Smith 1801–1809

Judicial appointments

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

  • William Johnson – 1804
  • Henry Brockholst Livingston – 1807
  • Thomas Todd – 1807

States admitted to the Union

  • Ohio – March 1, 1803

First Barbary War

Map. Barbary Coast of North Africa 1806.
Barbary Coast of North Africa 1806. map left is Morocco at Gilbraltar, centre map isTunis; right, Tripoli stretches east

For decades, North African pirates had been capturing American ships and crew members and demanding huge ransoms for their release. Before Independence, American merchant ships were protected from the Barbary pirates by the naval and diplomatic influence of Great Britain. When the American Revolution began, American ships were protected by the 1778 alliance with France, which required the French nation to protect "American vessels and effects against all violence, insults, attacks ...". On December 20, 1777, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed III declared that the American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage into the Mediterranean and along the coast. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.

Upon independence the United States had to protect its own merchant vessels. At this time the United States was paying $80,000 to the Barbary States as a 'tribute' for protection against piracy, as did Britain and France. After Tripoli made new demands on the new President for an immediate sum of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000, President Jefferson refused and at that point decided it would be easier to fight the pirates than give into their continuing demands. As a result the pasha of Tripoli declared war on the United States on May 10, 1801 and the First Barbary War began. Before being elected President, Jefferson had opposed funds for a Navy to be used for anything more than a coastal defense, however the continued pirate attacks on American shipping interests in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and the systematic kidnapping of American crew members could no longer be ignored.

On May 15 Jefferson's cabinet voted unanimously to send three frigates and a schooner to the Mediterranean with orders to make a show of force but opt for peace; if a state of war existed they could use their own discretion. The frigates were the famous USS Philadelphia, USS President and the USS Essex along with the schooner USS Enterprise and became the first American naval squadron to cross the Atlantic. Under the command of Commodore Richard Dale the squadron sailed into the Mediterranean on July 1 where it stopped at Gibraltar for supplies and information. Here Dale learned that Tripoli had already declared war upon the United States. Jefferson and the young American navy forced Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli which ultimately moved it out of the war. Jefferson also ordered five separate naval bombardments of Tripoli, which restored peace in the Mediterranean for a while. Although Jefferson continued to pay the remaining Barbary States until the end of his presidency.

Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana Purchase approximate outline in black. In the early 1800s Mississippi and Ohio Valley trade flowed south to New Orleans in the Purchase territory

In 1803 in the midst of the Napoleonic wars between France and Britain, Thomas Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase, a major land acquisition from France that doubled the size of the United States. Most of France's wealth in the New World had come from its sugar plantations on Saint-Domingue and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, but production had fallen after a slave uprising. After sending more than 20,000 troops to try to regain the colony in 1802, France withdrew its 7,000 surviving troops in late 1803, shortly before Haiti declared independence. Having lost the revenue potential of Haiti while escalating his wars against the rest of Europe, Napoleon gave up on an empire in North America and used the purchase money to help finance France's war campaign on its home front. Though France was removed as a threat to the United States, Jefferson refused to recognize the new republic of Haiti, the second in the Western Hemisphere, and imposed an arms and trade embargo against it.

Jefferson had sent James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston to Paris in 1802 to try to buy the city of New Orleans and adjacent coastal areas. At Jefferson's request, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a French nobleman who had close ties with both Jefferson and Napoleon, also helped negotiate the purchase with France. Napoleon offered to sell the entire Territory for a price of $15 million, which Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin financed easily. Seizing the opportunity Jefferson acted contrary to the lack of an explicit Constitutional authority, and the Federalists criticized him for acting without that authority, but most thought that this opportunity was exceptional and could not be missed. On December 20, 1803 the French flag was lowered in New Orleans and the U.S. flag raised, symbolizing the transfer of the Louisiana territory from France to the United States.

Historians differ in their assessments as to who was the principal player in the purchase; the Jefferson biographer Peterson notes a range of opinion among those who credit Napoleon, or others who credit Jefferson, his secretary of state James Madison, and his negotiator James Monroe. Peterson agrees with Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson's arch rival, in attributing it to "dumb luck". Joseph Ellis, another biographer of Jefferson, believes the events encompassed a variety of elements. The historian George Herring has said that while the purchase was somewhat the result of Jefferson and Madison's "shrewd and sometimes belligerent diplomacy", that it "is often and rightly regarded as a diplomatic windfall—the result of accident, luck, and the whim of Napoleon Bonaparte." The entire territory was not finally secured until England and Mexico gave up their claims to northern and southern portions, respectively, during the presidency of James Polk (1845-1849).

Lewis and Clark Expedition

After the purchase of the Louisiana Territory Jefferson now needed to have this mostly unknown part of the country explored and mapped. In 1804 he appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as leaders of the expedition (1804–1806), which explored the Louisiana Territory and beyond, producing a wealth of scientific and geographical knowledge, and ultimately contributing to the European-American settlement of the West.

Jefferson had chosen Lewis to lead the expedition rather than a 'qualified scientist' because "It was impossible to find a character who to a complete science in botany, natural history, mineralogy & astronomy, joined the firmness of constitution & character, prudence, habits adapted to the woods & a familiarity with the Indian manners and character, requisite for this undertaking. All the latter qualifications Capt. Lewis has." Lewis however was not ignorant of science and he had demonstrated to Jefferson a marked capacity to learn, especially with Jefferson as his teacher. At Monticello Jefferson possessed the largest library in the world on the subject of the geography of the North American continent, and Lewis had full access to that library. He spent much time consulting maps and books and conferring with Jefferson on numerous topics. It was at this time Lewis had read Captain James Cook's A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784) an account of Cook's third voyage, and Le Page du Pratz'z The History of Louisiana ...(London, 1763) , works that Jefferson had also read, which greatly influenced his decision to commission an expedition into the newly acquired territory purchased by the United States in 1803.

