About Thomas Jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. His presidency was distinguished with doubling the size of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase and the commissioning of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. Thomas Jefferson is also regarded as the draftsman of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 2, 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia. He was the first Secretary of State for the years 1789-94. He was the second vice President from 1797-1801 and president from March 4, 1801 to March 4, 1809.

In 1768, Jefferson made the decision to stand as a candidate for the House of Burgesses and was appointed to the Virginia Legislature. From here in 1775 he was sent as a delegate to the Congressional Congress in Philadelphia. He was a shy man and did not participate greatly in the debates of Congress, but his true strength came out on a committee of five, which included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a formal statement of why a break from Britain was justified. Jefferson was asked by Adams to draft the document, which he did in a couple of days. Although many revisions were made to the document in the ensuing debate, one passage which remained constant was of prime importance:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1801 and served until 1809. In 1803 Jefferson was responsible for the doubling in size of the United States. He did this through the Louisiana Purchase. This stretch of land covered 23% of what is now known as the United States. It had been controlled by the Spanish, but at the time of the purchase was controlled by the French, under Napoleon Bonaparte. The price negotiated for the purchase was $15 million US dollars, a very low price for such a large area of land. Originally the United States wished only to offer $10 million for the purchase of New Orleans, an important center of trade and transport. They were dumbfounded when the French offered to accept $15 Million for the entire region. Evidently Napoleon Bonaparte had his own political reasons for the trade.

The Louisiana Purchase sparked great interest in exploring the west coast and heralded another of Jefferson’s great achievements, his commissioning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This was a mission of exploration, beginning on the 18th of January, 1803 to explore a passage from the east to the west coast. The expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, was undertaken by Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson’s personal secretary and Co-Commander William Clark along with four dozen other men. They followed a route up the Missouri River, down to the mouth of the Columbia River and back. This was an important era of discovery for the United States and a great period of growth.

Thomas Jefferson retired from the presidency in 1809, but continued to lead an active life for the next 17 years. He had a great sense of his place in history. He died on July 4, 1826 and his last words are famously recorded as being “Is it the fourth?”

“Jefferson, Thomas.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 25 Mar. 2007 .

Learn more with these Thomas Jefferson websites.

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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
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Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography Notes on the State of Virginia Public and Private Papers Addresses Letters (Library of America)
Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters (Library of America)
Price: $13.95