|Birth: ||Apr. 13, 1743|
|Death: ||Jul. 4, 1826|
American Founding Father. Third President of the United States. A philosopher, statesman, scholar, attorney, planter, architect, violinist, writer, and natural scientist, he wished to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as well as the founder of the University of Virginia. Born of a moderately well-off planter family, Jefferson was early imbued by his father Peter with a love both of nature and of books, though by contrast he was to describe his mother Jane, a descendent of the noted Randolph family of Virginia, as a "zero sum" in his life. He studied with two private schoolmasters, the Reverend William Douglas for whom he had little use and the Reverend James Maury, later plaintiff in the famous Parson's Cause case, for whom he was to have profound respect all his life. After Peter Jefferson's sudden death in 1757 left him "completely on his own", he entered the College of William and Mary in 1760 and applied himself to his studies while beginning the collection of his eventually massive library. (Jefferson's meticulous record of his purchases in which he noted not only the book but the edition and printing number has enabled modern scholars to reconstruct his library at Monticello). While at college he met and frequently dined with three men who taught him Enlightenment Philosophy and altered the course of his thought and life: Governor Francis Fauquier, attorney and scholar George Wythe, and professor William Small. The March 1764 rejection of his romantic advances to Rebecca Burwell triggered the first bout of Jefferson's famous headaches which were to reoccur in times of stress until his 1809 retirement from the White House; the precise diagnosis remains unclear, with some authorities speculating a migraine variant, though others say tension headaches. He later read law with Wythe, was admitted to the bar in 1767, and despite being shy and a poor public speaker was a successful attorney in the various county courts on the judicial circuit. (When compared with his then-friend, and sometimes legal rival, it was said that "Patrick Henry speaks to the heart, Jefferson to the mind"). Jefferson was elected to the House of Burgesses from Albemarle County in 1768 and while in Williamsburg he met, around 1770, a wealthy widow named Martha Wayles Skelton. The couple married on New Years' Day 1772 and set up life at Jefferson's under-construction new home at Monticello. "Patty" Jefferson was never very healthy, and six pregnancies in ten years (only the daughters Patsy and Polly would survive to adulthood), completely destroyed her strength; she died in 1782 leaving Jefferson prostrated for weeks. According to legend, he promised her on her deathbed that he would never remarry, and whatever the truth of that story, he never did. He published "A Summary View of the Rights of British America" in 1774, setting forth his view that loyalty was owed only to the Crown, not to Parliament; this was much further on the road to independence..."the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time"...than the public was then ready to travel. After serving in the Continental Congress of 1775 he was returned in 1776 and tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence after Benjamin Franklin declined as he would not write a document subject to the editing of others; the work was not generally known as Jefferson's until later, he resented certain of the revisions for the remainder his life, and the precise meanings of some phrases shall be debated eternally. Returning home he was assigned the job, along with Edmund Pendleton and George Wythe, of revising the laws of Virginia; success mixed with failure...he got rid of entail and primogeniture (laws restricting inheritance to first-born sons), and limited capital punishment which he had wanted to abolish, but his 1779 Bill Establishing Religious Freedom was stalled until James Madison pushed it thru in 1786. Jefferson served two thoroughly miserable one year terms as Governor of Virginia during which time the capital was moved to Richmond; an investigation of his conduct in escaping from British troops resulted in the final, permanent, and probably unjustified, rupture of his relationship with Patrick Henry. Jefferson received one of his proudest honors, election to the Philadelphia-based American Philosophical Society, of which he was to serve as president from 1797 until 1815, in 1780, while in 1782 he began work on "Notes on the State of Virginia", his only published book, which was released in France in 1785 and in England in 1787. In 1785 he was sent to Paris as the American Minister where thru correspondence he kept up on events...of Shay's 1787 Rebellion, he wrote that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants from time to time"...but he was denied an active hand in the framing of the Constitution. In August of 1786 he met, thru painter Jonathan Trumbull, the beautiful married artist Maria