Jefferson, Thomas
Thomas Jefferson. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)


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Jefferson, Thomas

Thomas Jefferson

Merrill D. Peterson

THOMAS JEFFERSON was inaugurated third president of the United States on 4 March 1801 in the infant capital on the Potomac. Raw, brash, and eager, a sprawling village of three thousand people"a place with a few bad houses, extensive swamps, hanging on the skirts of a too thinly peopled, weak and barren country"Washington was a fitting symbol of the new nation itself. Two "shining objects" relieved the dismal scene: the President's House, gleaming under its coat of whitewash, and the Capitol, looking like some truncated Roman monument, its north wing alone awkwardly perched on the summit of a hill.

Surrounded by friends, Jefferson walked to the Capitol from a nearby boardinghouse; at noon, without pomp or ceremony, he entered the crowded Senate chamber and took his place on the platform between Aaron Burr, his successor as vice president, and John Marshall, the chief justice of the United States. The election that brought Jefferson to the presidency had been bitterly contested by the two political parties, Federalists and Republicans, and only finally terminated on 17 February in the choice by the House of Representatives between himself and his Republican running mate, Burr. Now, after Marshall administered the oath of office, the fifty-seven-year-old Virginian, tall and lanky, with a ruddy face, bright hazel eyes, and graying hair, rose to deliver his inaugural address.

The addressa political touchstone for a century to comecombined a lofty appeal for the restoration of "harmony and affection" with a brilliant summation of the Republican creed: "We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists." Believing that the mass of Americans, regardless of party, were fundamentally united in their political sentiments, Jefferson hoped to extinguish the strife, hatred, and fanaticismthe spirit of European politicsthat had rocked the Republic during its first decade.

The new president looked to the disappearance of parties and "a perfect consolidation of political sentiments" as the government was restored to its true principles. These principles he traced back to the American Revolution. Equal justice to all men; freedom of speech, press, and religion; majority rule and minority rights; supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense; the encouragement of agriculture and commerce; peace and commerce with all nations, but entangling alliances with nonethese should be "the creed of our political faith," said Jefferson. He spoke of preserving "the whole constitutional vigor" of the general government yet called for "a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." His point was not to place liberty and government in irreconcilable opposition but, rather, to declare his conviction that a free and democratic government, for all its weakness by Old World standards, was, in fact

the strongest government on earth. I believe it is the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

In retrospect, Jefferson called the Republican ascendancy "the revolution of 1800." It was, he said, "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form; not effected indeed by the sword, as that, but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people."

Early Career

Born on 13 April 1743 in Goochland (now Albemarle) County, Virginia, and educated at the College of William and Mary, Jefferson rose to fame as the draftsman of revolutionary state papers, first in Virginia and then in the Continental Congress, where, of course, he became the author of the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration's celebrated preamble, Jefferson reduced the "natural rights" philosophy of the age to a set of first principles that had a profound influence on the course of the American Revolution. Proceeding from these principles, Jefferson himself sought far-reaching reforms in his native state. He was only partially successful. The Virginia assembly in 1786 enacted his Statute for Religious Freedom; it rejected much more, including his comprehensive plan of public education, although in Jefferson's opinion it was essential to the citizen-republicanism of the new nation. He was governor of Virginia (17791781)his first executive officeduring the trying circumstance of war and invasion, and left office under a cloud of criticism that was never completely dispelled.

In 1784, after a brief turn in Congress, Jefferson was sent to Europe on a diplomatic mission. The following year he succeeded Benjamin Franklin as American minister to France. From that vantage point, he observed the coming of the French Revolution. Closely associated with liberal, enlightened circles in Paris, he sympathized with the revolutionary impulse but sought to direct it into moderate and pacific channels of reform. Although he never confused France with America, Jefferson became an ardent friend of the French Revolution and in time assimilated some of its radical doctrine into his political philosophy.

In 1790, Jefferson was named secretary of state in the new national government. He had approved of the Constitution, especially with the promised addition of a bill of rights, and accepted high office under President George Washington out of a sense of loyalty to him and responsibility to the new experiment. In the conduct of the nation's foreign affairs, Jefferson sought to lessen American dependence on British commerce and to open freer channels of trade in a commercial system centered on France. He sought to redeem the trans-Appalachian West from the colonialism of the Spanish to the south and the British to the north, which would contribute as well to the pacification of the Indian tribes. He also sought to take advantage of any war that might occur between European powers by the manipulation of American trade and neutrality.

Pursuing these goals, Jefferson was frustrated by events and also by the secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose fiscal system turned on British trade, credit, and power and who was as hostile to the French Revolution as Jefferson was friendly. The conflict with Hamilton extended to domestic policy and came to involve fundamentally different conceptions of republican government under the Constitution. Along this division, opposing political parties formed. Washington tried to keep peace in his official family, but the task proved to be impossible. At the end of 1793, Jefferson, who had little taste for political combat, resigned and retired to his Virginia home, Monticello.

Elected vice president in 1796, Jefferson at first hoped for a restoration of political concord in the administration of his old friend John Adams. Instead, partisanship reigned as the nation was again plunged into a foreign crisis growing out of the protracted war between the French republic and the monarchical coalition headed by Great Britain. The administration was Federalist; and Jefferson, who had expected that the vice presidency would be "honorable and easy," while the presidency was but "splendid misery," found himself thrust into the leadership of the opposition party. Passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in the war hysteria of 1798 brought the conflict between these infant parties to a head.

Considering the laws oppressive, unconstitutional, and designed to cripple the Republican party, Jefferson went outside the general government, fully controlled by the Federalists, to start "a revolution of opinion" against them. The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions (17981799), authored respectively by Madison and Jefferson, invoked the authority of these two state legislatures to declare the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional. The resolutions were assertions of states' rights doctrine, and as such they posed the issue on which the Civil War would later be fought. More important, however, they originated in a desperate struggle for political survival and addressed the fundamental issue of freedom and self-government descending from the American Revolution. By going outside the government, opening peaceful channels of change through the agitation of public opinion, and building a party in the broad electorate, the Jeffersonian Republicans rose to power in 1800.

Jefferson's Presidential Leadership

Jefferson's inaugural address was a commitment to ongoing change through the democratic process. He named "absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority the vital principle of republics, from which there is no appeal but to force." The principle demanded freedom of opinion and debate, including the right of any minority to turn itself into a new majority. "If there be any among us," Jefferson said, "who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." This was the authentic revolution of 1800. Because of it, the Constitution became an instrument of democracy, change became possible without destruction, and government could go forward with the continuing consent of the governed.

The new president named to his cabinet men known to be moderate Republicans. The Federalists' fears were assuaged; Republicans of a more radical persuasion were disappointed. James Madison, the secretary of state, had been Jefferson's political friend and partner for many years. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn and Attorney General Levi Lincoln were Massachusetts Republicans appointed, in part, to nudge that important state into the Republican column. Robert Smith, the secretary of the navy, owed his appointment to his brother, Samuel Smith, the influential representative of Baltimore's mercantile Republican interests. Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania was the only controversial appointment. His Swiss birth, forensic prowess, and wizardry with treasury figures had combined to make the forty-year-old congressman a Federalist whipping boy. But Jefferson prized Gallatin's abilities, and the new secretary, who had been a sharp critic of Hamilton's fiscal policies, proved to be a force for moderation in the administration. The stability and harmony of this cabinet would never be equaled. In the eight years of Jefferson's presidency, only the part-time office of attorney general changed hands.

The model of executive unity, concentrating all powers of decision in the president, had been established by Washington, then had broken down under Adams. Jefferson restored it, but he dominated his administration more surely and completely than Washington had done. To the formal authority of the office, Jefferson added the authority of party leader. He had enormous public prestige as the spokesman of republican principles and national ideals. By some personal magnetism he drew men to him, persuaded them to follow, and inspired their loyalty. His style of leadership was averse to dissension and controversy. He sought to engender amiability and, wherever possible, to grasp "the smooth handle." Business was conducted through day-to-day consultation with the secretaries. The cabinet met infrequently, but when it did, usually on critical foreign problems, Jefferson invariably managed to produce a consensus. He led without having to command; he dominated without ruling.

Jefferson also dominated Congress. In 1801, for the first time, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. The Federalists were a shrinking minority, yet they were by no means powerless. Their obstructionist tactics would have proved very damaging if the Republicans had not stuck together. In Republican theory, borrowed from the Whig theory of the Revolution, Congress was superior to the executive and the executive should not interfere in legislative business. Jefferson honored the theory, at least in official discourse, but he recognized that practically the government demanded presidential leadership if any majority, whether Federalist or Republican, was to carry out its program. Congress could not lead. During the Federalist decade it had performed best under Hamilton's ministerial guidance. The problem had been easier for the Federalists, for they had no "least government" dogmas to overcome, no deep-seated fears of "monarchical" power; and compared to the Republicans, they formed a fairly cohesive body. The Republican majority was a loose coalition of jarring interests, experienced only in opposition and jealous of executive power.

How, then, could the Republican president overcome the "separation of powers" and make Congress an effective instrument for realizing the administration's objectives? The solution was found partly in the personal influence Jefferson commanded and partly in the network of party leadership outside constitutional channels. As the unchallenged head of the Republican party, Jefferson acted with an authority he did not possessindeed, utterly disclaimedin his official capacity. His long arm reached out, usually through cabinet officers, to Capitol Hill, where the leaders of both houses were his political lieutenants. Presidential leadership was thus locked into congressional leadership. And despite the weak structural organization of the Republican party in Congress, it was a pervasive functional reality. The president chose a newspaper, the National Intelligencer, in the capital as the administration organ; he kept up a steady stream of communication with Congress and party leaders; he turned his house into a kind of social club and spent countless weary hours and a substantial part of his $25,000 salary entertaining congressmen. (A widower, he had no "first lady", Dolley Madison sometimes performed that role, as did Jefferson's elder daughter, Martha, on her visits to the capital.)

The president was not only chief magistrate but chief legislator as well. Nearly all the legislation during eight years originated with the president and his secretaries. Lacking staff support of any kind, Congress depended on executive initiatives and usually followed them. Federalist congressmen complained of the "behind the curtain" or "backstairs" influence of the president. Eventually some Republicans rebelled. But the system of presidential leadership worked with unerring precision during Jefferson's first term. It worked less well once the Republicans, with virtually no opposition to contend against, began to quarrel among themselves, as they did during Jefferson's second term; and it would not work at all under his successor, Madison, who lacked both his public authority and personal magnetism.

During the early months, Jefferson found the task of making appointments to office exceedingly irksome. Not counting military officers, postmasters, and other minor civil functionaries, there were 316 major offices in the gift of the federal executive. They were monopolized by Federalists. Jefferson's preference was to remove as few as possible, with a view to converting the mass of Federalists to the Republican cause. He was repelled by the principle, already reduced to practice in New York and Pennsylvania, of making party affiliation the sole or primary test of public appointment. The politics of spoils and proscription degraded republican government. Nothing more should be asked of civil servants, he said, than that they be honest, able, and loyal to the Constitution. As important as the principle was in the abstract, it was more important in practice because of its obvious fitness to the attainment of the political harmony and consolidation envisioned in the inaugural address.

Many Republicans, whether from partisan principle or interest, disagreed with this strategy. The Federalist leaders, some said, were incorrigible; any temporizing with them would only disgust the mass of Republicans and jeopardize the administration. Others hungered for the spoils of victory. If the expulsion of Federalists and the appointment of Republicans "should not be the case, for what, in the name of God, have we been contending?" they asked. At the outset, Jefferson held his ground. He limited removals to two classes of officeholders. The first was Adams' "midnight appointments"indeed, all appointments except judgeships in good behavior made after 12 December 1800, when the president knew he had been defeated. This office-packing by a lame-duck administration was intolerable, and Jefferson considered all these appointments "nullities." The second class included officials found guilty of misconduct. Jefferson especially had in mind federal marshals and attorneys who had forfeited the public trust by their enforcement of the Sedition Act. By January 1802 he counted twenty-one removals of midnight appointments and fifteen removals for misconduct of any kind.

Within a few months partisan pressures from both sides caused the president to modify his patronage policy. The issue came to a head in Connecticut, where the Federalists controlled everything; the Republicans were weak, systematically excluded from the state government, and treated as outcasts of society. Only by federal appointment could they get a political foot in the door. When Jefferson removed a midnight appointment and named a Republican in his place as collector of the port of New Haven, the local merchants and Federalists angrily remonstrated. In reply, Jefferson defended his actions and the right of the Republicans to a fair share of the federal offices. Continued Federalist monopoly defeated the will of the people. "If a due participation of office is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained?" he asked. "Those by death are few; by resignation, none. Can any other mode than that of removal be proposed?" Heretofore the answer had been yes, the mode of conciliation and conversion; and the idea that party allegiance alone was just ground for removal or that the subordinate offices should rotate with the popular will had been rejected. Proposing now, in the summer of 1801, before this demonstration of Federalist intransigence to give the Republicans "a proportionate share" of the offices, Jefferson introduced the partisan standard of removal and appointment in the federal government. In practice, he showed a good deal of flexibility, adapting the policy to varying local situations. By the end of 1803, he had appointed Republicans to one-half the major offices. Federalist patronage, like the party, had been elitist. Jefferson broadened the base of the civil establishment, taking in more westerners and more men of talent without wealth, privilege, or status, thereby making it more representative of American society.

The Republican ascendancy embittered the shrinking Federalist minority. Thomas Paine's return to the United States at the president's invitation in 1802 started up the old slanders of Jacobinism and infidelity. At the same time Jefferson faced a new libel by the grubstreet journalist and disappointed office-seeker James T. Callender, adopted by some of the Federalists, that he had for many years kept an "African concubine," Sally Hemings, at Monticello and was the father by her of several slave children. Thus began the prolific career of a story that would on occasion figure prominently in accounts of Jefferson's personal life, which were necessarily speculative because of his care in guarding his privacy. As with other libels about him, he never replied publicly to this one, doubtless on the theory that any reply would only stimulate rather than arrest it. Moreover, he was committed to what he called his "experiment" in unfettered freedom of the press; and although he twice acquiesced in state prosecutions for libel, he did no injury to that experiment. Almost two centuries later, in the fall of 1998, the results of DNA testing of Jefferson and Hemings descendents provided support for the idea that Jefferson was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings' children, Eston. But 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.

Fiscal and Judiciary Reform

Republican reform was grounded on fiscal policy. In the Jeffersonian scripture, public debt and taxes were evils of the first magnitude. The debt drained money from the mass of citizens, diverted it from the productive enterprise of individuals, and led to a system of privilege, coercion, and corruption that was the bane of every government and fatal to a free one. The alternatives were clear: "Economy and liberty, profusion and servitude." The debt, which had actually increased under the Federalists, stood at $83 million and consumed in annual interest almost half the federal revenue. Gallatin developed a plan to extinguish the debt in sixteen years by large annual appropriations but, amazingly, to reduce taxes at the same time. All the internal taxesHamilton's whiskey excise, the land tax of the Adams administrationwould be repealed. The government would depend entirely on the revenue of the customhouses. The plan required deep retrenchment: reductions in the army and navy, in foreign embassies, and in civil offices, beginning with the tax collectors.

The plan, which Jefferson outlined in his first annual message to Congress, was liable to two main objections. It assumed peace, and although the principles of the Peace of Amiens had been agreed upon, this was a risky assumption in the world of William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte and seemed to jeopardize the nation's defense in favor of niggardly economy. Moreover, the plan rested on a doubtful theory of political economy for a developing nation. The theory looked to economic growth through release of the energies, talents, and resources of free individuals without the direct aid or favor of the government. The opposite theory, of which Hamilton was an early practitioner, assigned to the government a positive role in economic development. It supposed that a nation might grow out of debt by going deeper into debt to promote development. The logic of this escaped Jefferson, but he knew that Hamilton's system of debt and taxes involved powers and privileges that were incompatible with republican government under the Constitution.

Jefferson's fiscal program placed the administration on unassailable ground with Republicans in Congress. Men rubbed their eyes in disbelief at the spectacle of the chief magistrate renouncing taxes, patronage, and power. It promised, said an English observer, "a sort of Millennium in government." The program was rapidly put in place. During the next seven years the nation was liberated of $33 million of debt. In the end, of course, the program was derailed by foreign crisis and war. Thirty-four years would pass before retirement of the national debt.

Pitched on the horns of his dilemma, reformation or reconciliation, the president agonized a good deal about the Hamiltonian fiscal system. He reflected in 1802,

When the government was first established, it was possible to have kept it going on true principles, but the contracted, English, half-lettered ideas of Hamilton destroyed that hope in the bud. We can pay off his debt in 15 years, but we can never get rid of his financial system. It mortifies me to be strengthening principles which I deem radically vicious, but the vice is entailed on us by the first error.. . . What is practicable must often control pure theory.

A clear case in point was Hamilton's Bank of the United States. Jefferson thought it an institution of "the most deadly hostility" to republican government, yet the bank's national charter ran to 1811. Gallatin, meanwhile, found the bank a highly serviceable institution and actually expanded its operations. The demand for credit in a thriving economy was insatiable. State-chartered banks multiplied, and a banking interest grew up in the Republican party. Although it played havoc with his ideal of a plain and dignified republican order, Jefferson could neither injure nor ignore it. "What is practicable must often control pure theory."

The federal judiciary furnished the principal political battleground of Jefferson's first term. There were three battles and many skirmishes in the so-called war on the judiciary. The first was fought over the Federalist Judiciary Act of 1801. This eleventh-hour act of a dying administration created a whole new tier of courts and judgeships; extended the power of the federal judiciary vis-à-vis the state courts; and reduced the number of Supreme Court justices beginning with the next vacancy, thereby depriving Jefferson of an early opportunity to reshape the court.

Republicans were enraged by the act because of its manifest partisanship and its wanton increase of judicial power. Jefferson promptly targeted the act for repeal. The Federalists had retired to the judiciary as a stronghold, he said. "There the remains of Federalism are to be preserved and fed from the treasury and from that battery all the works of Republicanism are to be beaten down and erased." The experience of the Sedition Act had demonstrated, in his opinion, the prostration of the judiciary before partisan purposes.

Soon after assuming office, Jefferson took executive action to pardon victims of the Sedition Act, which he condemned as null and void, and to drop pending prosecutions. He wished to make judges more responsible to the people, perhaps by periodic review of their "good behavior" tenure; and while conceding the power of judicial review, he did not think it binding on the executive or the legislature. It was his theorya corollary of the separation of powersthat each of the coordinate branches of government is supreme in its sphere and may decide for itself on the constitutionality of actions by the others. Congress, after heated debate, repealed the offensive act and, with minor exceptions, returned the judiciary to the footing it had occupied in 1800.

The second battle centered on the case of Mar-bury v. Madison. William Marbury and three others alleged that they had been appointed justices of the peace for the District of Columbia on 3 March 1801 but that their commissions, complete in every respect, had been withheld by the incoming administration. They sued Madison, in whose department the matter belonged, and the Supreme Court granted a "show cause" order on delivery of the commissions. Finally, in 1803, Chief Justice Marshall ruled that the plaintiffs had a legal right to the commissions and, moreover, that the requested writ of mandamus to the secretary of state was the appropriate remedy. He went on to read the executive a lecture on the duty of performing valid contracts but chose to avoid a showdown with Jefferson by declaring that the power of the court to issue writs of mandamus, contained in the Judiciary Act of 1789, was unconstitutional.

In later years the decision would be seen as the cornerstone of the whole edifice of judicial review, but in 1803 it was understood essentially as a duel between the executive and the judiciary. The Republicans criticized Marshall not because of theoretical claims of judicial power but because he traveled outside the case, pretending to a jurisdiction he then disclaimed, in order to take a gratuitous stab at the president. Politics alone could explain such behavior. Obviously, although they were constantly at swords' points, neither Jefferson nor Marshall wanted to press the issue to conclusion.

The Jeffersonian campaign, halting though it was, also contemplated the impeachment of federal judges who violated the public trust. In 18031804, Congress impeached, tried, and convicted Judge John Pickering of the federal district court in New Hampshire. The case was a hard one because Pickering's bizarre conduct on the bench proceeded less from his politics than from intoxication and possibly insanity, but in the absence of any other provision for removal, the Republicans took the constitutional route of impeachment and convicted him of "high crimes and misdemeanors." In 18041805 the House impeached, and the Senate tried, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. A high-toned Federalist, he had earned Republican enmity as the presiding judge in several sedition trials and in harangues to grand juries assailing democracy and all its works. Inevitably, Chase's impeachment was a political act.

