Thomas Jefferson

1743 - 1826

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States (1801-1809) and author of the Declaration of Independence. He was one of the most brilliant men in history. His interests were boundless, and his accomplishments were great and varied. He was a philosopher, educator, naturalist, politician, scientist, architect, inventor, pioneer in scientific farming, musician, and writer, and he was the foremost spokesman for democracy of his day.

As president, Jefferson strengthened the powers of the executive branch of government. He was the first president to lead a political party, and through it he exercised control over the Congress of the United States. He had great faith in popular rule, and it is this optimism that is the essence of what came to be called Jeffersonian democracy.

Jefferson swore his hostility, he said, to “every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” During his lifetime he sought to develop a government that would best assure the freedom and well-being of the individual.

Early Life

Thomas Jefferson's father, Peter Jefferson, was a prosperous Virginia planter. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was a member of the old and distinguished Randolph family of Virginia. In 1743 the Jeffersons moved to western Goochland County, where Peter Jefferson had acquired 162 hectares (400 acres) of undeveloped land. He named his estate Shadwell. At first the family lived in a simple log cabin.

Thomas Jefferson was born in this cabin in 1743. A year after his birth, Albemarle County was formed from the western portion of Goochland County. Peter Jefferson soon became a leader in the new county. He was a justice of the peace, a magistrate, and commander of the county militia. Although young Jefferson was accepted into the Virginia aristocracy through his mother's family, it was his father, a self-made man, whom he especially admired.

In 1745, William Randolph, a cousin of Mrs. Jefferson and a close friend of the family, died. His will requested that Peter Jefferson move to his estate, manage the house and land, and supervise the education of Randolph's four children. The Jeffersons remained at Randolph's estate, known as Tuckahoe, for seven years.

Education

Thomas was five years old when he began his education under the family tutor at Tuckahoe. In 1752 the Jeffersons returned to Shadwell and again started work on a plantation home. Thomas, however, spent little time at Shadwell. Almost immediately he was sent to Dover, Virginia, where he studied Latin with the Reverend William Douglas until 1757, when his father died. He was then sent to the school of the Reverend James Maury at Hanover, Virginia, and spent two years studying Greek and Latin classics, history, literature, geography, and natural science.

Jefferson was a tall, slender boy with sandy hair of a reddish cast and fair skin that freckled and sunburned easily. A serious student, he also enjoyed the lighter aspects of the education of a Virginia gentleman. He learned to dance and play the violin and became an excellent horseman. Weekends and holidays he spent either at Shadwell entertaining guests or at his friends' plantations.

In March 1760 Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Virginia's capital city, Williamsburg, and soon came under the influence of Dr. William Small. Jefferson became a favorite of the doctor, who taught mathematics, natural history, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. Jefferson also continued his study of classical literature.

Lawyer

After two years at William and Mary, Jefferson left to study law with Dr. Small's friend George Wythe, the most learned lawyer in Virginia. Jefferson was very fond of Wythe and called him “my second father.” Even while reading law, Jefferson had many other interests. He studied French, Italian, and English history and literature. He was keenly interested in the new scientific theory of inoculation and traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to have himself inoculated against smallpox.

In 1767, after five years of work and study under Wythe, Jefferson was admitted to the practice of law in Virginia. He was reasonably successful as a lawyer, but he did not earn enough to support a Virginia gentleman. Jefferson's main source of income, like that of most other Virginia lawyers, was his land.

Throughout his years of law practice, Jefferson spent much time supervising the Shadwell plantation. In this occupation, as in his studies, he was most methodical. He observed the growth of his plants and trees, keeping records of them in a special garden book. A careful observer of his environment, he kept a lifelong record of such things as temperature, weather, expenses, recipes, and anything else that struck him as noteworthy. “There is,” he once wrote, “not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.”

The year of his admission to practice law, Jefferson began work on his mountaintop estate, Monticello, near what is now Charlottesville, Virginia. Jefferson designed the mansion himself in the classical style of architecture.

Marriage

On New Year's Day, 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, a 24-year-old widow. Patty, as Jefferson called her, shared her husband's love of music and played the harpsichord and piano. The marriage was a happy one despite Mrs. Jefferson's ill health. Of their six children, only two, both of them girls, lived to maturity. Martha Jefferson died in 1782. The death of his wife had a profound effect on Jefferson and probably influenced his return to politics, which he had considered abandoning.

