Thomas Jefferson is remembered in history not only for being president, but also for his
belief in the natural rights of man as and his faith in the people’s ability to govern
themselves. He left an impact that few others in American history have.
Born on April 13, 1743, Jefferson was the third child in the family and grew up with
six sisters and one brother. Though he opposed slavery, his family had owned slaves. From
his father and his environment he developed an interest in botany, geology, cartography, and
North American exploration, and from his childhood teacher developed a love for Greek and
Latin. In 1760, at the age of 16, Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary, where
he got his first views of the expansion of science and of the system of things in which we are
placed. I 172, Jefferson studied law and noticed growing tension between America
and Great Britain. Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767. He successfully practiced law
until public service occupied most of his time. At his home in Shadwell, he designed and
supervised the building of his home, Monticello, on a nearby hill. He was elected to the
Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769. Jefferson met Martha Wayles Skelton, a wealthy
widow of 23, in 1770 and married her in 1772. They settled in Monticello and had one son
and five daughters. Only two of his children, Martha and Mary, survived until maturity.
Mrs. Martha Jefferson died in 1782, leaving Thomas to take care of his two remaining
children.
Though not very articulate, Jefferson proved he could write laws and resolutions
because he was very straight to the point. Jefferson soon became a member in a group which
opposed and took action in the disputes between Britain and the colonies. Together with
other patriots, the group met in the Apollo Room of Williamsburg’s famous Raleigh Tavern
in 1769 and formed a nonimportation agreement against Britain, vowing not to pay import
duties imposed by the Townshend Acts. After a period of calmness, problems faced the
colonists again, forcing Jefferson to organize another nonimportation agreement and calling
the colonies together to protest. He was chosen to represent Albermarle County at the First
Virginia Convention, where delegates were elected to the First Continental Congress. He
became ill and was unable to attend the meeting, but forwarded a message arguing that the
British Parliament had no control over the colonies. He also mentioned the Saxons who had
settled in England hundred of years before from Germany and how Parliament had no more
right to govern the colonies than the Germans had to govern the English. Most Virginians
saw this as too extreme, though. His views were printed in a pamphlet called "A Summary
of the Rights of British America" (1774). Jefferson attended the Second Virginia
Convention in 1775 and was chosen as one of the delegates to the Second Continental
Congress, but before he left for Philadelphia, he was asked by the Virginia Assembly to reply
to Lord North’s message of peace, proposing that Parliament would not try to tax the settlers
if they would tax themselves. Jefferson’s "Reply to Lord North" was more moderate that the
Summary View. Instead of agreeing with Lord North, Jefferson insisted that a government
had been set up for the Americans and not for the British.
The Declaration of Independence was primarily written by Jefferson in June 1776.
Congress felt that the Declaration was too strong and gave Dickinson the responsibility of
redrafting the document, but the new version included much of Jefferson’s original text and
ideas. I 1779, Jefferson became governor of Virginia, guiding Virginians through the final
years of the Revolutionary War. As a member of the Second Continental Congress, he
drafted a plan for decimal coinage and composed an ordinance for the Northwest Territory
that formed the foundation for the Ordinance of 1787. In 1785, he became minister to
France. Appointed secretary of state in President Washington’s Cabinet in 1790, Jefferson
defended local interests against Alexander Hamilton’s policies and led a group called the
Republicans. He was elected vice-president in 1796 and protested the enactment of the
Alien and Sedition Acts by writing The Kentucky Resolutions.
In 1800, the Republicans nominated Jefferson for president and Aaron Burr for vice-
president. Federalists had nominated John Adams for president and Charles Pinckney for
vice-president. Federalists claimed that Jefferson was a revolutionary, an anarchist, and an
unbeliever. Jefferson won the presidency by receiving 73 electoral votes (Adams received
65). Supporters celebrated with bonfires and speeches,