Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743[b] – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809.[6] He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Following the American Revolutionary War and prior to becoming president in 1801, Jefferson was the nation's first U.S. secretary of state under George Washington and then the nation's second vice president under John Adams. Jefferson was a leading proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights, and produced formative documents and decisions at the state, national, and international levels. His writings and advocacy for human rights, including freedom of thought, speech, and religion, served as substantial inspirations to the American Revolution and subsequent Revolutionary War in which the Thirteen Colonies succeeded in breaking from British America and establishing the United States as a sovereign nation.[7]

Thomas Jefferson
1800 portrait
3rd President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
Vice President
Preceded byJohn Adams
Succeeded byJames Madison
2nd Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
PresidentJohn Adams
Preceded byJohn Adams
Succeeded byAaron Burr
1st United States Secretary of State
In office
March 22, 1790 – December 31, 1793
PresidentGeorge Washington
Preceded byJohn Jay (acting)
Succeeded byEdmund Randolph
2nd United States Minister to France
In office
May 17, 1785 – September 26, 1789
Appointed byConfederation Congress
Preceded byBenjamin Franklin
Succeeded byWilliam Short
Minister Plenipotentiary for Negotiating Treaties of Amity and Commerce
In office
May 7, 1784 – May 11, 1786
Appointed byConfederation Congress
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Delegate from Virginia to the Congress of the Confederation
In office
June 6, 1782 – May 7, 1784
Preceded byJames Madison
Succeeded byRichard Lee
2nd Governor of Virginia
In office
June 1, 1779 – June 3, 1781
Preceded byPatrick Henry
Succeeded byWilliam Fleming
Member of the
Virginia House of Delegates
from Albemarle County[1]
In office
October 7, 1776 – May 30, 1779
Preceded byCharles Lewis
Succeeded byNicholas Lewis
In office
December 10, 1781 – December 22, 1781
Preceded byIsaac Davis
Succeeded byJames Marks
Delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress
In office
June 20, 1775 – September 26, 1776
Preceded byGeorge Washington
Succeeded byJohn Harvie
Member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from Albemarle County
In office
May 11, 1769[2] – June 1, 1775[3]
Preceded byEdward Carter[3]
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Personal details
Born(1743-04-13)April 13, 1743
Shadwell Plantation, Goochland (now in Albemarle County) Virginia Colony
DiedJuly 4, 1826(1826-07-04) (aged 83)
Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Resting placeMonticello, Virginia
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
(m. 1772; died 1782)
Alma materCollege of William & Mary
  • Politician
  • lawyer
SignatureThomas Jefferson signature
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceVirginia militia
Years of service1775–1776
UnitAlbemarle County Militia
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

Philosophy career
Notable work
EraAge of Enlightenment
InstitutionsAmerican Philosophical Society
Main interests
Notable ideas

During the American Revolution, Jefferson represented Virginia at the Second Continental Congress and served as the second governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781. In 1785, Congress appointed Jefferson U.S. minister to France, where he served from 1785 to 1789. President Washington then appointed Jefferson the nation's first secretary of state, where he served from 1790 to 1793. During this time, in the early 1790s, Jefferson and James Madison organized the Democratic-Republican Party to oppose the Federalist Party during the formation of the nation's First Party System. Jefferson and Federalist John Adams became both friends and political rivals. In the 1796 U.S. presidential election between the two, Jefferson came in second, which made him Adams' vice president under the electoral laws of the time. Four years later, in the 1800 presidential election, Jefferson again challenged Adams, and won the presidency. In 1804, Jefferson was reelected overwhelmingly to a second term.

As president, Jefferson assertively defended the nation's shipping and trade interests against Barbary pirates and aggressive British trade policies, promoted a western expansionist policy with the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the nation's geographic size, and was able to reduce military forces and expenditures following successful negotiations with France. In his second presidential term, Jefferson was beset by difficulties at home, including the trial of his former vice president Aaron Burr. In 1807, Jefferson implemented the Embargo Act to defend the nation's industries from British threats to U.S. shipping, limiting foreign trade and stimulating the birth of the American manufacturing industry. Presidential scholars and historians praise Jefferson's public achievements, including his advocacy of religious freedom and tolerance, his peaceful acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France, and his leadership in supporting the Lewis and Clark Expedition; they give radically differing interpretations of his views on and relationship with slavery.[8]

Jefferson is ranked by both scholars and in public opinion among the upper-tier of American presidents.

Early life and career

Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743, Old Style, Julian calendar), at the family's Shadwell Plantation in the British Colony of Virginia, the third of ten children.[9] He was of English and possibly Welsh descent, and was born a British subject.[10] His father, Peter Jefferson, was a planter and surveyor who died when Jefferson was fourteen; his mother was Jane Randolph.[c] Peter Jefferson moved his family to Tuckahoe Plantation in 1745 on the death of William Randolph III, the plantation's owner and Jefferson's friend, who in his will had named Peter guardian of Randolph's children. The Jeffersons returned to Shadwell before October 1753.[12]

Peter died in 1757, and his estate was divided between his sons Thomas and Randolph.[13] John Harvie Sr. became 13-year-old Thomas' guardian.[14] Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 7.8 sq mi), which included Monticello, and he assumed full legal authority over the property at age 21.[15]

Education and early family life

Jefferson began his education together with the Randolph children at Tuckahoe under tutors.[16] Thomas' father Peter, who was self-taught and regretted not having a formal education, entered Thomas into an English school at age five. In 1752, at age nine, he attended a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister and also began studying the natural world, which he grew to love. At this time he began studying Latin, Greek, and French, while learning to ride horses as well. Thomas also read books from his father's modest library.[17] He was taught from 1758 to 1760 by the Reverend James Maury near Gordonsville, Virginia, where he studied history, science, and the classics while boarding with Maury's family.[18][17] Jefferson came to know various American Indians, including the Cherokee chief Ostenaco, who often stopped at Shadwell to visit on their way to Williamsburg to trade.[19][20] In Williamsburg, the young Jefferson met and came to admire Patrick Henry, eight years his senior, and shared a common interest in the playing of the violin.[21]

The Wren Building at the College of William & Mary, where Jefferson studied

Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1761, at the age of eighteen, and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy with William Small. Under Small's tutelage, Jefferson encountered the ideas of the British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. Small introduced Jefferson to George Wythe and Francis Fauquier. Small, Wythe, and Fauquier recognized Jefferson as a man of exceptional ability and included him in their inner circle, where he became a regular member of their Friday dinner parties. Jefferson later wrote that, while there, he "heard more common good sense, more rational & philosophical conversations than in all the rest of my life".[22]

During his first year at the college, Jefferson spent considerable time attending parties and dancing and was not very frugal with his expenditures; in his second year, regretting that he had squandered away time and money in his first year, he committed to studying fifteen hours a day.[23] While at William & Mary, Jefferson became a member of the Flat Hat Club.[24]

Jefferson concluded his formal studies in April 1762.[25] He read the law under Wythe's tutelage while working as a law clerk in his office.[26] Jefferson was well-read in a broad variety of subjects, which, along with law and philosophy, included history, natural law, natural religion, ethics, and several areas in science, including agriculture. During his years of study under the watchful eye of Wythe, Jefferson authored a Commonplace Book, a survey of his extensive readings.[27] Wythe was so impressed with Jefferson that he later bequeathed his entire library to him.[28]

On July 20, 1765, Jefferson's sister Martha married his close friend and college companion Dabney Carr, which was greatly pleasing to Jefferson. In October of that year, however, Jefferson mourned his sister Jane's unexpected death at age 25; he wrote a farewell epitaph for her in Latin.[29]

Jefferson treasured his books and amassed three sizable libraries in his lifetime. He began assembling his first library, which grew to 200 volumes, in his youth. It included books inherited from his father and left to him by Wythe.[30] In 1770, however, Jefferson's first library was destroyed in a fire at his Shadwell home. His second library replenished the first. It grew to 1,250 titles by 1773, and to nearly 6,500 volumes by 1814.[31] Jefferson organized his books into three broad categories corresponding with elements of the human mind: memory, reason, and imagination.[32] After British forces burnt the Library of Congress during the 1814 Burning of Washington, Jefferson sold his second library to the U.S. government for $23,950, hoping to help jumpstart the Library of Congress' rebuilding. Jefferson used a portion of the proceeds to pay off some of his large debt. However, Jefferson soon resumed collecting what amounted to his third personal library, writing to John Adams, "I cannot live without books."[33][34] By the time of his death a decade later, the library had grown to nearly 2,000 volumes.[35]

Lawyer and House of Burgesses

House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Jefferson served from 1769 to 1775

Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767, and lived with his mother at Shadwell.[36] He represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 until 1775.[37] He pursued reforms to slavery, including writing and sponsoring legislation in 1769 to strip power from the royal governor and courts, instead providing masters of slaves with the discretion to emancipate them. Jefferson persuaded his cousin Richard Bland to spearhead the legislation's passage, but it faced strong opposition in a state whose economy was largely agrarian.[38]

Jefferson took seven cases of freedom-seeking enslaved people[39] and waived his fee for one he claimed should be freed before the minimum statutory age for emancipation.[40] Jefferson invoked natural law, arguing "everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person and using it at his own will ... This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because it is necessary for his own sustenance." The judge cut him off and ruled against his client. As a consolation, Jefferson gave his client some money, which was conceivably used to aid his escape shortly thereafter.[40] However, Jefferson's underlying intellectual argument that all people were entitled by their creator to what he labeled a "natural right" to liberty is one he would later incorporate as he set about authoring the Declaration of Independence.[41] He also took on 68 cases for the General Court of Virginia in 1767, in addition to three notable cases: Howell v. Netherland (1770), Bolling v. Bolling (1771), and Blair v. Blair (1772).[42]

Jefferson wrote a resolution calling for a "Day of Fasting and Prayer" and a boycott of all British goods in protest of the British Parliament passing the Intolerable Acts in 1774. Jefferson's resolution was later expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, in which he argued that people have the right to govern themselves.[43]

Monticello, marriage, and family

Monticello, Jefferson's home near Charlottesville, Virginia

In 1768, Jefferson began constructing his primary residence, Monticello, whose name in Italian means "Little Mountain", on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre (20 km2; 7.8 sq mi) plantation.[d] He spent most of his adult life designing Monticello as architect and was quoted as saying, "Architecture is my delight, and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements."[45] Construction was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by Jefferson's slaves.[46] He moved into the South Pavilion in 1770. Turning Monticello into a neoclassical masterpiece in the Palladian style was his perennial project.[47]

On January 1, 1772, Jefferson married his third cousin[48] Martha Wayles Skelton, the 23-year-old widow of Bathurst Skelton.[49][50] She was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. Biographer Dumas Malone described the marriage as the happiest period of Jefferson's life.[51] Martha read widely, did fine needlework, and was a skilled pianist; Jefferson often accompanied her on the violin or cello.[52] During their ten years of marriage, Martha bore six children: Martha "Patsy" (1772–1836); Jane Randolph (1774–1775); an unnamed son who lived for only a few weeks in 1777; Mary "Polly" (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and another Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1784).[53][e] Only Martha and Mary survived to adulthood.[56] Martha's father John Wayles died in 1773, and the couple inherited 135 enslaved people, 11,000 acres (45 km2; 17 sq mi), and the estate's debts. The debts took Jefferson years to satisfy, contributing to his financial problems.[49]

Martha later suffered from ill health, including diabetes, and frequent childbirth weakened her. Her mother had died young, and Martha lived with two stepmothers as a girl. A few months after the birth of her last child, she died on September 6, 1782, with Jefferson at her bedside. Shortly before her death, Martha made Jefferson promise never to marry again, telling him that she could not bear to have another mother raise her children.[57] Jefferson was grief-stricken by her death, relentlessly pacing back and forth. He emerged after three weeks, taking long rambling rides on secluded roads with his daughter Martha, by her description "a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief".[56][58]

After serving as U.S. Secretary of State from 1790 to 1793 during Washington's presidency, Jefferson returned to Monticello and initiated a remodeling based on architectural concepts he had learned and acquired in Europe. The work continued throughout most of his presidency and was completed in 1809.[59][60]

Revolutionary War

Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson largely wrote in isolation between June 11 and 28, 1776, from a floor he was renting in a home at 700 Market Street in Center City Philadelphia,[61] are "the most potent and consequential words in American history," historian Joseph Ellis later wrote.

Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.[62] At age 33, he was one of the youngest delegates to the Second Continental Congress beginning in 1775 at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, where a formal declaration of independence from Britain was overwhelmingly favored.[63] Jefferson was inspired by the Enlightenment ideals of the sanctity of the individual, and the writings of Locke and Montesquieu.[64]

Jefferson sought out John Adams, a Continental Congress delegate from Massachusetts and an emerging leader in the Congress.[65] They became close friends, and Adams supported Jefferson's appointment to the Committee of Five, charged by the Congress with authoring a declaration of independence. The five chosen were Adams, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee initially thought that Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson. His choice was due to Jefferson being a Virginian, popular, and being considered a good writer by Adams. [f]

Jefferson consulted with his fellow committee members, but mostly wrote the Declaration of Independence in isolation between June 11 and 28, 1776, in a home he was renting at 700 Market Street in Center City Philadelphia.[61] Jefferson drew considerably on his proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources.[67] Other committee members made some changes, and a final draft was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776.[68]

The declaration was introduced on Friday, June 28, and Congress began debate over its contents on Monday, July 1,[68] resulting in the removal of roughly a fourth of Jefferson's original draft.[69][70] Jefferson resented the changes, but he did not speak publicly about the revisions.[g] On July 4, 1776, the Congress ratified the Declaration, and delegates signed it on August 2; in so doing, the delegates were knowingly committing an act of high treason against The Crown, which was deemed the most serious criminal offense and was punishable by torture and death.[72]

Jefferson's preamble is regarded as an enduring statement on individual and human rights, and the phrase "all men are created equal" has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language". The Declaration of Independence, historian Joseph Ellis wrote in 2008, represents "the most potent and consequential words in American history".[70][73]

Virginia state legislator and governor

Governor's Palace, Jefferson's residence in Williamsburg during his term as Virginia's governor from 1779 to 1781

At the start of the Revolution, Colonel Jefferson was named commander of the Albemarle County Militia on September 26, 1775.[74] He was then elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for Albemarle County in September 1776, when finalizing the state constitution was a priority.[75][76] For nearly three years, he assisted with the constitution and was especially proud of his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which prohibited state support of religious institutions or enforcement of religious doctrine.[77] The bill failed to pass, as did his legislation to disestablish the Anglican Church, but both were later revived by James Madison.[78]

In 1778, Jefferson was given the task of revising the state's laws. He drafted 126 bills in three years, including laws to streamline the judicial system. He proposed statutes that provided for general education, which he considered the basis of "republican government".[75] Jefferson also was concerned that Virginia's powerful landed gentry were becoming a hereditary aristocracy and took the lead in abolishing what he called "feudal and unnatural distinctions."[79] He targeted laws such as entail and primogeniture by which a deceased landowner's oldest son was vested with all land ownership and power.[79] [h]

Jefferson was elected governor for one-year terms in 1779 and 1780.[81] He transferred the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond, and introduced additional measures for public education, religious freedom, and inheritance.[82]

During General Benedict Arnold's 1781 invasion of Virginia, Jefferson escaped Richmond just ahead of the British forces, which razed the city.[83][84] He sent emergency dispatches to Colonel Sampson Mathews and other commanders in an attempt to repel Arnold's efforts.[85][86] General Charles Cornwallis that spring dispatched a cavalry force led by Banastre Tarleton to capture Jefferson and members of the Assembly at Monticello, but Jack Jouett of the Virginia militia thwarted the British plan. Jefferson escaped to Poplar Forest, his plantation to the west.[87] When the General Assembly reconvened in June 1781, it conducted an inquiry into Jefferson's actions which eventually concluded that Jefferson had acted with honor—but he was not re-elected.[88]

In April of the same year, his daughter Lucy died at age one. A second daughter of that name was born the following year, but she died at age two.[89]

In 1782, Jefferson refused a partnership offer by North Carolina Governor Abner Nash, in a profiteering scheme involving the sale of confiscated Loyalist lands.[90] Unlike some Founders, Jefferson was content with his Monticello estate and the land he owned in the vicinity of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Jefferson thought of Monticello as an intellectual gathering place for his friends James Madison and James Monroe.[91]

Notes on the State of Virginia

In 1780, Jefferson received from French diplomat François Barbé-Marbois a letter of inquiry into the geography, history, and government of Virginia, as part of a study of the United States. Jefferson organized his responses in a book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).[92] He compiled the book over five years, including reviews of scientific knowledge, Virginia's history, politics, laws, culture, and geography.[93] The book explores what constitutes a good society, using Virginia as an exemplar. Jefferson included extensive data about the state's natural resources and economy and wrote at length about slavery and miscegenation; he articulated his belief that blacks and whites could not live together as free people in one society because of justified resentments of the enslaved.[94] He also wrote of his views on the American Indian, equating them to European settlers.[95][96]

Notes was first published in 1785 in French and appeared in English in 1787.[97] Biographer George Tucker considered the work "surprising in the extent of the information which a single individual had been thus far able to acquire, as to the physical features of the state";[98] Merrill D. Peterson described it as an accomplishment for which all Americans should be grateful.[99]

Member of Congress

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and where the Congress edited but unanimously ratified his draft of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776

Jefferson was appointed a Virginia delegate to the Congress of the Confederation organized following the peace treaty with Great Britain in 1783. He was a member of the committee setting foreign exchange rates and recommended an American currency based on the decimal system which was adopted.[100] He advised the formation of the Committee of the States to fill the power vacuum when Congress was in recess.[101] The Committee met when Congress adjourned, but disagreements rendered it dysfunctional.[102]

In the Congress' 1783–1784 session, Jefferson acted as chairman of committees to establish a viable system of government for the new Republic and to propose a policy for settlement of the western territories. He was the principal author of the Land Ordinance of 1784, whereby Virginia ceded to the national government the vast area that it claimed northwest of the Ohio River. He insisted that this territory should not be used as colonial territory by any of the thirteen states, but that it should be divided into sections that could become states. He plotted borders for nine new states in their initial stages and wrote an ordinance banning slavery in all the nation's territories. Congress made extensive revisions, and rejected the ban on slavery.[103][104] The provisions banning slavery, known as the "Jefferson Proviso", were modified and implemented three years later in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and became the law for the entire Northwest Territory.[103]

Minister to France

An engraving of Champs-Élysées seen through the Grille de Chaillot. Jefferson's house appears on the left.

On May 7, 1784, Jefferson was appointed by the Congress of the Confederation[i] to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in Paris as Minister Plenipotentiary for Negotiating Treaties of Amity and Commerce with Great Britain and other countries.[105][j] With his young daughter Patsy and two servants, he departed in July 1784, arriving in Paris the next month.[107][108] Jefferson had Patsy educated at the Pentemont Abbey. Less than a year later he was assigned the additional duty of succeeding Franklin as Minister to France. French foreign minister Count de Vergennes commented, "You replace Monsieur Franklin, I hear." Jefferson replied, "I succeed. No man can replace him."[109] During his five years in Paris, Jefferson played a leading role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.[110]

In 1786, he met and fell in love with Maria Cosway, an accomplished—and married—Italian-English musician of 27. She returned to Great Britain after six weeks, but they maintained a lifelong correspondence.[111]

During the summer of 1786, Jefferson arrived in London to meet with John Adams, the US Ambassador to Britain. Adams had official access to George III and arranged a meeting between Jefferson and the king. Jefferson later described the king's reception of the men as "ungracious." According to Adams's grandson, George III turned his back on both in a gesture of public insult. Jefferson returned to France in August.[112]

Jefferson sent for his youngest surviving child, nine-year-old Polly, in June 1787. She was accompanied by a young slave from Monticello, Sally Hemings. Jefferson had taken her older brother, James Hemings, to Paris as part of his domestic staff and had him trained in French cuisine.[113] According to Sally's son, Madison Hemings, the 16-year-old Sally and Jefferson began a sexual relationship in Paris, where she became pregnant.[114] The son indicated Hemings agreed to return to the United States only after Jefferson promised to free her children when they came of age.[114]

While in France, Jefferson became a regular companion of the Marquis de Lafayette, a French hero of the American Revolution, and Jefferson used his influence to procure trade agreements with France.[115][116] As the French Revolution began, he allowed his Paris residence, the Hôtel de Langeac, to be used for meetings by Lafayette and other republicans. He was in Paris during the storming of the Bastille and consulted with Lafayette while the latter drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.[117] Jefferson often found his mail opened by postmasters, so he invented his own enciphering device, the "Wheel Cipher"; he wrote important communications in code for the rest of his career.[118][k] Unable to attend the 1787 Constitution Convention, Jefferson supported the Constitution but desired the addition of the promised bill of rights.[119] Jefferson left Paris for America in September 1789.[120] He remained a firm supporter of the French Revolution while opposing its more violent elements.[121]

Secretary of State

A 48-year-old Jefferson in 1791, in a portrait by Charles Willson Peale

Soon after returning from France, Jefferson accepted President Washington's invitation to serve as Secretary of State.[122] Pressing issues at this time were the national debt and the permanent location of the capital. He opposed a national debt, preferring that each state retire its own, in contrast to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who desired consolidation of states' debts by the federal government.[123] Hamilton also had bold plans to establish the national credit and a national bank, but Jefferson strenuously opposed this and attempted to undermine his agenda, which nearly led Washington to dismiss him from the cabinet. He later left the cabinet voluntarily.[124]

