Monday, September 03, 2012

10 Fun Facts About Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States

1. Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia Colony, in April of 1743.  His father was a large landowner and farmer, and Jefferson received a classical education, studying Greek, Latin, French, mathematics, and science.  He entered the College of William & Mary at age 16 and graduated just two years later.  From there, he began studying law and was admitted to the bar in 1767.

2. Shortly after beginning his law practice, Jefferson also joined the colonial legislature of Virginia, where he served from 1769 to 1775 and quickly rose to prominence as an opponent of continued British rule in the colonies.  During this time he met and married Martha Skelton, a young widow who had already suffered the deaths of both her husband and her son.  Together the Jeffersons had six children, but only two daughters lived to adulthood, and only one survived Jefferson himself.  The other died in childbirth during Jefferson's presidency.

3. In 1775, Jefferson became a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, where he quickly befriended John Adams and immediately became part of the inner circle slated to compose a formal declaration accompanying the coming vote on independence from Great Britain.  Included in this five-man committee were Jefferson, Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.  After Jefferson wrote the document, a number of changes were made to it, both by the committee and later by the Congress at large.  A section criticizing the slave trade was part of nearly 25% of the original text that was removed.

4. As the war with Great Britain raged, Jefferson served again in the Virginia legislature, helping to draft its constitution and numerous other precedent-setting laws, then served two 1-year terms as governor, from 1779 to 1881.  His term as governor was widely seen, both at the time and by historians today, as a failure, and he was heavily criticized for not raising an adequate militia and for fleeing the capital as the British army approached.  The legislature declined to reelect him for a third term.

5. During the 1780's, following the ending of the Revolutionary War, Jefferson served in the new Confederation Congress, then served a stint as Minister to France.  Jefferson's wife Martha died from childbirth complications in 1784, and it was during his time in France following this grief that he is believed to have begun a relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings, who was only 14 or 15 at the time.

6. Jefferson was still serving in France during the late 1780's when the U.S. Constitution was written, meaning Jefferson had very little direct involvement in its drafting or passage.  Following George Washington's unanimous election as the first president, he asked Jefferson to serve as his Secretary of State, and Jefferson returned to accept the office.

7. Jefferson's time as Secretary of State was characterized by constant disagreement over the fiscal policies of the new government, with his primary opponent being Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, with whom Washington tended to side.  Due to these ideological differences, Jefferson, along with James Madison, formed the nation's first true political party, calling themselves "Republicans" in order to contrast themselves with Hamilton's faction, which Jefferson characterized as too much like monarchists.  (Historians call this party the "Democratic-Republican" party to differentiate it from the modern Republican Party, which was founded in the 1850's.)  The heat eventually grew too great within the Cabinet and Jefferson resigned his position early in Washington's second term, retiring to his plantation in Virginia.  Jefferson and Washington never spoke again.

8. In 1796, following Washington's retirement, Jefferson ran for president on his party's ticket, while his friend and former colleague, John Adams, ran under the ticket of Hamilton's party, now called the Federalists.  The election proved very close, with Adams winning by three electoral votes over Jefferson.  However, due to rules in place at the time, Jefferson became vice-president because he got the second most electoral votes - resulting in the president and vice-president being from different political parties (this rule was changed shortly thereafter by an amendment to the Constitution).

9. As expected, Jefferson's term as vice-president under Adams was a rocky one, and when they both ran for president again in 1800, Jefferson won handily, taking more than 60% of the popular vote.  As president, he transacted the Louisiana Purchase from France, oversaw a war against pirates in the Mediterranean, and sponsored the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Since his wife had died more than 15 years earlier, he was the first single U.S. president; his daughter acted as hostess at official events.

10. After leaving office in 1809, Jefferson retired to his home of Monticello.  A voracious reader and lover of books, his private library had more than 6,000 volumes - bigger than the Library of Congress at the time - and when the Library was destroyed during the War of 1812, Jefferson sold his collection to the government and it effectively became the new Library of Congress.  Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, during the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  In one of the more bizarre cases of synchronicity in American history, John Adams died the same day.


Julie Mendelsohn said...

Enjoyed the read. Thanks!

Scott said...

Thanks Julie. Glad you liked it.