The fact that Chase was indicted the same day the Senate convicted Pickering seemed to substantiate Federalist fears of wholesale prosecution. Actually, this was never the president's intention. He sought only to make an example of a particularly obnoxious Federalist justice. And when the Senate finally voted to acquit Chase, Jefferson turned away from impeachment in disgust. He remained anxious about the unchecked power of the judiciary. He faced still other encounters with John Marshall. But the Jeffersonian war on the judiciary, if such it was, ended without serious disturbance to the foundations of judicial power. Jefferson could rule the cabinet; he could charm, persuade, and cajole Congress; he could provide inspirational leadership for the American people; but in dealing with the judiciary he found little scope for these talents and, of course, felt awkward in a confrontational role.

Louisiana Purchase

When Jefferson became president, peace was pending in Europe and he could look forward to disentangling the nation from the vices and alliances of foreign politics. "Peace is my passion," he repeatedly affirmed. Yet he was no pacifist. One of his first executive acts was to send a naval squadron to the Mediterranean to enforce peace without tribute on the piratical Barbary states. The Tripolitan War, as it was called, met with partial success: a treaty with Tripoli in 1805.

Far more important, of course, was the burgeoning crisis on the Mississippi, which would end in the triumph of the Louisiana Purchase. By the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in October 1800, as Jefferson learned six months later, Spain ceded the great province of Louisiana (Jefferson suspected the Floridas as well) to France, conditional on an Italian throne for the duke of Parma, Charles IV's brother-in-law. The retrocession of Louisiana, which France had lost in 1763, announced the revival under Napoleonic auspices of old French dreams of empire in the New World. Over the years the United States had worked out an accommodation with Spain on the Mississippi. The Pinckney Treaty (or Treaty of San Lorenzo) of 1795 granted the Americans free navigation of the river through Spanish territory to the mouth, together with the privilege of deposit and reshipment of goods at New Orleans. This was an enormous, indeed essential, boon to western development. American trade at New Orleans dwarfed that of the Spanish.

Spain was a weak and declining power, and given the pace of American expansion across the continent, Jefferson confidently expected that the river, the Floridas, and Louisiana would all fall to the Americans in due time. But Louisiana in the hands of France was another matter. In Napoleon's grand design, Louisiana and the Floridas would provide the necessary economic and strategic support for an overseas empire centered on St. Domingue (Hispaniola), the richest of the French colonies, then in the control of rebel blacks led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. The reconquest of the island was therefore the first step toward realizing the design. This would not be short work, as Jefferson recognized.

Considering all the difficulties and imponderables of Napoleon's plan, the president made as little noise as possible, kept his patience, and put Louisiana in the track of diplomacy. His strategy was one of delay and maneuver improvised to meet events as they unfolded. His first and minimal concern was to ensure that if France did actually come into power at New Orleans, Americans in the West would be accorded the same commercial rights and privileges as under the Spanish. In Washington the secretary of state constantly drummed into the French envoy the grave danger to his country of making enemies of the American people on the Mississippi issue; and the envoy, Louis Pichon, transmitted these perturbations to Paris. In Paris the American minister, Robert R. Livingston, composed a memoir setting forth in detail the great American interest in Louisiana and the Floridas. He was unheeded and unheard, however. "There never was a government in which less could be done by negotiation than here," he wrote home. "There is no people, no Legislature, no councillorsOne man is everything."

In April 1802, Jefferson decided it was time to strike out on a bold new course. Through the good offices of a mutual friend, Pierre-Samuel du Pont de Nemours, who was returning to France, Jefferson gave stern warning to Napoleon:

There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce, and contain more than half our inhabitants.. . . The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark. It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.

The fact that Jefferson, whose foreign politics had always been friendly to France and hostile to Britain, could contemplate a diplomatic turnabout of this kindeven an alliance with Britaindisclosed the gravity of the situation.

While Jefferson flourished this thunderbolt, Madison quietly worked up the project to purchase New Orleans and the Floridas, assuming the latter were France's to sell. This was a startling idea, which could only have originated with an administration bent on settling international disputes without resort to military force. Jefferson was still playing for time, which in this affair, as in all things, he believed was on the American side. Napoleon had yet to make good his policy. Yellow fever and rebel arms annihilated one French army after another in St. Domingue. The expedition mounted for New Orleans never sailed. Spain remained in control there and, it was reported, sickened at the bargain it had made with France. War clouds again gathered in Europe.

In October 1802 the clock was turned ahead dramatically for the United States. The intendant at New Orleans abruptly closed the port to the Americans. Had he acted on Napoleon's dictate or was Charles IV trying to create havoc for the French? The Spanish minister in Washington, the Marqués de Casa Yrujo, assured Jefferson that the intendant had acted on his own authority, in response to abuses of entrepôt privileges; and before much damage could be done Yrujo and Madison negotiated an end to the crisis.

Meanwhile, westerners threatened to take their fate into their own hands, and Federalist congressmen, always eager to embarrass the administration, clamored for war against France and Spain. Something tangible was needed to calm the West and deflate the Federalists. Jefferson moved to appoint his friend James Monroe, who was popular in the West, minister extraordinary to join Livingston in treating for the purchase of New Orleans and the Floridas for up to $10 million. Monroe was instructed to take the country's problem to London if he failed in Paris.

But the problem would be resolved just as Monroe arrived in Paris in April 1803. Neither he nor Livingston had much to do with the result. The Louisiana Purchase was made in France, not in America, and it owed more to the vagaries of Napoleon's ambition than to Jefferson's cautious diplomacy. With his dream of New World empire fading, Napoleon revived his older dream of empire in the EastEgypt, the Levant, Indiaand he renounced Louisiana. He could not defend, or even possess, Louisiana while marching to the East; he needed assurances of American neutrality in that venture; and he needed money to fuel his war machine.

The purchase treaty was quickly arranged. It was neither the bargain Jefferson had sought nor within the price he had authorized. It included the whole of Louisiana, which had never been contemplated, together with New Orleans, but omitted the Floridas, which remained Spanish. "They ask for only one town of Louisiana," Napoleon remarked, "but I already consider the colony completely lost." The United States thus acquired an immense uncharted domain, stretching from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains or beyond. No one knew its exact boundaries or size, but at one stroke the Louisiana Purchase practically doubled the land area of the United States. The total price, which included the government's assumption of about $3 million worth of debts owed to France by American citizens, was $15 million.

Jefferson never boasted that he bought Louisiana, but he resented the grumblers and doubters who, from one side of the mouth, denounced him for acquiring a "howling wilderness" and, from the other side, denied him any credit for the good it might contain. The whole proceeding was, in truth, an impressive demonstration of the ways of peace in American affairs. In the end Jefferson was saved by the return of European war. But the probability of renewed warfare, like the probability of French defeat in St. Domingue, had entered into Jefferson's calculations from the beginning. He weighed the imponderables in the European power balance, shrewdly threatened to throw the country into the British scale, worked up an attractive proposition for Napoleon, and was therefore prepared to take advantage of the démarche when it came. It came sooner than he had expected, and it brought the United States much more than he sought. The trans-Mississippi West had not been an object. The United States was not threatened there; it lay almost a thousand miles from the frontier in Ohio. This is not to say that Jefferson had no eyes for Louisiana. In his inaugural address he spoke of the United States as "a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation." Surely he did not mean the country bounded by the Mississippi but rather the country of his continental vision, which would materialize as Americans multiplied and pressed westward. Louisiana, coming all at once in 1803, altered the timetable of American expansion but not its destination.

For several months Jefferson had been planning a voyage of discovery across the continent. Now, by happy coincidence, Captain Meriwether Lewis, whom he had chosen to lead this expedition, set forth from Washington on 5 July 1803 amid public rejoicing over the Louisiana Purchase. The plan of the expedition was thoroughly characteristic of the president. Presenting it to Congress and hoping to head off constitutional objections, he emphasized its commercial purpose: to chart a continuous line of navigation along the Missouri River route to the Pacific. But Jefferson had larger scientific ends in view. Much of the country was terra incognita, so he instructed Lewis to observe everything:

. . . the soil and face of the country . . . the animals . . . the remains . . . the mineral productions of every kind . . . volcanic appearances . . . climate . . . the dates at which particular plants put forth or lose their flower, or leaf, times of appearances of particular birds, reptiles or insects.

The expedition proved to be a spectacular success. Lewis, Lieutenant William Clark, and their crew went up the Missouri, crossed the Stony Mountains, and in 1805 descended the Columbia River to its mouth. After wintering there, the expedition returned overland to St. Louis in 1806. Many years would be required to absorb the knowledge gathered by the expedition. Of course, it failed in its commercial aim. The gap between the Missouri and the Columbia turned out to be 350 miles of formidable terrain. Jefferson and the many Americans who shared his continental vision of an "empire of liberty" were not discouraged. In its appeal to the imagination, the Lewis and Clark expedition foreshad-owed the American future.

Senate ratification of the Louisiana treaty was a foregone conclusion. Yet it did not escape opposition. "Adopt this Western World into the Union," warned a Federalist senator, "and you destroy at once the weight and importance of the Eastern States and compel them to establish a separate and independent empire." Feelings of this kind contributed to an abortive New England disunionist conspiracy in 1804.

Jefferson himself worried about the constitutionality of the treaty. As he explained to a Republican senator, John Breckinridge of Kentucky,

The Constitution has made no provision for our holding foreign territory, still less of incorporating foreign nations into our Union. The executive in seizing a fugitive occurrence which so much advances the good of this country, have done an act beyond the Constitution. The Legislature in casting behind them metaphysical subtleties, and risking themselves like faithful servants, must . . . throw themselves on their country for doing for them unauthorized what we know they would have done for themselves had they been in a situation to do it.

Jefferson therefore drafted a constitutional amendment to sanction the acquisition retroactively. The amendment also sought to control the future of the trans-Mississippi West by, among other things, prohibiting settlement above the thirty-third parallel, which would become a vast Indian reserve.

The proposed amendment found little support either in the cabinet or in Congress. Spain, still in possession of Louisiana, expressed unhappiness with the treaty, raising fears it might be lost by delay. Weighing the risks, Jefferson backed away from the amendment. He was still troubled, however. "Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution," he observed. "Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." As his friends felt differently in this instance, he yielded the point while reserving the principle. A revolution in the Union perforce became a revolution in the Constitution as well.

Jefferson spent much time and effort gathering information on the new territory and its peoplethe Indian tribes scattered throughout but especially the Creoles of the more thickly inhabited portion below the thirty-third parallel, the northern boundary of the later state of Louisiana. To the territory as a whole, the treaty gave no precise limits. Not surprisingly, Jefferson tried to make the most of the situation. After a detailed inquiry into the boundaries, he concluded that there were respectable grounds for claiming Texas to the Rio Grande, West Florida to the Perdido, and the westernmost limits of the Stony Mountains. From this position he would offer Spain $2 million and half of Texas for East Florida. Spain disdained the overture, of course, insisting that the lower boundaries were the Iberville (now Bayou Manchac) and the Sabine. Jefferson's relentless scheming for the Floridas vitiated his diplomacy abroad and exposed him to attack at home for the next five years.

The treaty provided for the incorporation of Louisiana, with its "foreign" and slave populace, into the Union; but Jefferson concluded from his study of the Creolestheir laws, institutions, and mannersthat they were unprepared for republican citizenship. A period of apprenticeship was necessary during which Americans would be encouraged to settle in Louisiana, and society there would be gradually reformed.

The Creole sugar planters reacted angrily to this plan, demanding immediate self-government and admission to the Union, together with retention of most of their customary laws and institutions. They threw back at Jefferson his own eloquent words in the nation's birthright on human rights and liberties and self-government. In this potentially dangerous conflict, the president again showed flexibility and moderation. In 1805 he yielded to the demand for a representative assembly in the territory. With the loyal assistance of his handpicked governor, William C. C. Claiborne, Jefferson found the path of political conciliation in Louisiana, and the Territory of Orleansthe first of many from the purchase landswould be admitted to the Union as the state of Louisiana in 1812. This was a vindication of his own principles, even in the face of doubt, including the idea of an expanding union of equal self-governing states.

An event of the magnitude of the Louisiana Purchase affected everything to come after. The prospects of the Union were at once grander and more terrifying than before, and the government would have to assume new responsibilities addressed to this condition. The nation's destiny was firmly oriented westward; hundreds of millions of acres of landthe heartland of the continentguaranteed that the economy would remain primarily agricultural for decades to come and that dispersal rather than concentration would characterize American society and government. All this undergirded Jeffersonian ideals. The United States acquired much greater security on its own borders as well as greater power and self-assurance in international affairs. Finally, the Louisiana Purchase enabled the Republicans to tighten their political grip on the nation, causing them to grow bold in power and making bigots and bunglers of the opposition.

Jefferson's reelection to a second term was never in doubt. The Republican caucus in Congress renominated him in February 1804. Burr was replaced as the vice presidential candidate by George Clinton, his rival in New York politics. Burr's undoing began with the suspicions that he had solicited Federalist votes in the House election of 1801. The Twelfth Amendment, then in the course of ratification, would prevent a repetition of that election, with more Federalist maneuvering to defeat Jefferson, by requiring separate votes for president and vice president. The factional struggle between Burrites and Clintonians culminated in the New York gubernatorial election of 1804, featuring Burr as a candidate. Jefferson pleaded neutrality in this contest, although he secretly favored the Clintonians and stood by silently as they drove Burr out of the Republican party.

The Federalist caucus nominated Charles Cotes-worth Pinckney of South Carolina and Rufus King of New York. They were little noticed, as the Republicans again ran against the record of John Adams. The contrast between four years of Adams and four years of Jefferson was striking: new taxes versus no taxes; profusion versus economy; mounting debt versus debt retirement; oppressive army and wasteful navy versus defensive arms only; multiplication of offices versus elimination of judges, tax collectors, and useless functionaries; alien and sedition laws versus freedom and equality; judicial arrogance versus judicial chastisement; monarchical forms and ceremonies versus republican simplicity; war and subservience to foreign power versus peace, independence, and national expansion.

The election resulted in 162 electoral votes for Jefferson and Clinton against 14 for Pinckney and King. Only Delaware and Connecticut, with two stray Maryland electors, voted Federalist. Even Massachusetts entered the Republican column. This was particularly gratifying to Jefferson, who saw in it proof that the "perfect consolidation" he had prophesied four years before was indeed coming to fruition.

A self-congratulatory tone pervaded Jefferson's second inaugural address. Contrasting it with the first, he said, "The former was promise ; this is performance." Because of the rapid liberation of the revenue from debt it was not too soon to plan for national internal improvements"rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufacturing, education, and other great objects"and he subsequently proposed a constitutional amendment to this end. The Louisiana Purchase gave an urgency to this undertaking that overrode the restraints of Republican dogma. Jefferson rebuked the fainthearted who feared that the Union would become too big to survive. "But who can limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively?" he asked.

Jefferson spoke glowingly of his policy of peaceful acquisition of Indian lands and of drawing Indians into the paths of civilization. The policy would result, during eight years, in fifteen treaties with Indian tribes and the cession of 95 million acres of land to the United Statesan astounding achievement. Jefferson boasted, too, of the "experiment" he had made in freedom of the press to determine whether, despite the reign of falsehood and defamation, the people were able to detect the truth and act upon it. The experiment had been tried, and the election had given the verdict"honorable to those who had served them, and consolatory to the friend of man, who believes he may be intrusted with his own affairs."

But if Jefferson's first term was a triumph, his second proved to be an ordeal. His method of working with Congress through unofficial channels of personal and party leadership lost its charm. The Republicans began to quarrel among themselves, especially after Jefferson's decision against seeking a third term became known, and the Federalists grew more desperate as their numbers shrank.

In 1805 president and cabinet worked up a secret diplomatic project to obtain the Floridas through Napoleon's influence with Spain. The policy was one of peace and bargain; its effectiveness required, however, a warlike posture in public. It required, too, the silent appropriation of $2 million by Congress in behalf of the secret project. John Randolph of Roanoke, the Republican leader in the House, balked at this. He objected to "this double set of opinions and principlesthe one ostensible, the other real," and believing the money would flow into Napoleon's coffers, he denounced the project as "a base prostration of the national character, to excite one nation by money to bully another nation out of its property."

The Two Million Bill was enacted over Randolph's opposition. But the ensuing diplomacy failed, mainly, the president thought, because Randolph had "assassinated" the project in its infancy. Only a handful of doctrinaire Republicans followed Randolph into opposition. Jefferson continued to control Congress. His loss was less one of followers than of prestigethe aura of invincibility that had surrounded himand as prestige waned, so did the zeal, the trust, and the unity of the Republicans.

Conflict with Britain and the Burr Trial

The Burr conspiracy presented Jefferson with problems of another kind. With his political career ruined in New York and under indictment for the murder of Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr turned his adventuresome gaze to the broiling southwestern frontier. He enlisted a bizarre following: General James Wilkinson, commander of the United States Army in the West; John Smith, senator from Ohio; and Harmon Blennerhassett, a romantic Irishman whose island in the Ohio River was the staging area of the conspiracy. Whether Burr plotted western separation and the creation of a new confederacy on the Mississippi or the filibustering conquest of Mexico, or both together, it is difficult to say. But when Burr, with his flotilla carrying sixty or more plotters, descended the Ohio in the fall of 1806, it became the president's duty to hunt him down and bring him to justice. The Burr conspiracy ran through Jefferson's second term like a disquieting minor theme.

The major theme, of course, and Jefferson's heaviest burden, was in foreign affairs. With the formation of the Third Coalition against Napoleon in 1805, all Europe was engulfed in war. The United States became the last neutral of consequence, in effect the commercial entrepôt and the carrier for the European belligerents. The neutral trade was exceedingly profitable. It was, superficially, a perfect case of America profiting from Europe's distresses. In 1790, American exports were valued at $2 million; they rose steadily during the wars of the French Revolution and then in 1805 began to soar, until they reached $108 million two years latera peak not again scaled for twenty years. Unfortunately, each side, the British and the French, demanded this trade on its own terms, and submission to one entailed conflict with the other.

While Jefferson might try, as in the past, to play off one power against the other, little leverage was left for this game. After Admiral Horatio Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in the fall of 1805, Britain was supreme at sea, and after Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz in November, France was all-powerful on land. "What an awful spectacle does the world exhibit at this instance," Jefferson observed. "One nation bestriding the continent of Europe like a Colossus, and another roaming unbridled on the ocean." One could play fast and loose with the United States in the Atlantic, while the other lay beyond the reach of retaliation. Neither nation feared war with the United States, whose president prided himself on peace and had neither army nor navy to speak of. Both nations willfully violated American neutrality, although Britain, the sea monster, was the chief aggressor in Jefferson's eyes, with much more power than France to injure the United States.

In his annual message to Congress in December 1805 the president called attention to British aggressions at sea and moved to counteract the mistakenly pacifistic reputation of the administration. Without abandoning his conviction that nations would be led by their own reason and interest to treat the United States justly, he went on to say, "But should any nation deceive itself by false calculations, and disappoint that expectation, we must join in the unprofitable contest of trying which party can do the other the most harm." And he called upon Congress for defensive preparations: harbor fortifications, a fleet of gunboats, and a revitalized militia.

The conflict with Britain turned on two main issues: the neutral trade and impressment of seamen. The decision of a British vice admiralty court in the case of the ship Essex in 1805 marked a return to strict interpretation of the so-called Rule of 1756, under which a colonial trade closed in time of peace could not be opened in time of war. Thus ended British acquiescence in the burgeoning reexport trade of West Indian cargoesSpanish and French as well as Britishfrom American ports. In 1805 over half of American exportsthe basis of prosperitywere, in fact, reexports. The United States government claimed that these belligerent cargoes were "neutralized" after passing through American customs and, upon reexport, were protected under the rule of "free ships make free goods." But Britain now declared this American trade fraudulent, representing "war in disguise" in tacit alliance with the French enemy, since its effect was to negate British maritime and naval superiority. British survival, it was said, demanded this more rigorous policy.

Jefferson viewed the Essex decision as only the latest chapter in the prolonged British campaign to subvert American wealth and power. The real aim was to put down a dangerous commercial rival and force the Atlantic trade back into channels profitable to Britain. Reason revolts, Jefferson observed, at the idea "that a belligerent takes to itself a commerce with its own enemy [France and the Continent] which it denies to a neutral, on the ground of its aiding that enemy in the war." After the Essex decision British cruisers hovered off American harbors and plundered American trade. Every ship, not only those carrying cargoes of colonial origin, was at risk; and the losses were heavy.

No less irritating and, in principle, more important was the British practice of impressment. Especially in wartime, British subjects were forcibly impressed into His Majesty's Navy. Many American seamen were caught in the net. In 1806, three years after the resumption of hostilities, Madison reported that 2,273 known American citizens had been impressed. Britain argued that many of them were in fact British subjects who had deserted, enlisted in the American merchant marine, and perhaps been furnished with fraudulent naturalization papers, all with the connivance of the government. There was some truth in this. The United States did not claim that the American flag protected absconding British subjects; neither did Britain claim the right to impress American citizens. But who was British and who was American? They spoke the same language, physical identification was impossible, and efforts to persuade seamen to carry nationality papers were unavailing.