The second major issue was the capital's permanent location. Hamilton favored a capital close to the major commercial centers of the Northeast, while Washington, Jefferson, and other agrarians wanted it further south.[125] After lengthy deadlock, the Compromise of 1790 was struck, permanently locating the capital on the Potomac River, and the federal government assumed the war debts of all original 13 states.[125]

Jefferson's goals were to decrease American dependence on British commerce and to expand commercial trade with France. He sought to weaken Spanish colonialism of the trans-Appalachian West and British control in the North, believing this would aid in the pacification of Native Americans.[126]

Jefferson and political protegé Congressman James Madison founded the National Gazette in 1791, along with author Phillip Freneau, in an effort to counter Hamilton's Federalist policies, which Hamilton was promoting through the influential Federalist newspaper the Gazette of the United States. The National Gazette made particular criticism of the policies promoted by Hamilton, often through anonymous essays signed by the pen name Brutus at Jefferson's urging, which were actually written by Madison.[127] In Spring 1791, Jefferson and Madison took a vacation to Vermont; Jefferson had been suffering from migraines and was tiring of the in-fighting with Hamilton.[128]

In May 1792, Jefferson became alarmed at the political rivalries taking shape; he wrote to Washington, imploring him to run for reelection that year as a unifying influence.[129] He urged the president to rally the citizenry to a party that would defend democracy against the corrupting influence of banks and monied interests, as espoused by the Federalists. Historians recognize this letter as the earliest delineation of Democratic-Republican Party principles.[130] Jefferson, Madison, and other Democratic-Republican organizers favored states' rights and local control and opposed federal concentration of power, whereas Hamilton sought more power for the federal government.[131]

Jefferson supported France against Britain when the two nations fought in 1793, though his arguments in the Cabinet were undercut by French Revolutionary envoy Edmond-Charles Genêt's open scorn for Washington.[132] In his discussions with British Minister George Hammond, he tried in vain to persuade the British to vacate their posts in the Northwest and to compensate the U.S. for enslaved people whom the British had freed at the end of the war. Jefferson sought a return to private life, and resigned the cabinet position in December 1793; he may also have wanted to bolster his political influence from outside the administration.[133]

After the Washington administration negotiated the Jay Treaty with Britain in 1794, Jefferson saw a cause around which to rally his party and organized a national opposition from Monticello.[134] The treaty, designed by Hamilton, aimed to reduce tensions and increase trade. Jefferson warned that it would increase British influence and subvert republicanism, calling it "the boldest act [Hamilton and Jay] ever ventured on to undermine the government".[135] The Treaty passed, but it expired in 1805 during Jefferson's presidential administration and was not renewed. Jefferson continued his pro-France stance; during the violence of the Reign of Terror, he declined to disavow the revolution: "To back away from France would be to undermine the cause of republicanism in America."[136]

Election of 1796 and vice presidency

The results of the 1796 U.S. presidential election between Adams and Jefferson, won by Adams

In the presidential campaign of 1796, Jefferson lost the electoral college vote to Federalist John Adams 71–68 and was thus elected vice president. As presiding officer of the Senate, he assumed a more passive role than his predecessor John Adams. He allowed the Senate to freely conduct debates and confined his participation to procedural issues, which he called an "honorable and easy" role.[137] Jefferson had previously studied parliamentary law and procedure for 40 years, making him quite qualified to serve as presiding officer. In 1800, he published his assembled notes on Senate procedure as A Manual of Parliamentary Practice.[138] He cast only three tie-breaking votes in the Senate.

In four confidential talks with French consul Joseph Létombe in the spring of 1797, Jefferson attacked Adams and predicted that his rival would serve only one term. He also encouraged France to invade England, and advised Létombe to stall any American envoys sent to Paris.[139] This toughened the tone that the French government adopted toward the Adams administration. After Adams's initial peace envoys were rebuffed, Jefferson and his supporters lobbied for the release of papers related to the incident, called the XYZ Affair after the letters used to disguise the identities of the French officials involved.[140] However, the tactic backfired when it was revealed that French officials had demanded bribes, rallying public support against France. The U.S. began an undeclared naval war with France known as the Quasi-War.[141]

During the Adams presidency, the Federalists rebuilt the military, levied new taxes, and enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson believed these laws were intended to suppress Democratic-Republicans, rather than prosecute enemy aliens, and considered them unconstitutional.[142] To rally opposition, he and James Madison anonymously wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, declaring that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it by the states.[143] The resolutions followed the "interposition" approach of Madison, that states may shield their citizens from federal laws that they deem unconstitutional. Jefferson advocated nullification, allowing states to invalidate federal laws altogether.[144][l] He warned that, "unless arrested at the threshold", the Alien and Sedition Acts would "drive these states into revolution and blood".[146]

Historian Ron Chernow claims that "the theoretical damage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions was deep and lasting, and was a recipe for disunion", contributing to the American Civil War as well as later events.[147] Washington was so appalled by the resolutions that he told Patrick Henry that, if "systematically and pertinaciously pursued", the resolutions would "dissolve the union or produce coercion."[148] Jefferson had always admired Washington's leadership skills but felt that his Federalist party was leading the country in the wrong direction. He decided not to attend Washington's funeral in 1799 because of acute differences with him while serving as secretary of state.[149]

Election of 1800

The results of the 1800 presidential election between Adams and Jefferson, won by Jefferson

Jefferson contended for president once more against John Adams in 1800. Adams' campaign was weakened by unpopular taxes and vicious Federalist infighting over his actions in the Quasi-War.[150] Democratic-Republicans pointed to the Alien and Sedition Acts and accused the Federalists of being secret pro-Britain monarchists, while Federalists charged that Jefferson was a godless libertine beholden to the French.[151] Historian Joyce Appleby said the election was "one of the most acrimonious in the annals of American history".[152]

The Democratic-Republicans ultimately won more electoral college votes, due in part to the electors that resulted from the addition of three-fifths of the South's slaves to the population calculation under the Three-Fifths Compromise.[153] Jefferson and his vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr unexpectedly received an equal total. Because of the tie, the election was decided by the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives.[154][m] Hamilton lobbied Federalist representatives on Jefferson's behalf, believing him a lesser political evil than Burr. On February 17, 1801, after thirty-six ballots, the House elected Jefferson president and Burr vice president.[155]

The win was marked by Democratic-Republican celebrations throughout the country.[156] Some of Jefferson's opponents argued that he owed his victory to the South's inflated number of electors.[157] Others alleged that Jefferson secured James Asheton Bayard's tie-breaking electoral vote by guaranteeing the retention of various Federalist posts in the government.[155] Jefferson disputed the allegation, and the historical record is inconclusive.[158]

The transition proceeded smoothly, marking a watershed in American history. As historian Gordon S. Wood writes, "it was one of the first popular elections in modern history that resulted in the peaceful transfer of power from one 'party' to another."[155]

Presidency (1801–1809)

Thomas Jefferson, an 1805 portrait by Rembrandt Peale

Jefferson was sworn in as president by Chief Justice John Marshall at the new Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 1801. His inauguration was not attended by outgoing President Adams. In contrast to his two predecessors, Jefferson exhibited a dislike of formal etiquette. Plainly dressed, he chose to walk alongside friends to the Capitol from his nearby boardinghouse that day instead of arriving by carriage.[159] His inaugural address struck a note of reconciliation and commitment to democratic ideology, declaring, "We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."[160][161] Ideologically, he stressed "equal and exact justice to all men", minority rights, and freedom of speech, religion, and press.[162] He said that a free and republican government was "the strongest government on earth."[162] He nominated moderate Republicans to his cabinet: James Madison as secretary of state, Henry Dearborn as secretary of war, Levi Lincoln as attorney general, and Robert Smith as secretary of the navy.[161]

Widowed since 1782, Jefferson first relied on his two daughters to serve as his official hostesses.[163] In late May 1801, he asked Dolley Madison, wife of his long-time friend James Madison, to be the permanent White House hostess. She was also in charge of the completion of the White House mansion. Dolley served as White House hostess for the rest of Jefferson's two terms and then for eight more years as First Lady while her husband was president.[163]

Financial affairs

Albert Gallatin, Jefferson's treasury secretary, depicted in a portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Jefferson's first challenge as president was shrinking the $83 million national debt.[164] He began dismantling Hamilton's Federalist fiscal system with help from the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin.[161] Gallatin devised a plan to eliminate the national debt in sixteen years by extensive annual appropriations and reduction in taxes.[165] The administration eliminated the whiskey excise and other taxes after closing "unnecessary offices" and cutting "useless establishments and expenses".[166][167]

Jefferson believed that the First Bank of the United States represented a "most deadly hostility" to republican government.[165] He wanted to dismantle the bank before its charter expired in 1811, but was dissuaded by Gallatin.[168] Gallatin argued that the national bank was a useful financial institution and set out to expand its operations.[169] Jefferson looked to other corners to address the growing national debt.[169] He shrank the Navy, for example, deeming it unnecessary in peacetime, and incorporated a fleet of inexpensive gunboats intended only for local defense to avoid provocation against foreign powers.[166] After two terms, he had lowered the national debt from $83 million to $57 million.[170]

Domestic affairs

Jefferson pardoned several of those imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts.[171] Congressional Republicans repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which removed nearly all of Adams's "midnight judges". A subsequent appointment battle led to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Marbury v. Madison, asserting judicial review over executive branch actions.[172] Jefferson appointed three Supreme Court justices: William Johnson (1804), Henry Brockholst Livingston (1807), and Thomas Todd (1807).[173]

Jefferson strongly felt the need for a national military university, producing an officer engineering corps for a national defense based on the advancement of the sciences, rather than having to rely on foreign sources.[174] He signed the Military Peace Establishment Act on March 16, 1802, founding the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Act documented a new set of laws and limits for the military. Jefferson was also hoping to bring reform to the Executive branch, replacing Federalists and active opponents throughout the officer corps to promote Republican values.[175]

Jefferson took great interest in the Library of Congress, which had been established in 1800. He often recommended books to acquire. In 1802, Congress authorized Jefferson to name the first Librarian of Congress, and formed a committee to establish library regulations. Congress also granted the president and vice president the right to use the library.[176]

Foreign affairs (1801–1805)

First Barbary War

The Barbary Coast of North Africa in 1806, including (from left to right): Morocco, Gibraltar, Tunis, and Tripoli

American merchant ships had been protected from Barbary Coast pirates by the Royal Navy when the states were British colonies.[177] After independence, however, pirates often captured U.S. merchant ships, pillaged cargoes, and enslaved or held crew members for ransom. Jefferson had opposed paying tribute to the Barbary States since 1785. In 1801, he authorized a U.S. Navy fleet under Commodore Richard Dale to make a show of force in the Mediterranean, the first American naval squadron to cross the Atlantic.[178] Following the fleet's first engagement, he successfully asked Congress for a declaration of war.[178] The "First Barbary War" was the first foreign war fought by the U.S.[179]

Pasha of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli captured the USS Philadelphia, so Jefferson authorized William Eaton, the U.S. Consul to Tunis, to lead a force to restore the pasha's older brother to the throne.[180] The American navy forced Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli. Jefferson ordered five separate naval bombardments of Tripoli, leading the pasha to sign a treaty that restored peace in the Mediterranean.[181] This victory proved only temporary, but according to Wood, "many Americans celebrated it as a vindication of their policy of spreading free trade around the world and as a great victory for liberty over tyranny."[182]

Louisiana Purchase

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase, completed during Jefferson's presidency, added 827,987 square miles (2,144,480 square kilometres), which doubled the geographic size of the United States.

