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Thomas Jefferson - History

Thomas Jefferson - History


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Jefferson was born at Shadwell Plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia. His father was a well-to-do Virginian tobacco farmer who died when Thomas was 14, leaving him heir to the family's 14,000 acre plantation. Jefferson attended William and Mary College then went on to study law. He was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

From 1769 to 1774, Jefferson served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was a leading spokesman for those who opposed continued British rule. In 1775-1776 Jefferson was a delegate to the Continental Congress. There he headed the committee charged with writing the Declaration of Independence.

In 1779, Jefferson became governor of Virginia. From 1783-1784, he served as a member of the Continental Congress. He then became Foreign Minister to France. Jefferson developed a strong attachment to all things French. From 1790-93, Jefferson served as Secretary of State in Washington's cabinet, during which time, he advocated stronger ties with France.

In addition, he favored a strict interpretation of the Constitution. In his view, the power of the federal government should be limited. When it became clear that George Washington supported Hamilton on the question of federal jurisdiction as well as regarding relations with France, Jefferson resigned. Jefferson returned to governmental office from 1797-1801 to serve as Vice President to John Adams.

From the moment that Jefferson was inaugurated, he began what he described as the Revolution of 1800. This was his attempt to repeal major actions that he felt the Federalists had taken to needlessly strengthen the hand of the Federal government. This included allowing the Alien and Sedition Act to lapse and the repeal of the federal whiskey tax. For all Jefferson's changes, his presidency was more one of stability than of change.

Jefferson was a leading advocate of strict interpretation of the Constitution. Despite this fact, he took two major actions in his first term that, under a strict interpretation of the Constitution, he lacked the power to do. The first was to send forces against the Barbary Pirates. His orders to the force commander instructed him to take military action to end forced payment of ransom. The policy was successful, but Jefferson did not consult Congress before instructing this use of force.
Second, in secret negotiations, Jefferson agreed to purchase the LouisianaTerritory from France. This purchase, for $15 million, doubled the size of the United States. There was, however, no provision in the constitution that provided for the purchase of land.

During his second term, Jefferson insisted on maintaining American neutrality in the expanding European War. He felt compelled to pass an extremely unpopular embargo act banning all trade with the European belligerents. The high point of this second term was the return of Lewis and Clark from the American West. Their visit was the first organized exploration of much of what was to become part of the United States.


Why Thomas Jefferson Owned a Qur’an

Two hundred and three years ago this month, President James Madison approved the act of Congress purchasing Thomas Jefferson’s private library. Intended to restock the Library of Congress after its previous holdings were destroyed by British arson during the War of 1812, the transfer of books from Monticello to Washington also highlights a forgotten aspect of religious diversity in early America.

Among the 6,487 books that soon traveled north, Jefferson’s 1734 edition of the Qur’an is perhaps the most surprising.

Historians have attributed the third president’s ownership of the Muslim holy book to his curiosity about a variety of religious perspectives. It’s appropriate to view it that way. Jefferson bought this book while he was a young man studying law, and he may have read it in part to better understand Islam’s influence on some of the world’s legal systems.

But that obscures a crucial fact: To many  living in Jefferson’s young nation, this book meant much more. Some scholars estimate 20 percent of the enslaved men and women brought to the Americas were Muslims.  While today these American followers of the Prophet Muhammad have been largely forgotten, the presence of Islam in the United States was not unknown among the nation’s citizens in the 18th  and 19th  centuries. Often practiced in secret, reluctantly abandoned, or blended with other traditions, these first attempts ultimately did not survive slavery. But the mere existence of Islam in the early republic is evidence that religious diversity in this country has a deeper and more complex history than many now know.

Not long before Jefferson's Qur'an rolled north with the rest of his library in 1815, another American attempted to write his own Islamic sacred text, albeit in a form that could not be so easily transported or  understood. He wrote his in Arabic on a jail cell wall. 

Slave traders captured Omar ibn Said in what is now Senegal and brought him to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1807. He was sold to a man that Said would describe as cruel and a kafir, or infidel. A devout Muslim when he arrived in the United States, Said strived during his enslavement first to maintain his faith, and then to transform it. His story has earned a place in history—as well as in the “Religion in Early America” exhibition, currently on view at the National Museum of American History, and on the Smithsonian Institution’s latest Sidedoor podcast.