The root of the problem lay in a conflict of laws. No natural-born British subject could throw off his allegiance. American naturalization laws were therefore ineffectual. In Jefferson's view, impressment assaulted the very existence of American nationality. "Certain it is," he wrote indignantly, "there can never be friendship, nor even the continuance of peace with England so long as no American citizen can leave his own shore without being seized by the first British officer he meets." Every seizure was a stinging reminder of past colonial servitude.

American diplomatic initiatives to settle these issues in 1806 produced a treaty negotiated by James Monroe and William Pinkney, the team of envoys in London. Pitt's sudden death and the formation of a new government that brought Charles James Fox, a longtime friend of the United States, into the foreign ministry, had brightened the prospects for reconciliation. They were quickly dashed, however, by Fox's untimely death. Negotiations were resumed under his successor, Lord Howick, but Jefferson abandoned hope of a favorable outcome.

When the Monroe-Pinkney treaty finally reached Washington in March 1807, Jefferson took one look at it, saw that it omitted the American ultimatum to end impressment and failed to secure crucial neutral rights claims as well, and angrily refused even to send it to the Senate. What Congress or the people might have thought of it would never be known; but in the present-day judgment of some diplomatic historians, the treaty went a long way toward meeting American claims and, had it been ratified, might have restored amicable relations between the two countries.

Instead, relations rapidly deteriorated. In June the Chesapeake-Leopard affair inflamed the entire country against Britain. The frigate Leopard, one of a British squadron patrolling off Hampton Roads, ordered the American frigate Chesapeake to submit to search for deserters, and when refused, the Leopard poured repeated broadsides into the defenseless frigate, killing three and wounding eighteen before its flag could be struck. Four alleged deserters were removed from the Chesapeake before it limped back to port.

The country rose up in wrath, regardless of party or section. There had been nothing like it since the Battle of Lexington, said Jefferson. War only awaited the snap of his fingers. He wanted no war, however, and chose to cool the crisis. Quietly, without fanfare, Jefferson ordered certain military preparations, but he declined to convene Congress immediately and, unlike his predecessor Adams, manufactured no war hysteria. Jefferson's hope, rather, was to use the affair as a potent new lever in negotiations with Britainalas, to no avail.

"I suppose our fate will depend on the successes or reverses of Bonaparte," the president mused that summer. This was a hard fate indeed. "It is really mortifying that we should be forced to wish success to Bonaparte and to look to his victims as our salvation." Several months earlier the French emperor had issued the Berlin Decree, inaugurating his own system of economic warfare, the Continental System. The decree purported to place the British Isles in a state of blockade, making lawful prize of all ships trading with Britain. American carriers were exempted, so the decree did not overtly attack American neutrality. The fact that Napoleon could not possibly enforce such a blockade scarcely lessened its nuisance value.

Britain retaliated by an order-in-council throwing a blockade over that portion of the continental coast under French control. Then, in November 1807, after the surrender of Czar Alexander I to the Continental System, Britain closed all Europe to American trade except on monopolistic British terms. Only vessels that passed through British customs would be given clearance to open ports on the Continent. Napoleon replied by extending the Berlin Decree to the Americans and by issuing, in December, the Milan Decree, declaring that all vessels adhering to the British orders would be "denationalized" and made subject to seizure and condemnation as British property. Between the emperor's tightening Continental System and the British orders, American commerce was caught in the jaws of a vise, a maniacal war of blockades from which there seemed to be no appeal to reason or justice.

Meanwhile, Aaron Burr was pursued and captured with his fellow conspirators; he was then brought to trial at Richmond, Virginia, in April 1807. Jefferson had been slow to move against Burr, partly because of the mystery surrounding his plans and partly because of the risk of arresting the evidence of crime before it was ripe for execution; but once he became satisfied of Burr's complicity in treason, he moved with vigor and dispatch.

Never doubting that the conspiracy would fail, Jefferson made its suppression a clear test of the loyalty of the West and of the strength of republican government over a vast territory. The outcome vindicated his faith in both. Announcing suppression of the conspiracy to Congress, Jefferson unfortunately declared that Burr's guilt had been "placed beyond question." This was certainly the popular verdict. "But," as John Adams remarked at Quincy, "if his guilt is as clear as the noonday sun, the first magistrate of the nation ought not to have pronounced it so before a jury had tried him."

Jefferson busied himself in the difficult task of securing evidence to convict Burr. He was, in a sense, his own attorney general, and when Burr and his confederates came to trial at Richmond, Jefferson directed the prosecution from the White House. John Marshall was the presiding judge. Toward him Jefferson could not be detached, for he distrusted, even feared, Marshall more than he did Burr, and from the first moment, when Marshall decided to hold the culprit on no higher charge than misdemeanor and to release him on bail, Jefferson believed the trial would be made a party question. The little sect of Richmond Federalists, of whom Marshall had long been the chief, lionized Burr and made his cause their own.

During the grand jury proceedings, Marshall subpoenaed the president to appear in court with certain letters bearing on the actions of General Wilkinson, the conspiracy's chief betrayer. Jefferson refused to appear, citing his responsibilities as chief executive: "The Constitution enjoins his constant agency in the concerns of six millions of people. Is the law paramount to this, which calls on him on behalf of a single one?" The court backed off. Nothing required Jefferson's presence. He cooperated fully in the request for papers and offered to give testimony by deposition, but this was never requested.

The grand jury, heavily freighted with Republicans, returned an indictment for treason on 24 June. Under the Constitution conviction for treason required the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act. As the trial went forward that summer, it gradually became apparent that the prosecution could not furnish the requisite testimony to such an act as constituted "levying war" against the United States. Marshall, in effect, instructed the jury to bring in a verdict of acquittal, which it did on 1 September.

Jefferson was angry but hardly surprised. In his opinion, the whole conduct of the trial had been political, and the verdict had been in view from the beginning. It was, he said, "equivalent to a proclamation of impunity to every traitorous combination which may be formed to destroy the Union." Counting on the public backlash against the decision, he proposed to mount a new campaign to restrain the power of the federal judiciary. That fall he laid the trial proceedings before Congress and urged it to furnish some remedy. Several state legislatures instructed their respective delegations to work for a constitutional amendment rendering judges removable by the president on the address of both houses of Congress. Since both president and Congress were preoccupied with foreign affairs, nothing came of this effort. This was fortunate, for in the long run the nation was better served by Marshall's political bias in the Burr case than by Jefferson's. Better that the scoundrel go free than be convicted on evidence that would introduce into American law the ancient English principle of "constructive treason." Jefferson could not indulge the luxury of this philosophy, of course. He had invested too muchpolitically, emotionally, ideologicallyin another outcome.

Embargo of 18071809

Jefferson and his cabinet met for several days near the end of November 1807 to survey the deteriorating foreign situation. Diplomacy had failed, leaving three possible courses of action open to the United States: acquiescence in the commercial decrees, war against one or both belligerents, or a total embargo of American trade. Three weeks later Jefferson sent to Congress a confidential message recommending the embargo. Congress moved swiftly and, virtually without debate, passed the Embargo Act on 22 December 1807. A self-blockade of the nation's commerce, it prohibited American vessels from sailing to foreign ports and foreign vessels from loading cargo in the United States. At the same time, the selective Nonimportation Act, adopted in 1806 but heretofore suspended, went into effect. The government thus launched an experiment of incredible magnitude, one that dwarfed all previous undertakings and held momentous consequences for the peace of the United States and perhaps the world.

At the outset no one, certainly not Jefferson, fully understood the implications, or foresaw the problems, of the embargo. The aims and purposes of the policy were unclear. In part, it was simply an honorable alternative to war. In part, however, it was a measure preparatory to war, for almost six months would be required to bring home American ships, cargoes, and seamen on the high seasa vital resource in the event of warduring which time the resources already at home would be secure. Finally, it was in some part an experiment to test the effectiveness of "peaceable coercion" in international affairs.

The idea that the United States might enforce reason and justice on European nations by restraining or withholding its commerce was a first principle of Jeffersonian statecraft and a leading article of Jeffersonian Republicanism. The dependence of European colonies in the West Indies on American provisions, especially in wartime; the importance of American neutral carriers and their cargoes for European belligerents; and the enormous value of access to the American market, above all to Great Britain, placed in American hands an ultimate weapon of peace, "another umpire than arms," Jefferson believed, that might not only secure his own country from the ravages of war but also, when put to the test, demonstrate the efficacy of peaceable coercion to peoples everywhere. With the passage of time, as the administration persisted in the embargo long after its short-range purposes were achieved, this larger moral and philosophical aim became the primary one.

Jefferson never explained his experiment to the American people. So often ridiculed as a "visionary," he had no desire to run that gauntlet again. As a result, the people were asked to bear hardships and sacrifices for the sake of a policy they never really understood. This was a critical failure of leadership, which was surprising in a president who had a keen appreciation of the educational function of the office.

Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin, with the corps of customs officers, labored diligently to enforce the embargo. As loopholes were disclosed, as problems of control arose, Congress enacted supplementary legislation. Coastal infractions were serious from New York eastward. Along the Canadian frontier, smugglers carried on a brisk trade by boat, wagon, and sled. In April, Jefferson issued a proclamation placing the Lake Champlain region in a state of insurrection. Escalating penalties for violation of the embargo, combined with arbitrary actions to enforce it, ill comported with Jefferson's political principles. Normal federal law enforcement machinery finally proved inadequate in the eastern states, although the embargo was remarkably well obeyed elsewhere.

Measured in economic terms, the embargo's effectiveness was all too obvious. Treasury receipts dwindled, wiping out the large surplus Jefferson had committed to a program of national improvements. Agricultural prices plummeted, with particularly devastating effects in the southern states. As many as thirty thousand seamen were thrown out of work. Although stories of ships rotting at the wharves and grass growing in the streets were doubtless exaggerated, the most dramatic effects of the embargo could be seen in the seaports. Merchants who had made their fortunes in foreign trade began to divert their capital to new manufacturing enterprises. Jefferson rejoiced in this development, appeared at his Fourth of July reception in 1808 in a suit of homespun, and amid all the loss and suffering caused by the embargo found its redeeming economic virtue in the rise of domestic manufactures.

Politically, the embargo had no redeeming virtue. New England Federalists mounted the dragons of discontent in a bold bid to return to power. Their reckless leaders bitterly assailed the embargo as a national disaster. Why had Jefferson called for it? First, they said, because Napoleon had demanded it and Jefferson was his puppet. Second, because of Virginia Republicanism's hostility to northern commerce. Jefferson expressed little concern about political damages at home from the Federalists' attack, but he was deeply worried about its effects abroad. "They are endeavoring to convince England that we suffer more by the embargo than they do, and if they will hold out awhile, we must abandon it." This was a dangerous game, for if they succeeded, Jefferson said, war with Britain must followthe unintended outcome of their propaganda.

Although enacted as an impartial measure, operating equally on the belligerents, the embargo actually had very unequal effects. Britain necessarily felt it more than France. Jefferson hoped that Napoleon would understand this and, as if in gratitude, revoke his decrees against American commerce and force Spain to cede the Floridas. Instead, the emperor toyed with Jefferson. When American vesselsfugitives from the embargoentered French ports, he confiscated them and then declared he was only helping Jefferson enforce the embargo.

In the president's diplomatic strategy, success with one power would likely produce success with the other, since neither could risk war with the United States; and if neither power recognized American rights, and the time came to lift the embargo, the United States would choose the enemy. British colonials, merchants, and manufacturers began to feel the effects of the embargo in the spring. A group of liberal Whigsbankers, merchants, members of Parliamentlaunched a campaign against the orders-in-council, but they were no match for George Canning and the Tory ministry. Jefferson attributed British obstinacy to two causes. First was the false belief aroused by New England Federalists that the embargo must produce a political revolution in the United States. Second was the astonishing Spanish revolt against Napoleonic domination, which not only revived Great Britain's fortunes in the war but opened vast new markets, in Spain and the colonies, to British commerce.

In this "contest of privations," as Jefferson called it, time was not on the American side. The pressures on Jefferson to yield were both greater and more urgent than the pressures on Canning or Napoleon. How long could the end of peaceable coercion abroad be supported in the face of economic deprivation, loss of liberty, disobedience to law, division of the Union, and Republican collapse at home? Despite rising opposition, Jefferson stood firmly by the policy. Perhaps he recalled his experience in another crisis, when he, as Virginia's governor, was accused of jeopardizing the safety of the commonwealth by feeble and temporizing measures. To Gallatin, who complained that the embargo could be saved only by new and arbitrary enforcement powers, Jefferson replied, "Congress should legalize all means which may be necessary to obtain its end," not excluding military force.

A storm of protest rolled over New England in the fall, and Federalists trooped back to Congress demanding embargo repeal. Soon several New England Republicans joined them. Unhappily, the president reported the failure of embargo diplomacy in his last State of the Union message, on 8 November 1808. Without indicating any new direction, he asked Congress "to weigh and compare the painful alternatives out of which choice is to be made."

Abandoning the policy to Congress was an act of folly. His own choice was to continue the embargo for six months, with war to follow if necessary; but for the first time in his presidency, he abdicated leadership. Why? "On this occasion," he explained, "I think it is fair to leave to those who are to act on them, the decisions they prefer, being . . . myself but a spectator." Jefferson's retreat from responsibility was hardly a favor to James Madison, his chosen successor. As president-elect, Madison had no authority, and lacking Jefferson's prestige and a sure sense of the right course, he could not give direction to Congress. As a result, policy formation fell to a leaderless herd of the fainthearted, the demoralized, and the disgusted. Finally, Congress enacted repeal of the embargo; it would expire with the expiration of Jefferson's presidency. Its replacement, the Non-intercourse Act, reopened trade with all countries except Britain and France. Neither Jefferson nor Madison approved of this feeble measure. A trade open to the rest of the world was in fact a trade open to Britain and France. Yet Jefferson signed the measure into law. It exposed the United States to all the risks of war without the coercive benefits of the embargo. Its only merit was profit.

Jefferson went into retirement convinced that the embargo, if borne for a while longer, would have forced justice from Britain and therefore put a stop to the long train of degradation that led to the War of 1812. Such an outcome was not absolutely fore-closed, although it found little support in the actual circumstances. Jefferson became a victim of his own idealism. Henry Adams observed, "Few men have dared to legislate as though eternal peace were at hand, in a world torn by wars and convulsions and drowned in blood; but this was what Jefferson aspired to do." And as it failed abroad, the "peace policy" produced at home most of the evils Jefferson feared from war: debt, distress, disobedience, disunionism in short, the debauchery of Republican principles and hopes. Continued adherence to the embargo in these circumstances would have required more power than the government could command and more obedience than a free people could give.


Jefferson's popularity, though shaken, remained high to the end, and he retired to his beloved Monticello with the gratitude and the affection of the overwhelming majority of his countrymen. Not the least of his political accomplishments was the control of the presidential succession, first to Madison and then to Monroe, so that the next sixteen years continued the Republican dominance he began. More than most former presidents he exercised an influence on his successors, although the extent of this was often exaggerated by political enemies. He rejoiced at "shaking off the shackles of power," wanting nothing so much as to return to his farm, his family, and his books, which had always been his supreme delights.

For three years the nation drifted toward war. When it finally came, Jefferson expressed mingled feelings of satisfaction and disappointment. On the one hand, the war would be "the second weaning from British principles, British attachments, British manners and manufactures," and in that light would introduce "an epoch in the spirit of nationalism." On the other hand, what was war itself but the curse of the Old World blighting the hopes of the New? The country was meant to be "a garden for the delight and multiplication of mankind," Jefferson mournfully observed. "But the lions and tigers of Europe must be gorged in blood, and some of ours must go, it seems, to their maws, their ravenous and insatiable maws."

Monticello was more than a home, it was a republican mecca. Men came from far and near to see the renowned Sage of Monticello, who was not only a statesman but a scientist, architect, agriculturist, educator, and man of letters. In retirement, as throughout his life, mind and hand were never idle. Jefferson kept up a lively correspondence; that with John Adams, the revolutionary friend and then political foe, with whom he was reconciled in 1812, stands as a literary monument of the age.

Beginning in 1814, Jefferson concentrated his energies on the "holy cause" of education in his native state. In his philosophy, freedom and enlightenment depended on each other; education, therefore, was a paramount responsibility of free government. He revived the general plan of education he had proposed for Virginia during the Revolution. Again the legislature rejected Jefferson's farsighted plan. It approved, however, a major part, the state university, which was close to his heart.

Jefferson was the master planner and builder of the University of Virginia in all its parts, from the grounds and the buildings to the curriculum, faculty, and rules of governance. When it came time for him to write his epitaph, "Father of the University of Virginia" was one of the three achievements, together with authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, for which he wished to be remembered. Many have often remarked upon his omission of the presidency and much else besides. Perhaps in that he silently testified to his own sense of values.

Jefferson's declining years were etched with sadness. His health began to fail in 1818. At the same time, his personal fortune was doomed. He owned a large estateten thousand acres of land and the slaves to work thembut years of embargo, nonintercourse, and war had crippled Virginia agriculture, and recovery had only begun when the Panic of 1819 struck. New debts were piled upon old, some descending from before the Revolution, some descending from his years in the White House, and drove Jefferson into bankruptcy. In the end, even Monticello would be lost.

Jefferson was also deeply troubled by the course of national affairs. The Missouri Compromise "fanaticized" politics on a sectional line dividing free and slave states; the Supreme Court, realizing his worst fears, became "a subtle corps of sappers and miners" of the Constitution; and the drift toward consolidation in the national government threatened both individual liberty and the federal balance on which the Union depended. Under these blows, Jefferson retreated to the safety of old Republican dogma and gave aid and comfort to the revival of states' rights politics in Virginia. Through all this, nevertheless, he preserved his deep faith in freedom, self-government, enlightenment, and the happiness and the progress of mankind.

The Sage of Monticello died there on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, 4 July 1826. Ten days earlier, barely able to hold pen in hand, he had declined an invitation to attend ceremonies in Washington marking this golden anniversary. Seizing as if by foreknowledge this last opportunity to embellish a legend, Jefferson made his letter an inspiring last testament to the American people:

all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their back, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves, let the annual return of this day, forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Death would not end Jefferson's influence. Generations of Americans turned to him for inspiration and guidance in the successive crises of the nation's affairs. And thus it was that John Adams, who also died on that fateful day of jubilee, uttered a prophetic truth in his last words, "Thomas Jefferson still survives."


Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 30 vols. to date (Princeton, N.J., 19501995), promises to be the definitive edition of Jefferson's writings. As of this writing the project has not yet reached the period of Jefferson's presidency, for which two earlier works remain serviceable: Paul L. Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10 vols. (New York, 18921899), and A. A. Lipscomb and A. E. Bergh, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 vols. (Washington, 19041905). See also Thomas Jefferson, Writings (New York, 1984), ed. by Merrill D. Peterson.

Among biographies, the fullest and most authoritative is Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, 6 vols. (Boston, 19481981). Merrill D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (New York, 1970), runs to 1,000 pages, while Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson (Baton Rouge, La., 1987), runs to 350 pages. Peterson is the editor of the multi-authored Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography (New York, 1986). Peter S. Onuf, ed., Jeffersonian Legacies (Charlottesville, Va., 1993), is a contemporary assessment by sixteen scholars. Other studies of Jefferson's thought include Garrett Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (Baltimore, 1991), and David N. Mayer, The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville, Va., 1994). A seminal study is I. Bernard Cohen, Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Madison (New York, 1995).

For the presidency, Henry Adams, History of the United States of America During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, 2 vols. (New York, 1930), is still an important and immensely readable source. Other more specialized or broadly interpretive books on the subject are Forrest McDonald, The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson (Lawrence, Kans., 1976); Robert M. Johnstone, Jr., Jefferson and the Presidency: Leadership in the Young Republic (Ithaca, N.Y., 1978); and Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Process of Government Under Jefferson (Princeton, N.J., 1978). See also Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 18011829 (New York, 1951), and James Sterling Young, The Washington Community, 18001828 (New York, 1966). Foreign affairs are the focus of Bradford Perkins, The First Rapprochement: England and the United States, 17951805 (Philadelphia, 1955), and Prologue to War: England and the United States, 18051812 (Berkeley, Calif., 1961); Burton Spivak, Jefferson's English Crisis: Commerce, Embargo, and the Republican Revolution (Charlottesville, Va., 1979); and Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1990).

Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (New York, 1960), pursues the Jefferson theme and symbol in American thought and imagination. The best guide to the historical literature is Frank Shuffelton, Thomas Jefferson: A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him, 18261980 (New York, 1983), with a supplement (1992).

Recent works include Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1997).

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Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas 1743-1826


Thomas Jeffersons interests and pursuits presaged many substantive and methodological concerns of the modern social sciences. Jefferson exemplified the spirit of the Enlightenmentthat great, diverse intellectual movement that dominated Atlantic civilization from the late seventeenth century to the dawn of the nineteenth century. The sorting and synthesizing habits characteristic of Enlightenment thought formed the core of his thinking. Not just intellectual curiosity spurred Jefferson, however. The challenges posed by the American Revolution (17751783)creating a new nation, defining its form of government and politics, and shaping the kind of nation that the United States would become and the kind of people it would havelent practical urgency to Jeffersons investigations of the natural, social, and political world.

Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia, on April 13, 1743, the son of a gentleman planter determined to secure the best possible education for his son. At the College of William and Mary, Jefferson found his two mentors. Professor William Small (17341775) introduced Jefferson to Enlightenment thought and the study of natural philosophy (his eras term for science), and the attorney George Wythe (17261806) inspired Jefferson to join the bar. Wythe supervised Jeffersons legal training, insisting that he not only master the law but see it as a learned profession. Under Wythes tutelage, Jefferson situated his legal knowledge within a wide and deep classical, historical, and philosophical education. Though his legal practice lasted less than a decade, his legal training continued to shape his work as a politician and a scientific and political thinker.

Jeffersons lifelong commitment to public service began with his election in 1768 to the Virginia legislature. Jefferson watched with anxiety the growing dispute between Great Britain and its North American colonies over the scope of British power to tax the colonists and legislate for them. In 1774 Jefferson drafted a set of instructions for the Virginia delegation to the First Continental Congress. His draft, judged too radical, nonetheless appeared as a pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Jeffersons eloquence and cogency won him acclaim, but his willingness to lecture King George III (17381820) on his duty to his American subjects provoked hostility in London.

In 1775 Jefferson was named a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Though he rarely took the floor, he won his colleagues respect by his ability as a draftsman to synthesize their clashing views. His ultimate challenge came when, in June 1776, Congress named him to a committee, with John Adams (17351826), Benjamin Franklin (17061790), Robert R. Livingston (17461813), and Roger Sherman (17211793), to draft a declaration of independence; the committee assigned the task to Jefferson. Jefferson always preferred his draft to Congresss version, complaining that Congress had ruined his work by cutting key portions of his argument, including a passage blaming George III for the American institution of chattel slavery; by contrast, most historians maintain that Congresss edits improved the documents cogency and force. The Declaration of Independence has three parts: (1) a preamble invoking Lockean social-contract theory to lay the intellectual groundwork for the Americans assertion of the right of revolution; (2) an indictment of George III for violating the unwritten English constitution as the Americans understood it, thus dissolving Americans obligations to remain loyal to him; and (3) a closing incorporating the congressional resolution declaring independence. The Declaration looks backward, tying off the constitutional argument with Great Britain, and forward, delineating the core principles of an independent America. Further, the eloquent preamble of the Declaration inspired democratic revolutions for generations thereafter.

Recognizing that independence required legitimate government, Congress authorized the thirteen colonies to frame new constitutions. For Jefferson, new-modeling constitutions and laws was integral to creating a good American society. Sweeping away such vestiges of feudalism as primogeniture (a system of inheritance naming the oldest son sole heir) and entail (a system of land ownership allowing the original owner to restrict transfer of his lands to heirs of his family) would, he thought, advance the cause of democracy and republican government. The resulting society would be a true republic committed to the ideals of the Revolution.

For these reasons, when he returned to Virginia, Jefferson focused his energies on legal reform. With his mentor George Wythe and Wythes rival Edmund Pendleton (17211803), Jefferson launched a project to revise the states laws. Their 1779 report included such pathbreaking proposals as Jeffersons Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, his Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments, and his Bill for Establishment of a System of Public Education. This compilation crystallized Jeffersons vision of the good society, forming his political agenda for Virginia for the rest of his life. The legislature, however, tabled the report. In the 1780s, Jeffersons ally, James Madison (1751-1836), spearheaded efforts to enact some of the reports bills, including the 1786 Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.

Two of the three key measures of Jeffersons lawmaking had to do with the life of the mind and individual liberty; all three embodied his devotion to Enlightenment ideals. Arguing that any alliance between church and state was dangerous to individual liberty and the health of the political realm, Jefferson insisted on strict separation of church and state, denying government any power to direct what citizens should believe or do in matters of religious belief and observance. Jeffersons proposed system of public education embodied his view that an informed citizenry was essential to the success of republican government. Finally, his measure for proportioning crimes and punishments reflected the profound influence of Marquis Cesare di Beccarias (17381794) Treatise on Crimes and Punishments (1764), in particular Beccarias commitment to humanizing law and setting aside old barbarous punishments as inconsistent with a modern, just legal system.

In 1779 the legislature elected Jefferson governor of Virginiaa post with many responsibilities but little power. Jefferson served two one-year terms, but in 1781 his governorships closing weeks, when he faced a British invasion of Virginia, provoked criticism souring him on public life, and he decided to retire. One incident of his governorship has lasting significance for his role in the social sciences. François de Barbé-Marbois (17451837), a French diplomat, sent the governors of all thirteen states a questionnaire about each states geography, history, resources, people, and laws. Jefferson restructured this list of queries and made it the skeleton of his only full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia, which occupied him, on and off, for the next six years. It distracted him from his sorrows after his wifes sudden death in 1782, and it gave him an intellectual focus while he returned to public life, first as a delegate to the Confederation Congress and then as American minister to France (17841789).

Published privately in Paris in 1785 and in a revised form in London in 1787, Notes on the State of Virginia embodied the spirit of the Enlightenment. It gave Jefferson the chance to advocate some of his cherished ideas, such as the need for religious liberty and separation of church and state, the excellence and desirability of republican government, and his love for his native land, which he promoted as a welcoming refuge from the corruptions of the Old World and a model of what a good society could be. Jefferson offered a powerful defense of America against the strictures of such European thinkers as the Comte de Buffon (17071788), who argued that nature and humanity degenerated in the New World. In particular, Jefferson defended Native American peoples against charges that they were lesser beings than Europeans, foreshadowing his lifelong interest in ethnography. At the same time, Notes presents Jeffersons agonized struggles with the issue of slavery. Jefferson, himself a slaveowner, wrote eloquently about slaverys injustice but offered a tortured case for slavery based on his claim that people of African descent were inferior to Europeans in intellect, morals, and physical beauty, and thus could not be trusted with liberty. Though such thinkers as Immanuel Kant (17241804) and David Hume (17111776) had voiced racist views of Africans, these were casual asides. By contrast, Jefferson expounded a defense of slavery based on what later generations would call racial science.

While Jefferson was in France, he began a sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings (17731835), a daughter of Betty Hemings (17351807), who had been both the slave and the mistress of Jeffersons father-in-law. (Thus, Sally was half-sister to Jeffersons wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson [17481782].) The teenaged Sally Hemings came to France with Jeffersons younger daughter, Maria Jefferson (17781804), whom he had summoned to live with him and his older daughter, Martha (17721836). According to Sally Hemingss son Madison Hemings (18051877), the two became lovers in France, and Sally extracted from Jefferson a promise that if she returned with him to Monticello, he would free all her children. The liaison continued for more than two decades. When Jefferson died, the only slaves that he freed were children of Sally Hemings and others connected with the Hemings family.

During Jeffersons presidency, James Thomson Callender (17581803), a muckraking journalist furious that Jefferson had not rewarded his support with a government job, revealed the Jefferson-Hemings liaison in the Richmond Enquirer. Jeffersons allies, family, and most biographers rejected the accusation as a political smear. In 1997, however, Professor Annette Gordon-Reed of New York Law School reexamined the evidence and the controversys history, challenging assumptions that influenced previous scholars (such as black people lie, white people tell the truth and slaves lie, slaveowners tell the truth). Her rigorous assessment convincingly showed that the Jefferson-Hemings liaison was more probable than not. In 1998 a DNA analysis of evidence from descendants of Eston Hemings (1808c.1853) and descendants of Jeffersons uncle Field Jefferson (17021765) found a match indicating that a male member of Jeffersons family was the father of Eston Hemings. That finding, combined with Gordon-Reeds analysis of the historical evidence and the discovery that every time Sally Hemings gave birth Jefferson was in the vicinity nine months before the delivery, reversed the scholarly consensus from rejection to acceptance of the liaison between Jefferson and Hemings.

While he served as American minister to France, Jefferson became a mentor to such French politicians as Lafayette (17571834) and Mirabeau (17151789). Indeed, in 1789 Jefferson was an informal adviser to the drafting of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. He also traveled widely in Europe; his travel diaries and letters reveal him to be an astute observer of society and politics. His letters recurring themes include his contrast of European corruption with American innocence. His approval of the French Revolution (17891799)though its excesses horrified many of his friends, such as John and Abigail Adams (17441818) and William Short (17591849)was rooted in his conviction of the horrifying injustices perpetuated by the ancien régime and his belief that revolutionary violence was not too high a price to pay to end those abuses.

In late 1789 Jefferson returned to America for a leave of absence. Instead, he accepted President George Washingtons (17321799) offer of the post of secretary of state in the new government under the Constitution. When Jefferson took office in May 1790, still in the grip of his impressions of Europe, he was horrified by what he found. In his eyes, Americans were falling under the spell of corrupting doctrines from Great Britain privileging commerce and speculation, undermining his vision of an honest agrarian republic of yeoman farmers. These realizations caused Jefferson to become increasingly doctrinaire and rigid.

The fiscal policies of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton (17551804) formed the first flashpoint of contention, followed by clashing views about Americas relations with the revolutionary French Republic. Unlike Jefferson, the prophet of agrarian democracy, Hamilton argued for a national economic system in which agriculture, trade and commerce, and manufacturing would form the three pillars of a healthy and prosperous nation. Hamilton also favored a vigorous national governmentwhich Jefferson saw as a threat to American liberty. Finally, Jefferson hailed the French Revolution as the first salvo of a worldwide democratic revolution that he hoped would reshape the world, whereas Hamilton saw it as a threat to stability, religion, property, and good orderthe props of a stable republic.

Until Jefferson stepped down from Washingtons cabinet at the end of 1793, and for a decade thereafter, his epic political and constitutional battles with Hamilton helped to define key polarities of American politicsstrict versus broad interpretation of the Constitution, agrarianism versus commerce and trade and industry, and decentralized versus centralized government. In response to what he saw as Hamiltons threat to liberty, republican government, and the success of the American Revolution, Jefferson and Madison helped lay the groundwork for partisan politics under the Constitution. Frustrated and exhausted by partisan battles, Jefferson retired in 1793, not returning to politics until his election as vice president in 1796, under his old friend and political adversary, President John Adams.

The Adams presidency was plagued by strife over the French Revolution and the wars convulsing Europe. Facing the quasi-war with France (17981800), the Adams administration rammed through Congress laws restricting rights of aliens and defining federal power to punish criticism of the government. Jefferson and Madison covertly penned two sets of resolutions against these measures that the Kentucky (Jefferson) and Virginia (Madison) legislatures adopted. These resolutions argued that the federal laws were unconstitutional and that the states had varying means to resist unconstitutional federal laws, helping to fuel generations of controversy over the nature of the American union and the powers of the federal government over the states.

In 1801, after an electoral deadlock that threatened to shake the government to its foundations, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as the nations third president. With the support of solid Republican majorities in Congress, Jefferson set out to undo what he viewed as Federalist corruption of American principles, outlining in his inaugural address his approach to American government: a wise and frugal government overseeing a union of states that would keep its distance from the wars convulsing Europe.

When Jefferson took office, access to the Mississippi River was a key political and diplomatic issue. Determined to secure that access and American claims to the trans-Mississippi West, Jefferson devised a combined scientific and military expedition, blending the goal of scientific research into the geography, flora, fauna, and native peoples of the region with the equally important goal of assertion of American power. At the same time, he sent American diplomats to Paris to find a means to acquire the vital port of New Orleans. By good fortune and deft diplomacy, these diplomats secured from France the entire Louisiana Territory, including New Orleans. Jefferson then set in motion his plans for the expedition, to be commanded by captains Meriwether Lewis (17741809) and William Clark (1770-1838). Jeffersons confidential instructions to Lewis set an ambitious research agenda and became a model for all later American expeditions of science and discovery. The Lewis and Clark expedition ranks with the Louisiana Purchase among the greatest achievements of Jeffersons presidency.

Jeffersons first term was notably successful, in great measure because he could control the development of events; his second was less so, as increasingly he had to react to events beyond his control in the international realm. Seeking to end European hostilities threatening American shipping, Jefferson imposed an embargo on the warring nations, hoping to use American economic power to coerce Britain and France to make peace. The policy backfired, forcing Jefferson to adopt ever-more draconian enforcement measures, creating the very model of a strong central government that he had so long opposed. It was with relief that he retired from the presidency in 1809.

Jeffersons life followed a pattern of ventures into public life followed by retreats into retirement at his home, Monticello. In the early 1770s, Jefferson leveled a hilltop inherited from his father and began to build a house, deriving its design from the works of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (15081580), himself strongly influenced by classical models. Not only did Palladio please Jeffersons aesthetic sense, his work echoed Jeffersons belief that classical architecture fostered values associated with the Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic. For a decade, Jefferson worked to make Monticello a model of classical refinement. When in 1789 he returned from France, he recast his plans for Monticello; from 1793 to the early 1820s he undertook a massive program of pulling down and building upa plan interrupted by his service as vice president, continued in fits and starts during his presidency, and resumed after his retirement in 1809. In this period, Monticello acquired its present forma house designed to appear from outside as a single story, with a low dome and porticos on both fronts. Monticello also was a stage set where Jefferson could welcome visitors as the sage of Monticello.

Monticello is only one of Jeffersons architectural achievements. The second example is the Virginia capitol, which he modeled on the Maison Carrée at Nîmes, France. The third example is Jeffersons country home, the octagonal Poplar Forest, completed in 1809, which was his refuge from the pressure of visitors at Monticello. With the University of Virginia, these projects were pivotal in popularizing classical ideas and ideals of architecture in the United States.

The former president became a figure of interest for the hundreds of travelers and fellow-citizens who hoped to meet him. He also dealt with a massive correspondence, drudging at the writing-table (as he told John Adams, with whom he resumed friendship in 1812). Jefferson used his letters to explore issues of democracy and republican government that had preoccupied him since the Revolution. He argued that laws and constitutions must change with changing times and circumstances and that each generation ought to be able to make its own laws and create its own government without being held hostage by the work of previous generations. Dearest to his heart was his idea that society and government should be divided into wards or hundreds, which would form counties, which would form states linked together in a union of shared affection, sentiments, and interests and needing only a weak government to superintend foreign relations. Jefferson was not a rigorous political theorist, however, and never produced a sustained work of political philosophy.

Jefferson devoted his last years to two great endeavors in the social sciences. Building on the work of his friend, the chemist and theologian Reverend Joseph Priestley (17331804), he prepared a short book for his own use, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, removing from the Gospels what he deemed false and fraudulent material attributable to priestcraft. Published for the first time in 1804 by Congress, this book, a pioneering example of historical criticism of the Bible, has acquired the (mistaken) title The Jefferson Bible.

Closest to Jeffersons heart, and in many ways his last great struggle, was his campaign to create a new university for Virginia, not allied with any religious sect or denomination. It was the capstone of his plan of a system of public education, but he now realized that the university was all that he would have a chance to create. At Jeffersons urging, the Virginia legislature created a commission that he would chair. He wrote its report, shepherded it through the legislature, and began to design the University of Virginia. He picked the professors, defined the curriculum, laid out the campus, and designed all the buildings. When it opened in 1825, with Jefferson as its first rector, it was the culmination of his lifes work.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, at the age of eighty-three. A few hours after he died, his friend and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, died at the age of ninety. The coincidence of these deaths seemed to their fellow citizens an event of almost biblical proportions, as if the almighty had called the two patriarchs to heaven to honor their political labors.

In his epitaph, drafted in the last months of his life, Jefferson codified his legacy: Author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia. This summation distilled his commitment to the revolution of ideas that reshaped the world in the late eighteenth century. In addition, these achievements helped to shape a world in which the social sciences could evolve into powerful tools by which human beings could come to understand their world and reshape it for the better. And yet, Jeffersons life and thought also show the dangers as well as the hopes of uncritically relying on the social sciences to make the world anew.

SEE ALSO American Revolution; Americanism; Constitution, U.S.; Declaration of Independence, U.S.; Education, USA; Enlightenment; Ethnography; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Presidency, The; Republicanism; Slavery; Washington, George


Adams, John, Abigail Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. 1959. The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Ed. Lester J. Cappon. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture.

Bedini, Silvio A. 1990. Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science. New York: Macmillan.

Bernstein, R. B. 2003. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gordon-Reed, Annette. 1997. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Jefferson, Thomas. [1787] 1955. Notes on the State of Virginia. Ed. William Peden. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1984. Writings. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. New York: Library of America.

Jordan, Winthrop D. 1968. White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 15501812. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture.

McLaughlin, Jack. 1987. Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder. New York: Holt.

Onuf, Peter S., ed. 1993. Jeffersonian Legacies. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Onuf, Peter S. 2000. Jeffersons Empire: The Language of American Nationhood. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Onuf, Peter S. 2007. The Mind of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Peterson, Merrill D. 1970. Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press.

R. B. Bernstein

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

American philosopher and statesman Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the third president of the United States. A man of broad interests and activity, he exerted an immense influence on the political and intellectual life of the new nation.

Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, Va., on April 13, 1743. His father had been among the earliest settlers in this wilderness country, and his position of leadership descended to his eldest son, together with 5,000 acres of land.

Jefferson became one of the best-educated Americans of his time. At the age of 17 he entered the College of William and Mary, where he got exciting first glimpses of "the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed." Nature destined him to be a scientist, he often said; but there was no opportunity for a scientific career in Virginia, and he took the path of the law, studying it under the tutelage of George With as a branch of the history of mankind. He read widely in the law, in the sciences, and in both ancient and modern history, philosophy, and literature. Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767; his successful practice led to a wide circle of influence and to cultivated intellectual habits that would prove remarkably creative in statesmanship. When the onrush of the American Revolution forced him to abandon practice in 1774, he turned these legal skills to the rebel cause.

Jefferson's public career began in 1769, when he served as a representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses. About this time, too, he began building Monticello, the lovely home perched on a densely wooded summit that became a lifelong obsession. He learned architecture from books, above all from the Renaissance Italian Andrea Palladio. Yet Monticello, like the many other buildings Jefferson designed over the years, was a uniquely personal creation. Dissatisfied with the first version, completed in 12 years, Jefferson later rebuilt it. Monticello assumed its ultimate form about the time he retired from the presidency.

His Philosophy

Jefferson rose to fame in the councils of the American Revolution. Insofar as the Revolution was a philosophical event, he was its most articulate spokesman, having absorbed the thought of the 18th-century Enlightenment. He believed in a beneficent natural order in the moral as in the physical world, freedom of inquiry in all things, and man's inherent capacity for justice and happiness, and he had faith in reason, improvement, and progress.

Jefferson's political thought would become the quintessence of Enlightenment liberalism, though it had roots in English law and government. The tradition of the English constitution gave concreteness to American patriot claims, even a color of legality to revolution itself, that no other modern revolutionaries have possessed. Jefferson used the libertarian elements of the English legal tradition for ideological combat with the mother country. He also separated the principles of English liberty from their corrupted forms in the empire of George III and identified these principles with nascent American ideals. In challenging the oppressions of the empire, Americans like Jefferson came to recognize their claims to an independent nationality.

Jefferson's most important contribution to the revolutionary debate was A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774). He argued that Americans, as sons of expatriate Englishmen, possessed the same natural rights to govern themselves as their Saxon ancestors had exercised when they migrated to England from Germany. Only with the reign of George III had the violations of American rights proved to be "a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery." Though the logic of his argument pointed to independence, Jefferson instead set forth the theory of an empire of equal self-governing states under a common king and appealed to George III to rule accordingly.

Declaration of Independence

The Revolution had begun when Jefferson took his seat in the Second Continental Congress, at Philadelphia, in June 1775. He brought to the Congress, as John Adams recalled, "a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent for composition." It was chiefly as a legislative draftsman that he would make his mark. His great work was the Declaration of Independence. In June 1776 he was surprised to find himself at the head of the committee to prepare this paper. He submitted a rough draft to Adams and Benjamin Franklin, two of the committee, who suggested only minor changes, revised it to Jefferson's satisfaction, and sent it to Congress. Congress debated it line by line for 2 1/2 days. Though many changes were made, the Declaration that emerged on July 4 bore the unmistakable stamp of Jefferson. It possessed that "peculiar felicity of expression" for which he was noted.

