Thomas Jefferson symbolizes the promise and the contradictions of America’s historical heritage. As the third president of the United States, a diplomat, plantation owner, architect, scientist, and philosopher, he is one of the most important figures in American history. The writings of Thomas Jefferson are today more meaningful than ever before in America’s history. You could reach into your pocket, pull out a nickel and find him gazing into the middle distance. Jefferson was born on April 13 (April 2, Old Style), 1743, at Shadwell, the most important of the tobacco plantations owned by his father Peter Jefferson, in the Virginia upcountry. An intelligent man, although educated, Peter Jefferson became a successful surveyor, landowner, and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from Albemarle County. His wife Jane Randolph, a member of one of the most distinguished Virginia families. As a child, he enjoyed to the full the advantages of his family’s position in life: the books, the horses, and the good life of the “Big Houses” at Tuckahoe and Shadwell. When his father died he left his fourteen-year-old son with not only valuable lands and property but the inheritance of Virginia wealth as well as loving and caring advise. Thomas not formally educated himself; he studied at Revered Mr. Maury’s school, not far from Shadwell. After two years’ in the spring of 1760, he left his native Albemarle to attend William and Mary College. Jefferson gives evidence of enjoying to the party scene: the music, the dancing, the flirtations, and the punch drinking. After graduating from William and Mary in the spring of 1762, Jefferson studied law five years under George Wythe. Knowledge of the law is essential to an understanding of governmental procedures. He became a successful lawyer starting his career. When Jefferson was turning thirty he started his political career. In January of 1772, he had married Martha Wayles Skelton. After being married, they moved to Monticello, not far from his old home in Shadwell, this had been destroyed by fire in 1770. 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.” When he returned a later, he was appointed to the five- man committee, including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Which is the most important assignment ever given in the history of America: the drafting of a formal declaration of independence from Great Britain. Jefferson had the responsibility of preparing the draft, and was finally approved on July 4, 1776. By the age of thirty-three, his reputation had grown. Returning to the Virginia House of Delegates in October 1776, Jefferson at once set to work on a carefully planned reform of the laws of Virginia. He introduced a bill to reorganize the courts of justice. Jefferson made the most of his opportunity to modernize the body of the law. He surveyed the whole field of education, and proposed a systematic plan of statewide education. He attempted to write religious toleration into the laws of Virginia by separating Church and State; when the “Bill for establishing Religious Freedom” was finally passed in 1785, he considered it a major contribution to American society. In June of 1779, he was elected Governor of Virginia. Jefferson took up his duties at a time when the British were raiding Virginia; in control of the sea, they could send forth-plundering parties to capture food and ammunition, and destroy. Jefferson himself escaped capture at the hands of troops by Colonel Tarleton. In June of 1781 he had injured his wrist and was unable to ride for some time. During this period, he wrote to Marquis de Marbois, Secretary of the French Legation at Philadelphia. The observations Jefferson had been making for years about the surrounding country, its climate, its natural beauties, minerals, waterways, agriculture, and government. The manuscript was later the Notes of Virginia. In September 1782, Jefferson’s wife ill since the birth of their last daughter died. Shortly after in June 1783, the General Assembly of Virginia elected Jefferson as a delegate to the Confederation Congress where he again headed important committees, drafted man reports, and official papers. Here, he criticized the proposed currency system and provided, in his “Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit,” a sound coinage system to take its place. He drew up a draft for temporary government of the Western Territory or the Ordinance of the Northwestern Territory, stressing the importance of equality between the original and the new states, and attempting to exclude slavery from all the territories. Jefferson was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to assist Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, on May 7, 1784. Jefferson entered the European stage where Diplomacy and society, arts and sciences, revolution and love were to provide him the richest years of his life. In 1785, on Franklin’s departure for America, Jefferson was made Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France. In January of 1794, were the rewards of being once mare a private, free, man able to read, write, and enjoy music he retired. In the few months of retirement Jefferson began supervising the farm of his estates and designed a plow, which revolutionized agriculture. He also read in his library and wrote friends. After three years of retirement, Jefferson was drafted in 1796 to run for President and accepted it. He ran against John Adams losing but became the vice-president. After Adams term, Jefferson ran for president again against Aaron Burr. Jefferson’s second term, an impatient John Randolph of Roanoke did not like by Jefferson’s methods of dealing with the Federalists. Rejecting Jefferson’s policy involving territorial controversies with Spain, he led a small but forceful team of anti-Administration Republicans in the House of Representatives. As Jefferson’s second term ended, he reopened his campaign for a system of general education in Virginia. Jefferson was convinced that the institution could be the greatest achievement in a lifetime dedicated to the belief that truth makes men free. The institution or State University for Virginia was the first American University to be free of official church connection. The University of Virginia was Jefferson’s daily concern during his last seven years. He chose the books for the college library, drew up the curriculum, designed the buildings, and supervised their construction. The University opened in 1825 the winter before Jefferson’s death. Jefferson continued to pursue a multitude of other tasks. In his eightieth year he wrote on politics, sending President Monroe long expositions later known as the Monroe Doctrine. Jefferson’s life had been rich and deep, astonishing in its complexity, rewarding to his family, his friends, his fellow citizens, and to America. Jefferson died ten days before the fiftieth anniversary of American independence July 4, 1826. Jefferson symbolizes for many both the promise and the contradictions of America’s historical heritage. He was a plantation owner from Virginia who helped formulate the American Revolution and became the third President of the new country. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s manifesto asserted that God had not created masters and servants, aristocrats and commoners. All had been “created equal”. All were entitled to human dignity. Jefferson was a landowner and engaged in ambitious building projects at Monticello and Poplar Forest. He unsuccessfully looked for an alternative crop to tobacco, and like many American farmers after him he was heavily in debt to the banks. Jefferson’s plantations were worked by slaves he owned an estimated two hundred slaves. During his presidency, his political enemies published charges that the had several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings which was not in the book I read but a point I wanted to bring up. How can a man so intelligent and brave write the Declaration of Independence and own slaves? The man, who wrote, “all men are created equal.” He seems to be so what of a hypocrite. I will take into consideration that in the eighteenth-century, Virginia slaveholders might have wished freedom for slaves, but the difficulties of finding viable places of residence and means of livelihood may have been a factor. Although we may find Jefferson guilty of failing to make adequate allowance for the conditions in which slaves were forced to live, Jefferson did not take the next step of concluding that slaves were fit only for slavery. Did Jefferson mean to include blacks or women in the language of the Declaration? Writing from retirement at he age of seventy-three, he told a correspondent the “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.” I respect Thomas Jefferson for his intelligence, work, and actions took to form our country today. Jefferson was a very intelligent man for his time and find it amazing of all the work he did in his lifetime. I believe he is the most important president of all the presidents of America.
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