born: April 13th, 1743
3rd president of the United Statesby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Jefferson, Thomas April 13, 1743 - July 4, 1826 Author of the Declaration of Independence, Patriot, and 3rd President of the United States of America "My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!" These words were ushered by great man. This man was an innovator and a patriot. He helped form the basis for one of the greatest nations in the world. Yet he belonged to a religious sect composed solely of himself. His views on religion were far and removed from many of his contemporaries. Yet, his views on religion were sometimes grossly misunderstood. This man was Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson's Early Years
Born on April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was by no means a child of extraordinary birth. He was the third of nine children belonging to Peter and Jane Randolph Jefferson. As he grew up, young Jefferson attended both an English and a Latin school for five years each. 1 He excelled during his time in school and learned Greek and French in addition to Latin. However, a tragedy befell the Jefferson household when on August 17, 1757, the head of the household, Peter Jefferson died. Thomas was only 14 years old. Young Thomas inherited about 5,000 acres of the Shadwell lands which included Monticello, the place of his birth. In spite of his father's death, Thomas continued his education for two more years. At age 17, he entered William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia and graduated with top honors, and had attained fluency in the Italian language and competency in Spanish. 2
Jefferson's Political Career
Jefferson's political career began in 1769 when he accepted a position as a representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses. It was during this period (in 1772), that he married Martha Wayles Sketon.
In 1774, following the Intolerable Acts, Thomas Jefferson wrote "A Summary View on the Rights of British America". A portion reads, "It is neither our wish nor our interest to separate from her. We are willing on our part to sacrifice every thing which reason can ask to the restoration of that tranquility for which all must wish." 3 In spite of this, Jefferson penned the wording to the Declaration of Independence a mere two years later. Jefferson would hold his position in the House until 1775, when it was transformed into the Virginia House of Delegates. During this period, he would try, unsuccessfully, to abolish slavery in Virginia.
On the 5th of September, 1774, Thomas Jefferson took his place among the political minds of his day at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Delegates from all thirteen colonies, except Georgia attended. They were gathered to weigh the various suggested responses to the Intolerable Acts of the British. (These Intolerable Acts included the Tea Act, the Boston, Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Quartering Act, and the Quebec Act. The majority of these were a direct response to the Boston Tea Party, which, incidentally, was a response to the Tea Act, the first of the acts to be initiated.) It was here, on October 14th, the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress was adopted. This was an airing of grievances and outlined a colonial bill of rights. Also during the First Continental Congress, a petition to King George II was written and a system for boycotting British trade, known as the Continental Association, was implemented.
However, on April 19th, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord began. This was the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The British attempted, unsuccessfully at that, to take the weapons of the settlers in Massachusetts. However, the colonist militia resisted, resulting in a defeat of the British. Shortly afterwards, on May 10th, the Second Continental Congress met. During a meeting of the Congress on July 6th, the "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms" was issued. This document explained why the colonists had gone to war with the British. Needless to say, it was a very important document. It was not nearly as important as the words that would emerge from Jefferson's quill nearly a year later. On June 28th, 1776, Thomas Jefferson, et al, presented the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. This document signified the separation of the thirteen American colonies from Great Britain. The final wording was ratified and the document was accepted on July 4th, and it was signed by the Congress on August 2nd. 4
This was only the beginning of Jefferson's political career. On June 1st, 1779, he became the 2nd Governor of the state of Virginia, a position he would hold for two years. Shortly afterward, he would be a Delegate from Virginia to the Congress of the Confederation, the predecessor to the United States Congress. He was in office from 1783 to 1784. He continued to climb the political ladder when in 1785, he succeeded the late Benjamin Franklin** as the United States' Minister to France, a position akin to an Ambassador of today. He would remain the Minister until 1789, at the advent of the French Revolution. The year 1790, was a significant one in the life of now 47-year-old Thomas Jefferson. It was in this year that he accepted the first ever appointment to the post of Secretary of State. He was appointed by the first President, George Washington**. However on December 1st, 1793, Jefferson resigned from the position of Secretary of State due largely to the fact that he and the Secretary of the Treasury, This appointment further expanded his foreign relations experience, something that would prove beneficial a few years later.