Early Career

Virginia Burgess

By the time of his marriage, Jefferson had for several years been a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. This was the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature, which was called the General Assembly. He was elected in 1768 and took his seat at Williamsburg in the spring of 1769. As a burgess, Jefferson took an active part in the events that led to the American Revolution (1775-1783). He belonged to the so-called radical group that was in opposition to the conservative planters of the Tidewater region. Many of his democratic views came from his experience as a resident of the western part of the colony, near the frontier, where he saw the colonists carve a civilization out of the wilderness. This strengthened his lifelong belief that people could and should govern themselves.

Jefferson was a poor speaker, but his literary talents made him a highly valued member of committees when resolutions and other public papers were drafted. He emerged as the recognized author of the patriot cause in Virginia and indeed in the whole of the colonies. Jefferson's first public paper, however, was considered too stiff and formal, and it was rewritten. The paper was a response to the greeting of the new governor, Lord Botetourt, to the General Assembly. Jefferson, who never took criticism graciously, remembered the incident with annoyance for many years.

Townshend Acts

In 1769 Jefferson joined his fellow burgesses in opposing the Townshend Acts. These laws passed by the British Parliament required the colonies to pay duties on paint, lead, paper, and tea. They also made changes in colonial administration that disturbed the colonists. The Massachusetts legislature appealed to the other colonies for concerted action against the laws. Virginia responded with resolutions protesting the acts. Governor Botetourt, learning of the resolutions, dissolved the General Assembly. However, the burgesses moved their meeting to the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, where Jefferson and the others signed an association, or pledge of action. Drafted by Burgess George Mason and introduced by Burgess George Washington, the document went far beyond any previous protest. It bound its signers not to buy a number of imported goods until the Townshend duties were abolished.

Faced with the prospect of a boycott, Great Britain lifted most of the offensive duties. Thus the colonists were quieted so effectively, Jefferson said, that they “seemed to fall into a state of insensibility to our situation.” He, however, was not deceived. He noted that the tea tax still held and that Parliament still claimed the right “to bind us by their laws in all cases whatsoever.”

Committee of Correspondence

In 1773, in retaliation for the burning of the British ship Gaspee near Providence, Rhode Island, the British government ordered a special court of inquiry and threatened to send the perpetrators to Britain for trial. Jefferson and his brother-in-law Dabney Carr were among the burgesses who protested the British threats. They met secretly with burgesses Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee and a few others to consider a plan of action. Carr drew up a set of resolutions proposing a committee of correspondence for Virginia. The committee was to keep in touch with other colonies on matters of common interest. Other resolutions challenged the legality of the court of inquiry and protested the threat “to transmit persons accused of offenses committed in America to places beyond the seas to be tried.” The resolutions were passed by the General Assembly. Although the committee of correspondence did not include Jefferson or other so-called radicals, the first step had been taken toward communication and joint action on grievances by all the colonies.

Jefferson's Resolutions

Early in 1774 the colonies were angered by the passage of what were called the Intolerable Acts. One of these, the Boston Port Act, closed Boston Harbor in retaliation for a protest incident, the so-called Boston Tea Party, where angry colonists dumped British tea into Boston Harbor. Virginia protested the Boston Port Act, and Jefferson was one of the burgesses who suggested that the day the act went into effect should be declared “a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer.” Because of this resolution, the General Assembly was again dismissed, this time by Lord Dunmore, who had replaced Botetourt as governor.

Virginians immediately elected their dismissed burgesses as delegates to a convention to consider the grievances of the colonies. As delegate from Albemarle County, Jefferson wrote a series of resolutions later titled A Summary View of the Rights of British America. In defining the grievances with Great Britain, Jefferson denied that Parliament had any authority over the colonies, and he attacked the restrictive acts passed by Parliament as a deliberate plan to destroy colonial freedom. Jefferson also accused the king of rejecting the best laws passed by colonial legislatures, of preventing the outlawing of slavery in the colonies, of permitting his governors to dissolve colonial assemblies, and of sending in armed forces without having the right to do so. Jefferson said the colonists were “a free people claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate.”