The Declaration of Independence crisply set forth the bill of particular grievances against the reigning sovereign and compressed a whole cosmology, a political philosophy, and a national creed in one paragraph. The truths declared to be "self-evident" were not new; as Jefferson later said, his purpose was "not to find out new principles, or new arguments …, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject." But here, for the first time in history, these truths were laid at the foundation of a nation. Natural equality, the inalienable rights of man, the sovereignty of the people, the right of revolution—these principles endowed the American Revolution with high purpose united to a theory of government.

In Virginia

Jefferson returned to Virginia and to his seat in the reconstituted legislature. A constitution had been adopted for the commonwealth, but it was distressingly less democratic than the one Jefferson had drafted and dispatched to Williamsburg. He sought now to achieve liberal reforms by ordinary legislation. Most of these were contained in his comprehensive Revision of the Laws. Although the code was never enacted in entirety, the legislature went over the bills one by one. Of first importance was the Statute for Religious Freedom. Enacted in 1786, the statute climaxed the long campaign for separation of church and state in Virginia. Though Jefferson was responsible for the abolition of property laws that were merely relics of feudalism, his bill for the reform of Virginia's barbarous criminal code failed, and for the sake of expediency he withheld his plan for gradual emancipation of the slaves. Jefferson was sickened by the defeat of his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge. A landmark in the history of education, it proposed a complete system of public education, with elementary schools available to all, the gifted to be educated according to their ability.

Jefferson became Virginia's governor in June 1779. The Revolutionary War had entered a new phase. The British decision to "unravel the thread of rebellion from the southward" would, if successful, have made Virginia the crucial battleground. Jefferson struggled against enormous odds to aid the southern army. He was also handicapped by the weakness of his office under the constitution and by his personal aversion to anything bordering on dictatorial rule.

Early in 1781 the British invaded Virginia from the coast, slashed through to Richmond, and put the government to flight. Jefferson acted with more vigor than before, still to no avail. In May, Gen. Charles Cornwallis marched his army into Virginia. The government moved to safer quarters at Charlottesville. The Redcoats followed, and 2 days after his term of office expired but before a successor could be chosen, Jefferson was chased from Monticello. The General Assembly resolved to inquire into Jefferson's conduct, and months after the British surrender at Yorktown, he attended the legislature on this business. But no inquiry was held, the Assembly instead voting him resolution of thanks for his services.

Nevertheless, wounded by the criticism, Jefferson resolved to quit public service. A series of personal misfortunes, culminating in his wife's death in September 1782, plunged him into gloom. Yet her death finally returned him to his destiny. The idealized life he had sought in his family, farms, and books was suddenly out of reach. That November he eagerly accepted congressional appointment to the peace commission in Paris. He never sailed, however, and wound up in Congress instead.

During his retirement Jefferson had written his only book, Note on the State of Virginia. The inquiry had begun simply, but it grew as Jefferson worked. He finally published the manuscript in a private edition in Paris (1785). Viewed in the light of 18th-century knowledge, the book is work of natural and civil history, uniquely interesting as a guide to Jefferson's mind and to his native country. He expressed opinions on a variety of subjects, from cascades and caverns to constitutions and slavery. An early expression of American nationalism, the book acted as a catalyst in several fields of intellectual activity. It also ensured Jefferson a scientific and literary reputation on two continents.

Service in Congress

In Congress from November 1783 to the following May, Jefferson laid the foundations of national policy in several areas. His proposed decimal system of coinage was adopted. He drafted the first ordinance of government for the western territory, wherein free and equal republican states would be created out of the wilderness; and his land ordinance, adopted with certain changes in 1785, projected the rectilinear survey system of the American West.

Jefferson also took a leading part in formulating foreign policy. The American economy rested on foreign commerce and navigation. Cut adrift from the British mercantile system, Congress had pursued free trade to open foreign markets, but only France had been receptive. The matter became urgent in 1783-1784. Jefferson helped reformulate a liberal commercial policy, and in 1784 he was appointed to a three-man commission (with Adams and Franklin) to negotiate treaties of commerce with the European powers.

Minister to France

In Paris, Jefferson's first business was the treaty commission; in 1785 he succeeded Franklin as minister to France. The commission soon expired, and Jefferson focused his commercial diplomacy on France. In his opinion, France offered imposing political support for the United States in Europe as well as an entering wedge for the free commercial system on which American wealth and power depended. Louis XVI's foreign minister seemed well disposed, and influential men in the French capital were ardent friends of the American Revolution. Jefferson won valuable concessions for American commerce; however, because France realized few benefits in return, Britain maintained its economic ascendancy.

His duties left Jefferson time to haunt bookstores, frequent fashionable salons, and indulge his appetite for art, music, and theater. He toured the south of France and Italy, England, and the Rhineland. He interpreted the New World to the Old. Some of this activity had profound effects. For instance, his collaboration with a French architect in the design of the classical Roman Capitol of Virginia inaugurated the classical revival in American architecture.

About Europe generally, Jefferson expressed ambivalent feelings. But on balance, the more he saw of Europe, the dearer his own country became. "My God!" he exclaimed. "How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy. I confess I had no idea of it myself…."

Secretary of State

On Jefferson's return to America in 1789, President Washington prevailed upon him to become secretary of state. For the next 3 years he was chiefly engaged in fruitless negotiations with the European powers. With Spain he sought to fix the southern United States boundary and secure free navigation of the Mississippi River through Spanish territory to the Gulf of Mexico. With Britain he sought removal of English troops from the Northwest and settlement of issues left over from the peace treaty. In this encounter he was frustrated by the secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose ascendancy in the government also checked Jefferson's and James Madison's efforts for commercial discrimination against Britain and freer trade with France. In Jefferson's opinion, Hamilton's fiscal system turned on British trade, credit, and power, while his own system turned on commercial liberation, friendship with France, and the success of the French Revolution. Hamilton's measures would enrich the few at the expense of the many, excite speculation and fraud, concentrate enormous power in the Treasury, and break down the restraints of the Constitution. To combat these tendencies, Jefferson associated himself with the incipient party opposition in Congress.

Developing Political Parties

As the party division deepened, Jefferson was denounced by the Federalists as the "generalissimo" of the Republican party, a role he neither possessed nor coveted but, finally, could not escape. When war erupted between France and Britain in 1793, the contrary dispositions of the parties toward these nations threatened American peace. Jefferson attempted to use American neutrality to force concessions from Britain and to improve cooperation between the embattled republics of the Atlantic world. In this he was embarrassed by Edmond Genet, the French minister to the United States, and finally had to abandon him altogether. The deterioration of Franco-American relations did irreparable damage to Jefferson's political system.

Jefferson resigned his post at the end of 1793, again determined to quit public life. But in 1796 the Republicans made him their presidential candidate against John Adams. Losing by three electoral votes, Jefferson became vice president. When the "XYZ affair" threatened to plunge the United States into war with France in 1798, Jefferson clung to the hope of peace and, in the developing war hysteria, rallied the Republicans around him. Enactment of the Alien and Sedition Laws convinced him that the Federalists aimed to annihilate the Republicans and that the Republicans' only salvation lay in political intervention by the state authorities. On this basis he drafted the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, in which he elaborated the theory of the Union as a compact among the several states, declared the Alien and Sedition Laws unconstitutional, and prescribed the remedy of state "nullification" for such assumptions of power by the central government. Kentucky did not endorse this specific doctrine, but the defense of civil liberties was now joined to the defense of state rights. Though the celebrated resolutions did not force a change of policy, by contributing to the rising public clamor against the administration they achieved their political purpose.

President of the United States

Republicans doubled their efforts to elect the "man of the people" in the unusually bitter campaign of 1800. Jefferson topped Adams in the electoral vote. But because his running mate, Aaron Burr, received an equal number of votes, the final decision went to the House of Representatives. Only after 36 ballots was Jefferson elected.

Jefferson became president on March 4, 1801, in the new national capital, Washington, D.C. His inaugural address—a political touchstone for a century or longer— brilliantly summed up the Republican creed and appealed for the restoration of harmony and affection. "We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists." Jefferson extended the hand of friendship to the Federalists and, although Federalists monopolized the Federal offices, he attempted to limit his removals of them. Even after party pressures forced him to revise this strategy, moderation characterized his course.

Reform was the order of the day. Working effectively with Congress, Jefferson restored freedom of the press; lowered the residency period of the law of naturalization to 5 years; scaled down the Army and Navy (despite a war against Barbary piracy); repealed the partisan Judiciary Act of 1801; abolished all internal taxes, together with a host of revenue offices; and began the planned retirement of the debt. The Jeffersonian reformation was bottomed on fiscal policy; by reducing the means and powers of government, it sought to further peace, equality, and individual freedom.

The President's greatest triumph—and his greatest defeat—came in foreign affairs. Spain's cession of Louisiana and the port of New Orleans to France in 1800 posed a serious threat to American security, especially to the aspirations of the West. Jefferson skillfully negotiated this crisis. With the Louisiana Purchase (1803), America gained an uncharted domain of some 800,000 square miles, doubling its size, for $11,250,000. Even before the treaty was signed, Jefferson planned an expedition to explore this country. The Lewis and Clark expedition, like the Louisiana Purchase, was a spectacular consummation of Jefferson's western vision.

Easily reelected in 1804, Jefferson soon encountered foreign and domestic troubles. His relations with Congress degenerated as Republicans quarreled among themselves. Especially damaging was the insurgency of John Randolph, formerly Republican leader in the House. And former vice president Aaron Burr mounted an insurgency in the West; but Jefferson crushed this and, with difficulty, maintained control of Congress. The turbulence of the Napoleonic Wars, with American ships and seamen ravaged in the neutral trade, proved too difficult. France was not blameless, but Britain was the chief aggressor.

Finally there appeared to be no escape from war except by withdrawing from the oceans. In December 1807 the President proposed, and Congress enacted, a total embargo on America's seagoing commerce. More than an alternative to war, the embargo was a test of the power of commercial coercion in international disputes. On the whole, it was effectively enforced, but it failed to bring Britain or France to justice, and the mounting costs at home led to its repeal by Congress in the waning hours of Jefferson's presidency.

Active Retirement

In retirement Jefferson became the "Sage of Monticello," the most revered—by some the most hated—among the remaining Revolutionary founders. He maintained a large correspondence and intellectual pursuits on a broad front. Unfinished business from the Revolution drew his attention, such as revision of the Virginia constitution and gradual emancipation of slaves. But the former would come only after his death, and the failure of the latter would justify his worst fears. He revived his general plan of public education. Again the legislature rejected it, approving, however, a major part, the state university. Jefferson was the master planner of the University of Virginia in all its parts, from the grounds and buildings to the curriculum, faculty, and rules of governance. He died at Monticello on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1826.

Further Reading

There are several editions of Jefferson's writings: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Paul Leicester Ford (10 vols., 1892-1899); The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh (20 vols. in 10; 1905); and Papers, edited by Julian P. Boyd and others (17 vols., 1950-1965). The Boyd work, though complete only to November 1790, is the best edition; a good companion piece is The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Edwin Morris Betts and James Adam Bear, Jr. (1966).

The major biography is Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time (4 vols., 1948-1970), complete to 1805 and still in process. Less comprehensive is Merrill D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (1970). Accounts of Jefferson's elections are given in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). Jefferson as president is brilliantly, if not quite fairly, portrayed in the first four volumes of Henry Adams, History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison (9 vols., 1889-1891).

Other studies of Jefferson's life and thought include Fiske Kimball, Thomas Jefferson: Architect (1916); Roy J. Honeywell, The Educational Work of Thomas Jefferson (1931); Adrienne Koch, The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (1943); Karl Lehman, Thomas Jefferson: American Humanist (1947); Daniel J. Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948); Edwin T. Martin, Thomas Jefferson: Scientist (1952); Caleb Perry Patterson, The Constitutional Principles of Thomas Jefferson (1953); Phillips Russell, Jefferson: Champion of the Free Mind (1956); and Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (1960). Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: A Profile (1967), collects essays by historians of Jefferson's era as well as modern ones. Jonathan Daniels, Ordeal of Ambition: Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr (1970), an account of the intertwining political careers of these three, is part biography and part history. □

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Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas



Thomas Jefferson (174–1826), premier philosopher of American democracy, was born in Shadwell, Virginia. The first son of a leading planter, he grew up in a simple society a stage removed from the frontier and was educated to the responsibilities of leadership in the Virginia manner. He attended the College of William and Mary, 1760–1762, and thereafter studied law with the learned George Wythe at the provincial capital of Williamsburg, being admitted to the bar in 1767. He became a proficient scholar in English law and also in the Greek and Roman classics. The latter, together with his study of modern rationalists (Locke, Bolingbroke, Shaftesbury, Lord Kames, and others, primarily English and Scottish) undermined his inherited Anglican faith and converted him to a deistic natural religion. Natural religion, English law, and ancient philosophy were the well-springs of his political thought.

First elected to the Virginia legislature in 1769, Jefferson played a prominent part in the coming of the American Revolution. His “Summary View of the Rights of British America,” 1774, was one of the earliest denials of the English Parliament’s right to legislate for the American colonies. In 1776, as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, he drafted the Declaration of Independence, a brilliant first statement of the principles of American government and, indeed, of democratic revolution the world over. The Declaration appealed to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” for justification of American independence.

The fundamental principles of Jefferson’s political theory were included in the philosophical second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The principles were not original. They were Lockean by and large, and so generally accepted by American patriots in 1776 that Jefferson himself later said he had only attempted “to place before mankind the common sense of the subject” (letter to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, inThe Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 16, p. 118). But the founding of American independence upon the philosophy of the rights of man helped to make the first great colonial revolt of modern times the first great democratic revolution as well.

Jefferson is not to be considered primarily as a political theorist but rather as an enlightened statesman engaged in the practical task of implementing liberal principles in the government of the new nation. Political philosophers, although they had written of “the sovereignty of the people,” had not considered the mundane means and contrivances necessary to realize it. Jefferson joined with other American leaders in working out the solution to this problem. It was found, basically, in the constitutional convention, a product not of abstract theory but of developing practice in the American states under the trying conditions of the Revolutionary War. In 1776 Jefferson drafted a constitution for his native state. The reforms it sought, its notably democratic provisions for suffrage and representation, were in advance of republican opinion, and it had little influence on the frame of government ultimately adopted. Subsequently, as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1776–1779, he achieved a number of far-reaching reforms in connection with a general revision of the laws of the commonwealth. The laws of entail and primogeniture were abolished, the criminal code liberalized, the Anglican church disestablished, and religion freed of all state connection. Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, finally passed in 1786 under the auspices of his good friend and closest political associate, James Madison. Religious freedom he regarded as an absolute right. Its exercise, being wholly a matter of private conscience, injured no one and admitted neither protection nor support from the state. He rejected toleration, which implied an official or preferred religion, and demanded complete religious liberty together with entire separation of church and state. Despite the anticlerical tone of his argument, its animus was friendly, not hostile, to religion and thus unlike the anticlericalism of European liberals. Religious freedom was ostensibly the subject of the famous statute; actually, however, Jefferson widened its scope and made it a ringing manifesto of freedom of inquiry in all fields of intellectual endeavor.

Jefferson’s faith in democracy and human progress was one with his faith in education. The people were the only safe depositories of their liberties and happiness, always provided they were sufficiently educated. And he wrote characteristically: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” (letter to Colonel Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816, in ibid., vol. 14, p. 384). Education is, therefore, a paramount responsibility of republican government. His Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, 1779, provided for three distinct grades of education, the whole system rising like a pyramid from its base in the elementary schools of the local communities to its summit in the state university. (The bill was rejected by the Virginia legislature.) In his theory and plan of public education, Jefferson made one of his most enduring contributions to the democratic polity.

Jefferson was governor of Virginia during two difficult war years, 1779–1781. Then he retired for a few years and completed most of his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, first published in Paris in 1785. Although primarily a work of natural history, which established his reputation as a scientist and philosopher on two continents, it also circulated his political ideas. He was elected to Congress from his state in 1783. There he drafted the Ordinance of 1784, the first plan of government for the immense western domain extending to the Mississippi River. It called for the organization of these lands into many new republican states; after progressing through easy stages of “territorial” government, they would be admitted to the Union on equal footing with the original states. Reflecting the anticolonialism of the new nation, Jefferson’s plan laid the basis for an expanding nation—“an empire of liberty”—in the multiplication of self-governing states.

Jefferson’s statesmanship was often informed by the reason of the Enlightenment. His plan for the introduction of the decimal system in the nation’s coinage, adopted in 1785, was a landmark in world monetary history. Later, as secretary of state, he followed up the principles earlier enunciated in his report on weights and measures of 1790. Here he proposed a comprehensive system of weights, measures, and currency, all based on a universal standard derived from nature and grounded in the simplest arithmetic. The idea was a commonplace of the Enlightenment, but seldom had statesmen acted as natural philosophers. Congress did not adopt Jefferson’s plan; only revolutionary France, by adopting the metric system, registered progress in this area.

As American minister to France, 1785–1789, Jefferson witnessed the coming of the French Revolution. Closely associated with liberal circles in Paris, he sympathized with their aspirations for reform of the Bourbon monarchy but did not believe France was ready for a republican government on the American model. His observation of French society convinced him that although the principles of human rights were universally valid, the form of government must be tailored to the conditions of a given society. The main effect of his experience abroad was to make him better aware of the unique advantages of American society and to strengthen his commitment to the national union as an instrument of American power and freedom in a hostile world. Yet the progress of the French Revolution also tended to give greater intellectual organization to his political beliefs; and this was eventually reflected in the ideology of the Democratic Republican party which he later led.

In 1789, in the midst of revolutionary ferment, he wrote a long epistolary disquisition on the idea “’that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living’ that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it” (letter to James Madison, September 6, 1789, Jefferson [1760–1826] 1904–1905, vol. 6, pp. 3–4). It was evidently a favorite idea of Jefferson’s Paris physician, an elderly Englishman and friend of philosophes, Dr. Richard Gem. But it had been germinating in Jefferson’s mind for some time, primarily as a response to the European situation, where the laws of property had so far trespassed upon human rights as to make misery an endemic disease, to negate the “sovereignty of the living generation,” and to invite violent revolution as the only remedy. Consulting the mortality tables, he calculated the life of a generation (19 years) and then argued that none could impose its constitution and laws upon another, or contract debts to be paid by another, or bind its successors by obligations of any kind. This formulation of the principle that generations, as well as individuals, have natural rights, together with the mathematical application of it to the fundamental conditions of civil society, was at once the most original and the most radical of Jefferson’s political ideas. Thomas Paine took it up, perhaps independently, and employed it in his famous controversy with Edmund Burke on the French Revolution. Although he was addressing a foreign situation, Jefferson advocated the doctrine for America as well. It became a permanent fixture of his thought and, while never applied with any exactitude, it entered into the progressive spirit of American institutions.

As the first secretary of state, 1790–1793, under the new national government, Jefferson made important contributions to the law of nations. Believing that sovereign nations are bound by the same moral code as individuals, he worked for the establishment of liberal rules of conduct and the extension of free and pacific intercourse in international affairs. From the principle of popular sovereignty he deduced a new test of the legitimacy of a government: The will of the nation substantially declared. He considered expatriation a natural right, advocated a system of mutual naturalization, worked for free trade, sought concerted action against piratical enemies of mankind, and, in 1793, defined the rights and duties of neutrals more clearly than had been done before. All this expressed his sense of the bonds among nations. His hopes for international cooperation were disappointed, of course, and increasingly he himself was forced to curtail the international references of his political creed and to concentrate on securing the peace and independence of the United States against the dangers of European war and politics.

He was elected president in 1800 after a bitter partisan campaign between Federalists and Democratic Republicans. As vice-president from 1797 to 1801 he had become the acknowledged head of the Republicans in opposition to policies, so he believed, of centralization, economic privilege, war, and political coercion in the Federalist administration. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 provoked him to draft the Kentucky Resolutions, which asserted the right of a state to “nullify” unconstitutional acts of the federal government. He had long associated responsible republican government with the decentralization and diffusion of political power, involving in the United States strict adherence to the federal constitution and protection of the reserved rights of the states. The Kentucky Resolutions were an extreme statement of this “states’ rights” doctrine. Directed against oppressive legislation, they were fraught with unfortunate consequences for the American Union that Jefferson did not anticipate in 1798 [seeConstitutional law]. His party leadership had more constructive effects. The Federalist party was a “government party,” narrowly based on elite groups and intolerant of opposition. Jefferson and his friends went outside the government to build a more broadly based political organization. The success of the Democratic Republicans in 1800 was revolutionary in the sense that it set the course for continuing democratic change in the American political system. Through agitation of public opinion, party organization, and popular elections, change without destruction became possible. The significance, both historical and theoretical, of this development is not lessened by the fact that it was largely unconscious and only brought to completion at a later day.