Knowledge of the western part of the continent had been scant and incomplete, limited to what had been learned from trappers, traders, and explorers. Lewis and Clark, for whom the expedition became known, recruited the 45 men to accompany them, and spent a winter training them near St. Louis for the effort. The expedition had several goals expected by Jefferson, including finding a "direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce" (the long-sought Northwest Passage). They were to follow and map the rivers, record encounters with the various Indian tribes, make sketches of various plants, birds and animals, gather samples of various rocks and minerals and record all related scientific data. The expedition reached the Pacific Ocean by November 1805. With its return in 1806, it had fulfilled Jefferson's hopes by amassing much new data about the topographical features of the country and its natural resources, with details on the flora and fauna, as well as the many Indian tribes of the West with which he hoped to increase trading.

West Point

Ideas for a national institution for military education were circulated during the American Revolution. In May 1801 the Secretary of War Henry Dearborn announced that the president had appointed Major Jonathan Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, to direct organizing to establish such a school. Following the advice of George Washington, John Adams and others, in 1802 Jefferson and Congress agreed to authorize the funding and construction of the United States Military Academy at West Point on the Hudson River in New York. On March 16, 1802, Jefferson signed the Military Peace Establishment Act, directing that a corps of engineers be established and "constitute a Military Academy." The Act would provide well-trained officers for a professional army. On July 4, 1802, the US Military Academy at West Point formally started as an institution for scientific and military learning.

Native American policy

As governor of Virginia (1780–1781) during the Revolutionary War, Jefferson recommended forcibly moving Cherokee and Shawnee tribes that fought on the British side to lands west of the Mississippi River. Later, as president, Jefferson proposed in private letters beginning in 1803 a policy that under Andrew Jackson would be called Indian removal, under an act passed in 1830. As president, he made a deal with elected officials of the state of Georgia: if Georgia would release its legal claims to "discovery" in lands to its west, the U.S. military would help expel the Cherokee people from Georgia. His deal violated an existing treaty between the United States government and the Cherokee Nation, which guaranteed its people the right to their historic lands. Jefferson believed that Natives should give up their own cultures, religions, and lifestyles to assimilate to western European culture, give up their native religions, and a European-style agriculture, which he believed to be superior. He believed that assimilation of Native Americans into the European-American economy would make them more dependent on trade, and that they would eventually be willing to give up land that they would otherwise not part with, in exchange for trade goods or to resolve unpaid debts. In keeping with his trade and acculturation policy, Jefferson kept Benjamin Hawkins as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southeastern peoples, who became known as the Five Civilized Tribes for their adoption of European-American ways.

Jefferson believed assimilation was best for Native Americans; second best was removal to the west. He felt the worst outcome of the cultural and resources conflict between European Americans and Native Americans would be their attacking the whites. He told his Secretary of War, General Henry Dearborn (Indian affairs were then under the War Department): "if we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down until that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi." With the colonial and native civilizations in collision, compounded by British incitement of Indian tribes and mounting hostilities between the two peoples, Jefferson's administration took quick measures to avert another major conflict. His deal with Georgia was related to later measures to relocate the various Indian tribes to points further west.

1804 election and second term

In his second term, Jefferson's popularity suffered because the problems he faced, most notably those caused by the wars in Europe, became more difficult to solve. Relations with Great Britain had always been bad, due partly to the violent personal antipathy between Jefferson and the British Ambassador, Anthony Merry. During Jefferson's first term, Napoleon's position was relatively weak and as such negotiations were possible. After Napoleon's decisive victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, however, Napoleon became much more aggressive, and most American attempts to negotiate with him were unsuccessful. Jefferson responded with the Embargo Act of 1807, directed also at Great Britain. This triggered economic chaos in the US and was strongly criticized at the time, as it continues to be. Due to political attacks against Jefferson, in particular those by Alexander Hamilton and his supporters, he used the Alien and Sedition Acts to counter some of these political adversaries. In 1807, Jefferson ordered his former vice president Aaron Burr tried for treason. Burr was charged with conspiring to levy war against the United States in an attempt to establish a separate confederacy composed of the Western states and territories, but he was acquitted. The US Constitution of 1787 provided for protection of the international slave trade for two decades, during which planters of the Lower South imported tens of thousands of slaves, more than during any other 20-year period. In 1807 congress passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, which Jefferson signed into law and which went into effect January 1, 1808. While the act established severe punishment against the international trade, it did not regulate the domestic slave trade.


A political cartoon showing merchants dodging the "Ograbme", which is 'Embargo' spelled backwards, 1807.

Jefferson encouraged passage of the Embargo Act in 1807 to maintain American neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars, which was in accordance with France's Continental System against Britain. Jefferson hoped to avoid national humiliation on the one hand, and war on the other. In the event, he got both war and national humiliation; the economy of the entire Northeast suffered severely, Jefferson was vehemently denounced, and his party lost support. Instead of retreating, Jefferson sent federal agents to secretly track down smugglers and violators.

The embargo was a financial disaster because the Americans could not export, while widespread disregard of the law meant enforcement was difficult. For the most part, it effectively throttled American overseas trade. All areas of the United States suffered. In commercial New England and the Middle Atlantic states, ships rotted at the wharves, and in the agricultural areas, particularly in the South, farmers and planters could not export their crops. Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin was against the embargo, foreseeing correctly the impossibility of enforcing the policy and the negative public reaction. "As to the hope that it may...induce England to treat us better," wrote Gallatin to Jefferson shortly after the bill had become law, "I think is entirely groundless...government prohibitions do always more mischief than had been calculated; and it is not without much hesitation that a statesman should hazard to regulate the concerns of individuals as if he could do it better than themselves."