On his way to Williamsburg, where the convention was to meet, Jefferson became ill. He was unable to go on but sent his Summary View to be presented by fellow Burgess Peyton Randolph. The younger delegates applauded Jefferson's work, but for the time being “tamer sentiments were preferred,” as Jefferson put it. The Summary View was set aside in favor of a more tactfully phrased remonstrance to Parliament. However, Jefferson's work was published in Philadelphia and England, and Jefferson's talents as a writer and political thinker came to the attention of American patriots outside of Virginia.

Richmond Convention

In March 1775 Jefferson was a delegate to a Virginia convention held at Richmond to approve the decisions made at the First Continental Congress, an assembly of representatives from the different colonies that had met the previous fall to organize resistance to Britain. At Richmond it was decided that the colonies must resort to arms against England. Patrick Henry on this occasion made his stirring “give me liberty or give me death” speech. Jefferson supported Henry's call to arms with his first public address. The convention then chose him as an alternate delegate to the Second Continental Congress to serve if the elected delegate, Peyton Randolph, should be unable to attend.

Burgesses' Last Session

Before the Second Continental Congress convened, events in Virginia reached a crisis. Lord Dunmore, the governor, had angered Virginians by his high-handed conduct. They were further aroused when word came of the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, when Massachusetts militias first took up arms against the British troops. The American Revolution had begun. (See Lexington, Battle of; Concord, Battle of.) Dunmore was frightened and called a meeting of the General Assembly, which both Jefferson and Randolph attended.

At first, Dunmore tried to calm the assembly with assurances that no more taxes would be levied. Instead, he said, they would return to the old system whereby the colonies voluntarily contributed money to Great Britain. However, these assurances came too late to appease the Virginians. Dunmore felt his life was endangered and fled to a British warship. He never returned to Virginia.

The assembly continued to work without him. Jefferson's written reply to the assurances made by Dunmore stated that “the British Parliament has no right to intermeddle with the support of civil Government in the Colonies.” Virginia, Jefferson declared, was now represented in the Continental Congress and would go along with the decisions of the other colonies. His reply, slightly amended, was adopted by the assembly, and Jefferson left for Philadelphia and the meeting of the Continental Congress. Randolph remained in Williamsburg to preside over the assembly.

Declaration of Independence

On June 21, 1775, Jefferson took his seat in Congress. A few days later, John Rutledge of South Carolina was appointed to write a statement explaining the colonists' reasons for making war on Britain. Rutledge's paper was not approved, and Jefferson, who by now had earned wide acclaim as a writer, was asked to write a new draft. His version contained many of the ideas expressed in the Summary View, and it brought forth the same cry of radicalism from the conservatives. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania rewrote Jefferson's paper, and Congress approved it on July 6, 1775.

The following summer, Jefferson sat in Congress as an elected delegate, not as an alternate. It was at this session that he wrote his most famous document, the Declaration of Independence.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, who was also a congressman from Virginia, proposed a resolution stating “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Jefferson was one of a committee of five appointed to draft a declaration “to the effect of the said … resolution.” The committee asked Jefferson to draft the paper, and according to committee member John Adams, Jefferson replied, “Well, if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.” When his draft was completed, Adams, committee member Benjamin Franklin, and Jefferson himself made corrections.

On July 2, 1776, Lee's resolution for independence was passed by Congress. Technically, this was the actual day of American independence. Then the declaration was debated, several changes were made, and some parts were dropped entirely. Jefferson regretted especially the deletion of a long paragraph denouncing the slave trade and the whole institution of slavery as a “cruel war against human nature itself.”

The objective of the declaration, in Jefferson's own words, was to justify American independence “in terms so plain and full as to command their assent.” As an expression of the philosophy of the natural rights of people in an age when absolute monarchs ruled throughout the world, it had an immense impact in America and in Europe as well. Jefferson did not originate the concept of government by consent and the belief that all people are endowed with certain rights that government cannot infringe upon. These ideas came from European philosophers, most notably 17th century British philosopher John Locke. However, in the declaration they were given a practical application for the first time. Furthermore, in Jefferson's words they achieved their most eloquent expression.

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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted. The bands that had connected America with Great Britain were broken. Within a few days the declaration was being read to people throughout the colonies, and it was received with great rejoicing. The declaration held the essence of Jefferson's ideals, and he spent the rest of his life applying its principles to the new American government.

Virginia Legislator

While Jefferson was writing the declaration, a convention of the General Assembly in Virginia was drafting laws suitable for the state's new republican form of government. Eager to take part in this enterprise, Jefferson resigned from Congress and, in September 1776, returned to Virginia. A congressional appointment as minister to France followed him home. However, he declined the appointment in order to serve in the Virginia convention.