Cosway, with either an illicit romance or merely an improper friendship of short duration resulting. During one of their escapades Jefferson fractured his right wrist and had problems with it ever after, while the end of the affair brought forth the famous "My Head and My Heart" letter, still one of Jefferson's most studied writings; for whatever reason the relationship was not renewed on Maria's subsequent visits to Paris, though letters would be exchanged over the years. Returning to America in 1789 for what he thought would be a brief stay, he was appointed the first Secretary of State and was to be completely unhappy in the job; his document on weights and measures which would have put the United States on the metric system was rejected, his successful 1790 mediation of the assumption-location controversy between Madison and Hamilton, which placed the nation's capital in its present location while making the federal government responsible for the states' Revolutionary War debts, led to another lifelong regret, and his advice to meet the Barbary pirates with military force rather than with negotiation and ransom would have to wait until he was President. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton frequently undercut him by secretly feeding classified information to British representative George Hammond, the 1793 'Citizen Genet Affair' strained his devotion to France, while hatred for Hamilton and a growing rupture with John Adams, and, to a lesser extent, George Washington, resulted in his founding, with Madison, of the Republican Party. Jefferson retired to Monticello at the end of 1793 but was called upon to run for President in 1796; getting the second-highest vote total he became Adams' Vice President and was again miserable, forced to fight the Alien and Sedition Acts at personal risk. In 1800 he once more opposed Adams in probably the nastiest campaign in American history. Called a "howling atheist", he remained silent. (Jefferson's religion, like much else, was private, with views expressed in terms the definition of which were known only to him; a life-long Anglican, he was not an atheist, and was probably either a Deist or a Unitarian). Accused by muckraker James Callender of producing mulatto children with his slave Sally Hemings, he also kept silent; while much invective has been spewed and untold quantities of ink committed to paper, more than two centuries of scholarship has failed to find the slightest hard evidence of a 'Tom and Sally' sexual relationship. Narrowly defeating Adams, and after a House of Representatives fight with his running mate Aaron Burr, he became the third President of the United States. Following a conciliatory inaugural address his first term was filled with triumphs including the Louisiana Purchase and the starting of the Lewis and Clark expedition; the second saw mostly trouble...the Aaron Burr treason trial of 1807 which transformed his relations with John Marshall from courteous mutual dislike to blind hatred and the failed trade embargo against England. Retiring to Monticello, he renewed, at the behest of Dr. Benjamin Rush, his friendship and correspondence with John Adams, with the letters continuing to provide a treasure-trove for students of both men. After paying his father-in-law's debts, Jefferson was essentially broke for his last 50 years, spending too much on Monticello, lavish entertaining, food, wine, and, mostly, books; in 1814, he negotiated the sale of his 6,487 volume library for $23,950 to replace the Library of Congress burned by the British, though stating "I cannot live without books" he was to acquire another roughly 1,000 prior to his death. In 1819 Jefferson saw his final dream realized when the Legislature approved the University of Virginia; he designed the buildings, hired the professors, saw the first students admitted in 1825, and even invited them two at a time to his home for dinner, with a young Edgar Allan Poe receiving suggestions for future reading. Reasonably healthy, albeit with some chronic urinary problems, for what was then considered far advanced age, he functioned fairly well until his last few months and died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of a chronic gastric problem, probably cancer. He continues to be the subject of countless books, the definitive biographies being Dumas Malone's six volume "Jefferson and His Time" (1948 thru 1981) and Merrill Peterson's "Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation" (1970). His tombstone is a replacement, the original having been destroyed by souvenir hunters. Jefferson left a multitude of quotes and while certainly no single one can define such a multifaceted man, perhaps this comes close: "I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." (bio by: Bob Hufford)
Note: Link to Thomas Jefferson's actual burial site.
University of Missouri Quadrangle Memorial
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Sep 22, 1999
Find A Grave Memorial# 6435