Spain ceded ownership of the Louisiana territory in 1800 to France. Jefferson was concerned that Napoleon's interests in the vast territory would threaten the security of the continent and Mississippi River shipping. He wrote that the cession "works most sorely on the U.S. It completely reverses all the political relations of the U.S."[183] In 1802, he instructed James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and adjacent coastal areas.[184] In early 1803, Jefferson offered Napoleon nearly $10 million for 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometres) of tropical territory.[185]

Napoleon realized that French military control was impractical over such a vast remote territory, and he was in dire need of funds for his wars on the home front. In early April 1803, he unexpectedly made negotiators a counter-offer to sell 827,987 square miles (2,144,480 square kilometres) of French territory for $15 million (~$371 million in 2023), doubling the size of the United States.[185] U.S. negotiators accepted the offer and signed the treaty on April 30, 1803.[170] Word of the unexpected purchase did not reach Jefferson until July 3, 1803.[170] He unknowingly acquired the most fertile tract of land of its size on Earth, making the new country self-sufficient in food and other resources. The sale also significantly curtailed European presence in North America, removing obstacles to U.S. westward expansion.[186]

Most thought that this was an exceptional opportunity, despite Republican reservations about the Constitutional authority of the federal government to acquire land.[187] Jefferson initially thought that a Constitutional amendment was necessary to purchase and govern the new territory; but he later changed his mind, fearing that this would give cause to oppose the purchase, and urged a speedy debate and ratification.[188] On October 20, 1803, the Senate ratified the purchase treaty by a vote of 24–7.[189] Jefferson personally was humble about acquiring the Louisiana Territory, but he resented complainers who called the vast domain a "howling wilderness".[190]

After the purchase, Jefferson preserved the region's Spanish legal code and instituted a gradual approach to integrating settlers into American democracy. He believed that a period of the federal rule would be necessary while Louisianans adjusted to their new nation.[191][n] Historians have differed in their assessments regarding the constitutional implications of the sale,[193] but they typically hail the Louisiana acquisition as a major accomplishment. Frederick Jackson Turner called the purchase the most formative event in American history.[186]


Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia, a 1905 portrait by Charles Marion Russell depicting Lewis and Clark's expedition on the Columbia River during Jefferson's presidency

Jefferson anticipated further westward settlements due to the Louisiana Purchase and arranged for the exploration and mapping of the uncharted territory. He sought to establish a U.S. claim ahead of competing European interests and to find the rumored Northwest Passage.[194] Jefferson and others were influenced by exploration accounts of Le Page du Pratz in Louisiana (1763) and James Cook in the Pacific (1784),[195] and they persuaded Congress in 1804 to fund an expedition to explore and map the newly acquired territory to the Pacific Ocean.[196]

Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery (1803–1806).[197] In the months leading up to the expedition, Jefferson tutored Lewis in the sciences of mapping, botany, natural history, mineralogy, and astronomy and navigation, giving him unlimited access to his library at Monticello, which included the largest collection of books in the world on the subject of the geography and natural history of the North American continent, along with an impressive collection of maps.[198]

The expedition lasted from May 1804 to September 1806 and obtained a wealth of scientific and geographic knowledge, including knowledge of many Indian tribes.[199]

Jefferson organized three other western expeditions: the William Dunbar and George Hunter Expedition on the Ouachita River (1804–1805), the Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis Expedition (1806) on the Red River, and the Zebulon Pike Expedition (1806–1807) into the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest. All three produced valuable information about the American frontier.[200]

Native American affairs

Black Hoof, leader of the Shawnee, accepted Jefferson's Indian assimilation policies.

Jefferson refuted the contemporary notion that Indians were inferior and maintained that they were equal in body and mind to people of European descent,[201] although he believed them to be inferior in terms of culture and technology.[202] As governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War, Jefferson recommended moving the Cherokee and Shawnee tribes, who had allied with the British, to west of the Mississippi River. But when he took office as president, he quickly took measures to avert another major conflict, as American and Indian societies were in collision and the British were inciting Indian tribes from Canada.[203][204] In Georgia, he stipulated that the state would release its legal claims for lands to its west in exchange for military support in expelling the Cherokee from Georgia. This facilitated his policy of western expansion, to "advance compactly as we multiply".[205]

In keeping with his Enlightenment thinking, President Jefferson adopted an assimilation policy toward American Indians known as his "civilization program" which included securing peaceful U.S.–Indian treaty alliances and encouraging agriculture. Jefferson advocated that Indian tribes should make federal purchases by credit holding their lands as collateral. Various tribes accepted Jefferson's policies, including the Shawnees led by Black Hoof, the Muscogee, and the Cherokee. However, some Shawnees, led by Tecumseh, broke off from Black Hoof, and opposed Jefferson's assimilation policies.[206]

Historian Bernard Sheehan argues that Jefferson believed that assimilation was best for American Indians, and next-best was removal to the west; he felt that the worst outcome of the conflict would be their attacking the whites.[204] Jefferson told U.S. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, who then oversaw Indian affairs, "If we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down until that tribe is exterminated or driven beyond the Mississippi."[207] Miller agrees that Jefferson believed that Indians should assimilate to American customs and agriculture. Historians such as Peter S. Onuf and Merrill D. Peterson argue that Jefferson's actual Indian policies did little to promote assimilation and were a pretext to seize lands.[208]

Re-election in 1804 and second term

Results from the 1804 U.S. presidential election in which Jefferson was reelected overwhelmingly to a second term as president

Jefferson was nominated for reelection by the Republican party, with George Clinton replacing Burr as his running mate.[209] The Federalist party ran Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, John Adams's vice-presidential candidate in the 1800 election. The Jefferson-Clinton ticket won overwhelmingly in the electoral college vote, by 162 to 14, promoting their achievement of a strong economy, lower taxes, and the Louisiana Purchase.[209]

In March 1806, a split developed in the Republican party, led by fellow Virginian and former Republican ally John Randolph, who viciously accused President Jefferson on the floor of the House of moving too far in the Federalist direction. In so doing, Randolph permanently set himself apart politically from Jefferson. Jefferson and Madison had backed resolutions to limit or ban British imports in retaliation for British seizures of American shipping. Also, in 1808, Jefferson was the first president to propose a broad Federal plan to build roads and canals across several states, asking for $20 million, further alarming Randolph and believers of limited government.[210]

Jefferson's popularity further suffered in his second term due to his response to wars in Europe. Positive relations with Britain had diminished, due partly to the antipathy between Jefferson and British diplomat Anthony Merry. After Napoleon's decisive victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon became more aggressive in his negotiations over trading rights, which American efforts failed to counter. Jefferson then led the enactment of the Embargo Act of 1807, directed at both France and Britain. This triggered economic chaos in the U.S. and was strongly criticized, resulting in Jefferson having to abandon the policy a year later.[211]

During the revolutionary era, the states abolished the international slave trade, but South Carolina reopened it. In his annual message of December 1806, Jefferson denounced the "violations of human rights" attending the international slave trade, calling on the newly elected Congress to criminalize it immediately. In 1807, Congress passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, which Jefferson signed.[212][213] The act established severe punishment against the international slave trade, although it did not address the issue domestically.[214]

In Haiti, Jefferson's neutrality had allowed arms to enable the slave independence movement during its Revolution, and blocked attempts to assist Napoleon, who was defeated there in 1803.[215] But he refused official recognition of the country during his second term, in deference to southern complaints about the racial violence against slave-holders; it was eventually extended to Haiti in 1862.[216]


Burr conspiracy and trial

Following the 1801 electoral deadlock, Jefferson's relationship with his vice president, Aaron Burr, rapidly eroded. Jefferson suspected Burr of seeking the presidency for himself, while Burr was angered by Jefferson's refusal to appoint some of his supporters to federal office. Burr was dropped from the Democratic-Republican ticket in 1804.

An 1802 portrait of Aaron Burr by John Vanderlyn

The same year, Burr was soundly defeated in his bid to be elected New York governor. During the campaign, Alexander Hamilton publicly made callous remarks regarding Burr's moral character.[217] Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, mortally wounding him on July 11, 1804. Burr was indicted for Hamilton's murder in New York and New Jersey, causing him to flee to Georgia, although he remained President of the Senate during Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase's impeachment trial.[218] Both indictments quietly died and Burr was not prosecuted.[219] Also during the election, certain New England separatists approached Burr, desiring a New England federation and intimating that he would be their leader.[220] However, nothing came of the plot, since Burr had lost the election and his reputation was ruined after killing Hamilton.[220] In August 1804, Burr contacted British Minister Anthony Merry offering to cede U.S. western territory in return for money and British ships.[221]

After leaving office in April 1805, Burr traveled west and conspired with Louisiana Territory governor James Wilkinson, beginning a large-scale recruitment for a military expedition.[222] Other plotters included Ohio Senator John Smith and Irishman Harman Blennerhassett.[222] Burr discussed seizing control of Mexico or Spanish Florida, or forming a secessionist state in New Orleans or the Western U.S.; historians remain unclear as to his true goal.[223][o] In the fall of 1806, Burr launched a military flotilla carrying about 60 men down the Ohio River. Wilkinson renounced the plot and reported Burr's expedition to Jefferson, who ordered Burr's arrest.[222][225][226] On February 13, 1807, Burr was captured in Louisiana and sent to Virginia to be tried for treason.[221]

Burr's 1807 conspiracy trial became a national issue.[227] Jefferson attempted to preemptively influence the verdict by telling Congress that Burr's guilt was "beyond question", but the case came before his longtime political foe John Marshall, who dismissed the treason charge. Burr's legal team subpoenaed Jefferson, but Jefferson refused to testify, making the first argument for executive privilege. Instead, Jefferson provided relevant legal documents.[228] After a three-month trial, the jury found Burr not guilty, while Jefferson denounced his acquittal.[226][229][p][230] Jefferson subsequently removed Wilkinson as territorial governor but retained him in the U.S. military. Historian James N. Banner criticized Jefferson for continuing to trust Wilkinson, a "faithless plotter".[226]

Wilkinson's misconduct

Commanding General James Wilkinson was a holdover of the Washington and Adams administrations. In 1804, Wilkinson received 12,000 pesos from the Spanish for information on American boundary plans.[231] Wilkinson also received advances on his salary and payments on claims submitted to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn. This damaging information apparently was unknown to Jefferson. In 1805, Jefferson trusted Wilkinson and appointed him Louisiana Territory governor, admiring Wilkinson's work ethic.