Legislation

Jefferson was opposed to all forms of tyranny. He also had great faith in the ability to rule by reason. Therefore, in helping to make laws for Virginia, his guiding principle was to place as few restrictions as possible upon the people of the state. Jefferson was a strong advocate of land reform. A few families owned most of the land in Virginia and, because ownership of land was a prerequisite for voting, these same families also controlled the government. By his efforts the old hereditary property laws were modified to enable more people to own land, which led to greater democracy in the state.

Jefferson's most noteworthy achievement at the convention was his bill to establish religious freedom and to ensure the separation of church and state. The bill guaranteed, in Jefferson's own words, “that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever.” It guaranteed, too, that no one should suffer in any way for his “religious opinions or belief.” Introduced in 1779, the bill did not become law until 1786, when, through the leadership of Legislator James Madison, it was enacted by the General Assembly.

Jefferson was less successful with his educational program. His “bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge” would have provided schooling for children whose parents could not afford private schools. The bill as written never passed the General Assembly. However, it set forth a philosophy that was eventually embodied in the national institution of the free public school.

Monticello

During this period, Jefferson managed to spend considerable time with his family. Even in leisure he was never idle. He once more took up building projects at Monticello and continued to develop his land, attempting such exotic plantings as olive and orange trees. Jefferson was a philosopher and at the same time an architect and an inventor. He invented the dumbwaiter, a swivel chair, a lamp-heater, and an improved plow for which the French gave him a medal. He tinkered with clocks, steam engines, and metronomes. He collected plans of large cities and later helped in the planning of Washington, D.C. Scientific subjects always interested him. He entered into a transatlantic correspondence with Giovanni Fabbroni, an Italian naturalist, in order to compare climate and plant life in Virginia and southern Europe. Jefferson also added to his valuable collection of books and bought instruments for making astronomical observations.

By 1779, most Virginians believed that the war was near its end. British General John Burgoyne had surrendered, and 4000 British and German prisoners of war from Burgoyne's command were sent to Virginia. However, General George Washington, the Virginian who commanded the Continental Army, knew that much fighting lay ahead and that the country needed the efforts of its able people. He deplored the retirement to private life of such people as Jefferson. Edmund Pendleton, a Virginia patriot, was more specific. He told Jefferson, “You are too young to ask that happy quietus from the public, and should … at least postpone it til you have taught the rising Generation the forms as well as the substantial principles of legislation.” Jefferson therefore returned to politics, and in 1779 he was elected governor of Virginia, succeeding Patrick Henry.

Governor of Virginia

The Virginia constitution strictly limited the power of the executive branch of government in order to deny that branch the dictatorial powers previously held by the colonial governors. Jefferson had agreed that the executive office should be merely a tool for carrying out the mandates of the legislature. As governor, however, he found that constitutional restrictions of his power prevented his taking action, and in time of war quick action was needed.

Furthermore, Jefferson was temperamentally unsuited to deal with military matters. He wished only for the immediate end of the war, declaring, “It would surely be better to carry on a ten years' war some time hence than to continue the present [one] an unnecessary moment.” He found it hard to give orders. When generals Nathanael Greene and Horatio Gates urgently begged him for reinforcements to beat back a British attack in the Carolinas, Jefferson agreed to send some soldiers only if they would go “willingly.” He felt that their previous service gave them a right to be consulted.

Invasion of Virginia

During Jefferson's administration the war was fought almost entirely in the South. Although Jefferson was warned by Washington that the British were sending a large force to Virginia, he did not take measures to meet the invasion.

In early January 1781 the British attacked Richmond, the new capital of Virginia, and Jefferson, his council, and the General Assembly fled the city.

On June 2, 1781, Jefferson quit the governorship. It was the end of his term, but because of chaotic wartime circumstances no successor had been named. Later in the year, Jefferson was reelected governor by the General Assembly. He declined, recommending instead the election of someone with military experience. Jefferson's administration had not been a success. A committee of the legislature investigated his conduct in office during the British invasion. Although he was exonerated, his reputation was badly tarnished in his home state.