In 1796, Thomas Jefferson made a bold leap and ran for President. Under the banner of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jefferson fought a hard race against the Federalist Party candidate, Vice President John Adams. Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson suffered a devastating loss. The Electoral College elected his opponent John Adams as President by a margin of three votes. 5 However, he garnered enough electoral votes to become Vice President, which he became. During his Vice Presidency, tensions rose between Thomas Jefferson and the President. In 1798, President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts. These gave the President the power to deport immigrants that were his political enemies without due process and punish those who criticized his policies (which is an infringement of free speech). Thomas Jefferson and his friend James Madison then penned the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. These were strongly worded resolutions to nullify these unconstitutional laws within their states. This was an example of Jefferson's strong views regarding the power of federal government. He believed that the federal government's powers should be strictly limited and the majority of authority should be left to the state.
In 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson threw in his hat yet again in a Presidential bid. He fought, this time successfully, against then-President John Adams, making Jefferson the 3rd President in the United States' history. His Vice President was Aaron Burr.
Many important foreign affairs issues took place during Jefferson's Presidency. One of these was the Barbary Wars. The United States now faced an opponent that was unconventional, yet threatened the well-being of the US's private citizens and the economy. This new enemy was piracy. Interestingly enough, the pirates were from, and supported by the Sultanate of Morocco, and the three Regencies of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, the latter three belonging to the Ottoman Empire. These nations quite literally made their living from pirating boats and holding the prisoners for ransom. After Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, the state of Tripoli demanded $225,000 in payment followed by an annual tribute of $25,000. Jefferson denied. 6 Subsequently, the state of Tripoli declared war on the United States of America. Jefferson acted quickly in response to this. He dispatched a navy squadron to the Mediterranean. Wisely, Tunis and Algeria broke their allegiance with Tripoli, and Morocco was forced out of the fight due to the effective strategies of Commodore Edward Preble. The war finally ended in 1805 when the state of Tripoli, facing immense military pressure from the United States, signed a treaty ending the War.
Another tremendously important decision was made during President Jefferson's term in office. Emperor Napoleon I of France was on a mission of conquest. However, he faced an impending war with Great Britain and impending bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the United States traded with both Britain and France, boosting trade immensely. However, they both demanded that America stop trading with the other, which resulted in America trading with none of Europe. However, this too severely crippled the economy and Jefferson, reopened trade with Europe, excluding Great Britain and France, for the most part. Partly because he wanted to secure a trading route for Americans through the Mississippi River and partly because it wasn't advisable to have France's interests for world domination next door, Thomas Jefferson decided to buy the vast majority of France's territory on the continent in 1803. This purchase (called the Louisiana Purchase) cost Jefferson $15 million, but when contrasted to the fact that he bought about 828,000 square miles of land, it seems that the United States got a pretty good deal: approximately doubling the size of the United States for about 4 cents an acre. The reason that Napoleon was willing to make this sacrifice was the before mentioned impending bankruptcy. President Jefferson then sent an expeditionary team of twenty-five men led by Meriwether Lewis, and Army Captain William Clark to explore the new lands. These adventurers took about 30 months, two and a half years, to cover 8,000 miles. The expeditionaries traveled up the Missouri River, across the Continental Divide, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and returned to St. Louis in what was considered one of the greatest exploratory quests in human history.
Thomas Jefferson continued to remain active in politics after he finished his second term in office and returned home to Monticello in Virginia. One example, being that he founded and designed the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson died on the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1826. He was buried on his Monticello estate.
Jefferson's religious life
Thomas Jefferson's religious views were never fully known. However it is known that he was closely associated with the philosophy of Deism, that is, that God created the world, and set in place natural laws making Him no longer necessary, and thus uninvolved in the day-today- affairs of human kind. It is known that Jefferson utterly despised both Calvinism and Presbyterianism. He said in a letter to John Adams regarding the teachings of John Calvin, "I can never join Calvin in addressing his God. He was indeed an atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was daemonism. If ever a man worshiped a false God, he did. The being described in his five points, is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the creator and benevolent governor of the world, but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no God at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin." 7 Jefferson has also said that he is "a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." Jefferson has also said in a letter to E. Styles, "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know. I am not a Jew, and therefore do not adopt their theology, which supposes the God of infinite justice to punish the sins of the fathers upon their children, unto the third and fourth generation; and the benevolent and sublime reformer of that religion has told us only that God is good and perfect, but has not defined him. I am, therefore, of his theology, believing that we have neither words nor ideas adequate to that definition. And if we could all, after this example, leave the subject as undefinable, we should all be of one sect, doers of good, and eschewers of evil." (Ibid.) 8 Jefferson is also known for his "translation" of the Bible, where he omitted Jesus miracles and left only His teachings. And in spite of all evidence to the contrary, organizations such as rationalathiest.com have tried to paint Thomas Jefferson as one of them. However, it is safe to say that Thomas Jefferson's mind was thoroughly theist yet misguided about God the Father and God the Son (Jesus).