Jefferson’s presidency, 1801–1809, is chiefly memorable for, first, the Louisiana Purchase, 1803, which gave vast new scope to the “empire of liberty,” and, second, the Embargo Act, 1807–1809, which employed economic coercion on an unprecedented national scale to enforce American claims upon the belligerent European powers. It failed, although not without demonstrating the utility of “peaceable coercion” in international disputes.

Jefferson retired to Monticello—the superb architectural expression of his genius—in 1809. A Virginia farmer and agriculturist, he owned and worked several plantations. His last years were devoted to the establishment of the University of Virginia, which he conceived, planned, and supervised in every detail. He died at Monticello on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1826.

Merrill D. Peterson

[See alsoDemocracy; Presidential government.]


(1760’1826) 1950— Papers. Vols. 1—. Edited by Julian P. Boyd. Princeton Univ. Press. → To be published in 60 volumes.

(1760–1826) 1904–1905 Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Collected and edited by Paul L. Ford. 12 vols. New York: Putnam. → Known as The Federal edition.

The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. 20 vols. Edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and A. Ellery Bergh. Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1905.


Boorstin, Daniel J. 1948 The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Holt.

Chinard, Gilbert (1929) 1939 Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism. 2d ed. rev. Boston: Little. → A paperback edition was published in 1952 by the University of Michigan Press.

Koch, Adrienne (1943) 1957 The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.

Lehmann, Karl 1947 Thomas Jefferson: American Humanist. New York: Macmillan.

Malone, Dumas 1948–1962 Jefferson and His Time. 3 vols. Boston: Little. → Volume 1: Jefferson the Virginian. Volume 2: Jefferson and the Rights of Man. Volume 3: Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty.

Peterson, Merrill D. 1960 The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962.

Wiltse, Charles M. 1935 The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Hill & Wang.

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Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)


Member of congress, secretary of state, vice president and president of the united states

Unlikely Democrat. Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father most associated with the democratic ideals that have become the basis of American society, was an unlikely champion of democracy. This slaveowning Virginia aristocrat was most definitely not one of the common people, but he put his faith in the power of reason, science, and education to enlighten the common people so that they could be trusted with the political power to establish a democratic republic that would protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Early Career. Thomas Jefferson was born on 13 April 1743 at Shadwell, his familys farm in Albemarle County, Virginia. His father, Peter Jefferson, was a self-made man, a slaveowning planter, surveyor, mapmaker, justice of the peace, and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was from one of Virginias oldest and most prominent families, guaranteeing Jefferson a privileged position in colonial society. Jefferson spent most of his childhood at Tuckahoe, the plantation of his mothers late cousin William Randolph, where his father acted as guardian of Randolphs children. His education began at age five at Tuckahoe, followed by attendance at the Latin school of Rev. William Douglas beginning at age nine. At fourteen, after his fathers death, Jefferson prepared for college under the direction of Rev. James Maury. At the College of William and Mary (17601762) Dr. William Small introduced Jefferson to the world of science, mathematics, and the Enlightenment, a European philosophical movement stressing the use of reason and observation to understand the natural world and human behavior. After college Jefferson studied law with George Wythe. He practiced law from 1767 to 1774 and managed his inheritance of nearly five thousand acres of land and twenty-two slaves. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a young widow and daughter of a prosperous lawyer, and brought her to live at Monticello, the home he had begun building in 1770 after fire destroyed his family home.

Revolutionary Leadership. As a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 to 1775, Jefferson joined a group of younger men, including Patrick Henry, who led Virginias resistance to British rule. Never an eloquent speaker, Jefferson was more persuasive in legislative committees and in his writing. In 1772 he helped draw up resolves proposing an intercolonial system of committee of correspondence. In 1774 he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which anticipated much of his argument in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson asserted that Parliament has no right to exercise authority over us, that King George III was no more than the chief officer of the people and consequently subject to their superintendance, and that the colonists possessed rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their free magistrate. In 1776 Jeffersons Reputation of a masterly Pen won him the assignment of drafting the Declaration of Independence for Congress. Years later Jefferson wrote that the Declaration was intended to be an expression of the American mind. The principles of equality, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the consent of the governed that he proclaimed in the Declaration have become the most cherished beliefs in American society.

Return Home. Jefferson returned to Virginia in September 1776 and spent the next three years in the House of Delegates revising Virginias laws. He drafted 126 bills aimed at creating a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient and future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican. Jefferson introduced bills abolishing inheritance laws that perpetuated an aristocracy based on birth and wealth and a bill establishing complete freedom of religion. He also proposed the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, which recommended state funding for educating the most promising male scholars through college in order to create a natural aristocracy, but the only part of the bill that survived in 1796 was authorization for three years of public education for all children. His bills on religious freedom and education reflected Jeffersons belief in the necessity of freedom of thought and an educated citizenry to support republican government. From 1779 to 1781 Jefferson was governor of Virginia. He endured great difficulty balancing the demands of supplying arms, men, and money for the national war effort while defending the state from imminent invasion. On 4 June 1781 Jefferson barely avoided capture when the British raided Monticello. His term of office having expired two days earlier, Jefferson moved his family to safety instead of waiting for the legislature to choose a new governor on 12 June. In December the legislature absolved Jefferson of any wrongdoing, but during the presidential election of 1800 his opponents charged Jefferson with cowardice and dereliction of duty as governor.

Short Retirement. From 1781 to 1783 Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia in response to questions from François Marbois, secretary to the French minister in Philadelphia. In a wide-ranging analysis that included observations on climate, geography, and Native Americans; a catalogue of native minerals, trees, flowers, and animals; and criticism of inadequate political representation in Virginia, Jefferson also revealed his complex thoughts about slavery. He condemned slavery, but he also thought that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites. The real distinctions which nature has made between the races convinced him that the only solution was gradual emancipation and colonization. Mrs. Jeffersons death in September 1782 destroyed Jeffersons happy return to private life and scholarly study. He accepted a term in Congress in 1783 and made several important contributions, including proposals for extending republican government and prohibiting slavery in the western territories. In May 1784 Congress appointed him minister plenipotentiary to assist John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in negotiating commercial treaties in Europe, and the following year he replaced Franklin as minister to France. During his five years of diplomatic service, Jefferson gained commercial concessions from Prussia and France. He also witnessed the beginning of the French Revolution, which had a significant impact on his political ideas. He returned to America determined to create a republican government that would remove the economic, social, and political inequalities that had led to the French Revolution.

Secretary of State. When Jefferson brought his two daughters home in November 1789, he intended to return to France. Instead, he agreed to become secretary of state. Jeffersons certainty that only a nation of small, property-owning farmers would have the independence to make political decisions and preserve republican government guided his foreign policy. In Jeffersons view Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamiltons financial policies imposed an unfair burden on taxpaying farmers. Deprived of their property, farmers would fall under the political control of men upon whom they relied for their economic survival, resulting in political corruption, class conflict, and revolution. Hamilton, however, envisioned the United States as a commercial nation in close alliance with Britain, and he used every opportunity to push his foreign policy objectives. Jefferson wanted to be forceful with Britain, using commercial discrimination and American neutrality as negotiating tactics to persuade Britain to evacuate its posts in the Northwest, grant commercial concessions, and respect Americas rights on the high seas. But Jefferson lost his bargaining power after Hamilton blocked tariff discrimination against Britain in Congress and held meetings with British diplomats, during which he criticized Jeffersons policies and assured them that the United States wanted a friendly relationship with Britain. In 1793 Jefferson thwarted Hamiltons attempt to break the 1778 treaty of alliance with France and gained diplomatic recognition for the first minister of the French republic to ensure that the United States would maintain a fair neutrality in the war between Britain and France. Bitter political divisions drove Jefferson from office in December 1793, but those same divisions guaranteed his return to public service.

Vice President. President George Washingtons decision not to seek a third term ended Jeffersons retirement. Jefferson thought that James Madison, his close friend and the driving force in the Republican Party, was the logical choice to oppose John Adams in the presidential election of 1796, but Madison pushed for Jeffersons candidacy. Adamss victory, however, put Jefferson in the uncomfortable position of being a Republican vice president in a Federalist administration. With no influence over policy, Jefferson carried out his duties as presiding officer of the Senate. He also began preparing a manual of parliamentary practice, which was published in 1801 and is still used in the Senate. Madisons retirement from Congress in 1797 made Jefferson the leader of the Republican Party, and he willingly accepted the responsibility. Just a few months before he died Jefferson proudly recalled his role as vice president in heading opposition to the federal principles and proceedings, during the administration of Mr. Adams. While the Federalists were leading the nation into war with France and depriving the people of liberty through the establishment of a large standing army, the imposition of high taxes, and especially the Alien and Sedition Acts, he and Albert Gallatin, leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, kept Republicans in Congress united until the state legislatures acted to protect the people from Federalist tyranny. Jefferson did not claim credit for writing the Kentucky Resolutions, but he stated that the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions saved the constitution at its last gasp. In 1800 Vice President Jefferson was an effective, behind-the-scenes campaigner for the presidency, circulating his partys political principles through pamphlets, newspapers, and letters.

President. Jeffersons fondness for philosophical study and his preference for communicating political ideas privately rather than through public debate led Federalists to predict that Jefferson would be a weak, indecisive, and deceitful president. President Jefferson exhibited a flexibility in adapting his principles to execute his goals that caused Federalists to denounce him as an untrustworthy demagogue. However, Jefferson, president of the American Philosophical Society from 1791 to 1815, believed that philosophical principles were useless unless they had a practical application. His persuasiveness in private meetings, conversations, letters, and written addresses allowed him to convey his ideas effectively to the public, coordinate policies with his cabinet, and supervise the passage of legislation through the Republican-controlled Congress. In Jeffersons first term (18011805) the repeal of internal taxes; reductions in the army, navy, and federal expenses; and the expiration of the Sedition Act conformed to his principles of restoring a republican government that protected liberty, equality of opportunity, freedom of conscience, and consent of the governed. In 1803 Federalists attacked the Louisiana Purchase as a hypocritical abandonment of Jeffersons strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. For Jefferson the Louisiana Purchase required him to modify his strict constructionist philosophy in order to achieve his goal of establishing an Empire of Libertyan American republic of independent, property-owning farmers. The Embargo Act of 1807 was the great failure of Jeffersons second term (18051809) because he never clearly communicated to Congress or the public whether the embargo was a delaying tactic until the nation was prepared for war or an alternative to war. In addition Jefferson, the advocate of limited government, came under attack by Federalists for an extraordinary expansion of executive authority to enforce the embargo, including the use of the army, navy, and militia. President Jefferson, weary and disappointed by his second term, looked forward to retiring to Monticello.

The Sage of Monticello. Jefferson retired to his beloved Monticello in 1809, surrounded by his daughter and her family. His grandchildren always remembered him with a book in his hand, and when he and John Adams reconciled in 1812, many of their letters involved discussions of books on philosophy and religion. Presidents Madison and James Monroe consulted him for political advice, and a steady stream of visitors came for an audience with The Sage of Monticello. He experimented with several agricultural techniques and other economic ventures in attempts to revive his estate. In his final years Jefferson became less hopeful about the eventual abolition of slavery and more pessimistic about the federal governments consolidation of power. Yet Jefferson put his faith in reason, science, and education to enlighten his fellow citizens and improve the rights of man. Jeffersons final achievement was the establishment of the University of Virginia in March 1825. He spent years designing buildings, planning curricula, and choosing faculty for the university, which fulfilled his belief that a democracy required educated citizens. When Thomas Jefferson died on 4 July 1826, he wanted to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and as the Father of the University of Virginia.


Noble E. Cunningham Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987);

Adrienne Koch, ed., Great Lives Observed: Jefferson (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971);

Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, 6 volumes (Boston: Little, Brown, 19481981).

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Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas

(b. Goochland [now Albemarle] County, Virginia, 13 April 1743; d. Albemarle County, 4 July 1826)

agriculture, botany, cartography, diplomacy, ethnology, meteorology, paleontology, surveying, technology.

Jefferson was the elder son of Peter Jefferson, a land developer and surveyor, and of Jane Randolph, a member of a distinguished Virginia family. He was born at Shadwell, Peter Jefferson’s home on the edge of western settlement, and spent part of his early life there. Seven years of his boyhood were spent at Tuckahoe, William Randolph’s estate, which Peter Jefferson administered after Randolph’s death.

Jefferson received his early schooling, including instruction in Latin, Greek, French, and mathematics, from the Reverend William Douglas and later from the Reverend James Maury, grandfather of Matthew Fontaine Maury. In March 1760 he entered the school of philosophy of the College of William and Mary, where he continued his interest in mathematics as well as other sciences in hiscourse of studies with the Reverend William Small, professor of natural philosophy. Small exercised considerable influence over Jefferson’s academic interests as well as the direction of his future. The warm friendship that developed between them brought Jefferson into close association with George Wythe, a lawyer, and with the lieutenant-governor of the province, Francis Fauquier. He shared many common interests, including science, with each of them.

In 1762 Jefferson left the College of William and Mary to read for the law in Wythe’s law office at Williamsburg for the next five years. The close contact that he maintained with his three friends during this period was marred only by Small’s return to England in 1764;and it was this association which led Jefferson into his pursuit of the sciences. He was admitted to the bar in 1767 and successfully practiced law at Williamsburg until 1769, when he was elected to the House of Burgesses. In 1770 he was appointed county lieutenant of Albemarle, and on 1 January 1772 he was married to Martha Wayles Skelton. During the next decade they had six daughters, only three of whom survived their mother, who died in 1782. Jefferson never remarried.

In 1773 Jefferson was appointed county surveyor of Albemarle County, with the right to name a deputy. This appears to have been a political appointment, for although he made a number of surveys of his own properties and those of friends during his life, there is no evidence that he practiced as a professional surveyor.

Jefferson served in the House of Burgesses until it ceased to function in 1775, and he was gradually drawn into the historic events that finally led to a call to arms. He was among those who drew up the resolves forming the provincial Committee of Correspondence, of which he was a member. Although he was unable to attend the Virginia Convention in 1774, he prepared a paper entitled “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which was later published and widely distributed although not adopted by the Convention. He was appointed to the Continental Congress in 1775 as Peyton Randolph’s alternate. Following the introduction of the resolution in the Congress by Richard Henry Lee on 7 June 1776, Jefferson was delegated with four others to draft a declaration of independence. Although it was subsequently modified by Franklin, Adams, and the Congress itself, the language of the document remained primarily Jefferson’s. In September 1776 he left the Congress to enter the House of Delegates, in which he served until 1 June 1779, when he was elected governor of Virginia. He served as governor for two terms, until 1 June 1781, then resigned and retired to his estate at Monticello. The following period of frustration and sadness was marked by the invasion of Monticello by British troops under Colonel Tarleton, an investigation by the Assembly into his administration as governor, the death of his wife in 1782, and finally his fall from a horse.

During this period Jefferson compiled his Notes on the State of Virginia from memoranda that he had been assembling for some time in reply to a series of questions about Virginia prepared by Barbé de Marbois, French representative to the United States. In his work he included statistics and descriptions of the geography, climate, flora and fauna, topography, ethnology, population, commercial production, and other aspects of the region. He took this opportunity also to combat assumptions made by the French naturalist Buffon concerning American animals and aborigines. Jefferson presented facts and arguments to refute Buffon’s conclusions and had the Notes printed in France in 1784-1785. An unauthorized French version was published in 1786;and the work was published in London and philadelphia in 1788. The Notes received wide acclaim as the first comprehensive study of any part of the United States and as one of the most important works derived from America to that time.

In June 1783 Jefferson was elected to the Continental Congress, in which he was active for the next two years. Among his most significant contributions of this period were a proposal entitled “Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit” and his reports on the western territory, which were subsequently used as a basis for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

In 1784 Jefferson was appointed with John Adams to assist Franklin in the negotiation of commerce treaties at Paris; and upon Franklin’s retirement in 1785 he succeeded him as minister to France, a post he retained until late 1789. During this period he was able to fulfill a dream of his youth and tour Europe. He observed the state of the sciences and new advances in technology, noting agricultural and mechanical innovations and labor-saving devices, all of which he reported to correspondents in America and a number of which he adapted for his own use at Monticello. He reported to James Madison the new “phosphoretic matches,” the invention of the Argand lamp, and various applications of steam power that had come to his attention. He envisaged steam not as the means to achieve an industrial revolution but rather as a supplementary source of power. He considered its primary application to be in navigation and for powering gristmills and small manufactures whichs would liberate manpower for increased agricultural pursuits.

The type of plough used by French peasants led Jefferson to design an improved moldboard, which he subsequently had constructed and tested successfully at Monticello. His moldboard achieved distinction in France and England and was widely used in America. He introduced dry rice to North Carolina and brought the olive tree and Merino sheep to America-he considered these among his major achievements. He was intrigued with the first French balloon ascensions and manufacture withy inter-changeable parts, and wrote of them to correspondents in America.

In 1790 Jefferson was appointed secretary of state by President Washington. He became the leader of the Republicans, a group opposed to Alexander Hamilton’s policies affecting foreign policy, national banking, and other major issues. During this period he was closely involved with President Washington in the survey of the Federal Territory for a national capital at Washington. He initiated measures for the establishment of a decimal system for a standard coinage and a system of weights and measures. He was instrumental in developing a system for granting patents; and when the law authorizing the issuance of patents was passed in 1790, he served as a member of the tribunal reviewing applications and was the keeper of records of patents granted.

Elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1780, Jefferson served on its committee to study the Hessian fly and in 1781 was elected a councillor. He became the Society’s vice-president in 1791 and in 1797 was elected its third president, succeeding David Rittenhouse. He was reelected each year until 1815, and remained a member of the Society until his death. His interest in paleontological studies developed with his acquisition and study of the fossilized bones of a ground sloth, which he named the Megalonyx; he presented a paper on them to the Society in 1797. The following year he read a paper on his moldboard. Both papers were subsequently published in the Society’s Transactions.

Jefferson became involved in the development of a plan for distribution of public lands in the west that was subsequently embodied in the Land Act of 1796.

In 1797 Jefferson became vice-president; and in 1801 he became the third president of the United States, the first to be inaugurated in Washington. During his two terms in office he repeatedly sponsored governmental support of science for the common good. Following the Louisiana Purchase, which he negotiated in 1803 and which nearly doubled the national area, he supported several expeditions to explore and report on unsettled lands. In 1803 he was responsible for a survey of Mississippi by Isaac Briggs, and in the same year he launched the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson was personally involved in many aspects of the preparations for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and providing detailed instructions for the selection of scientific equipment provided Jefferson and his administration with the support required to sponsor a second expedition, under Zebulon M. Pike, to explore the sources of the Mississippi River and western Louisiana. These projects, followed by other expeditions, led to the formation of the U. S> Geological Survey in 1879.

Shortly after Lewis and Clark returned, Jefferson directed his attention to a survey of American coasts, for which he submitted a recommendation to Congress in 1806. The Congress authorized the survey, which resulted in the formation of the United States Coast Survey (later the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey).

At the end of his second presidential term, Jefferson retired to Monticello. He dedicated himself to the improvement of education in Virginia, advocating a statewide system based on a proposal that he had initiated many years earlier. He worked to create the University of Virginia, which was finally chartered in 1819 and which opened in 1825. Jefferson played an important role in defining the university, and his efforts were a decisive factor in its establishment. He served on the first board of visitors and was elected rector, a position which he retained until his death. He was responsible in large part for the planning of the buildings and grounds, the organization of the schools within the university, and its curriculum of studies, in which the practical sciences were emphasized.

Jefferson died at the age of eighty-three, at 12:50 P.M. on 4 July 1826, several hours before the death of his friend John Adams. He was survived by only one of his daughters, Martha Randolph, and by eleven grandchildren and their progeny. He was interred in the family burial ground at Monticello, in a grave marked by a stone obelisk inscribed with words of his own choosing: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.”


I. Original Works. Jefferson was the author of one book and of two papers, which were read before the American Philosophical Society and published in its Transactions: Notes on the State of Virginia. . .(Paris, 1782; not published until 1784-1785), French trans. by Observations sur la Virginie (Paris, 1786); later eds. of English version were:(London, 1787, 1788), (Philadelphia, 1788, 1792, 1794, 1801, 1812, 1815, 1825), (Baltimore, 1800), (New York, 1801, 1804), (Newark, 1810), (Bostson, 1801, 1802, 1829, 1832), (Trenton, 1803, 1812), (Richmond, 1853); “A Memoir of the Discovery of Certain Bones of an Unknown Quadruped, of the Clawed Kind, in the Western Part of Virginia,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 4 (1799), 246-260; and “The Description of a Mould-Board of the Least Resistance and of the Easiest and Most Certain Certain Construction,” ibid., 313-322.