Though he had so frequently argued for as small a federal government as possible, Jefferson required the national government to assume extraordinary police powers in an attempt to enforce his policy. The presidential election of 1808, which Madison won, showed that the Federalists were regaining strength, and helped to convince Congress that the Embargo would have to be repealed. Shortly before leaving office, in March 1809, Jefferson signed the repeal of the disastrous Embargo. In its place the Non-Intercourse Act was enacted, which proved no more effective than the Embargo. The government found it was impossible to prevent American vessels from trading with the European belligerents once they had left American ports. Jefferson increasingly believed the problem was the traders and merchants who showed their lack of "republican virtue" by not complying and maintained until his death that had the embargo been lawfully observed by all US citizens it would have avoided war which after its repeal, three days before his term ended, soon followed in 1812.

Historians have generally criticized Jefferson for his embargo policy. Doron Ben Atar argued that Jefferson's commercial and foreign policies were misguided, ineffective and harmful to American interests. Kaplan maintained that the War of 1812 was the logical extension of his embargo and that, by entering the Napoleonic Wars on anti-British side, the United States gave up the advantages of neutrality.

Other involvements

He obtained the repeal of some federal taxes in his bid to rely more on customs revenue, and dismantled much of the army and navy that he had inherited from Washington and Adams. He pardoned several people imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in John Adams' term. He repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which removed nearly all of Adams' "midnight judges" from office. This quickly led to the Supreme Court deciding the important case of Marbury v. Madison. This also repealed a provision in the act that freed supreme court justices from having to constantly travel the country to serve as circuit court judges. This provision wasn't reinstated for another century, and its repeal under Jefferson ensured that justices would continue to bear heavy travel burdens throughout the nineteenth century. Jefferson also signed into law a bill that officially segregated the US postal system by not allowing blacks to carry mail.

Later years

By 1815, Jefferson's library included 6,487 books, which he sold to the Library of Congress for $23,950 to replace the smaller collection destroyed in the War of 1812. He intended to pay off some of his large debt, but immediately started buying more books. In honour of Jefferson's contribution, the library's website for federal legislative information was named THOMAS. In 2007, Jefferson's two-volume 1764 edition of the Quran was used by Rep. Keith Ellison for his swearing in to the House of Representatives. In February 2011 the New York Times reported that a part of Jefferson's retirement library, containing 74 volumes with 28 book titles, was discovered at Washington University in St. Louis.

University of Virginia

Winter landscape of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia
The Rotunda, University of Virginia

After leaving the Presidency, Jefferson continued to be active in public affairs. He wanted to found a new institution of higher learning, specifically one free of church influences, where students could specialize in many new areas not offered at other universities. Jefferson believed educating people was a good way to establish an organized society. He believed such schools should be paid for by the general public, so less wealthy people could be educated as students. A letter to Joseph Priestley, in January 1800, indicated that he had been planning the University for decades before its founding.

In 1819 he founded the University of Virginia. Upon its opening in 1825, it was the first university to offer a full slate of elective courses to its students. One of the largest construction projects to that time in North America, the university was notable for being centered about a library rather than a church reinforcing the principle of separation of church and state. No campus chapel was included in Jefferson's original plans. Until his death, Jefferson invited students and faculty of the college to his home.

Jefferson was the principal designer of the University grounds. Its innovative design was an expression of his aspirations for both state-sponsored education and an agrarian democracy in the new Republic. His educational idea of creating specialized units of learning is expressed in the configuration of his campus plan, which he called the " Academical Village". Individual academic units were defined as distinct structures, represented by Pavilions, facing a grassy quadrangle. Each Pavilion housed classroom, faculty office, and residences. Though distinctive, each is visually equal in importance, and they are linked with a series of open-air arcades that are the front facades of student accommodations. Gardens and vegetable plots are placed behind and surrounded by serpentine walls, affirming the importance of the agrarian lifestyle.

Stylistically, Jefferson was a proponent of the Greek and Roman styles, which he believed to be most representative of American democracy by historical association. Each academic unit is designed with a two story temple front facing the quadrangle, while the library is modeled on the Roman Pantheon. A survey of members of the American Institute of Architects identified Jefferson's campus as the most significant work of architecture in America. The University was designed as the capstone of the educational system of Virginia. In his vision, any citizen of the state could attend school with the sole criterion being ability.

Final days

Obelisk at Thomas Jefferson's gravesite
Jefferson's gravesite

Jefferson's health began to deteriorate in July 1825, and by June 1826 he was confined to bed. His death is considered to be from a combination of various illnesses and conditions including toxemia, uremia and pneumonia. By May 1826 Jefferson's health was so frail that he was virtually a shut in and spent most of his waking hours going over his finances and debts. On May 22 Jefferson made his last entry in the 'Farm Book', noting the price of lamp oil at a dollar twenty five cents a gallon and the cost of lighting his estate for the last month. On June 24 Jefferson wrote his last letter, to a Washington newspaper, the National Intelligencer', where he once more reaffirmed his faith in the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. On July 3 Jefferson was overcome by fever. Realizing he would never leave Monticello again he was forced to decline an invitation to Washington to attend a fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Declaration.