In January 1806, Jefferson received information from Kentucky U.S. Attorney Joseph Davies that Wilkinson was on the Spanish payroll. Jefferson took no action against Wilkinson, since there was not then significant evidence against him.[232] An investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 1807 exonerated Wilkinson.[233] In 1808, a military court looked into the allegations against Wilkinson but also found a lack of evidence. Jefferson retained Wilkinson in the U.S. Army.[234] Evidence found in Spanish archives in the 20th century proved Wilkinson was on the Spanish payroll.[231]

Foreign affairs (1805–1809)

Attempted annexation of Florida

In the aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson attempted to annex West Florida from Spain. In his annual message to Congress, on December 3, 1805, Jefferson railed against Spain over Florida border depredations.[235][236] A few days later Jefferson secretly requested a two-million-dollar expenditure to purchase Florida. Floor leader John Randolph opposed annexation and was upset over Jefferson's secrecy on the matter, and believed the money would land in the coffers of Napoleon.[237][236] The Two Million Dollar bill passed only after Jefferson successfully maneuvered to replace Randolph with Barnabas Bidwell as floor leader.[237][236] This aroused suspicion of Jefferson and charges of undue executive influence over Congress. Jefferson signed the bill into law in February 1806. Six weeks later the law was made public. The two million dollars was to be given to France as payment, in turn, to put pressure on Spain to permit the annexation of Florida by the United States. France, however, refused the offer and Florida remained under Spanish control.[238][236] The failed venture damaged Jefferson's reputation among his supporters.[239][236]

ChesapeakeLeopard affair

An illustration of HMS Leopard (right) firing upon the USS Chesapeake in June 1807

The British conducted seizures of American shipping to search for British deserters from 1806 to 1807; American citizens were thus impressed into the British naval service. In 1806, Jefferson issued a call for a boycott of British goods; on April 18, Congress passed the Non-Importation Acts, but they were never enforced. Later that year, Jefferson asked James Monroe and William Pinkney to negotiate an end to the harassment of American shipping, though Britain showed no signs of improving relations. The Monroe–Pinkney Treaty was finalized but lacked any provisions to end the British policies, and Jefferson refused to submit it to the Senate for ratification.[240]

The British ship HMS Leopard fired upon the USS Chesapeake off the Virginia coast in June 1807.[241] Jefferson issued a proclamation banning armed British ships from U.S. waters. He presumed unilateral authority to call on the states to prepare 100,000 militia and ordered the purchase of arms, ammunition, and supplies, writing, "The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation [than strict observance of written laws]". The USS Revenge was dispatched to demand an explanation from the British government; it also was fired upon. Jefferson called for a special session of Congress in October to enact an embargo or alternatively to consider war.[242]

Embargo (1807–1809)

An 1807 political cartoon on the Embargo Act, depicting merchants dodging the "Ograbme", which is "Embargo" spelled backward

In December 1807, news arrived that Napoleon had extended the Berlin Decree, globally banning British imports. In Britain, King George III ordered redoubling efforts at impressment, including American sailors. But Congress had no appetite to prepare the U.S. for war. Jefferson asked for and received the Embargo Act, an alternative that allowed the U.S. more time to build up defensive works, militias, and naval forces. Meacham said that the Embargo Act was a projection of power that surpassed the Alien and Sedition Acts, and R. B. Bernstein said that Jefferson "was pursuing policies resembling those he had cited in 1776 as grounds for independence and revolution".[243]

In November 1807, Jefferson, for several days, met with his cabinet to discuss the deteriorating foreign situation.[244] Secretary of State James Madison supported the embargo,[245] while Treasury Secretary Gallatin opposed it, due to its indefinite time frame and the risk to the policy of American neutrality.[246] The U.S. economy suffered, criticism grew, and opponents began evading the embargo. Instead of retreating, Jefferson sent federal agents to secretly track down smugglers and violators.[247] Three acts were passed in Congress during 1807 and 1808, called the Supplementary, the Additional, and the Enforcement acts.[241] The government could not prevent American vessels from trading with the European belligerents once they had left American ports, although the embargo triggered a devastating decline in exports.[241]

In December 1807, Jefferson announced his intention not to seek a third term. He turned his attention increasingly to Monticello during the last year of his presidency, giving Madison and Gallatin almost total control of affairs.[248] Shortly before leaving office in March 1809, Jefferson signed the repeal of the Embargo. In its place, the Non-Intercourse Act was passed, but it proved no more effective.[241] The day before Madison was inaugurated as his successor, Jefferson said that he felt like "a prisoner, released from his chains".[249]


The Jefferson cabinet
PresidentThomas Jefferson1801–1809
Vice PresidentAaron Burr1801–1805
George Clinton1805–1809
Secretary of StateJames Madison1801–1809
Secretary of the TreasurySamuel Dexter1801
Albert Gallatin1801–1809
Secretary of WarHenry Dearborn1801–1809
Attorney GeneralLevi Lincoln Sr.1801–1805
John Breckinridge1805–1806
Caesar Augustus Rodney1807–1809
Secretary of the NavyBenjamin Stoddert1801
Robert Smith1801–1809

Post-presidency (1809–1826)

After his presidency, Jefferson remained influential and continued to correspond with many of the country's leaders (including his two protégées, Madison and Monroe, who succeeded him as president); the Monroe Doctrine strongly resembles solicited advice that Jefferson gave to Monroe in 1823.[250][251]

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, founded by Jefferson in 1819

Jefferson envisioned a university free of church influences where students could specialize in new areas not offered at other colleges. He believed that education engendered a stable society, which should provide publicly funded schools accessible based solely on ability.[252] He initially proposed his University in a letter to Joseph Priestley in 1800[253] and, in 1819, founded the University of Virginia. He organized the state legislative campaign for its charter and, with the assistance of Edmund Bacon, purchased the location. He was the principal designer of the buildings, planned the university's curriculum, and served as the first rector upon its opening in 1825.[254]

Jefferson was a strong disciple of Greek and Roman architectural styles, which he believed to be most representative of American democracy. Each academic unit, called a pavilion, was designed with a two-story temple front, while the library "Rotunda" was modeled on the Roman Pantheon. Jefferson referred to the university's grounds as the "Academical Village", and he reflected his educational ideas in its layout. The ten pavilions included classrooms and faculty residences; they formed a quadrangle and were connected by colonnades, behind which stood the student rooms. Gardens and vegetable plots were placed behind the pavilions and were surrounded by serpentine walls, affirming the importance of the agrarian lifestyle.[255] The university had a library rather than a church at its center, emphasizing its secular nature—controversial at the time.[256]

When Jefferson died in 1826, James Madison replaced him as rector.[257] Jefferson bequeathed most of his reconstructed library of almost 2,000 volumes to the university.[258] Only one other ex-president has founded a university; Millard Fillmore founded the University at Buffalo in 1846.[259]

Reconciliation with Adams

In 1804, Abigail Adams, wife and confidant of John Adams, was one of several people who intervened in an attempt to reconcile differences between Jefferson and John Adams. Jefferson and Adams ultimately reconciled, established a lengthy correspondence and renewed friendship, and died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson and John Adams became good friends in the first decades of their political careers, serving together in the Continental Congress in the 1770s and in Europe in the 1780s. The Federalist/Republican split of the 1790s divided them, however, and Adams felt betrayed by Jefferson's sponsorship of partisan attacks, such as those of James Callender. Jefferson was angered by Adams' appointment of "midnight judges".[260] The two men did not communicate directly for more than a decade after Jefferson succeeded Adams as president.[261] A brief correspondence took place between Abigail Adams and Jefferson after Jefferson's daughter Polly died in 1804, in an attempt at reconciliation unknown to Adams. However, an exchange of letters resumed open hostilities between Adams and Jefferson.[260]

As early as 1809, Benjamin Rush began to prod the two through correspondence to re-establish contact.[260] In 1812, Adams wrote a short New Year's greeting to Jefferson, prompted earlier by Rush, to which Jefferson warmly responded. This initial correspondence began what historian David McCullough calls "one of the most extraordinary correspondences in American history".[262] Over the next 14 years, Jefferson and Adams exchanged 158 letters discussing their political differences, justifying their respective roles in events, and debating the revolution's import to the world.[263]

When Adams died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, his last words were an acknowledgment of his longtime friend and rival. "Thomas Jefferson survives", Adams said, unaware that Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.[264][265][266]


In 1821, at the age of 77, Jefferson began writing his Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson: 1743–1790, in which he said he sought to "state some recollections of dates and facts concerning myself".[267] He focused on the struggles and achievements he experienced until July 29, 1790, where the narrative stopped short.[268] He excluded his youth, emphasizing the revolutionary era. He related that his ancestors came from Wales to America in the early 17th century and settled in the western frontier of the Virginia colony, which influenced his zeal for individual and state rights. Jefferson described his father as uneducated, but with a "strong mind and sound judgement". He also addressed his enrollment in the College of William and Mary and his election to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775.[267]

He expressed opposition to the idea of a privileged aristocracy made up of large landowning families partial to the King, and instead promoted "the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society, & scattered with equal hand through all its conditions, was deemed essential to a well-ordered republic".[267] The work is primarily concerned with the Declaration and reforming the government of Virginia. He used notes, letters, and documents to tell many of the stories. He suggested that this history was so rich that his personal affairs were better overlooked, but he incorporated a self-analysis using the Declaration and other patriotism.[269]

Greek War of Independence

Thomas Jefferson was a philhellene, lover of Greek culture, who sympathized with the Greek War of Independence.[270][271] He has been described as the most influential of the Founding Fathers who supported the Greek cause,[271][272] viewing it as similar to the American Revolution.[273] By 1823, Jefferson was exchanging ideas with Greek scholar Adamantios Korais.[271] Jefferson advised Korais on building the political system of Greece by using classical liberalism and examples from the American governmental system, ultimately prescribing a government akin to that of a U.S. state.[274] He also suggested the application of a classical education system for the newly founded First Hellenic Republic.[275] Jefferson's philosophical instructions were welcomed by the Greek people.[275] Korais became one of the designers of the Greek constitution and urged his associates to study Jefferson's works and other literature from the American Revolution.[275]

Lafayette's visit

An 1824 portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette by Ary Scheffer

In the summer of 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette accepted an invitation from President James Monroe to visit the country. Jefferson and Lafayette had not seen each other since 1789. After visits to New York, New England, and Washington, Lafayette arrived at Monticello on November 4.[254]

Jefferson's grandson Randolph was present and recorded the reunion: "As they approached each other, their uncertain gait quickened itself into a shuffling run, and exclaiming, 'Ah Jefferson!' 'Ah Lafayette!', they burst into tears as they fell into each other's arms." Jefferson and Lafayette then retired to the house to reminisce.[276] The next morning Jefferson, Lafayette, and James Madison attended a tour and banquet at the University of Virginia. Jefferson had someone else read a speech he had prepared for Lafayette, as his voice was weak and could not carry. This was his last public presentation. After an 11-day visit, Lafayette bid Jefferson goodbye and departed Monticello.[277]

