Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most profound and important figures in
American History. Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United
States of America, a diplomat, statesman, architect, scientist, and
philosopher. No leader in this period of American History was as articulate,
wise, or aware of the problems and consequences of a free society as Thomas
Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, a tobacco
plantation in Virginia. His father, Peter Jefferson, was an extremely smart
man, not to mention a self-made success, all despite the fact he was formally
uneducated. His mother, Jane Randolph was a member of one of the most
distinguished families in Virginia. Peter Jefferson died when Thomas was
14, leaving him many valuable properties and lands. As a result of being
formally uneducated himself he demanded his son Thomas be schooled. He
studied with Reverend Mr. Maury, a classical scholar, for two years, and in
1760 he attended William and Mary College. After graduating from William
and Mary in 1762, Jefferson studied law for five years under George Wythe.
In January of 1772, he married Martha Wayles Skelton and made himself a
home in Monticello to raise a family. When he and Martha moved to
Monticello, only a small one room building was completed for them to stay
in.
Jefferson was thirty years old when he first began his political career.
He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgess in 1769, where his first
action was an unsuccessful bill allowing owners to free their slaves.
The continuing problem in British-Colonial relations overshadowed
routine action of legislature. In 1774, the first of the Intolerable Acts closed
the port of Boston until Massachusetts paid for the Boston Tea Party, of the
preceding year. Jefferson and other younger members of the Virginia
Assembly ordained a day of fasting and prayer to demonstrate their sympathy
with Massachusetts. As a result, Virginia’s Royal Governor Dunmore once
again dissolved the assembly (Koch and Peden 20). The members met and
planned to call together an inter-colonial congress.. Jefferson began writing
resolutions which were more radical and better written than those from other
counties and colonies. Although his resolutions were considered too
revolutionary, and not adopted, they were printed and widely circulated.
Because of these resolutions all important writing assignments were entrusted
to Jefferson.
When Jefferson arrived in Philadelphia in June, 1775, as a Virginia
delegate to the Second Continental Congress, he already possessed, as John
Adams remarked, “a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of
composition” (Koch and Peden 21).
When he retired in 1776, he was appointed to a five-man committee,
including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, which was given the most
momentous assignment ever given in the history of America: the drafting of a
formal declaration of independence from Great Britain (Daugherty 109).
Jefferson was responsible for preparing the draft. The document, was finally
approved by Congress on July 4, 1776. Cut and occasionally altered by
Adams or Franklin, or the Congress itself, the declaration is almost
completely Jefferson’s, and is the triumph and culmination of his early
career. At this time, had he wanted to be a political leader, he could have
easily attained a position in government. Instead, he chose to return to
Monticello and give his public service to Virginia. Returning to the Virginia
House of Delegates in October 1776, Jefferson set to work on reforming the
laws of Virginia. He also proposed a rational plan of statewide education
and attempted to write religious toleration into the laws of Virginia by
separating Church and State by writing the “Bill for Establishing Religious
Freedom.”
In June of 1779, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia. He
continued his career as a public executive, confident of his abilities, of the
respect, and the affection of his common wealth. However, he took up his
duties at a time when the British were raiding Virginia. General George
Washington did not have resources available to send to Virginia. Jefferson,
during one of the raids, narrowly escaped capture at the hands of the British
Troops, and the legislatures were forced to flee from their new capital city of
Richmond. Jefferson, as head of state, was singled out for criticism and
abuse.

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