During the last hours of Jefferson's life he was accompanied by his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph and his doctor, Robley Dunglison and other family members and friends. He was at ease with the idea of death and was ready to die. When his doctor entered his room he said Well Doctor, you see I am still here yet. After being checked by the doctor a family member and a friend offered words of hope that he was looking better to which Jefferson impatiently replied.. Do not imagine for a moment that I feel the smallest solicitude as to the result" at which point he calmly gave directions for his funeral, forbidding any sort of celebration or parade. Moments later Jefferson called the rest of his family and friends around his bedside and with a distinct tone he uttered:

I have done for my country, and for all mankind, all that I could do,
and I now resign my soul, without fear, to my God, – my daughter to my country.

After falling back to sleep Jefferson later awoke at eight o'clock that evening and spoke his last words, "Is it the fourth yet?". His doctor replied, ''It soon will be".

On July 4 at ten minutes before one o'clock Jefferson died at the age of 83, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and a few hours before John Adams whose last words were, "Independence forever" and "Thomas Jefferson survives."

The next day Jefferson's funeral was held, performed by Reverend Charles Clay. He was buried in the Monticello Graveyard at five o'clock in the afternoon, one day after his death. Jefferson's funeral by his own request was a simple and quiet affair. No invitations were given to anyone, but some friends and visitors came and were welcome at the ceremony and burial. Jefferson's remains were carried by "servants, family and friends" to the family grave site.

Jefferson wrote his own epitaph, which reads:

Though born into a wealthy slave-owning family, Jefferson had many financial problems, and died deeply in debt. He gave instructions for disposal of his assets in his Will and after his death, his estate, possessions and slaves were sold off in public auctions starting in 1827. In 1831 Monticello was sold by Martha Jefferson and the surviving Jefferson heirs to James Turner Barclay, and in 1834 Barclay in turn sold the house and remaining land to Uriah P. Levy.

Political philosophy and views

Jefferson idealized the independent yeoman as the best exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and often favored decentralized power. He suspended his qualms about exercising the powers of the federal government to buy Louisiana. Jefferson disliked the European system of established churches and called for a wall of separation between church and state at the federal level. (But this was hardly a new idea; Roger Williams (1603–1683), the Puritan-turned-Baptist founder of Rhode Island, had established such a wall at the state level about a century before Jefferson was born, and extended freedom of religion to Quakers and Jews.) Jefferson supported efforts to disestablish the Church of England, called the Anglican Church in Virginia after the Revolution, and authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. His Jeffersonian democracy and Democratic-Republican Party became dominant in early American politics. Jefferson's republican political principles were strongly influenced by the 18th-century British opposition writers of the Whig Party. He had high regard for John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton.

Society and government

Jefferson's 1818 letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah
In his May 28, 1818, letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah, Jefferson expressed his faith in humanity and his views on the nature of democracy.

Jefferson believed that each man has "certain inalienable rights". He defines the right of "liberty" by saying, "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others..." A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty. Jefferson and contemporaries like James Madison were well aware of the possibility of tyranny from the majority and held this perspective in their implication of individual rights. The historian Gordon S. Wood argues that Jefferson's political philosophy was a product of his time and his scientific interests. Influenced by Isaac Newton, he considered social systems as analogous to physical systems. In the social world, Jefferson likens love as a force similar to gravity in the physical world. People are naturally attracted to each other through love, but dependence corrupts this attraction and results in political problems. Wood argues that, though the phrase "all men are created equal" was a cliché in the late 18th century, Jefferson took it further than most. Jefferson held that not only are all men created equal, but they remain equal throughout their lives, equally capable of love as an attractive force. Their level of dependence makes them unequal in practice. Removing or preventing corrupting dependence would enable men to be equal in practice. Jefferson idealized a future in which men would be free of dependencies, particularly those caused by banking or royal influences.

In political terms, Americans thought that virtue was the "glue" that held together a republic, whereas patronage, dependency and coercion held together a monarchy. "Virtue" in this sense was public virtue, in particular self-sacrifice. People commonly thought that any dependence would corrupt this impulse, by making people more subservient to their patrons than to society at large. This derived from the British conception of the nobility, whose economic independence allowed them to work and make personal sacrifices on behalf of the society at large. Americans reasoned that liberty and republicanism required a virtuous society, and the society had to be free of dependence and extensive patronage networks. Jefferson's ideal of the yeoman farmer (or a non-slave-owning planter) personified his ideal of independence. While Jefferson believed most persons could not escape corrupting dependence, the franchise should be extended only to those who could. His fear of dependence and patronage made Jefferson dislike established institutions, such as banking, government, or military. He disliked inter-generational dependence, as well as its manifestations, such as national debt and unalterable governments. For these reasons, he opposed Hamilton's consolidated banking and military plans. Jefferson and Hamilton were diametrically opposed on the issue of individual liberties. While Jefferson believed individual liberty was the fruit of equality and believed government to be the only danger, Hamilton felt that individual liberty must be organized by a central government to assure social, economic and intellectual equality. Wood argues that Hamilton favored his plans for the very reason that Jefferson feared them, because he believed that they would provide for future American greatness. Jefferson feared a loss of individual liberty for propertied individuals and did not desire imperial stature for the nation.

During the late 1780s, James Madison grew to believe that self-interested dependence could be filtered from a government. Jefferson, however, continued to idealize the yeoman farmer as the base for republican government. Whereas Madison became disillusioned with what he saw as excessive democracy in the states, Jefferson believed such excesses were caused by institutional corruptions rather than human nature. He remained less suspicious of working democracy than many of his contemporaries.