Two days after Jefferson resigned his office, Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British dragoons made a surprise raid on Monticello and very nearly captured Jefferson, his entire family, and several guests. Although Jefferson's escape was orderly and dignified, his opponents spread a story that he fled on horseback just as the dragoons came into sight. To Jefferson's indignation, the story was told and retold, embroidered in such a way as to make him appear a coward.

Notes on Virginia

Jefferson spent the next two years in retirement at Monticello, concerning himself with agricultural matters and with building his estate. As usual, he continued to make notes on his surroundings. One winter, he put in book form all the information on Virginia that he had been collecting for many years. The work was published in 1785 as  Notes on the State of Virginia. It became one of the most famous and respected scientific books of its time and was acclaimed in Europe and America. Jefferson had described and reflected on the natural history, geography, climate, economics, Native Americans, religion, manners, agriculture, politics, and many other aspects of his native state. He discussed also many other subjects. A chapter on politics and government fervently defended the concepts of freedom and equality. Favoring a balance of power among all branches of government, Jefferson criticized the excessive power given the Virginia legislature. He wrote, “173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one.” He also condemned the institution of slavery, describing it as “this great political and moral evil.”

Jefferson's retirement from public life was marred by tragedy. On September 6, 1782, he noted in his account book that “my dear wife died this day at 11-45 AM.” After spending the next few months in almost total seclusion, he returned to politics.

Confederation Congressman

In November 1782 Jefferson accepted a congressional appointment as a diplomat with broad authority to Europe. He was to sail to France to take part in peace negotiations with Great Britain. However, his sailing was delayed, and by April 1783 the peace settlement was so nearly concluded that Congress decided not to send him at all. In June, Jefferson was elected as a Virginia delegate to Congress. His skill in drafting public papers was called on again and again, and he contributed to the work of many committees.

Among his most important actions was a proposal for the political organization of the Northwest Territory. This proposal was adopted by Congress in 1784 but was never put into effect. However, the governmental plan called the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was based in large part on his proposal. The Land Ordinance of 1785 was also Jefferson's work. It established the public land policy of the United States for more than 75 years. Jefferson suggested that the United States adopt the decimal system of currency, based on the silver Spanish dollar, using the silver dime and copper cent.

Diplomatic Representative to France

In May 1784 Congress again appointed Jefferson a diplomat. His duties were to take him to France. There he was to help the other ministers, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, in arranging commercial treaties with various European countries. When Franklin retired in 1785, Jefferson replaced him as the U.S. diplomatic representative to France.

One of Jefferson's most important functions in France was to report home how “the vaunted scene of Europe … struck a savage of the mountains of America.” He was not well impressed. He urged his friend, Congressman James Monroe, to come and see for himself what France was like. “It will make you adore your own country,” he said. “How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people enjoy.”

French Revolution

The France to which Jefferson referred was on the threshold of revolution. Jefferson hailed the idea of revolution in France but hoped it would be peaceful and orderly. When King Louis XVI agreed to convene a national representative body, the Estates-General, Jefferson thought the revolution had accomplished its end. From the opening of the Estates-General on May 5, 1789, he attended every day to observe its deliberations. He suggested to the Marquis de Lafayette, French military leader who fought in the American Revolution, that the king should give the people a charter of rights, and he even drafted a sample ten-point charter. The violence and cruelty of later developments in France distressed him greatly, but he never lost faith in the principles of the French Revolution.

Bill of Rights

During Jefferson's stay abroad he was frequently consulted on significant developments at home. The most important of these was the Constitution of the United States,drawn up in 1787. To James Madison, who sent him a copy of the proposed Constitution, Jefferson wrote, “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.” Such a bill would clearly state the right of the people to “freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trial by jury ….” Based on Jefferson's suggestions, Madison proposed a Bill of Rights, consisting of the first ten amendments, which was added to the Constitution in 1791.

While abroad, Jefferson toured much of Europe, taking note of its architecture and studying its scientific achievements. However, he longed to return to the United States, and permission finally came in September 1789.

Secretary of State

When Jefferson returned to the United States, President Washington asked him to become secretary of state. Although Jefferson was anxious to return to private life, he accepted at the president's urging.

Quarrels with Hamilton

What was to be Jefferson's chief problem for many years soon became apparent. He and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton were completely at odds in their thinking. Jefferson, with his faith in the rational mind and his optimistic view of popular government, placed his trust in the land and the people who farmed it. He believed that the purpose of government was to assure the freedom of its individual citizens. With his fear of tyranny, he distrusted centralization of power and favored instead the spread of power among the federal, state, and local levels of government.