Final days, death, and burial

Jefferson's gravesite at Monticello

Jefferson's approximately $100,000 of debt weighed heavily on his mind in his final months, as it became increasingly clear that he would have little to leave to his heirs. In February 1826, he successfully applied to the General Assembly to hold a public lottery as a fundraiser.[278] His health began to deteriorate in July 1825, due to a combination of rheumatism from arm and wrist injuries, and intestinal and urinary disorders.[254] By June 1826, he was confined to bed.[278] On July 3, overcome by fever, Jefferson declined an invitation to attend an anniversary celebration of the Declaration in Washington.[279]

During his last hours, he was accompanied by family members and friends. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, at 12:50 p.m. at age 83, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In the moments prior to his death, Jefferson instructed his treating physician, "No, doctor, nothing more", refusing laudanum. But his final significant words were, "Is it the Fourth?" or "This is the Fourth".[280] When John Adams died later that same day, his last words were "Thomas Jefferson survives", though Adams was unaware that Jefferson had died several hours before.[281][282][283][284] The sitting president was Adams's son, John Quincy Adams, and he called the coincidence of their deaths on the nation's anniversary "visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor".[285]

Shortly after Jefferson died, attendants found a gold locket on a chain around his neck, containing a small faded blue ribbon around a lock of his wife Martha's hair.[286]

Jefferson was interred at Monticello, under an epitaph that he wrote:


In his advanced years, Jefferson became increasingly concerned that people would understand the principles in the Declaration of Independence, and the people responsible for writing it, and he continually defended himself as its author. He considered the document one of his greatest life achievements, in addition to authoring the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and founding the University of Virginia. Absent from his epitaph were his political roles, including his presidency.[288]

Jefferson died deeply in debt, and was unable to pass on his estate freely to his heirs.[289] He gave instructions in his will for disposal of his assets,[290] including the freeing of Sally Hemings's children;[291] but his estate, possessions, and slaves were sold at public auctions starting in 1827.[292] In 1831, Monticello was sold by Martha Jefferson Randolph and the other heirs.[293]

Political, social, and religious views

Jefferson subscribed to the political ideals expounded by John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton, whom he considered the three greatest men who ever lived.[294][295] He was also influenced by the writings of Gibbon, Hume, Robertson, Bolingbroke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire.[296] Jefferson thought that the independent yeoman and agrarian life were ideals of republican virtues. He distrusted cities and financiers, favored decentralized government power, and believed that the tyranny that had plagued the common man in Europe was due to corrupt political establishments and monarchies. He supported efforts to disestablish the Church of England,[297] wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and he pressed for a wall of separation between church and state.[298] The Republicans under Jefferson were strongly influenced by the 18th-century British Whig Party, which believed in limited government.[299] His Democratic-Republican Party became dominant in early American politics, and his views became known as Jeffersonian democracy.[300][301]

Philosophy, society, and government

Jefferson wrote letters and speeches prolifically; these show him to be well-read in the philosophical literature of his day and of antiquity. Nevertheless, some scholars do not take Jefferson seriously as a philosopher mainly because he did not produce a formal work on philosophy. However, he has been described as one of the most outstanding philosophical figures of his time because his work provided the theoretical background to, and the substance of, the social and political events of the revolutionary years and the development of the American Constitution in the 1770s and 1780s.[302] Jefferson continued to attend to more theoretical questions of natural philosophy and subsequently left behind a rich philosophical legacy in the form of presidential messages, letters, and public papers.[303]

Jefferson described himself as an Epicurean and, although he adopted the Stoic belief in intuition and found comfort in the Stoic emphasis on the patient endurance of misfortune, he rejected most aspects of Stoicism with the notable exception of Epictetus' works.[close paraphrasing][304][305] He rejected the Stoics' doctrine of a separable soul and their fatalism, and was angered by their misrepresentation of Epicureanism as mere hedonism.[close paraphrasing][305] Jefferson knew Epicurean philosophy from original sources, but also mentioned Pierre Gassendi's Syntagma philosophicum as influencing his ideas on Epicureanism.[306]

According to Jefferson's philosophy, citizens have "certain inalienable rights" and "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."[307] A staunch advocate of the jury system, he proclaimed in 1801, "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."[308] Jeffersonian government not only prohibited individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of others, but also restrained itself from diminishing individual liberty as a protection against tyranny from the majority.[309] Initially, Jefferson favored restricted voting to those who could actually have the free exercise of their reason by escaping any corrupting dependence on others. He advocated enfranchising a majority of Virginians, seeking to expand suffrage to include "yeoman farmers" who owned their own land while excluding tenant farmers, city day laborers, vagrants, most American Indians, and women.[310]

He was convinced that individual liberties were the fruit of political equality, which was threatened by the arbitrary government.[311] Excesses of democracy in his view were caused by institutional corruption rather than human nature. He was less suspicious of a working democracy than many contemporaries.[310] As president, Jefferson feared that the federal system enacted by Washington and Adams had encouraged corrupting patronage and dependence. He tried to restore a balance between the state and federal governments more nearly reflecting the Articles of Confederation, seeking to reinforce state prerogatives where his party was in a majority.[310]

Jefferson was steeped in the British Whig tradition of the oppressed majority set against a repeatedly unresponsive court party in the Parliament. He justified small outbreaks of rebellion as necessary to get monarchial regimes to amend oppressive measures compromising popular liberties. In a republican regime ruled by the majority, he acknowledged "it will often be exercised when wrong".[312] But "the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them".[313] As Jefferson saw his party triumph in two terms of his presidency and launch into a third term under James Madison, his view of the U.S. as a continental republic and an "empire of liberty" grew more upbeat. On departing the presidency, he described America as "trusted with the destines of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government".[314]

Jefferson was a supporter of American expansionism, writing in 1801 that "it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent."[315]


Jefferson, at age 78, depicted in an 1821 Thomas Sully portrait

Jefferson considered democracy to be the expression of society and promoted national self-determination, cultural uniformity, and education of all males of the commonwealth.[316] He supported public education and a free press as essential components of a democratic nation.[317]

After resigning as secretary of state in 1795, Jefferson focused on the electoral bases of the Republicans and Federalists. The "Republican" classification for which he advocated included "the entire body of landholders" everywhere and "the body of laborers" without land.[318] Republicans united behind Jefferson as vice president, with the election of 1796 expanding democracy nationwide at grassroots levels.[319] Jefferson promoted Republican candidates for local offices.[320]

Beginning with Jefferson's electioneering for the "revolution of 1800", his political efforts were based on egalitarian appeals.[321] In his later years, he referred to the 1800 election "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of '76 was in its form", one "not effected indeed by the sword ... but by the ... suffrage of the people".[322] Voter participation grew during Jefferson's presidency, increasing to "unimaginable levels" compared to the Federalist Era, with turnout of about 67,000 in 1800 rising to about 143,000 in 1804.[323]

At the onset of the American Revolution, Jefferson accepted William Blackstone's argument that property ownership would sufficiently empower voters' independent judgement, but he sought to further expand suffrage by land distribution to the poor.[324] In the heat of the Revolutionary Era and afterward, several states expanded voter eligibility from landed gentry to all propertied male, tax-paying citizens with Jefferson's support.[325] In retirement, he gradually became critical of his home state for violating "the principle of equal political rights"—the social right of universal male suffrage.[326] He sought a "general suffrage" of all taxpayers and militia-men, and equal representation by population in the General Assembly to correct preferential treatment of the slave-holding regions.[327]


The Jefferson Bible feature only the words of Jesus from his disciples, written in parallel Greek, Latin, French, and English.

Baptized in his youth, Jefferson became a governing member of his local Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, which he later attended with his daughters.[328] Jefferson, however, spurned Biblical views of Christianity.[329] Influenced by Deist authors during his college years, Jefferson abandoned orthodox Christianity after his review of New Testament teachings.[330][331] Jefferson has sometimes been portrayed as a follower of the liberal religious strand of Deism that values reason over revelation.[332] Nonetheless, in 1803, Jefferson asserted, "I am Christian, in the only sense in which [Jesus] wished any one to be".[213]

Jefferson later defined being a Christian as one who followed the simple teachings of Jesus. Influenced by Joseph Priestley,[332] Jefferson selected New Testament passages of Jesus' teachings into a private work he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, known today as the Jefferson Bible, which was never published during his lifetime.[333][334] Jefferson believed that Jesus' message had been obscured and corrupted by Paul the Apostle, the Gospel writers and Protestant reformers.[332] Peterson states that Jefferson was a theist "whose God was the Creator of the universe ... all the evidences of nature testified to His perfection; and man could rely on the harmony and beneficence of His work".[335] In a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote that what he believed was genuinely Christ's, found in the Gospels, was "as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill".[329] By omitting miracles and the resurrection, Jefferson made the figure of Jesus more compatible with a worldview based on reason.[329]

Jefferson was firmly anticlerical, writing in "every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty ... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon."[336] The full letter to Horatio Spatford can be read at the National Archives.[337] Jefferson once supported banning clergy from public office but later relented.[338] In 1777, he drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Ratified in 1786, it made compelling attendance or contributions to any state-sanctioned religious establishment illegal and declared that men "shall be free to profess ... their opinions in matters of religion".[339] The Statute is one of only three accomplishments he chose for his epitaph.[340][341] Early in 1802, Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association that "religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God". He interpreted the First Amendment as having built "a wall of separation between Church and State".[342] The phrase 'Separation of Church and State' has been cited several times by the Supreme Court in its interpretation of the Establishment Clause.

Jefferson donated to the American Bible Society, saying the Four Evangelists delivered a "pure and sublime system of morality" to humanity. He thought Americans would rationally create "Apiarian" religion, extracting the best traditions of every denomination.[343] He contributed generously to several local denominations near Monticello.[344] Acknowledging organized religion would always be factored into political life, he encouraged reason over supernatural revelation to make inquiries into religion. He believed in a creator god, an afterlife, and the sum of religion as loving God and neighbors. But he also controversially rejected fundamental Christian beliefs, denying the conventional Christian Trinity, Jesus's divinity as the Son of God and miracles, the Resurrection of Christ, atonement from sin, and original sin.[345][346][334] Jefferson believed that original sin was a gross injustice.[334]

Jefferson's unorthodox religious beliefs became an important issue in the 1800 presidential election.[347] Federalists attacked him as an atheist. As president, Jefferson countered the accusations by praising religion in his inaugural address and attending services at the Capitol.[347]


Jefferson opposed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's proposal to establish a government bank, and the two emerged as political rivals during George Washington's presidency.

Jefferson distrusted government banks and opposed public borrowing, which he thought created long-term debt, bred monopolies, and invited dangerous speculation as opposed to productive labor.[348] In one letter to Madison, he argued each generation should curtail all debt within 19 years, and not impose a long-term debt on subsequent generations.[349]

In 1791, President Washington asked Jefferson, then secretary of state, and Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury, if the Congress had the authority to create a national bank. While Hamilton believed so, Jefferson and Madison thought a national bank would ignore the needs of individuals and farmers, and would violate the Tenth Amendment by assuming powers not granted to the federal government by the states.[350] Hamilton successfully argued that the implied powers given to the federal government in the Constitution supported the creation of a national bank, among other federal actions.