Wood argues that as president, Jefferson tried to re-create the balance between the states and federal government as it existed under the Articles of Confederation. He tried to shift the balance of power back to the states. Wood argues that Jefferson took this action from his classical republican conception that liberty could only be retained in small, homogeneous societies. He believed that the Federalist system enacted by Washington and Adams had encouraged corrupting patronage and dependence. According to Wood, many of Jefferson's apparent contradictions can be understood within this philosophical framework. For example, his intent to deny women the franchise was rooted in his belief that a government must be controlled by the independent. In the 18th century, men believed that women were dependent by their nature. In common with most political thinkers of his day, Jefferson did not support gender equality. He opposed women's participation in politics, saying that "our good ladies ... are contented to soothe and calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate."


Jefferson is often cited as an important figure in early American democracy. Peter Onuf has argued that Jefferson envisioned democracy as an expression of society as a whole, and that he called for national self-determination, cultural uniformity, and education of all the people (or all the males, as he believed at the time). His emphasis on uniformity did not envision a multiracial republic in which some groups were not fully assimilated into the identical republican values. Onuf argues that Jefferson was unable and unwilling to abolish slavery until such a demand could issue naturally from the sensibilities of the entire people. Gordon Wood argues that Jefferson's philosophy of liberty personified American ideals. Jefferson believed that public education and a free press were essential to a democratic nation: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free it expects what never was and never will be....The people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe".


Jefferson expressed a dislike and distrust for banks and bankers and opposed borrowing from them because he believed it created long-term debt as well as monopolies, and inclined the people to dangerous speculation, as opposed to productive labor on the farm. He once argued that each generation should pay back its debt within 19 years, and not impose a long-term debt on subsequent generations.

In 1791 President Washington asked Jefferson, who at the time was Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, if the Congress had the authority to create a national bank. While Hamilton believed Congress had the authority, Jefferson believed that a national bank in its capacity would ignore the needs of individuals and small farmers and was unconstitutional, assuming powers not granted to the federal government by the States and was therefore in violation of the Tenth Amendment, maintaining it violated the laws of Mortmain, Alienage, Forfeiture, Distribution and Monoploles. Jefferson along with his cohorts James Madison and William Giles accused Hamilton of maladministration in the duties of his office and for borrowing funds from European banks to support the national bank at the behest and interest of unscrupulous speculators, but his prolonged attempts to undermine Hamilton's efforts nearly led Washington to relieve Jefferson from his cabinet. After much deliberation Jefferson was unable to substantiate the accusations levied at Hamilton. Jefferson also opposed the bank loans that financed the War of 1812 fearing it would compromise the war effort and plunge the nation into serious long term debt.

He was indifferent with many of his fellow tobacco planters however, as they felt that banks were needed to finance the purchase of new land and new slaves, and support commerce. Jefferson often attacked banks, paper money and borrowing as inimical to Republicanism; in retirement in 1816, he wrote John Taylor:

The system of banking we have both equally and ever reprobated. I contemplate it as a blot left in all our constitutions, which, if not covered, will end in their destruction, which is already hit by the gamblers in corruption, and is sweeping away in its progress the fortunes and morals of our citizens. ... And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
Thomas Jefferson
-- Letter to John Taylor, May 26, 1816

Foreign policy

In the decades after the Revolutionary War, Jefferson considered Britain as an adversary to the United States and usually favored France. He said of the Napoleonic Wars, "The liberty of the whole world was depending on the issue of the contest" though Jefferson's economic warfare against Britain resulted in hurting the American economy. Jefferson once argued that America would become the world's great "empire of liberty"—that is, the model for democracy and republicanism. On departing the presidency in 1809, he described America as:

"Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence."

This statement expresses Jefferson's refusal as president to diplomatically recognize Haiti, founded in 1804 as the second republic in the world, after its successful slave revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Fearing the success of the "slave republic" would rouse the American South's slaves to rebellion, Jefferson supported an arms and trade embargo against Haiti. But, during the revolution, when Jefferson had wanted to discourage French efforts in 1802–1803 at regaining control (and rebuilding their empire in North America), he had allowed arms and contraband goods to reach Saint-Domingue.

Rebellion and individual rights

During the French Revolution, Jefferson advocated rebellion and violence when necessary. In a letter to James Madison on January 30, 1787, Jefferson wrote, "A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical...It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government." Similarly, in a letter to Abigail Adams on February 22, 1787 he wrote, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all." Concerning Shays' Rebellion after he had heard of the bloodshed, on November 13, 1787 Jefferson wrote to William S. Smith, John Adams' son-in-law, "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." In another letter to Smith during 1787, Jefferson wrote: "And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms."

From his initial viewpoint in Paris at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, Jefferson was transformed in office as president under a challenge which both strengthened the Union and Jefferson’s commitment to it. As late as 1804 before his second term began, Jefferson seemed at ease with the prospect of dividing the nation into separate democracies. In view of a prospective republic in the Mississippi River Valley, they would be “as much our children and our descendents” alongside any coastal confederacy remaining. “I feel myself as much identified with that [western] country … as with this [United States].

But midway through his second term, the idealistic internationalist yielded to the nationalist politician. “A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest ... The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation.” The challenge of a filibustering Aaron Burr and the U.S. General in Spanish pay James Wilkinson, combined with English, Spanish and Creek Amerindian threats led to a rationale later echoed by Lincoln. “To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.

Slaves and slavery

Jefferson's record book. 1795 list of 163 slaves, five "places to be settled", at Monticello
Manumission deed by Jefferson, setting free James Hemings. February 5, 1796

Thomas Jefferson lived in a Virginia planter society economically dependent on slavery. His estate's overall value relied on its ability to produce various goods, mostly grains and tobacco, through the use of slave labor. Although a slave owner, he believed slavery harmful to both slave and master. His views on the institution of slavery and African slaves are complex; many historians have regarded Jefferson as a foe of slavery, while many others disagree. Jefferson was one of the wealthiest plantation owners in Virginia, by 1776 having acquired as many as 177 slaves, whom Jefferson referred to as his extended family.