Two volumes based on Jefferson’s notes on specific subjects have also been published: Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, XXII (Philadelphia, 1944); and Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, XXXV (Philadelphia, 1953).

Collected writings include Julian P. Boyd and Lyman C. Butterfield, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 18 vols. (Princeton, 1950- ); Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Works of Thomas Jefferson, 12 vols. (New York, 1904);Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, eds., Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 vols. (Washington, D. C., 1903-1905); and H. A. Washington, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 9 vols. (Washington, D. C., 1853-1854).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Jefferson’ scientific pursuits include Daniel J. Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1948); William Elerey Curtis, The True Thomas Jefferson (Philadelphia, 1901), ch. 12; Edwin T. Martin, Thomas Jefferson, Scientist (New York, 1952); and Saul K. Padover, ed., Thomas Jefferson and the Nation’s Capital (Washington, D.C., 1946).

Silvio A. Bedini

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Jefferson, Thomas

Thomas Jefferson

Born: April 13, 1743
Shadwell, Virginia
Died: July 4, 1826
Monticello, Virginia

American president, philosopher, and statesman

The American philosopher and statesman Thomas Jefferson was the first secretary of state, the second vice president, and the third president of the United States. As president, Jefferson successfully negotiated, or bargained for the terms of, the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly doubled the country's size. A man of broad interests and activity, Jefferson remains an inspiration, for both his political accomplishments and his vision for America.

Young Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia, on April 13, 1743. His father had been among the earliest settlers in this wilderness country, and his position of leadership transferred to his oldest son, along with five thousand acres of land. Jefferson became one of the best-educated Americans of his time. At the age of seventeen he entered the College of William and Mary, where he got exciting first glimpses of "the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed." He read widely in the law, in the sciences, and in both ancient and modern history, philosophy, and literature.

Jefferson was admitted to the bar, or an association for lawyers, in 1767 and established a successful practice. When the American Revolution (179583) forced him to abandon his practice in 1774, he turned these legal skills to the rebel cause. Jefferson's public career began in 1769, when he served as a representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the nation's first elected body of government. About this time, he began building Monticello. Perched on a wooded summit, the lovely home would become a lifelong occupation. Monticello, like the many other buildings Jefferson designed over the years, was an original, personal creation.

His philosophy

Jefferson rose to fame as an effective spokesman during the American Revolution, and his political thought would become the centerpiece of liberalism, or a movement to develop freedoms, in America. In challenging the British Empire, Americans like Jefferson came to recognize their claims to an independent nation.

Jefferson's most important contribution to the revolutionary debate was "A Summary View of the Rights of British America" (1774). He argued that Americans possessed the same natural rights to govern themselves as their ancestors had exercised when they moved to England from Germany. Writings like Jefferson's, began to stir support for a revolution. Soon there would be no way of avoiding war with Great Britain.

The Declaration of Independence

The Revolutionary War (177583) had begun by the time Jefferson took his seat in the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in June 1775. The Congress brought together many of America's prominent political figures of the time. It was chiefly as a legislative draftsman, or legal writer, that Jefferson would make his mark, with his great work being the Declaration of Independence. Signed by most parties on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence formally announced that the American colonies were separating from Great Britain. In June 1776 Jefferson was surprised to find himself at the head of the committee to prepare this paper. He submitted a draft to John Adams (17351826) and Benjamin Franklin (17061790), who suggested only minor changes.

Although many changes were made in the end, the declaration that emerged on July 4 bore the unmistakable stamp of Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence clearly set forth the problems with British rule and expressed a political philosophy and a national faith in only one paragraph. Here, for the first time in history, ideas were laid as the foundation of a nation. Natural equality, the inalienable (or not able to be taken away) rights of man, the freedom of the people, the right of revolutionthese ideas gave the American Revolution high purpose.

In Virginia

Jefferson became Virginia's governor in June 1779 as the Revolutionary War had entered a new phase. The British decision to attack in the South would, if successful, have made Virginia the critical battleground. Jefferson struggled against huge odds to aid the southern army in defending its territory from the invading British.

Early in 1781 the British invaded Virginia from the coast, slashed through to Richmond, and put the government to flight. In May, General Charles Cornwallis (17381805) marched his army of British soldiers into Virginia, and the government moved to the safer city of Charlottesville, Virginia. The Redcoats, or British soldiers, followed, and Jefferson was chased from Monticello.

Wounded by the criticism of his retreat, Jefferson decided to quit public service. A series of personal setbacks, including his wife's death in September 1782, plunged him into gloom. It appeared the life he had sought in his family, farms, and books was suddenly out of reach. That November he eagerly accepted congressional appointment to the peace commission in Paris. He never sailed, however, and wound up in Congress instead.

Service in Congress

In Congress, from November 1783 to the following May, Jefferson laid the foundations of national policy in several areas. He drafted the first regulation of government for the western territory, where free and equal states would be created out of the wilderness. Jefferson also took a leading part in creating foreign policy. The American economy rested on foreign commerce, but only France was open to trade with America. In 1784 he was appointed to a three-man commission (with Adams and Franklin) to negotiate treaties of commerce with the other European powers. He then replaced Franklin as the representative to France and spent the next five years in Europe.

On Jefferson's return to America in 1789, President George Washington (17321799) appointed him secretary of state. For the next three years he was chiefly engaged in fruitless negotiations with the European powers. With Spain he sought to secure free navigation of the Mississippi River through Spanish territory to the Gulf of Mexico. With Britain he sought the removal of English troops from the Northwest and settlement of issues left over from the peace treaty.

Developing political parties

By 1793, relations between the Federalist and Republican parties worsened. When war erupted between France and Britain in 1793, the opposing views of the parties toward these nations threatened American peace. Jefferson attempted to use American neutrality. As a neutral country, the nation would support neither side during the war. By doing this he hoped to force cooperation from Britain and to improve relations between the nations of the Western world. Soon relations with France grew poor and severely damaged Jefferson's political system.

Jefferson gave up his post at the end of 1793, again determined to quit public life. But in 1796 the Republicans made him their presidential candidate against John Adams. Losing by only a slim margin, Jefferson became vice president.

President of the United States

Republicans doubled their efforts to elect the "man of the people" in the unusually bitter campaign of 1800. Jefferson topped Adams in the election and became president on March 4, 1801, in the new national capital, Washington, D.C. In his inaugural address, or speech after being sworn in as president, Jefferson brilliantly summed up the Republican ideas and appealed for harmony among all political parties.

Reform, or improving American society, was the order of the day. Working effectively with Congress, Jefferson restored freedom of the press, scaled down the army and the navy, ended all internal taxes, and began paying off the national debt. The Jeffersonian reformation was based on the economic plans of the government by reducing the means and powers of government. The reformation sought to further peace, equality, and individual freedoms, and to help solidify the American way of life.

The president's greatest triumph came in foreign affairs. When Spain turned over Louisiana and the port of New Orleans to France in 1800, this action posed a serious threat to American security. Jefferson skillfully managed this crisis with the Louisiana Purchase (1803), in which America gained an uncharted region of some 800,000 square miles, doubling the nation's size, for $11.25 million. Even before the treaty was signed, Jefferson planned an expedition to explore this country. The legendary Lewis and Clark expedition (led by Meriwether Lewis [17741809] and William Clark [17701838]) explored the rugged land gained in the Louisiana Purchase, and the expedition became a spectacular product of Jefferson's vision of westward expansion.

The second term

Easily reelected in 1804, Jefferson soon encountered troubles at home and overseas. His relations with Congress weakened as Republicans quarreled among themselves. Especially damaging was when former Republican leader John Randolph (17731833) and former vice president Aaron Burr (17561836) mounted a revolt in the west. But Jefferson crushed this and, with difficulty, maintained control of Congress.

With tension between America and France reaching a boiling point, Jefferson avoided war by installing an embargo, or a suspension of trade, in December 1807. On the whole, the embargo was effectively enforced and reasonably successful, but the mounting costs at home led to its reversal by Congress near the end of Jefferson's presidency.

Active retirement

In retirement Jefferson became the "Sage of Monticello." He maintained a large correspondence (wrote letters) and remained interested in a broad variety of intellectual pursuits. Unfinished business from the Revolution drew his attention, such as revision of the Virginia constitution and the gradual emancipation, or freedom, of slaves. Jefferson was the master planner of the University of Virginia in all its parts, from the grounds and buildings to the university rules, teachers, and subjects taught. He died at Monticello on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1826.

Jefferson remains a major figure in the development of the United States. His accomplishments, both large and small, and his beliefs, both political and personal, remain inspiring to Americans, especially through his masterpiece, the Declaration of Independence.

For More Information

Bober, Natalie. Thomas Jefferson: Man on a Mountain. New York: Atheneum, 1988. Reprint, New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997.

Bruns, Roger, ed. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Ferris, Jeri. Thomas Jefferson: Father of Liberty. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, 1998.

Malone, Dumas. Jefferson and His Time. 4 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, 19481970.

Nardo, Don. Thomas Jefferson. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1993.

Old, Wendie C. Thomas Jefferson. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1997.

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Jefferson, Thomas

Thomas Jefferson, 1743–1826, 3d President of the United States (1801–9), author of the Declaration of Independence, and apostle of agrarian democracy.

Early Life

Jefferson was born on Apr. 13, 1743, at "Shadwell," in Goochland (now in Albemarle) co., Va. The vicinity, at that time considered a western outpost, was to remain his lifelong home, and from boyhood he absorbed the democratic views of his Western countrymen. After graduating from the College of William and Mary (1762), he studied law under George Wythe.

Revolutionary Leader

In the colonial house of burgesses Jefferson was (1769–75) a leader of the patriot faction. He was a founding member of the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, and in A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), prepared for the First Virginia Convention, he brilliantly expounded the view that Parliament had no authority in the colonies and that the only bond with England was voluntary allegiance to the king. Although never an effective public speaker, he won a reputation as a draftsman of resolutions and addresses.

A delegate to the Second Continental Congress (1775–76), he served as a member of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. That document, except for minor alterations by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and some others made on the floor of Congress, was wholly the work of Jefferson. In spirit it reflects his debt to English political theorists, particularly John Locke, and to French and other continental philosophers.

Jefferson returned to the Virginia legislature in the hope of being able to translate his ideals into reality in the establishment of a new state government. He urged the abolition of entail and primogeniture to prevent the continuance of an aristocracy; both practices were abolished, although primogeniture existed until 1785. His bill for establishing religious freedom, grounded in the belief that a person's opinions cannot be coerced, was not successful until 1786, when James Madison was able to carry part of the Jeffersonian program to completion.

In 1779, Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry as governor of Virginia. He served through the trying last years of the American Revolution when Virginia was invaded by the British, and, hampered by lack of financial and military resources, experienced great difficulty. His conduct as governor was investigated in 1781, but he was completely vindicated.

Postwar Republican Leader

In 1783–84 he was again in the Continental Congress, where he drafted a plan for a decimal system of coinage and drew up a proposed ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory, which, although not then adopted, was the basis for the Ordinance of 1787. In 1785 he succeeded Franklin as minister to France, and witnessed the beginning (1789) of the French Revolution, to which he was sympathetic. His unsuccessful attempt, with John Adams, to negotiate a trade treaty with England left him convinced of that country's essential selfishness. On his return he became (1790) Secretary of State.

Though absent when the Constitution was drafted and adopted, Jefferson gave his support to a stronger central government and to the Constitution, particularly with the addition of the Bill of Rights. He failed to realize the power that conservatives had attained in his absence, and he did not seem aware at first of the threat to agrarian interests posed by measures advocated by Alexander Hamilton. He would call himself neither a Federalist nor an Anti-Federalist, and was anxious to secure unity and cooperation in the new government.

Jefferson did not begin to differ with Hamilton until they clashed as to the way to persuade England to release the Northwest Territory forts, still held in violation of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Jefferson favored the application of economic pressure by forbidding imports from England, but Hamilton objected, fearing that the resulting loss of revenue would endanger his plans for the nation's financial structure. Jefferson next opposed Hamilton by declaring against his Bank of the United States scheme on the ground that the Constitution did not specifically authorize it, rejecting the doctrine of "implied powers," invoked by Hamilton's supporters. In both these encounters Hamilton, to Jefferson's chagrin, emerged the victor.

Fearing a return to monarchist ideals, if not to actual monarchy, Jefferson became virtual leader of the Anti-Federalist forces. He drew to himself a group of like-minded men who began to call themselves Republicans—a group to which the present Democratic party traces its origin. An organization was developed, and the National Gazette, edited by Philip Freneau, was established (1791) to disseminate Republican sentiments.

Jefferson and Hamilton, from being suspicious of each other, became openly antagonistic, and President George Washington was unable to reconcile them. In 1793, Jefferson left the cabinet. Later he bitterly criticized Jay's Treaty, which compromised the issues with Great Britain in ways outlined by Hamilton.

Jefferson's party was able to elect him Vice President in 1796, when that office was still filled by the person who ran second in the presidential race. He took little part in the administration but presided over the Senate and wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801). His followers kept up their agitation and under Jefferson's direction extended the party's following both territorially and numerically, while the Federalists drifted into dissension. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts immensely stimulated newspaper discussion, and Jefferson drafted, in protest against these laws, the Kentucky Resolutions (see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions), the first statement of the states' rights interpretation of the Constitution.


The Republicans triumphed easily at the polls in what is sometimes called "the Revolution of 1800," but in the Electoral College vote, Aaron Burr (who had been slated for the office of Vice President) was found to have tied Jefferson for President. The choice was automatically left to the House of Representatives, where Jefferson was elected after a long deadlock, largely because Hamilton advised the Federalists to support Jefferson as less dangerous than Burr.

Jefferson was the first President inaugurated in Washington, D.C., a city he had helped to plan. He instituted a republican simplicity in the new capital, cut expenditures in all branches of government, replaced Federalist appointees with Republicans, and sought to curb the powers of the judiciary, where he felt that the Federalists were attempting to entrench their philosophy. He believed that the federal government should be concerned mostly with foreign affairs, leaving the states and local governments free to administer local matters.

Despite his contention that the Constitution must be interpreted strictly, he pushed through the Louisiana Purchase, even though such an action was nowhere expressly authorized. His eager interest in the West and in exploration had already led him to plan and organize the Lewis and Clark expedition. He held that West Florida was included in the Louisiana Purchase, but his attempts to secure Spanish agreement caused rifts in the party and made him the butt of sarcastic attacks by John Randolph in Congress.

During his second administration, however, the chief difficulties resulted from attacks on neutral American shipping by warring Britain and Napoleonic France. Jefferson placed his faith in diplomacy backed by economic pressure as represented first by the Nonimportation Act (1806) and then by the Embargo Act of 1807. To enforce them, unfortunately, meant the impoverishment of classes that had supported him and the infringement of the individual liberty he cherished. Shortly before he left office a rebellious people forced him to yield in his aims, although he maintained that the embargo had not been in effect long enough to achieve its objective.


After 1809, Jefferson lived in retirement at his beloved Monticello, although he often advised his successors, Madison and James Monroe. One of his cherished ambitions was attained when he was able to bring about the founding of the Univ. of Virginia (see Virginia, Univ. of). President of the American Philosophical Society (1797–1815), Jefferson was a scientist, an architect, and a philosopher-statesman, vitally interested in literature, the arts, and every phase of human activity. He passionately believed that a people enlightened by education, which must be kept free, could govern themselves better under democratic-republican institutions than under any other system.

After the death (1784) of his wife Martha Wayles Skelton, Jefferson did not remarry. During his White House years, Dolley Madison served as his First Lady. In the 1990s long-repeated rumors that he had fathered a child or children by the slave Sally Hemings, his wife's half-sister, appeared to be supported by DNA research. Although the subject remained controversial, in 2000 the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation concluded after an exhaustive study that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of one and quite probably of all six of Hemings's children. Some admirers of Jefferson hold that his younger brother, Randolph, is the more likely father of Hemings's descendants.


A 60-volume definitive edition of Jefferson's complete works (ed. by J. P. Boyd et al., 1950–) is being published by Princeton Univ. Press. See also Jefferson's Autobiography (new ed. 1959), and a selection of his writings in Jefferson Himself, ed. by B. Mayo (1942). The multivolume Jefferson and His Time (6 vol., 1948–82) by D. Malone is the definitive biography; see also biographies by G. Chinard (1929, repr. 1957), N. Schachner (1951), A. J. Nock (1956, repr. 1960), F. M. Brodie (1974), N. E. Cunningham. Jr. (1988), R. B. Bernstein (2003), C. Hitchens (2005), and J. Meacham (2012).

See also C. G. Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton (1925, repr. 1966), Jefferson in Power (1936, repr. 1967), and The Young Jefferson 1743–1789 (1945); K. Lehmann, Thomas Jefferson, American Humanist (1947); M. Kimball, Jefferson (3 vol., 1943–50); L. W. Levy, Jefferson and Civil Liberties (1963, repr. 1974); L. S. Kaplan, Jefferson and France (1967); M. Peterson, The Jeffersonian Image in the American Mind (1960), Thomas Jefferson: A Profile (1967), and Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (1970, repr. 1986); G. G. Shackelford, Thomas Jefferson's Travels in Europe, 1784–1789 (1995); J. J. Ellis, American Sphinx (1997); A. Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (1997) and The Hemingses of Monticello (2008); J. E. Lewis and P. S. Onuf, ed., Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson (1999); R. G. Kennedy, Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character (1999); J. F. Simon, What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States (2002); G. Wills, Mr. Jefferson's University (2002); M. K. Beran, Jefferson's Demons (2003); G. Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003); G. Wills, Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power (2003); J. P. Kaminski, The Great Virginia Triumvirate: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison in the Eyes of Their Contemporaries (2010); M. Kranish, Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War (2010); J. Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (2013).

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Jefferson, Thomas


Thomas Jefferson served as an American Revolutionary and political theorist and as the third president of the United States. Jefferson, who was a talented architect, writer, and diplomat, played a profound role in shaping U.S. government and politics.

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, in Albemarle County, Virginia. His father was a plantation owner and his mother belonged to the Randolph family, whose members were leaders of colonial Virginia society. Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1762, and worked as a surveyor before studying law with george wythe. He was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

His interest in colonial politics led to his election to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769. In the legislature he became closely aligned with patrick henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee, all of whom espoused the belief that the British Parliament had no control over the American colonies. He helped form the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, which protested legislation imposed on the colonies by Great Britain.

In 1774 Jefferson wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, a pamphlet that denied the power of Parliament in the colonies and stated that any loyalty to England and the king was to be given by choice. He attended the Second continental congress in 1775 and drafted the Reply to Lord North, in which Congress rejected the British prime minister's proposal that Parliament would not tax the colonists if they agreed to tax themselves.

After the Revolutionary War began, Jefferson and four others were asked to draft a declaration of independence. Jefferson actually wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which stated the arguments justifying the position of the American Revolutionaries. It also affirmed the natural rights of all people and affirmed the

right of the colonists to "dissolve the political bands" with the British government.

Jefferson served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1776 to 1779 and became governor of Virginia in 1779. He was responsible for many changes in Virginia law, including the abolition of religious persecution and the end to entail (inheritance of land through a particular line of descent) and primogeniture (inheritance only by the eldest son). Jefferson also disestablished the Anglican Church as the state-endorsed religion. Jefferson's term as governor expired in 1781, the same year the British invaded Virginia. He was at first blamed for the

state's lack of resistance but later cleared after an official investigation.

From 1783 to 1784, he was a member of the Continental Congress, where he contributed a monetary program, and secured approval of the treaty of paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. As a member of that congress he also drafted a decree for a system of government for the Northwest Territory, which lay west of the Appalachian Mountains. This decree was later incorporated into the northwest ordinance of 1787.

Jefferson served as minister to France from 1784 to 1789. In 1790 he reentered politics as secretary of state in the cabinet of President george washington. Jefferson soon became embroiled in conflict with alexander hamilton, the secretary of the treasury. Jefferson did not share Hamilton's Federalist views, which he believed favored the interests of business and the upper class. Jefferson, a proponent of agricultural interests, disliked the Federalist's desire to expand the power of the federal government.

The chief dispute between them was over the bank of the united states, which Hamilton approved of and Jefferson attacked as unconstitutional. Hamilton won the issue, and Jefferson and his supporters began to form a group known as Republicans, which evolved into the current democratic party. In 1791 editor Philip M. Freneau published Republican views in the National Gazette, which increased the agitation between Jefferson and Hamilton. Jefferson resigned his position in 1793.