Following an attempt to escape from slavery in 1810, Omar ibn Said was arrested in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Slave traders captured Omar ibn Said in what is now Senegal and brought him to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1807. (Beinecke Rare Wikimedia, Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University )

While locked in his jail cell, Said became a figure of curiosity, first for his quiet and some said mysterious demeanor, then for the strange way in which he prayed, and finally for the graffiti he began to inscribe on the walls of his cell—Arabic script, most likely verses from the Quran. “The walls of his cell,” it was later reported, “were covered in strange characters, traced in charcoal or chalk, which no scholar in Fayetteville could decipher.”

Omar ibn Said soon became the property of a prominent local political family, which encouraged him to convert to Christianity and persuaded him to write an account of his life.

Through the decades that followed, this family publicized his conversion, placing articles about him in newspapers and broadsides around the United States.

In 1825, a Philadelphia paper recounted the story of his jail time, and how he had been brought to his new faith. In 1837 an article in the Boston Reporter hailed him as a “Convert from Mohammedanism” and devoted two columns to his Christian virtues. In 1854, a reporter wrote that he had “thrown aside the blood­ stained Koran and now worships at the feet of the Prince of Peace.” Though they still held Said in slavery, his owners claimed (without apparent irony) that he wore “no bonds but those of gratitude and affection.”

Yet Omar ibn Said had his own story to tell. Like his jail cell graffiti, his account of his experiences was written in Arabic. Those taking credit for his conversion were unable to read of his true convictions. If they had, they would have seen his adoption of Christianity, while apparently sincere, was also a practical measure. 

Before all the things he valued in life had been taken from him, Said said, he had prayed as a Muslim, but now he would say the Lord’s Prayer, he revealed in his writings. But he also peppered his text with prophetic declarations of divine wrath directed at the country that deprived him of his freedom.  

O people of America, O people of North Carolina,” he wrote. “Do you have a good generation that fears Allah? Are you confident that He who is in heaven will not cause the earth to cave in beneath you, so that it will shake to pieces and overwhelm you?

Even after his conversion to Christianity, Islam continued to shape his response to enslavement. And in this he was not alone: Plantation owners often made it a point to add Muslims to their labor force, relying on their experience with the cultivation of indigo and rice. Muslim names and religious titles appear in slave inventories and death records.

After an escape attempt, Job ben Solomon was jailed a local judge wrote: "his Notions of God, Providence, and a future State, were in the main very just and reasonable.” (Wikimedia Commons. Christies )

All of this was common knowledge at the time. Every so often in the 18th and 19th century press, other enslaved Muslims became celebrities of a sort—most often because they were discovered to have levels of erudition well beyond those who claimed to own them.

The earliest example of this was Job ben Solomon, who was enslaved in Maryland in the 1730s. Like Omar ibn Said, after an escape attempt he was jailed and a local judge became so taken with him he wrote a book about their encounter. As the judge wrote, “He shewed upon all Occasions a singular Veneration for the Name of God, and never pronounced the Word Allah without a peculiar Accent, and a remarkable Pause: And indeed his Notions of God, Providence, and a future State, were in the main very just and reasonable.”

The most famous of the enslaved Muslims who found their way into the early American press was a man named Abdul-Rahman Ibrahim.

Known as the Moorish prince he came from an important family in his homeland of Timbuktu, in today’s Mali. His plight drew wide attention in the 1820s, with newspaper stories written around the country. Decades after his enslavement, several well-placed supporters, including secretary of state Henry Clay, and through him President John Quincy Adams, helped to win his freedom and his relocation to Liberia. Before his departure, he offered a critique of religion in a country that had enslaved him for 40 years. As one newspaper account noted, he had read the Bible and admired its precepts but added, “His principal objections are that Christians do not follow them.” 

Even counting their population conservatively, the number of enslaved men and women with a connection to Islam when they arrived in colonial America and the young United States was likely in the tens of thousands. Proof that some of them struggled to preserve remnants of their traditions can be seen in the words of those most intent in seeing them fail in this endeavor.

In 1842, Charles Colcock Jones, author of The Religious Instruction of the Negroes in the United States complained that “Mohammedan Africans” had found ways to “accommodate” Islam to the new beliefs imposed upon them. “God, say they, is Allah, and Jesus Christ is Mohammed. The religion is the same, but different countries have different names.”