Jefferson used agrarian resistance to banks and speculators as the first defining principle of an opposition party, recruiting candidates for Congress on the issue as early as 1792.[351] As president, Jefferson was persuaded by Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin to leave the bank intact but sought to restrain its influence.[352][q]


Page 30 of Jefferson's 1795 Farm Book lists 163 slaves at Monticello.

Scholars give radically differing interpretations on Jefferson's views and relationship with slavery.[8] Opinions range from "emancipationists" who view him as an early proto-abolitionist, who subsequently made pragmatic compromises with the slave power to preserve the union; to "revisionists", who argue that he in fact entrenched the institution in American society; with people also having more nuanced opinions, who either argue that Jefferson held inconsistent views on the institution throughout his lifetime or that both interpretations are too overly simplistic.[8]

Jefferson lived in a planter economy largely dependent upon slavery, and as a wealthy landholder, used slave labor for his household, plantation, and workshops. He first recorded his slaveholding in 1774, when he counted 41 enslaved people.[354] Over his lifetime he enslaved about 600 people; he inherited about 175 people while most of the remainder were people born on his plantations.[355] Jefferson purchased some slaves in order to reunite their families. He sold approximately 110 people for economic reasons, primarily slaves from his outlying farms.[355][356] In 1784, when the number of people he enslaved likely was approximately 200, he began to divest himself of many slaves, and by 1794 he had divested himself of 161 individuals.[357][r]

Approximately 100 slaves lived at Monticello at any given time. In 1817, the plantation recorded its largest slave population of 140 individuals.[358]

Jefferson once said, "My first wish is that the labourers may be well treated".[355] Jefferson did not work his slaves on Sundays and Christmas and he allowed them more personal time during the winter months.[359] Some scholars doubt Jefferson's benevolence,[360] noting cases of excessive slave whippings in his absence. His nail factory was staffed only by enslaved children. Many of the enslaved boys became tradesmen. Burwell Colbert, who started his working life as a child in Monticello's Nailery, was later promoted to the supervisory position of butler.[361]

Jefferson felt slavery was harmful to both slave and master but had reservations about releasing slaves from captivity, and advocated for gradual emancipation.[362][363][364] In 1779, he proposed gradual voluntary training and resettlement to the Virginia legislature, and three years later drafted legislation allowing slaveholders to free their own slaves.[68] In his draft of the Declaration of Independence, he included a section, stricken by other Southern delegates, criticizing King George III for supposedly forcing slavery onto the colonies.[365] In 1784, Jefferson proposed the abolition of slavery in all western U.S. territories, limiting slave importation to 15 years.[366] Congress, however, failed to pass his proposal by one vote.[366] In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, a partial victory for Jefferson that terminated slavery in the Northwest Territory. Jefferson freed his slave Robert Hemings in 1794 and he freed his cook slave James Hemings in 1796.[367] Jefferson freed his runaway slave Harriet Hemings in 1822. Upon his death in 1826, Jefferson freed five male Hemings slaves in his will.[368]

During his presidency, Jefferson allowed the diffusion of slavery into the Louisiana Territory hoping to prevent slave uprisings in Virginia and to prevent South Carolina secession.[369] In 1804, in a compromise, Jefferson and Congress banned domestic slave trafficking for one year into the Louisiana Territory.[370] In 1806 he officially called for anti-slavery legislation terminating the import or export of slaves. Congress passed the law in 1807.[362][371][372]

In 1819, Jefferson strongly opposed a Missouri statehood application amendment that banned domestic slave importation and freed slaves at the age of 25 on grounds it would destroy the union.[373] In Notes on the State of Virginia, he created controversy by calling slavery a moral evil for which the nation would ultimately have to account to God.[374] Jefferson wrote of his "suspicion" that Black people were mentally and physically inferior to Whites, but argued that they nonetheless had innate human rights.[362][375][376] He therefore supported colonization plans that would transport freed slaves to another country, such as Liberia or Sierra Leone, though he recognized the impracticability of such proposals.[377] According to Eric Foner, "In 1824 Jefferson proposed that the federal government purchase and deport 'the increase of each year' (that is, children), so that the slave population would age and eventually disappear."[378]

During his presidency, Jefferson was for the most part publicly silent on the issue of slavery and emancipation,[379] as the Congressional debate over slavery and its extension caused a dangerous north–south rift among the states, with talk of a northern confederacy in New England.[380][s] The violent attacks on white slave owners during the Haitian Revolution due to injustices under slavery supported Jefferson's fears of a race war, increasing his reservations about promoting emancipation.[362][381] After numerous attempts and failures to bring about emancipation,[382] Jefferson wrote privately in an 1805 letter to William A. Burwell, "I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us." That same year he also related this idea to George Logan, writing, "I have most carefully avoided every public act or manifestation on that subject."[383]

Jefferson–Hemings controversy

An 1804 cartoon depicting Jefferson as a rooster and Sally Hemings as a hen

Claims that Jefferson fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings after his wife's death have been debated since 1802. In that year James T. Callender, after being denied a position as postmaster, alleged Jefferson had taken Hemings as a concubine and fathered several children with her.[384] In 1998, a panel of researchers conducted a Y-DNA study of living descendants of Jefferson's uncle, Field, and of a descendant of Hemings's son, Eston Hemings. The results showed a match with the male Jefferson line.[385][386] Subsequently, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) formed a nine-member research team of historians to assess the matter.[386] The TJF report concluded that "the DNA study ... indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings".[386][387][t] The TJF also concluded that Jefferson likely fathered all of Hemings's children listed at Monticello.[386][u]

In July 2017, the TJF announced that archeological excavations at Monticello had revealed what they believe to have been Sally Hemings's quarters, adjacent to Jefferson's bedroom.[389][390] Since the results of the DNA tests were made public, the consensus among most historians has been that Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings and that he was the father of her son Eston Hemings.[391]

Still, a minority of scholars maintain the evidence is insufficient to prove Jefferson's paternity conclusively. Based on DNA and other evidence, they note the possibility that additional Jefferson males, including his brother Randolph Jefferson and any one of Randolph's four sons, or his cousin, could have fathered Sally Hemings's children.[392] In 2002, historian Merrill Peterson said: "in the absence of direct documentary evidence either proving or refuting the allegation, nothing conclusive can be said about Jefferson's relations with Sally Hemings."[393] Concerning the 1998 DNA study, Peterson said that "the results of the DNA testing of Jefferson and Hemings descendants provided support for the idea that Jefferson was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings's children".[393]

After Jefferson's death in 1826, although not formally manumitted, Sally Hemings was allowed by Jefferson's daughter Martha to live in Charlottesville as a free woman with her two sons until her death in 1835.[394][v] The Monticello Association refused to allow Sally Hemings' descendants the right of burial at Monticello.[396]

Interests and activities

The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, which Jefferson designed

Jefferson was a farmer, obsessed with new crops, soil conditions, garden designs, and scientific agricultural techniques. His main cash crop was tobacco, but its price was usually low and it was rarely profitable. He tried to achieve self-sufficiency with wheat, vegetables, flax, corn, hogs, sheep, poultry, and cattle to supply his family, slaves, and employees, but he lived perpetually beyond his means[397] and was always in debt.[398]

Jefferson mastered architecture through self-study. His primary authority was Andrea Palladio's 1570 The Four Books of Architecture, which outlines the principles of classical design.[399] Jefferson helped popularize the Neo-Palladian style in the United States utilizing designs for the Virginia State Capitol, the University of Virginia, Monticello, and others.[400] It has been speculated that he was inspired by the Château de Rastignac in south-west France—the plans of which he saw during his ambassadorship—to convince the architect of the White House to modify the South Portico to resemble the château.[401]

In the field of archaeology, in 1784, Jefferson, using the trench method, started excavating several Native American burial mounds in Virginia. His excavations were prompted by the "Moundbuilders" question and his careful methods allowed him to witness the stratigraphic layout, the various human remains and other artifacts inside the mound. The evidence present at the site granted him enough insight to admit that he saw no reason why the ancestors of the present-day Native Americans could not have raised those mounds.[402]

He was interested in birds and wine, and was a noted gourmet.[403] As a naturalist, he was fascinated by the Natural Bridge geological formation, and in 1774 successfully acquired the Bridge by a grant from George III.[404]

American Philosophical Society

Jefferson was a member of the American Philosophical Society for 35 years, beginning in 1780. Through the society he advanced the sciences and Enlightenment ideals, emphasizing that knowledge of science reinforced and extended freedom.[405] His Notes on the State of Virginia was written in part as a contribution to the society.[406] He became the society's third president on March 3, 1797, a few months after he was elected Vice President of the United States.[406][407] In accepting, Jefferson stated: "I feel no qualification for this distinguished post but a sincere zeal for all the objects of our institution and an ardent desire to see knowledge so disseminated through the mass of mankind that it may at length reach even the extremes of society, beggars and kings."[405]

On March 10, 1797, Thomas Jefferson gave a lecture, later published as a paper in 1799, which reported on the skeletal remains of an extinct large sloth, which he named Megalonyx, unearthed by saltpeter workers from a cave in what is now Monroe County, West Virginia.[408][409] Jefferson is considered to be a pioneer of scientific paleontology research in North America.[410]

Jefferson served as APS president for the next eighteen years, including through both terms of his presidency.[406] He introduced Meriwether Lewis to the society, where various scientists tutored him in preparation for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.[406][411] He resigned on January 20, 1815, but remained active through correspondence.[412]


Jefferson had a lifelong interest in linguistics, and could speak, read, and write in a number of languages, including French, Greek, Italian, and German. In his early years, he excelled in classical languages.[413][414] Jefferson later came to regard Greek as the "perfect language" as expressed in its laws and philosophy.[415] While attending the College of William & Mary, he taught himself Italian.[416] Here Jefferson first became familiar with the Anglo-Saxon language, studying it in a linguistic and philosophical capacity. He owned 17 volumes of Anglo-Saxon texts and grammar and later wrote an essay on the Anglo-Saxon language.[413] Jefferson claimed to have taught himself Spanish during his nineteen-day journey to France, using only a grammar guide and a copy of Don Quixote.[417]

Linguistics played a significant role in how Jefferson modeled and expressed political and philosophical ideas. He believed that the study of ancient languages was essential in understanding the roots of modern language.[418] Jefferson criticized language purists and supported the introduction of neologisms to English, foreseeing the emergence of "an American dialect". He described the Académie Française, a body designated to regulate the French language, as an "endeavor to arrest the progress of their language".[419]