Hamilton, on the other hand, distrusted popular rule. “The people!” he once exclaimed, “the people is a great beast!” Whereas Jefferson favored an economy based on agriculture that stressed individual freedom, Hamilton worked to promote commerce, industry, and a strong central government, under which, he believed, the economy would flourish. He believed that to preserve order and the alliance between business and government, the moneyed class and the wealthy aristocracy should hold all political power. Jefferson retorted, “I have never observed men's honesty to increase with their riches.” The conflict between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian thought has continued down to the present day. Generally, the American capitalist economy has grown along Hamiltonian lines, while American political institutions and social aims are Jeffersonian in nature.

Soon after Jefferson became secretary of state, he and Hamilton had a disagreement over the debts incurred by the states during the revolution. Hamilton, a New Yorker, wanted the federal government to pay these debts. He believed that this would greatly strengthen the central government. Jefferson objected. Virginia and most of the Southern states had already paid a considerable portion of their war debts and had no wish to pay those of the North. A political compromise resolved the issue. To satisfy Southerners, it was agreed to move the future national capital from Philadelphia to a Southern location on the Potomac River at what is now Washington, D.C. In exchange, Jefferson influenced Southern legislators to vote in favor of Hamilton's proposal that the federal government assume the war debts of the states.

Strict Construction

Another matter on which the two men disagreed intensely was the establishment of a national bank. Hamilton advocated such a bank as a means of forging a bond of common interest between business and the federal government. Jefferson felt that a national bank would encourage people to desert agriculture for speculation and give the commercial interests too much power in the federal government.

Jefferson supported his views by a “strict construction” of the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, which specified that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Jefferson argued that since the Constitution did not specifically empower the federal government to establish a national bank, it could not do so. Hamilton, however, argued for a “loose construction” of the Constitution. Relying on the implied-powers clause, which states that Congress can make all laws “necessary and proper” for the execution of its powers, Hamilton argued that the federal government could establish a bank. Jefferson's views were rejected when President Washington signed a bill establishing a national bank.

Political Parties

Out of the divergent political philosophies of Jefferson and Hamilton emerged the first clearly defined political parties in the United States. Hamilton's followers called themselves Federalists, later known as the Federalist Party, and Jefferson's were Republicans, later known as the Democratic-Republican Party. Feelings ran high between the two parties. Jefferson was assailed as an atheist and a demagogue. The Federalists were accused of planning to establish a monarchy along British lines.

Foreign Affairs

Since its defeat in the revolution, Great Britain had refused to sign a trade treaty with the United States. To force Britain to give the United States favorable commercial terms, Jefferson advocated an embargo (suspension of trade) against that country. He also wanted Britain to relinquish the forts in the Northwest Territory, which were held in violation of the peace treaty of 1783. Hamilton opposed an embargo, claiming that the United States would lose so much in customs duties that its finances would crumble. Jefferson did not get his embargo until much later, when he was president.

Citizen Genêt

In 1793 England and France were at war. Jefferson favored France, while Hamilton and the Federalists were committed to England. Both agreed, however, that the United States should stay out of the European war. Hamilton pressed President Washington to make an open declaration of neutrality. Jefferson felt that it would be neither wise nor constitutional for the president to make such a proclamation. However, Jefferson yielded to Hamilton in order to attain a goal he considered more important: the recognition of the republican government of France. This was achieved by accrediting the French diplomatic representative to the United States, Citizen Genêt (see Genêt, Edmond Charles Édouard).

Unfortunately, Genêt repeatedly violated the neutrality of the United States and finally threatened to make a direct appeal for the support of the American people. Jefferson eventually was forced to agree that Genêt should be recalled.

The Genêt incident was one of many frustrations that Jefferson encountered as secretary of state. Late in 1793, despite President Washington's pleas, he resigned. In January 1794 he returned to his beloved Monticello, believing that he was leaving public life for good.