We can see the same kind of religious syncretism in the writings left behind by Omar ibn Said. In addition to his autobiographical account, he composed an Arabic translation of the 23 rd  Psalm, to which he appended the first words of the Qur’an: "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful."

Missionaries like Jones considered such blendings of sacred texts evidence that enslaved Muslims like Said did not have much fidelity to their own religious traditions. But in fact, it proves the opposite. They understood that faith was important enough that they should look for it everywhere. Even in a nation where only non-Muslims like Thomas Jefferson were able to own a Qur'an. 

If there were any Muslims at Monticello when his library began its journey to Washington, in theory Jefferson would not have objected to their faith. As he wrote in surviving fragments of his autobiography, he intended his “Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom” to protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

Yet such religious differences for Jefferson were largely hypothetical. For all this theoretical support for religious freedom, he never mentioned the fact that actual followers of Islam already lived in the nation he helped to create. Nor did he ever express curiosity if any of the more than 600 enslaved people he owned during his lifetime could have understood his Qur’an better than he did.

About Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau is is the Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History at the National Museum of American History.


The Essentials: Five Books on Thomas Jefferson

Historian Marc Leepson is the author of seven books, including Saving Monticello (2001), a comprehensive history of the house built by Thomas Jefferson and the hands it passed through since his death in 1826.

Here, Leepson provides a list of five must-reads for a better understanding of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States.

Jefferson and His Time, by Dumas Malone

This classic biography of Thomas Jefferson, written by one of the most renowned Jefferson scholars, was published in six volumes over 33 years. It consists of Jefferson the Virginian (1948), covering his childhood through his drafting of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson and the Rights of Man (1951), about his years as a minister to France and secretary of state Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (1962), leading up through his presidential election Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805 (1970) and Jefferson the President: Second Term, 1805-1809 (1974) and The Sage of Monticello (1981), about the last 17 years of his life, as his priorities changed from politics to family, architecture and education. In 1975, author Dumas Malone won the Pulitzer Prize for history for the first five volumes.

From Leepson: Malone is a Jefferson partisan, but his scholarship is impeccable.

American Sphinx (1996), by Joseph J. Ellis

National Book Award winner Joseph J. Ellis’ newest book, First Family, takes on the relationship between Abigail and John Adams. But a decade and a half ago, the Mount Holyoke history professor made Thomas Jefferson—and his elusive, complicated and sometimes duplicitous nature—the subject of American Sphinx. “The best and worst of American history are inextricably entangled in Jefferson,” he wrote in the New York Times in 1997.

The book—one volume in length and written in layman’s terms—is perhaps a more digestible read than Malone’s series. “While I certainly hope my fellow scholars will read the book, and even find the interpretation fresh and the inevitable blunders few, the audience I had in my mind’s eye was that larger congregation of ordinary people with a general but genuine interest in Thomas Jefferson,” writes Ellis in the preface.

From Leepson: An insightful, readable look at Jefferson’s character.

Twilight at Monticello (2008), by Alan Pell Crawford

Alan Pell Crawford, a former political speechwriter and Congressional press secretary who now covers history and politics, pored over archives across the country, at one point holding a residential fellowship at the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, to research this book. And the digging paid off. He found documents and letters of Jefferson’s relatives and neighbors, some never before studied, and pieced them together into a narrative of the president’s twilight years. During this far from restful period, Jefferson experienced family and financial dramas, opposed slavery on principle and yet, with slaves working on his own plantation, did not actively push to abolish it, and founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

From Leepson: The best treatment by far of Jefferson’s life post-presidency (1809-26).

The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (1960), by Merrill D. Peterson

“The most important thing in my education was my dissertation,” said Merrill D. Peterson in 2005, about his time studying at Harvard in the late 1940s. Instead of researching the president’s life, Peterson focused on his afterlife, studying the lasting impact he had on American thought.

The idea became the basis of his first book, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, published in 1960. And the book, which won a Bancroft Prize for excellence in American history, established Peterson as a Jefferson scholar. After stints teaching at Brandeis University and Princeton, Peterson filled the big shoes of Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone as the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He wrote Jefferson and the New Nation, a 1970 biography of the president, among other books, and edited the Library of America edition of Jefferson’s collected writings.