He collected and understood a number of American Indian vocabularies and instructed Lewis and Clark to record and collect various Indian languages during their Expedition.[420] When Jefferson moved from Washington after his presidency, he took 50 Native American vocabulary lists back to Monticello along with the rest of his possessions. Somewhere along the journey, a thief stole the heavy chest, thinking it was full of valuables, but its contents were dumped into the James River when the thief discovered it was only filled with papers. Thirty years of collecting were lost, with only a few fragments rescued from the muddy banks of the river.[421]

Jefferson was not an outstanding orator and preferred to communicate through writing or remain silent if possible. Instead of delivering his State of the Union addresses himself, Jefferson wrote the annual messages and sent a representative to read them aloud in Congress. This started a tradition that continued until 1913 when President Woodrow Wilson chose to deliver his own State of the Union address.[422]


Jefferson invented many small practical devices and improved contemporary inventions, including a revolving book-stand and a "Great Clock" powered by the gravitational pull on cannonballs. He improved the pedometer, the polygraph (a device for duplicating writing),[423] and the moldboard plow, an idea he never patented and gave to posterity.[424] Jefferson can also be credited as the creator of the swivel chair, the first of which he created and used to write much of the Declaration of Independence.[425] He first opposed patents but later supported them. In 1790–1793, as Secretary of State, he was the ex officio head of the three-person patent review board. He drafted reforms of US patent law which led to him being relieved of this duty in 1793, and also drastically changed the patent system.[426]

As Minister to France, Jefferson was impressed by the military standardization program known as the Système Gribeauval, and initiated a program as president to develop interchangeable parts for firearms. For his inventiveness and ingenuity, he received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Hardvard University.[427]


Historical reputation

Jefferson is seen as an icon of individual liberty, democracy, and republicanism, hailed as the author of the Declaration of Independence, an architect of the American Revolution, and a renaissance man who promoted science and scholarship.[428] The participatory democracy and expanded suffrage he championed defined his era and became a standard for later generations.[429] Meacham opined that Jefferson was the most influential figure of the democratic republic in its first half-century, succeeded by presidential adherents James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren.[430] The Siena Research Institute poll of presidential scholars, begun in 1982, has consistently ranked Jefferson as one of the five best U.S. presidents,[431] and a 2015 Brookings Institution poll of American Political Science Association members ranked him as the fifth greatest president.[432]

Memorials and honors

Jefferson has been memorialized with buildings, sculptures, postage, and currency. In the 1920s, Jefferson, together with George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, was chosen by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and approved by President Calvin Coolidge to be depicted in a stone national memorial at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.[433]

The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., in 1943, on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth. The interior of the memorial includes a 19-foot (6 m) statue of Jefferson by Rudulph Evans and engravings of passages from Jefferson's writings. Most prominent among these passages are the words inscribed around the Jefferson Memorial: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man", a quote from Jefferson's September 23, 1800, letter to Benjamin Rush.[434]

In October 2021, in response to lobbying, the New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove the plaster model of the statue of Jefferson that currently stands in the United States Capitol rotunda from the chamber of the New York City Council, where it had been for more than a century, due to him fathering kids with people he enslaved.[435] The statue was taken down the next month.[436]


See also


  1. ^ A number of historians and geneticists argue that while DNA testing of Hemings' descendants reveals a genetic connection with a male ancestor in the Jefferson family, it does not conclusively prove that it was Jefferson himself who produced these children, see Jefferson-Hemings controversy.[4][5]
  2. ^ Old Style: April 2, 1743
  3. ^ Jefferson personally showed little interest in his ancestry; on his father's side, he only knew of the existence of his grandfather.[10][11] Malone writes that Jefferson vaguely knew that his grandfather "had a place on the Fluvanna River which he called Snowden after a mountain in Wales near which the Jeffersons were supposed to have once lived".[10] See also Peter Jefferson#Ancestry.
  4. ^ His other properties included Shadwell, Tufton, Lego, Pantops, and his retreat, Poplar Forest. He also owned the unimproved mountaintop Montalto, and the Natural Bridge.[44]
  5. ^ While the news from Francis Eppes, with whom Lucy was staying, did not reach Jefferson until 1785, in an undated letter,[54] it is clear that the year of her death was 1784 from another letter to Jefferson from James Currie dated November 20, 1784.[55]
  6. ^ Adams recorded his exchange with Jefferson on the question. Jefferson asked, "Why will you not? You ought to do it." To which Adams responded, "I will not—reasons enough." Jefferson replied, "What can be your reasons?" and Adams responded, "Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can." "Well," said Jefferson, "if you are decided, I will do as well as I can." Adams concluded, "Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting."[66]
  7. ^ Franklin, seated beside the author, observed him "writhing a little under the acrimonious criticisms on some of its parts."[71]
  8. ^ The entail laws made it perpetual: the one who inherited the land could not sell it, but had to bequeath it to his oldest son. As a result, increasingly large plantations, worked by white tenant farmers and by black slaves, gained in size and wealth and political power in the eastern ("Tidewater") tobacco areas.[79] During the Revolutionary era, all such laws were repealed by the states that had them.[80]
  9. ^ the immediate successor to the Second Continental Congress
  10. ^ These included Russia, Austria, Prussia, Denmark, Saxony, Hamburg, Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sardinia, The Papal States, Venice, Genoa, Tuscany, the Sublime Porte, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli.[106]
  11. ^ An example can be seen at the Library of Congress website.
  12. ^ Jefferson's Kentucky draft said: "where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, (casus non fœderis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits."[145]
  13. ^ This electoral process problem was addressed by the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1804, which provided separate votes for presidential and vice-presidential candidates.[155]
  14. ^ Louisiana nevertheless gained statehood nine years later in 1812.[192]
  15. ^ Further complicating matters, Wilkinson was posthumously revealed to have been in the simultaneous pay of the British, French, and Spanish.[224]
  16. ^ Burr then left for Europe and eventually returned to practicing law.
  17. ^ The First Bank of the U.S. was eventually abolished in 1811 by a heavily Republican Congress.[353]
  18. ^ The 135 slaves, which included Betty Hemings and her ten children, that Jefferson acquired from Wayles's estate made him the second-largest slave owner in Albemarle County with a total of 187 slaves. The number fluctuated from around 200 slaves until 1784 when he began to give away or sell slaves. By 1794 he had gotten rid of 161 individuals.[357]
  19. ^ Aaron Burr was offered help in obtaining the governorship of New York by Timothy Pickering if he could persuade New York to go along, but the secession effort failed when Burr lost the election.
  20. ^ The minority report authored by White Wallenborn concluded "the historical evidence is not substantial enough to confirm nor for that matter to refute his paternity of any of the children of Sally Hemings. The DNA studies certainly enhance the possibility but ... do not prove Thomas Jefferson's paternity".[388]
  21. ^ Sally Heming's children recorded at Monticello included: "Harriet (born 1795; died in infancy); Beverly (born 1798); an unnamed daughter (born 1799; died in infancy); Harriet (born 1801); Madison (born 1805); and Eston (born 1808)".[386]
  22. ^ Annette Gordon-Reed notes that it would have been legally challenging to free Sally Hemings, due to Virginia laws mandating the support of older slaves and requiring special permission for freed slaves to remain within the state.[395]


  1. ^ "Burgesses and Delegates". Virginia House of Delegates. Retrieved May 9, 2023.
  2. ^ McDonnell, Michael. "Jefferson, Thomas as Governor of Virginia". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Virginia Historical Society (April 1897). "House of Burgesses, 1766 to 1775". Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 4 (4): 380–86. JSTOR 4241983. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  4. ^ "The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy Report of the Scholars Commission" (PDF). 2000–2001. p. 70. The DNA tests could not discriminate among the more than two dozen adult male Jeffersons in Virginia at the time Eston Hemings was conceived, and there is reasonable evidence to suggest that at least seven of those men (including Thomas Jefferson) may well have been at Monticello when Sally became pregnant with Eston.
  5. ^ "The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy |".
  6. ^ Morris, Richard B. (1973). Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries. Harper & Row. p. 1. ISBN 978-0060904548.
  7. ^ "Thomas Jefferson: The Versatile Founding Father", National Park Service
  8. ^ a b c Cogliano, Francis (2008). "Slavery". Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy. University of Virginia Press. pp. 217–219. ISBN 9780813927336.
  9. ^ Tucker, 1837, v. 1, p. 18.
  10. ^ a b c Malone, 1948, pp. 5–6.
  11. ^ Brodie, 1974, pp. 33–34.
  12. ^ Kern, Susan A. (2010). The Jefferson's at Shadwell. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0195169119. OCLC 51854624.[page needed]
  13. ^ Malone, 1948, pp. 31–33.
  14. ^ Woods, Edgar (1901). Albemarle County in Virginia. The Michie Company, printers. p. 225.
  15. ^ Malone, 1948, pp. 437–440.
  16. ^ Tucker, 1837, v. 1, p. 19.
  17. ^ a b Bowers, 1945, pp. 12–13.
  18. ^ Peterson, 1970, pp. 7–9.
  19. ^ Bowers, 1945, p. 13
  20. ^ Meacham, 2012, p. 36
  21. ^ Bowers, 1945, pp. 14–15
  22. ^ Bowers, 1945, p. 25; Boles, 2017, p. 17
  23. ^ Bowers, 1945, pp. 22–23; Boles, 2017, p. 18
  24. ^ Millfeld, Becca (November 2, 2004). "Shhh! The Secret Side to the College's Lesser Known Societies". The DoG Street Journal. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  25. ^ Wilson, Gaye. "Jefferson's Formal Education". Monticello. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  26. ^ Meacham, 2012, pp. 29, 39.
  27. ^ Chinard, 1926, book cover
  28. ^ Bowers, 1945, pp. 32–34; Boles, 2017, p. 19
  29. ^ Meacham, 2012, p. 37
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    • Wilkinson, A. B. (2019). "Slave Life at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello". American Quarterly. 71: 247–264. doi:10.1353/aq.2019.0017. S2CID 150519408. The general consensus among historians now agrees with Madison Hemings's version of the relationship between his mother and father ...
    • Lepore, Jill (September 22, 2008). "President Tom's Cabin: Jefferson, Hemings, and a Disclaimed Lineage". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on June 20, 2018. Retrieved November 21, 2019. [T]oday most historians agree with the conclusion of a research committee convened by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at Monticello: Jefferson "most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children."
    • Ellis, Joseph J. (2000). "Jefferson: Post-DNA". The William and Mary Quarterly. 57 (1): 125–138. doi:10.2307/2674361. JSTOR 2674361. PMID 18271151. [T]he new scholarly consensus is that Jefferson and Hemings were sexual partners ... Whether Jefferson fathered all of Hemings's children is still unclear.
    • "Updating a Life: The Case of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings". Library of America. December 9, 2011. Most historians now agree that a preponderance of evidence—genetic, circumstantial, and oral historical—suggests that Jefferson was the father of all of Sally Hemings's children.
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  419. ^ "Founders Online: Thomas Jefferson to John Waldo, 16 August 1813".
  420. ^ Frawley, 2003, p. 96.
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Works cited

Scholarly studies

Thomas Jefferson Foundation sources

Primary sources

Web site sources

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