Break With Washington

Even in retirement, Jefferson kept a close watch on political affairs. Federalist victories were a source of great concern to him, and his Republican allies in Congress looked to him for leadership. Jefferson was greatly distressed with Jay's Treaty, negotiated with Great Britain in 1794 by John Jay, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The treaty was intended to resolve remaining differences with Britain, including trade restrictions in the West Indies. However, the treaty had failed to win all the desired concessions for the United States, and the section dealing with West Indian trade was humiliating. Angry with Washington for having supported the treaty, Jefferson wrote his friend Philip Mazzei:

In place of that noble love of liberty, and republican government which carried

us triumphantly thro' the war, an Anglican, monarchical, and aristocratical party has sprung up, whose avowed object is to draw over us the substance as they have already done the forms of the British government.

He added a barely concealed indictment of President Washington, calling him a Samson who let his head be shorn by England. Mazzei was so indiscreet as to publish the letter, and Washington never again regarded Jefferson as his friend.

Election of 1796

In the election year of 1796, Washington announced that he would not seek a third term. Jefferson was prevailed upon to accept the Republican nomination for president. John Adams, nominated by the Federalists, polled three more electoral votes than Jefferson. According to the system of election then prevailing, Adams became president of the United States and Jefferson vice president.

Vice President of the United States

Jefferson was 54 years old when he became vice president. His duties were not clearly set forth in the Constitution, and to Jefferson it appeared that he had only to preside over the Senate. This he did ably. He also wrote the Manual of Parliamentary Practice, a book of parliamentary rules (published in 1801), many of which still apply to both houses of Congress. In other matters, Jefferson had little to do with the Federalist administration of President Adams.

XYZ Affair

Party friction was increased by the XYZ Affair in 1797 and 1798. Jay's Treaty, so unpopular at home, had also had repercussions abroad. The French government considered it a sellout to the British, despite the American declaration of neutrality, and therefore felt justified in interfering with United States-British trade. By the summer of 1797, France had seized 300 American ships and broken off diplomatic relations. There was talk of war, especially among the pro-British Federalists.

President Adams sent a three-man diplomatic team to France in an effort to negotiate a solution. The French government did not receive the diplomats. Instead they were approached by agents of Charles Talleyrand, the French foreign minister. The agents proposed that the United States could make reparations for its alleged injuries to France by paying Talleyrand a huge bribe and financing a large loan to the French government. These terms were so exorbitant and dishonorable that the American diplomats rejected them. When Adams, who had been waiting anxiously for news, got their report, he tried to keep it secret. But Jefferson's pro-French Republicans raised a great outcry. They accused Adams of suppressing information that was favorable to France and thereby driving America into war with that country.

Adams finally let the report be published. The names of the French agents were changed to X, Y, and Z, but the details were left unchanged. Jefferson now found himself on the defensive as anti-French feeling rose over the corrupt proposal. He argued that there was no reason to believe that the agents were actually speaking for the French government. But the antagonism toward France continued to grow and was exploited by the Federalists to the damage of the Republican Party.

Through his control of the Federalist Party, Hamilton rallied the United States to take action against France. Congress renounced all the treaties it had made with France during the American Revolution. It ordered an expansion of the army, created the Department of the Navy, and commissioned the building of naval fighting ships. George Washington was called out of retirement to lead the army, with Hamilton as his second in command. By the end of 1798 more than a dozen American men-of-war had been put to sea and an undeclared naval war with France had begun.

Alien and Sedition Acts

During this period of war fever in the United States, the Federalists passed a number of bills for national defense and for the suspension of trade between the United States and France. They also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts placed many restrictions on noncitizens and prohibited criticism of the president or the government of the United States. They effectively muzzled the Republican press, which had been critical of President Adams and the Federalist-dominated Congress. Even Hamilton thought the provisions of these bills excessive. Republicans were enraged. Indeed, Republican leaders Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe believed that the XYZ Affair had been invented by the Federalists to whip up anti-French feeling and to assure the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Kentucky Resolutions

In June 1798, while the Alien and Sedition Acts were still being considered by Congress, Jefferson left Philadelphia. He felt that there was no effective action he could take in Adams's Federalist administration.