From Leepson: A revealing history of Jefferson’s historical reputation from the 1820s to the 1930s.

The Hemingses of Monticello (2008), by Annette Gordon-Reed

Harvard law and history professor Annette Gordon-Reed tells the story of three generations in the family of Sally Hemings, a slave of Thomas Jefferson’s thought to have bore him children. She starts with Elizabeth Hemings, born in 1735, who with Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles, had Sally, and then follows the narrative through Sally’s children. Without historical evidence, no one can be certain of the nature of Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings. But Gordon-Reed argues that it was a consensual romance. She won the 2008 National Book Award for nonfiction, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for history and, in 2010, a MacArthur “genius grant.”

From Leepson: No list would be complete without a book on Jefferson, slavery and the Hemings family. This is the best one.


Importance of the Louisiana Purchase

With the purchase of this new territory, the land area of America nearly doubled. However, the exact southern and western boundaries were not defined in the purchase. America would have to work with Spain to negotiate the specific details of these boundaries.

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a small expeditionary group called the Corps of Discovery into the territory, this was just the beginning of America's fascination with exploring the West. Whether or not America had a "Manifest Destiny" to span from "sea to sea" as was often the rallying cry of the early to mid-19th century, its desire to control this territory cannot be denied.


Thomas Jefferson's 10 Rules Of Life — Mocked

Thomas Jefferson was a great one for giving out advice. As Anna Berkes points out on the Monticello website, the third U.S. president often took the opportunity to advise family and friends on all-around "best practices."

Over the years, she writes, Jefferson "developed a list of axioms for personal behavior. Some seem to have been of his own invention others derived from classical or literary sources."

Here is a "decalogue of canons for observation in practical life" that the former president imparted in 1825. The list was more popularly known as

Thomas Jefferson's 10 Rules Of Life

  1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak if very angry, an hundred.

Throughout the 19th century, "Jefferson's 10 Rules" were printed and reprinted in newspapers and magazines. The Western Farmer published the rules in 1839 Southern Planter proffered them in 1843. "I vividly remember," wrote Margaret Cleveland in the August 1873 edition of Shaker and Shakeress Monthly, "in my early school-days, committing to memory Thomas Jefferson's Ten Rules of Life."

All across the country, the rules were recited and debated and taken to heart.

And, this being America, the rules were eventually satirized.

Obviously inspired by Jefferson's commandments, a twisted list of rules appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on Nov. 11, 1878. Numbered and rearranged for clarity, here are


Jefferson's Formal Education

As a member of the gentry class, Thomas Jefferson received a good formal education. In his autobiography, Jefferson wrote that his father, Peter Jefferson, "placed me at the English school at 5. years of age and at the Latin at 9. where I continued until his death."1 The Latin school was conducted by the Reverend William Douglas, of whom Jefferson wrote, "[he] was but a superficial Latinist, less instructed in Greek, but with the rudiments of these languages he taught me French."2 Early in 1758, Jefferson began attending the school of Reverend James Maury, whom Jefferson credited as "a correct classical scholar." He continued studies with Reverend Maury for two years before entering the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg in the spring of 1760, at the age of seventeen.3

Jefferson spent seven years studying in Williamsburg, first pursuing his education at William and Mary from March 1760 until April 1762, and then reading law with George Wythe. During his two years at William and Mary, he studied primarily under Dr. William Small. Jefferson described that tutelage as, "my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life."4 Jefferson went on to say of Small that, "He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed."5 Before Small returned to Europe in 1762, he arranged for Jefferson to read law under the direction of George Wythe. Jefferson remained in Williamsburg under Wythe's guidance for the next five years, saying later that, "Mr. Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved Mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life. In 1767, he led me into the practice of the law at the bar of the General Court."6

Jefferson's seven years of study at Williamsburg culminated in the practice of law but without any type of "degree" as might be granted today. In 1762, when Jefferson was completing his two-year course of study, William and Mary did grant degrees, but the course of study leading toward a degree took four to five years and was directed toward a career in the Anglican Church or as a professor. The gentry of Virginia followed the English model in seeking what would be considered a "gentleman's education." The emphasis was upon an appropriate education, not a degree.7