Jefferson was opposed to slavery during his youth, a conviction that became greater throughout his life. In his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson denounced the British government's role in the international slave trade, which he opposed as inhumane. Although Jefferson boldly proposed abolishing slavery in all territories to the west after 1800 in his draft of the Land Ordinance of 1784, that provision was stricken by Congress. Jefferson's anti-slavery land proposal in 1784 did influence Congress to prohibit slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. While the 1803 Louisiana Purchase was a great achievement by the Jefferson administration, Jefferson was criticized for having allowed slavery to continue in the newly acquired vast territory. Jefferson was convinced Southerners had become economically dependent on slavery. Sectional divisions over slavery in the country "exploded" when Missouri, included in the Louisiana Purchase and organized in 1817, applied for admission to the United States in 1819.

Although Jefferson hoped to see the end of slavery, he did not wish to challenge the Virginia culture that relied on slave labor to cultivate tobacco and grain. During his lawyer years, he took on cases involving slavery and on one occasion refused to defend an overseer who whipped a slave to death. He drafted the Virginia law of 1778 prohibiting the importation of enslaved Africans. In the mid-1770s he drafted and proposed a plan of gradual emancipation whereby all slaves born after a certain date would be emancipated. Expansion of slavery was to be limited to only descendants of female slaves until the age of 25, after which they would become free. The bill was not passed; Jefferson favored an amendment. In 1807, Congress passed and Jefferson signed into law a bill prohibiting the transatlantic slave trade beginning on the first day of 1808, the earliest date permitted by the Constitution.

Although opposed to the international slave trade, Jefferson sometimes bought slaves and often sold them. After returning from France, he sold fifty slaves to pay the debts he had incurred there. Ten years after the abolition of the American slave trade, Jefferson, again to pay his debts, sold slaves to his grandson. He inherited slaves from both his father, Peter, and his wife's father, John Wayles. Over the course of his life, he owned some 600 slaves, requiring about 130 at any one time to work at Monticello.

Jefferson avoided violence in regard to slavery. In 1800, 27 African American slaves were hanged for conspiracy in Gabriel's Rebellion. Jefferson claimed the hangings were "revenge" while noting the strong public sentiment "that there has been hanging enough". Concerned over public reaction and the slaves' safety, Jefferson attempted to deport the remaining rebellious slaves to Sierra Leone, however they were denied entrance. In 1820, Jefferson opposed the Missouri Compromise, which established a geographical dividing line among the states, believing that such a division and an attempt to limit slavery would lead to war. Jefferson expressed this concern in an April 22 letter to John Holmes, believing correctly that such a division among the states would eventually lead to the destruction of the Union.

Slaves performed in many capacities and carried out most of the activities on Jefferson's plantations. These included agriculture, domestic duties, and textile manufacture. Many slaves were highly skilled in cabinetry and carpentry, blacksmithing and gunsmithing and were often paid extra for such work. At Monticello, Jefferson acted as a patriarch and considered his slaves, whom he referred to as 'servants', part of his 'extended family'. Some slaves, particularly the Hemings family, interacted closely with Jefferson's family.

Jefferson felt a moral obligation and a duty to protect and provide well for his slaves. He provided them with 20 by 12 foot log cabins, each having a fireplace, a sleeping loft and an earthen floor. Jefferson provided clothing to slaves every summer and winter while also providing household goods such as blankets, beds, cooking ware, and other household items. Slaves were allowed to have their own poultry yard and fruit and vegetable gardens which they managed during their spare time. Slaves were also given Sundays, Christmas and Easter off. Children of slaves began working at the age of 10; the girls would spin wool or flax while the boys made nails in Jefferson's nail factory. From 16 years of age slave children would either work in the fields or learn a trade. Although slaves could not legally marry, enduring unions were common at Monticello, as it was Jefferson's practice to keep family units together. Slave couples with children were sometimes given their own cabin.

Jefferson policy was to not allow his slaves to be whipped except as a last resort, and then only on the arms and legs, preferring to penalize the lazy and reward the industrious, however his instructions were often ignored by overseers during his long absences. In perspective, according to testimony of slaves and overseers, whippings were administered only for stealing, fighting, or other exceptional cases. There were however a couple of overseers known for their excessive use of the whip. Jefferson would not overwork his slaves, expecting them to work no harder than free farmers.

Knowing that the threat of family separation was a strong deterrent, Jefferson's policy with regard to captured runaway slaves was to sell them. He strongly discouraged the use of excessive physical force by his overseers. In his 'Notes on the State of Virginia' he expressed a "strong suspicion" that the Negro was inferior to whites in both the endowments of body and mind. Jefferson accepted common racial stereotypes of African Americans and did nothing to advance citizenship to free blacks or relieve the plight of slaves during the American Revolution. Regardless of his views towards race Jefferson went on to oppose the institution and provided for and treated his slaves very well, never expecting them to work more than free farmers.

In 1814 Edward Coles inherited a plantation and twenty three slaves from his father but because he was opposed to owning slaves he wrote a letter to Jefferson asking him to embark on a campaign of gradual emancipation. Jefferson responded in a letter telling Coles that he also desired that slaves be gradually emancipated, believing they were not yet in condition to take care of themselves in American society because they were born into a life of slavery. However, at age 71, Jefferson praised Coles but said he was too old to take on such a large "enterprise", maintaining it was better left for the younger generation who could see the task through to fruition. Jefferson, who opposed race mixing, admonished Coles not to emancipate his slaves, believing blacks with no shelter and means of income would be incapable of taking care of themselves, and because Virginia law did not permit it.

