Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph and designed the obelisk grave sầu marker that was to bear three of his accomplishments and “not a word more:”


He could have sầu filled several markers had he chosen to các mục his other public offices: third president of the new United States, vice president, secretary of state, diplomatic minister, and congressman. For his home page state of Virginia he served as governor và member of the House of Delegates & the House of Burgesses as well as filling various local offices — all tallied into lớn almost five decades of public service. He also omitted his work as a lawyer, architect, writer, farmer, gentleman scientist, và life as patriarch of an extended family at, both white & blaông xã. He offered no particular explanation as to lớn why only these three accomplishments should be recorded, but they were quality khổng lồ Jefferson.

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Other men would serve as U.S. president & hold the public offices he had filled, but only he was the primary draftsman of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, nor could others clayên the position as the Father of the University of Virginia. More importantly, through these three accomplishments he had made an enormous contribution lớn the aspirations of a new America và lớn the dawning hopes of repressed people around the world. He had dedicated his life to lớn meeting the challenges of his age: political freedom, religious freedom, and educational opportunity. While he knew that we would continue to lớn face these challenges through time, he believed that America’s democratic values would become a beacon for the rest of the world. He never wavered from his belief in the American experiment.

I have sầu no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves. . . .Thomas Jefferson, 2 July 1787

He spent much of his life laying the groundwork lớn insure that the great experiment would continue.

Early Life và

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, on his father’s plantation of Shadwell located along the Rivanna River in the Piedmont region of central Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.1 His father Peter Jefferson was a successful planter & surveyor & his mother Jane Randolph a thành viên of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families. When Jefferson was fourteen, his father died, & he inherited a sizeable estate of approximately 5,000 acres. That inheritance included the house at Shadwell, but Jefferson dreamed of living on a mountain.2

In 1768 he contracted for the clearing of a 250 feet square site on the topmost point of the 868-foot mountain that rose above Shadwell & where he played as a boy.3 He would name this mountain, và the house that he would build & rebuild over a forty-year period took on this name as well. He would later refer to lớn this ongoing project, the home that he loved, as “my essay in Architecture.”4 The following year, after preparing the site, he began construction of a small briông chồng structure that would consist of a single room with a walk-out basement kitchen & workroom below. This would eventually be referred to lớn as the South Pavilion and was where he lived first alone & then with his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton, following their marriage in January 1772.

Unfortunately, Martha would never see the completion of; she died in the tenth year of their marriage, và Jefferson lost “the cherished companion of my life.” Their marriage produced six children but only two survived inlớn adulthood, Martha (known as Patsy) and Mary (known as Maria or Polly).5

Along with the l& Jefferson inherited slaves from his father & even more slaves from his father-in-law, John Wayles; he also bought và sold enslaved people. In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these enslaved individuals lived at; the others lived on his adjacent Albemarle County farms, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia. Over the course of his life, he owned over 600 enslaved people. These men, women & children were integral khổng lồ the running of his farms & building & maintaining his trang chủ at Some were given training in various trades, others worked the fields, & some worked inside the main house.

Many of the enslaved house servants were members of the Hemings family. Elizabeth Hemings and her children were a part of the Wayles estate và tradition says that John Wayles was the father of six of Hemings’s children và, thus, they were the half-brothers và sisters of Jefferson’s wife Martha. Jefferson gave sầu the Hemingses special positions, & the only slaves Jefferson freed in his lifetime & in his will were all Hemingses, giving credence lớn the oral history. Years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six of Sally Hemings’s children. Four survived to lớn adulthood and are mentioned in Jefferson’s plantation records. Their daughter Harriet and eldest son Beverly were allowed to leave sầu during Jefferson’s lifetime & the two youngest sons, Madison and Eston, were freed in Jefferson’s will.

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Education & Professional Life

After a two-year course of study at the College of William và Mary that he began at age seventeen, Jefferson read the law for five years with Virginia’s prominent jurist, George Wythe, and recorded his first legal case in 1767. In two years he was elected khổng lồ Virginia’s House of Burgesses (the legislature in colonial Virginia).

His first political work to lớn gain broad acclaim was a 1774 draft of directions for Virginia’s delegation to the First Continental Congress, reprinted as a “Summary View of the Rights of British America.” Here he boldly reminded George III that, “he is no more than the chief officer of the people, appointed by the laws, & circumscribed with definite powers, to lớn assist in working the great machine of government. . . .” Nevertheless, in his “Summary View” he maintained that it was not the wish of Virginia lớn separate from the mother country.6 But two years later as a thành viên of the Second Continental Congress & chosen khổng lồ draft the Declaration of Independence, he put forward the colonies’ arguments for declaring themselves không tính phí và independent states. The Declaration has been regarded as a charter of American and universal liberties. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status; that those rights are inherent in each human, a gift of the creator, not a gift of government, and that government is the servant and not the master of the people.

Jefferson recognized that the principles he included in the Declaration had not been fully realized và would remain a challenge across time, but his poetic vision continues to have a profound influence in the United States & around the world. Abratê mê Lincoln made just this point when he declared:

All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capathành phố lớn introduce inlớn a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, & so lớn embalm it there, that to-day and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke và a stumbling-bloông xã lớn the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.7

After Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to lớn Virginia and served in the legislature. In late 1776, as a thành viên of the new House of Delegates of Virginia, he worked closely with James Madison. Their first collaboration, khổng lồ kết thúc the religious establishment in Virginia, became a legislative sầu battle which would culminate with the passage of Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.

Elected governor from 1779 khổng lồ 1781, he suffered an inquiry into lớn his conduct during the British invasion of Virginia in his last year in office that, although the investigation was finally repudiated by the General Assembly, left hyên ổn with a life-long pricklishness in the face of criticism và generated a life-long enmity toward Patrick Henry whom Jefferson blamed for the investigation. The investigation “inflicted a wound on my spirit which will only be cured by the all-healing grave” Jefferson told James Monroe.8During the brief private interval in his life following his governorship, Jefferson completed the one book which he authored, Notes on the State of Virginia. Several aspects of this work were highly controversial. With respect lớn slavery, in Notes Jefferson recognized the gross injustice of the institution – warning that because of slavery “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his Justice cannot sleep for ever.” But he also expressed racist views of blacks’ abilities; albeit he recognized that his views of their limitations might result from the degrading conditions lớn which they had been subjected for many years. With respect lớn religion, Jefferson’s Notes emphatically supported a broad religious freedom and opposed any establishment or linkage between church & state, famously insisting that “it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”9

In 1784, he entered public service again, in France, first as trade commissioner và then as Benjamin Franklin"s successor as U.S. minister. During this period, he avidly studied European culture, sending home page khổng lồ, books, seeds & plants, along with architectural drawings, artwork, furniture, scientific instruments, và information.

In 1790 he agreed khổng lồ be the first secretary of state under the new Constitution in the administration of the first president, George Washington. His tenure was marked by his opposition to lớn the policies of Alexander Hamilton which Jefferson believed both encouraged a larger và more powerful national government & were too pro-British. In 1796, as the presidential candidate of the nascent Democratic-Republican Party, he became vice-president after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes. Four years later, he defeated Adams in another hotly contested election & became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one buổi tiệc ngọt lớn another in the history of the young nation.

Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 và his support of the Lewis và Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts lớn maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain và France. Unfortunately, his efforts did not avert a war with Britain in 1812 after he had left office and his friover và colleague, James Madison, had assumed the presidency.