Much later in his life, Jefferson would be concerned with the education of his grandson, Francis Wayles Eppes. In a letter to Francis's father, John Wayles Eppes, Jefferson expressed his opinion that the prescribed course of study that led to a degree would not be the wisest use of Francis's time and proposed that Francis should concentrate upon a course that would be of particular use to him: "This relinquishes the honorary distinction of a Diploma, a good enough thing to excite the ambition of youth to study, but, in modern estimation, no longer worth tacking, by it's initials to one's name and certainly not worth the sacrifice of a single useful science."8

Jefferson himself could have "tacked initials" to his name had he felt it important, as he was awarded four honorary degrees during his lifetime.

More generally, education was very important to Jefferson and, as part of the general law revisal at the time of the Revolution, he recommended adoption of a broad educational system with a primary school for boys and girls, academies (secondary schools), and a university – Jefferson’s Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge. In Jefferson’s scheme, primary schools were to be free to students (both boys and girls), and the best male students were to attend the academies and university at public expense. The third part of this scheme was eventually adopted in the University of Virginia. Jefferson, though, always regretted that the most important part – broad, primary public education – was not adopted in his lifetime. He told his allies in the formation of UVA that if it was a choice between public primary schools and the University, he would choose the former “because it is safer to have a whole people respectably enlightened, than a few in a high state of science and the many in ignorance.”9

- Gaye Wilson, 12/99 revised John Ragosta, 5/2/18

Primary Source References

1800 January 27. (Jefferson to Joseph Priestley). "I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having put into my possession this rich source of delight [knowledge of Greek and Latin]: and I would not exchange it for any thing which I could then have acquired & have not since acquired."10

1819 August 24. (Jefferson to John Brazer). "I think myself more indebted to my father for this [knowledge for Greek and Latin] than for all the other luxuries his cares and affections have placed within my reach: and more now than when younger, and more susceptible of delights from other sources . "11


Jefferson's Three Greatest Achievements

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

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

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

Early Life and Monticello

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

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

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

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

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

Education and Professional Life

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

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

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

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

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

Elected governor from 1779 to 1781, he suffered an inquiry into his conduct during the British invasion of Virginia in his last year in office that, although the investigation was finally repudiated by the General Assembly, left him with a life-long pricklishness in the face of criticism and generated a life-long enmity toward Patrick Henry whom Jefferson blamed for the investigation. The investigation “inflicted a wound on my spirit which will only be cured by the all-healing grave” Jefferson told James Monroe.8

During the brief private interval in his life following his governorship, Jefferson completed the one book which he authored, Notes on the State of Virginia. Several aspects of this work were highly controversial. With respect to slavery, in Notes Jefferson recognized the gross injustice of the institution – warning that because of slavery “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his Justice cannot sleep for ever.” But he also expressed racist views of blacks’ abilities albeit he recognized that his views of their limitations might result from the degrading conditions to which they had been subjected for many years. With respect to religion, Jefferson’s Notes emphatically supported a broad religious freedom and opposed any establishment or linkage between church and state, famously insisting that “it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retirement

During the last seventeen years of his life, Jefferson generally remained at Monticello, welcoming the many visitors who came to call upon the Sage. During this period, he sold his collection of books (almost 6500 volumes) to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress before promptly beginning to purchase more volumes for his final library. Noting the irony, Jefferson famously told John Adams that “I cannot live without books.”10

Jefferson embarked on his last great public service at the age of seventy-six with the founding of the University of Virginia. He spearheaded the legislative campaign for its charter, secured its location, designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first rector.

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s retirement was clouded by debt. Like so many Virginia planters, he had contended with debts most of his adult life, but along with the constant fluctuations in the agricultural markets, he was never able to totally liquidate the sizeable debt attached to the inheritance from his father-in-law John Wayles. His finances worsened in retirement with the War of 1812 and the subsequent recession, headed by the Panic of 1819. He had felt compelled to sign on notes for a friend in 1818, who died insolvent two years later, leaving Jefferson with two $10,000 notes. This he labeled his coup de grâce, as his extensive land holdings in Virginia, with the deflated land prices, could no longer cover what he owed. He complained to James Madison that the economic crisis had “peopled the Western States” and “drew off bidders” for lands in Virginia and along the Atlantic seaboard.11 Ironically, Jefferson’s greatest accomplishment during his presidency, the purchase of the port of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory that opened the western migration, would contribute to his financial discomfort in his final years.12

Despite his debts, when he died just a few hours before his friend John Adams on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826, he was optimistic as to the future of the republican experiment. Just ten days before his death, he had declined an invitation to the planned celebration in Washington but offered his assurance, “All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.”13


Contents

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). He served in the Continental Congress, and as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). From mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France.

Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. Jefferson and James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and subsequently resigned from Washington's cabinet. Elected Vice President in 1796. He wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.

As president Jefferson promoted and authorized the Louisiana Purchase from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His Vice President Aaron Burr was tried for treason. Hoping to avert war he attempted economic warfare against Britain with his embargo laws. In 1807 he drafted and signed into law a bill banning the importation of slaves into the United States.

Jefferson was a leader in the Enlightenment. He founded the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion at Monticello and the University of Virginia building. Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his adult life. His letters number in the many thousands and are used extensively as references for nearly all works on Jefferson.

Sources and publications for Jefferson have emerged for more than 200 years and at this late date there exist many hundreds of them. As such this bibliography, though extensive, is by no means complete at this time. This bibliography also contains books whose titles and subjects are not devoted to Thomas Jefferson per se, but whose content covers the subject of Jefferson well enough for their inclusion in this bibliography.

Format used for listing publications:
Lastname, Firstname (1900). Title of book in italics, Publisher, Location, 123 pages ISBN 123-4-5678-9012-3 URL link Book

Note: Some publications make no reference to Location and/or have no ISBN. Unlike bibliographies in subject articles, "Cite book" templates are not used here because too many templates on one page often causes server overload, which often causes load/save problems.


7. A controversy 200 years in the making

Let&rsquos rewind the clock 200 years to the time of Jefferson. A political journalist who wrote for a Richmond newspaper, James T. Callender, wrote an inflammatory report on Jefferson with the intent to slander his name. The primary allegation in the report suggested that Jefferson had started a relationship with a woman after his wife died.

(Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images).

In and of itself, not too bad of an accusation. But things heated up as Callender further asserted that Jefferson had started a relationship with a slave girl who had been on the plantation from a very young age. Callender referred to the girl as Jefferson&rsquos &ldquoconcubine.&rdquo


Wheel Cipher

While serving as George Washington's secretary of state (1790-1793), Thomas Jefferson devised an ingenious and secure method to encode and decode messages: the wheel cipher. During the American Revolution, Jefferson had relied primarily on messengers to hand-carry sensitive letters. When he became America's minister to France (1784-1789), however, the adoption of codes was necessary. Codes were an essential part of his correspondence because European postmasters routinely opened and read all diplomatic and any suspect letters passing through their command.

As described (though perhaps never built) Jefferson's wheel cipher consisted of thirty-six cylindrical wooden pieces, each threaded onto an iron spindle. The letters of the alphabet were inscribed on the edge of each wheel in a random order. Turning these wheels, words could be scrambled and unscrambled.

As an example, the sender of the message shown in the picture, "COOL JEFFERSON WHEEL CIPHER," spells the message out and then looks to any other line of text – possibly the one directly above, which on this version of the cipher begins with the letter "N." The sender then copies the rest of the letters from that line into the correspondence to spell out "NKYG NSUS NXML CQYO TYUH HFTD."

The recipient of the coded message would spell out these random-seeming letters on his own identical cipher and then begin looking for the one line that made sense. In this case, the line below.

Although Jefferson seems never to have used the wheel cipher, and apparently abandoned the idea after 1802, it was independently "re-invented" in the early 20th century. Designated as M-94, it was used by the Army and other military services from 1922 to the beginning of World War II. A short time later, Jefferson's design was found among his papers.

The cipher shown is a reproduction made according to Jefferson's instructions, with the exception that it has only 24 wheels instead of 36. The model is presently part of Monticello's education collection. Another model, created by scholar Silvio Bedini, is in the collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Functioning adaptations are available for sale in Monticello's Online Shop.

- Ann M. Lucas, 9/95 revisions by Chad Wollerton, 12/03 and 4/05 revised by Anna Berkes, 6/4/15 revised by Chad Wollerton 2/13/17



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