Jefferson freed two slaves of the Hemings family by manumission and allowed two of Sally Hemings's children, widely believed by historians to be his, to leave the Monticello estate without formal manumission when they came of age; five other slaves, including two more Hemings children, were freed by his will upon his death. Many historians maintain Jefferson's debt prevented him from freeing his slaves; however, many other historians disagree. In 1817, Jefferson's friend, General Tadeusz Kościuszko died and left a bequest of nearly $20,000 to free slaves, including Jefferson's slaves, and purchase land and farming equipment that would enable the freed slaves to start new lives. Even though it could have reduced his debts Jefferson refused the bequest preferring that they be gradually emancipated and because the laws of Virginia prevented him from honoring that bequest. In 1824, Jefferson proposed a federally financed emancipation plan.


Jefferson's religious and spiritual beliefs were a combination of various religious and theological precepts. Around 1764, Jefferson had lost faith in conventional religion, after he had tested the Bible for historical accuracy, rather he adopted a stern code of personal moral conduct and drew inspiration from classical literature. While he embraced various Christian principles he rejected most of the orthodox Christianity of his day and was especially hostile to the Catholic Church as he saw it operate in France. Throughout his life Jefferson was intensely interested in theology, biblical study, and morality. As a landowner he played a role in governing his local Episcopal Church; in terms of belief he was inclined toward Deism and the moral philosophy of Christianity, though when he was home he attended the Episcopal church and raised his daughters in that faith.

In a private letter to Benjamin Rush, Jefferson refers to himself as "Christian" (1803): "To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence..." In a letter to his close friend William Short, Jefferson clarified, "it is not to be understood that I am with him [Jesus] in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it. Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, of so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being."

Jefferson praised the morality of Jesus and edited a compilation of his teachings, omitting the miracles and supernatural elements of the biblical account, titling it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Jefferson was firmly anticlerical saying that in "every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot...they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes."

Jefferson rejected the idea of immaterial beings and considered the idea of an immaterial Creator a heresy introduced into Christianity. In a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote that to "talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. . . . At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us indeed that 'God is a spirit,' but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the ancient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter."

In 1777, Jefferson drafted Virginia's An Act of Establishing Religious Freedom. Submitted in 1779, the Act was finally ratified in 1786 by the Virginia legislature. The Act forbid that men be forcibly compelled to attend or donate money to religious establishments, and that men "shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion." Jefferson initially supported restrictions banning clergy from holding public office, however, later in life he changed this view believing the clergy had the same rights as others to hold public office.

Interests and activities

Portable writing desk that Jefferson used writing the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson was a farmer, with a lifelong interest in mechanical innovations, new crops, soil conditions, his gardens, and scientific agricultural techniques. His main cash crop was tobacco, but its price was usually low and it was rarely profitable. He tried to achieve self-sufficiency with wheat, vegetables, flax, corn, hogs, sheep, poultry and cattle to feed and clothe his family, slaves and white employees, but he had cash flow problems and was always in debt.

Jefferson was an accomplished architect who helped popularize the Neo-Palladian style in the United States. Jefferson was interested in birds and wine, and was a noted gourmet. Jefferson was a prolific writer. He learned Gaelic to translate Ossian, and sent to James Macpherson for the originals.

Jefferson invented many small practical devices and improved contemporary inventions. These include the design for a revolving book-stand to hold five volumes at once to be viewed by the reader. Another was the "Great Clock", powered by the Earth's gravitational pull on Revolutionary War cannonballs. Its chime on Monticello's roof could be heard as far as the University of Virginia. Louis Leschot, a machinist, aided Jefferson with the clock. Jefferson invented a 6 in (15 cm) long coded wooden cipher wheel, mounted on a metal spindle, to keep secure State Department messages while he was Secretary of State. The messages were scrambled and unscrambled by 26 alphabet letters on each circular segment of the wheel. He improved the moldboard plow and the polygraph, in collaboration with Charles Willson Peale.

As Minister to France, Jefferson was impressed by France's military standardization program known as the Système Gribeauval. As president, he initiated a program at the Federal Armories to develop interchangeable parts for firearms. Although not realized in Jefferson's lifetime, the concept of interchangeable parts eventually led to modern industry and was a major factor in the United States' industrial power by the late 19th century.

Jefferson can also be accredited as the creator of the swivel chair, the first of which he created and used to write much of the Declaration of Independence.

Personal life

Maria Cosway

During his time in Paris as Minister to France, in 1786 the widower Jefferson became attached to Maria Cosway, an English artist, musician and composer. She was a highly educated, married woman with whom he fell in love. They were close and had some relationship about which biographers have speculated; she became part of his intimate circle of friends, and they spent nearly each day together over a six-week period. In 1786 when Cosway returned to London, Jefferson wrote a 4,000-word love letter to her, which has become well known as his "Dialogue of the Head vs. the Heart". After Jefferson left Paris, he and Cosway remained friends and had a lifelong correspondence. Each saved their letters from the other. Similarly, Jefferson kept at Monticello an engraving of Maria done by Luigi Schiavonetti, from a drawing by Richard Cosway. In turn, Cosway had Trumbull create a portrait of Jefferson which she kept.

Jefferson-Hemings controversy

For two centuries, the claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings, has been a matter of discussion and disagreement. In 1802, the journalist James T. Callender, after being denied a position as postmaster by Jefferson, published allegations that Jefferson had taken Hemings as a concubine and had fathered several children with her. The story was repeated by Federalist papers during the election campaigns of 1802 and 1804; most historians argue Jefferson privately denied the rumor in 1805.