After john adams was elected president in 1796, Jefferson served as his vice president and presiding officer in the Senate. In 1798 he opposed Congress's adoption of the alien and sedition acts (1 Stat. 570, 596), which provided for the deportation or imprisonment of any citizen or alien judged dangerous to the U.S. government. As a result Jefferson and james madison drafted the kentucky resolutions, which denounced the constitutionality of these acts. These resolutions, which were adopted by the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures, declared that the federal government could not extend its powers over the states unless the Constitution expressly granted authority. The resolutions were the first affirmation of states' rights and were central to Jefferson's belief that state and local governments were the most democratic political institutions.

The presidential election in 1800 ended in a tie between Jefferson and aaron burr. The House of Representatives decided the election. Hamilton, who despised Burr even more than Jefferson, lobbied the Federalists in the House to elect Jefferson. Jefferson won the election and became the first president to be sworn into office in Washington, D.C.

As president, Jefferson reduced spending and appointed Republicans to assume former Federalist positions. He made a lasting contribution to legislative procedure when he composed in 1801 A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, which is still used today. He approved the louisiana purchase from France in 1803, and supported the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the West from 1803 to 1806. He supported the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, which would have created federal courts of appeals and would have encouraged appeals from state courts.

Jefferson also expressed concern about the decision in marbury v. madison, 5 U.S. 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803), which declared that the Supreme Court could review the constitutionality of acts of Congress. The concept of judicial review, which is not described in the Constitution, expanded the power of the judiciary. Jefferson and the Republicans worried that Federalist-appointed judges would use judicial review to strike down Republican legislation.

After he was reelected in 1805, Jefferson encountered the problem of attacks on independent U.S. ships by England and France, which were engaged in war. To discourage these attacks, Congress passed the Nonimportation Act of 1806 (2 Stat. 315), forbidding the importation of British goods, and the embargo act of 1807 (2 Stat. 451), prohibiting the exportation of U.S. goods to England and France. These measures proved to be detrimental to U.S. commerce.

After the end of his second presidential term, Jefferson retired to his estate, Monticello. He served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to 1815 and helped found the University of Virginia in 1819.

"That government is the strongest of which every man himself feels a part."
—Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1784 and 1785, remain an important historical resource. Written to a French correspondent, the book contains social, political, and economic reflections that show Jefferson to be a person committed to rational thought. The book also reveals that Jefferson, a slaveholder, believed that African Americans were inferior to whites. Throughout his life Jefferson defended the institution of slavery, casting a cloud over his professed belief in human dignity.

Jefferson died July 4, 1826, at Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia.

further readings

Bernstein, R.B. 2003. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

——. 2003. "Wrestling with Jefferson: The Struggles of a Biographer." New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law 22 (spring-summer): 387–404.

Dougherty, Richard J. 2001. "Thomas Jefferson and the Rule of Law: Executive Power and American Constitutionalism." Northern Kentucky Law Review 28 (summer): 513–35.

Reiss, David. 2002. "Jefferson and Madison as Icons in Judicial History: A Study of Religion Clause Jurisprudence." Maryland Law Review 6 (winter): 94–176.

Schwartz, Bernard, with Barbara Wilcie Kern and R. B. Bernstein. 1997. Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling : Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-revolutionary America. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library.


Marshall, John.

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Jefferson, Thomas


Thomas Jefferson (17431820) is best known as one of the founding fathers of the United States, a president, and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Less well known is the enormous range of Jefferson's other interests and talents. He was very well-read in science, ancient and modern history, philosophy, and literature, and was one of the best-educated and most knowledgeable people of his time in the United States.

From his intense reading in the philosophy and literature of his day, Jefferson adopted the elements of what became known as the eighteenth century Enlightenment. He believed that human nature was good, and rational laws governed the universe. He also believed in the freedom of all individuals to inquire into all things. He was convinced of man's inherent individual capacity for justice and happiness by the use of reason, the self-improvement of one's work, and progress.

Jefferson's political and business philosophy translated into fiercely democratic feelings about the new nation's destiny. He embraced the spirit of capitalism as long as everyone could participate in it equally. He fought tendencies of large property owners to behave like aristocrats and kings in the newly born United States. He expressed his philosophy and, indirectly, his view of life in the Declaration of Independence : "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Jefferson was born into a social circle where he could have lived a life of ease and comfort. He was born in Shadwell, Virginia, in 1743 on a farm property that included five thousand acres of land. He entered the prestigious College of William and Mary at age seventeen. Although he enjoyed the study of science he decided there was no opportunity for a scientific career in Virginia at that time. He instead studied law and philosophy, and was admitted to the bar in 1767, at age twenty-four. Jefferson led a successful legal practice, which he abandoned in 1774 at the onrush of the American Revolution (17751783) to lend his support to the independence movement.

While he was a member of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jefferson was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence. Other members of the Congress made many changes to his original draft; yet it clearly bore Jefferson's stamp. For the first time in history the basic written tenets of individual personal freedom were laid as the foundation of a nation. The principles of national equality, the rights of individual persons, the sovereignty of the people, and the right to revolution were all written into a single document that served as a theoretical basis for the United States government and national commerce.

After the American Revolution and the birth of the United States, Jefferson served in the U.S. Congress where he developed much of what became national policy on business and commerce. He drafted the first ordinance of government for the vast Western territory, which indirectly created free and equal republican states from the existing wilderness. By doing this Jefferson opened up new regions of land to U.S. commerce. Jefferson also paid attention to foreign trade and business, creating a liberal commercial policy to increase business with different European powers.

In 1785 Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin (17061790) as minister to France. In Europe, he focused on commercial diplomacy with France and was also engaged in ongoing efforts to broaden U.S. commerce with many other European nations.

In 1789 President George Washington (17321799) asked Jefferson to become Secretary of State. He accepted. For the next three years Jefferson fought to increase commercial trade with France and develop more even-handed commerce. His strongest opponent was Alexander Hamilton (17551804), who was then Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton promoted policies that interfered with free trade and enriched the few at the expense of the many. These policies encouraged fraud in commerce and broke down the restraints of the Constitution. Jefferson fought Hamilton, fiercely seeking a free trade situation in which all citizens could participate. This led to the formation of the modern political party now known as the Democratic Party. (It was ironically called the Republican Party at that time.) In 1800 the "man of the people" was elected to the presidency of the United States based on his democratic political principles.

Jefferson's presidency comprised a series of reforms. He restored freedom of the press, which had suffered from restrictions in early nationhood; scaled down the military forces; and abolished all internal taxes. He also began a federal fiscal program to end the national debt. Jefferson sought to create a national condition that would further not only peace, but also equality and individual freedom in business and most other matters. During his presidency he also expanded the size of the United States, purchasing 800,000 square miles of North American territory from the French in the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

Jefferson's legacy to the United States is large. He increased the physical size of the United States through land purchases and supported democratic participation of common people. As a founding father of the United States and a writer of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson embodied the ideals and hopes that shaped a nation. He died at his home in Monticello, Virginia, on July 4, 1826.

See also: Continental Congress (Second), Louisiana Purchase, George Washington


Commager, Henry S. Jefferson, Nationalism, and the Enlightenment. New York: G. Braziller, 1975.

Ellis, Joseph J. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Foner, Philip S., ed. Basic Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Willey Book Co., 1944.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. "Entangling Alliances With None": American Foreign Policy in the Age of Jefferson. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1987.

Spivak, Burton. Jefferson's English Crisis: Commerce, Embargo, and the Republican Revolution. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978.

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Thomas Jefferson and the Revision of the Virginia Laws

Thomas Jefferson and the Revision of the Virginia Laws


Background. The first actions by the Virginia House of Delegates after the Declaration of Independence were to prepare two significant pieces of legislation. One was a bill to eliminate fee tails, and the second was to appoint a committee of five to propose a general revision of the laws of the new commonwealth. Thomas Jefferson was assigned responsibility for the first, and he served on the committee of five, together with Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, Thomas Lee, and George Mason. The five met to decide how they would approach this task and determined that they would take up the whole body of statutes and Virginia laws, to leave out everything obsolete or improper, insert what was wanting, and reduce the whole within as moderate a compass as it would bear, and to the plain language of common sense, divested of the verbiage, the barbarous tautologies and redundancies which render the British statutes unintelligible. Mason resigned before the work started, and Lee died shortly thereafter. Jefferson was assigned the areas of crimes and punishments, descent, and religion.

Fee Tail. One provision of the English law of real estate, dating back to medieval times, was the fee tail, or the ability of a grantor (someone who sold real estate or left it to another by will) to provide that the grantee could not dispose of the property except to one or more of his heirs. This limitation, once attached to a piece of real estate, remained intact forever although a landowner could petition to end the restriction. This ability of a landowner to restrict the disposition of his property long after his death was fundamental to the maintenance of an aristocracy and was detested for just that reason. Jefferson introduced a bill that eliminated all existing tails and barred the creation of new ones. The bill was passed in a matter of days.

Law of Descent. Another key element of the law relating to real estate and inheritance was that of primogeniture, that the first-born son would inherit all of a fathers real estate, regardless of the fathers wishes. Entail allowed a landowner to will his estate to his family in perpetuity. Primogeniture and entail were vestiges of the feudal past and enabled the Old World-style aristocracy to continue in Virginia. With the elimination of primogeniture, a father could leave parts of his property to each of his children rather than being forced to favor one over all the others. Jefferson, by eliminating primogeniture and entail, saw himself as promoting social mobility and economic change.

Crimes and Punishments. Jefferson sought to relax the severity of the punishments meted out under the criminal laws. He believed that too many offenses were punishable by death and proposed that only murder and treason be capital offenses. Other crimes would be less severely punished, with a range of penalties that had a rational basis. In taking this approach Jefferson was reflecting the enlightened liberalism of the period. To demonstrate the development of the criminal code of the time, he traced many topics back to medieval period. In an impressive, scholarly fashion he compared laws of various eras by setting them forth in columns written in the languages in which the laws were originally adopted, including Latin and Old French. He suggested that public labor be a substitute for the death penalty. Prisoners would work on roads and canals, with the expectation that they would be reformed. The public was not yet ready for such an advanced notion, however, and his bill was defeated in the assembly.

Religious Freedom. Jefferson framed a bill for religious freedom as part of his work as a reviser. The Anglican Church, as the established church, was supported, and the clergy paid, by tax revenues. Every taxpayer contributed to the support of the established church even if he was a member of another sect. Jefferson believed that religion was a strictly private affair. While government should protect the public from possible injury, such a power did not extend to religion. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Jeffersons view was that the state should neither support nor oppose any particular religion but should leave them alone. His notion of the separation of church and state eventually became the official American position.

Disestablishment. Jeffersons proposal extended beyond disestablishment of the Anglican Church and granted full religious liberty. However, public sentiment against the church had been building up. The dissenters, the term used to describe Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, outnumbered the Anglicans. The Anglican clergy, having been secured against rivalship by fixed salaries, did not give themselves the trouble of acquiring influence over the people, Jefferson noted in a letter to John Adams. The assembly in 1776 exempted dissenters from taxes for the church. Jeffersons bill provided that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry. While religious liberty was the subject of much discussion at the time, along with all the revolutionary notions about freedom, Jeffersons bill was so controversial that the bill was not introduced in the House of Delegates until 1779 and was not enacted until seven years later.


Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948);

Bernard Schwartz, Thomas Jefferson and Boiling v. Boiling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America (San Marino, Cal.: Huntington Library, 1997).

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Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)


Lawyer and statesman

Background. Thomas Jefferson was born on 13 April 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia, the third child (and first son) of Peter and Jane Jefferson. His father was a successful planter, surveyor, and militia colonel and served two terms in the House of Burgesses. Jefferson attended a Latin school from the age of nine and when he was fourteen began attending a school run by the Reverend James Maury. He was in Maurys school when the Twopenny Act was passed but had left by the time Maury was the plaintiff in the Parsons Cause, the case that made Patrick Henry famous. Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary from 1760 until 1762 and spent the next five years studying law in the office of George Wythe, a prominent Williamsburg lawyer (who later became the first professor of law at an American college).

County Circuit. Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767 and began his practice as a country lawyer. He maintained a daily journal of his law practice, in which he noted the clients name, the subject of the case, the outcome, and the fee. Over the next seven years he recorded this type of information with respect to nearly one thousand cases. Most of these were small cases in the county courts, involving debt collection, land ownership, recovery of slaves, slander, and assault and battery. Jefferson rode the circuit, traveling from town to town, arriving in each county seat as the court began its session.

Williamsburg. He had a few cases in the General Court, which met in Williamsburg and involved more-significant matters. He recorded his arguments in two of these cases. In a 1770 case he represented a child who had been born to an indentured mulatto and was seeking his freedom. Jefferson argued that his client should be free because the indenture bound only the mother. He said that the statute subjected to servitude the first mulatto only.... It did not, under the law of nature, affect the liberty of the children, because, under that law we are all born free. This view, which he would later include in the Declaration of Independence, fell on deaf ears. In the other General Court case in 1771, Jefferson represented church vestrymen who were trying to oust their minister. The defendant challenged the jurisdiction of the civil court to act in a church matter. Jefferson presented a scholarly argument showing how the court represented the King, and that the King certainly had the power to intervene in church matters. Edmund Randolph had observed other cases, in which Jefferson faced Henry, and he said: Mr. Jefferson drew copiously from the depths of the law, Mr. Henry from the recesses of the human heart.

House of Burgesses. Jefferson was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1769. In his first term the House addressed the circular letter from Massachusetts, which objected to the Townshend duties. The royal governor, seeking to stifle dissent, abruptly dissolved the session. The members regrouped in a local tavern, called themselves an Association, and adopted a nonimportation agreement. This Association was the forerunner of the conventions that later became substitutes for the provincial assemblies. When the members met as an association, they were able to meet when they decided to meet, to discuss the issues of the day. Since the Association was not the official assembly, the members were not dependent upon the royal governor to call them into session, nor could their debate be cut short by the governors dissolving the meeting. Jeffersons ability as a writer and his views on freedom made him a leader in the House, in the associations and conventions that met when the House was not in session, and at the Continental Congresses.

Later Career. During this time Jefferson practiced law, served as a burgess, and began to build his mansion at Monticello. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton. He decided to devote his energies to his house and plantation and retired from the practice of law in 1774. He continued in public service, however, and served in the Continental Congress in 1775 and 1776, where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. After the declaration was voted he returned to Virginia, where he served in the House of Delegates (1776-1779) and then as governor (1779-1782) and drafted a constitution for the state in 1783. Jefferson later served as secretary of state in the Washington administration and was elected the nations third president in 1800.


Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948);

Samuel Eliot Morison and others, The Growth of the American Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969).

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Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas (1743–1826). Able American self-taught architect of the late C18, he excelled in many things, and was one of the founding fathers and third President of the USA (1801–9). It is known he had a fine library of architectural books, and it was largely from these (e.g. Gibbs and Leoni) that he acquired his skills. One of his first buildings was Monticello, his own house near Charlottesville, VA (1768–82—remodelled 1796–1809), the plans of which were a variation on a design in Robert Morris's Select Architecture (1755), with additional elements derived from Gibbs, and a dash of Palladio taken from Leoni's edition of the Quattro Libri. Indeed, Monticello was Palladian in layout, intelligently altered to accommodate the most convenient internal arrangements, but in its final version it suggested the Antique villa transformed by French Neo-Classicism (e.g. Hôtel de Salm, Paris, of 1783).

In 1784 Jefferson was appointed Second American Minister to Paris, a stroke of good luck enabling him to absorb up-to-date architectural ideas at first hand. He was also conveniently placed to visit England, which he did in 1786, expressly to study Picturesque gardens that attracted the admiration of Europe at that time. In France he admired the top-lighting at the Château de Chaville (1764–6—destroyed) by Boullée, as well as Legrand and Molinos's dome of the Halle au Blé, Paris (1782–3).

When it was decided to build a State Capitol in Richmond, VA, Jefferson chaired the Committee charged with arranging for this, and he himself proposed a building based on the Corinthian Roman temple, the Maison Carrée, Nîmes (16 bc—to which building he had been introduced by Clérisseau's Antiquités de France (1778), and which he greatly admired): thus he was the first to reintroduce the rectangular temple-form into public architecture (as opposed to small garden fabriques, e.g. at Stowe, Bucks.) in the West since Classical Antiquity. In the event, the State Capitol (1785–99), which was designed by Jefferson with Clérisseau as adviser, employed the Ionic Order with angular capitals of the Scamozzi type, and had pilasters rather than engaged columns as on the cella of the Maison Carrée.

From 1789, when he returned to the USA, becoming Secretary of State in Washington's Government, he involved himself in the planning and architecture of the new Federal capital, promoting French ideas when he could. Jefferson's greatest architectural achievement, however, was the University of Virginia, Charlottesville (1817–26), a series of porticoed pavilions (each with an Order from a different Roman building) linked by colonnades, on either side of a long rectangular lawn (the first campus plan) with a scaled-down version of the Pantheon in Rome on the long axis at one end. While Latrobe helped Jefferson with this design, the main scheme was Jefferson's own, though possibly based on Marly-le-Roi, the château of Louis XIV. The Rotunda at the University contained the most remarkable elliptical rooms in America, an arrangement possibly derived from the Doric column-base in the Désert de Retz near Paris, which Jefferson had seen. The University is arguably the most beautiful architectural ensemble in the American Continent. Like Monticello and the Virginia Capitol, it was more than a fine work of Classical architecture: all three were intended as exemplars from which Americans would learn the rules of architecture and civil design.


W. Adams (1976, 1983);
J. Boyd (ed.) (from 1950);
Brawne (1994);
Kimball (1966, 1968);
Lehman (1980);
Malone (1948–74);
Mayo (ed.) (1970);
Nichols (ed.) (1978);
Nichols & and Bear (1967);
Nichols & Griswold(1978);
O'Neal (1960);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Jane Turner (1996)

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JAMES STEVENS CURL. "Jefferson, Thomas." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. 2000. 26 May. 2016 <>.

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Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas (1743–1826), secretary of state, vice president, and third president of the United States.Thomas Jefferson believed that a large military establishment would both increase the nation's debt and threaten American liberty. As the first secretary of state (1789–93), he urged neutrality in the war between England and France; as president (1801–09), he pursued a policy of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship” with all nations, but “entangling alliances with none.” Jefferson's administration cut military spending drastically, from over $3 million annually to $1.9 million, although his administration also founded the U.S. Military Academy, first proposed by Washington, at West Point, New York, in 1802. Neutrality, though, was not isolation: Jefferson sent the U.S. Fleet to the Mediterranean in 1801, and cooperated with Sweden, Portugal, Naples, and other neutral powers in a multinational alliance against Tripoli. To replace the expensive frigates built by the Federalist administrations, Jefferson built 180 gunboats, 50 feet long, with crews of 20 and cannon mounted in bow and stern, primarily to defend American harbors. Instead of military force, the United States would use economic pressure in international affairs. The Europeans, he reasoned, depended on American grain and fish to feed their large armies and overtaxed populations. When both France and England attacked American commercial policy in 1807, Jefferson closed U.S. ports, depriving the belligerent Europeans of American goods. Though the embargo of 1808–09 did not force France or England to negotiate, Jefferson did not lose faith in economic power as the most potent weapon in the American arsenal.
[See also Academies, Service: U.S. Military Academy; Economy and War; Hamilton, Alexander; Tripolitan War.]


Merrill Peterson , Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, 1970.
Reginald C. Stuart , The Half‐Way Pacifist: Thomas Jefferson's View of War, 1978.
Drew R. McCoy , The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America, 1980.
Robert W. Tucker and and David C. Hendrickson , Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson, 1990.

Robert J. Allison

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John Whiteclay Chambers II. "Jefferson, Thomas." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. 26 May. 2016 <>.

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Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas (1743–1826) Third US president (1801–09), vice president (1797–81). Jefferson was a leading member of the Continental Congress and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). The American Revolution halted his governorship of Virginia (1779–81). Jefferson returned to Congress (1783–84) before succeeding Benjamin Franklin as minister to France (1785–89). George Washington persuaded Jefferson to serve as his first secretary of state (1789–93). Disagreements with Alexander Hamilton saw the formation of the Democratic-Republican Party led by Jefferson. Narrowly defeated by John Adams in the 1796 presidential election, Jefferson became vice president. He led opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). The landmarks of Jefferson's first presidency (1801–05) were the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–06). His second administration (1805–09) overcame the Aaron Burr conspiracy. He managed to avoid war with Britain, instead passing an Embargo Act (1807). He retired from office and James Madison succeeded him. Jefferson was a slave owner, but in principle opposed slavery. He founded the University of Virginia (1825).;

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"Jefferson, Thomas." World Encyclopedia. 2005. 26 May. 2016 <>.

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