According to Sally's son Madison Hemings, Sally and Jefferson began a sexual relationship in Paris and she became pregnant and agreed to return to the United States as his concubine after he promised to free her children when they came of age, however other scholars note that, Madison made this claim many years later in 1873 at the age of sixty eight, during a politically motivated interview arranged by the Pike County Republican newspaper and that Sally herself never made this claim, which was contrary to testimony from Easton Hemings who originally claimed his father was Randolph Jefferson. Investigation of slave's records at Monticello show that Jefferson and Sally were not together prior to the fifteen months of Madison's birth.

During the mid-20th century, historians noted that over a 13-year period during which he was often away for months at a time, Jefferson was at Monticello nine months previous to the birth of each of Hemings' children. In 1998, in order to establish the male DNA line, a panel of researchers conducted a Y-DNA study of living descendants of Jefferson's uncle, Field, and of a descendant of Sally's son, Eston Hemings. The results showed a Y-DNA match with the male Jefferson line and were published in the journal Nature. In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) assembled a team of historians whose report concluded that, together with the DNA and historic evidence, there was a high probability that Jefferson was the father of Eston and likely of all Hemings' children. In 2012, the Smithsonian Institution and the TJF mounted an exhibit, Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, at the National Museum of American History, asserting that most historians accept that the DNA and historical evidence supports the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings' children, while other scholars note the Monticello report was a "rush to judgement" and that the claims are unsubstantiated and politically driven.

Since the DNA tests were made public, most biographers and historians have concluded that the widower Jefferson had a long-term relationship with Hemings. Other scholars, including a team of professors associated with the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, maintain that the evidence is insufficient to conclude Thomas Jefferson's paternity, and note the possibility that other Jeffersons, including Thomas's brother Randolph and his five sons, could have fathered Hemings' children.

Memorials and honours

Rudulph Evans' statue of Jefferson with excerpts from the Declaration of Independence to the right
Jefferson Memorial statue by Evans, Declaration excerpts right

Jefferson has been memorialized in many ways, including buildings, sculptures, and currency. The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth. The interior of the memorial includes a 19-foot (6 m) statue of Jefferson and engravings of passages from his writings. Most prominent are the words inscribed around the monument near the roof: "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." During the New Deal era of the 1930s, Democrats honored Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as their party's founding fathers and continued inspiration. He was portrayed by them as the spokesman for democracy and the common man. President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the effort to gain approvals for his monument in Washington.

Thomas Jefferson has been honored on U.S. postage since the first Jefferson postage stamp was released in 1856. Jefferson was the second president to be featured on U.S. Postage. His portrait appears on the U.S. $2 bill, nickel, and the $100 Series EE Savings Bond, and a Presidential Dollar which released into circulation on August 16, 2007.

His original tombstone, now a cenotaph, is located on the campus in the University of Missouri's Quadrangle. A life mask of Jefferson was created by John Henri Isaac Browere in the 1820s.

Jefferson, together with George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, was chosen by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and approved by President Calvin Coolidge to be depicted in stone at the Mount Rushmore Memorial. Other memorials to Jefferson include the commissioning of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship Thomas Jefferson in Norfolk, Virginia on July 8, 2003, in commemoration of his establishment of a Survey of the Coast, the predecessor to NOAA's National Ocean Service. A bronze monument to Jefferson was erected in Jefferson Park, Chicago along Milwaukee Avenue in 2005.

Historical reputation

1st Jefferson stamp, 1856 issue

Jefferson has often been seen as a major American icon of liberty, democracy and republicanism. Some have hailed him as one of the most articulate spokesmen of the American Revolution, and as a renaissance man who promoted science and scholarship. Abraham Lincoln called Jefferson "the most distinguished politician in our history." Recent historians, including his biographer Dumas Malone of the mid-twentieth century and the historian Ron Chernow, have seen a more mixed picture. They have noted his views on race and slavery, his controversial tenure as governor of Virginia, his disloyalty under Washington and Adams, his sometimes extreme political writings, his advocacy of nullification and secession, his personal spending excesses, and his troubled second term as president. Other historians, such as Richard Drinnon and David Stannard, have criticized other aspects of his presidency, such as the harsh treatment of Native Americans under Jefferson.

Jefferson's legacy as a champion of Enlightenment ideals has been challenged by various modern historians, who find his continued ownership of hundreds of slaves at Monticello to be in conflict with his stated views on freedom and the equality of men. Cogliano says, "No single issue has contributed as much to the decline of Jefferson's reputation since World War II as the slavery question." Clarence E. Walker said that Jefferson rationalized being a slave owner and defended slavery since he believed the inferiority of Africans were "fixed in nature" and they needed supervision. The historian Gordon S. Wood has noted that during the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th century, when scholars saw revolutionary America as a struggle between "haves" and "have nots", Jefferson's reputation reached new heights as his presidency was seen as the final defeat of the moneyed classes. Wood argues that this predominated until the 1940s, when the progressive era view fell from favour, and Jefferson's reputation declined from its prior heights. As modern historians have seen slavery as a greater evil than the mercantilism that Jefferson's adversaries championed, Wood argues, Jefferson's legacy in recent decades has come under further scrutiny and criticism. However though Jefferson has been criticized for owning slaves, scholarly surveys continue to rate him among the top ten presidents.


  • A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774)
  • Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775)
  • Memorandums taken on a journey from Paris into the southern parts of France and Northern Italy, in the year 1787
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (1781)
  • Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States A report submitted to Congress (1790)
  • Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States (1801)
  • Autobiography (1821)
  • Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
Retrieved from ""