At Monticello, Jefferson secretly drafted what were to be called the Kentucky Resolutions, in which he declared that the federal government was not “the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself.” On the contrary, Congress was merely a creation of the states and was subject to the “final judgement” of the states. He concluded that “whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” Here was the first statement of the doctrine of nullification. Jefferson's primary purpose was to defend human rights and civil liberties, which he believed were violated by the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Kentucky legislature adopted the Kentucky Resolutions, and similar resolutions were passed in Virginia. They were not acted upon, the Alien and Sedition Acts expired in 1801, and the furor died away. Later, however, the nullification doctrine was used by supporters of states' rights to deny what the Federalists thought the Constitution had settled: that the federal government was the primary government of the land. Opponents of nullification argued that it would break up the federal Union. Southern politicians invoked nullification in their 19th-century rivalry with the Northern states, an antagonism that finally reached its climax in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Election of 1800

The Republicans again nominated Jefferson for president in 1800. For vice president they nominated Aaron Burr, who had built up a strong Republican following in New York state. President Adams and Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina were the Federalist candidates.

The Federalists campaigned against Jefferson as an infidel who would destroy religion and set up the Goddess of Reason in its place, as extremists in the French Revolution had attempted to do. However, the political tide in the United States was swinging away from the aristocratic Federalists to those advocating a more democratic form of government, and the Republicans won a clear victory. Jefferson and Burr each polled 73 electoral votes. Adams, hampered by the opposition of Hamilton, came next with 65 votes.

The tie in the electoral vote caused one of the gravest crises in American constitutional history. The electors, in voting for Jefferson or Burr, had not specified whether their vote was for president or vice president. Therefore, despite his being his party's vice presidential candidate, Burr had as many votes for the office of president as Jefferson had.

The Constitution provides that in case no candidate in a presidential election wins a majority of the electoral votes, the election must go to the House of Representatives, where each state has one vote. To win, Jefferson or Burr had to have the support of a majority of the 16 states. To further complicate matters, this was a lame-duck Congress, meaning that many of its members had been defeated in the recent election and were in office only because their terms had not expired. Congress was dominated by Federalists who had to choose between two Republican candidates. From February 11, when the voting began, to February 16, neither Jefferson nor Burr could win the required nine states. Because he disliked Burr even more than he did Jefferson, Hamilton favored Jefferson, but most Federalists abhorred Jefferson. The crisis was resolved when a group of Federalists, led by James A. Bayard of Delaware, came to the realization that if an orderly transfer of government power was to be achieved, the majority party must have its choice as president. Therefore, on February 17 the deadlock was broken. On the 36th ballot, Jefferson won the support of ten states and was elected president. Burr, who had the support of only four states, became vice president.

As a result of this election, the 12th Amendment was added to the Constitution. This amendment specified that electors were to “name in their ballots the person voted for as president, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as vice president.”

President of the United States

Jefferson was inaugurated on March 4, 1801, the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. Dressed in plain, dark clothes, he walked from his boarding house to the chambers of the Senate of the United States in the still-uncompleted Capitol building, where he was to give his inaugural address. Jefferson was accompanied by a small crowd of people and a company of artillery. The outgoing president, John Adams, considered Jefferson a dangerous radical and did not attend the inauguration.

Jefferson's inaugural address, one of a small number of truly memorable addresses by presidents of the United States, attempted to dispel the notion held by many conservatives that democracy would lead to mob rule and anarchy. “The will of the majority in all cases is to prevail,” Jefferson said. However, “the minority possess their equal rights which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” Jefferson sought also to unite the country. “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,” he proclaimed. Furthermore, his program was moderate enough to win the support of both parties.

New Domestic Policies

Nevertheless, President Jefferson did reverse some Federalist programs. Both he and his secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, felt that a national debt was undesirable. By cutting certain appropriations, especially for the army and navy, they balanced the budget and reduced the debt. Jefferson also made good a Republican campaign promise to repeal internal duties. This was greeted with approval in the West, where in 1794, Washington had had to use force to collect a hated excise tax on whiskey.

Marbury v. Madison

During his last days in office President John Adams was determined to ensure Federalist control of the judiciary. The lame-duck Congress had obliged by creating 16 new circuit courts and permitting Adams to appoint as many justices of the peace for the District of Columbia as he felt necessary. In all, about 200 offices were created and filled by loyal Federalists. In addition, Adams appointed his secretary of state, John Marshall, a Federalist from Virginia, to be chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Jefferson, terming these “midnight appointments” an “outrage in decency,” succeeded in having the circuit judgeships abolished. He also reduced the number of justices of the peace from 42 to 30. Furthermore, Jefferson ordered his secretary of state, James Madison, to withhold those commissions that had not yet been delivered. One of Adams's appointees, William Marbury, brought a suit in the Supreme Court for a writ to compel Madison to deliver his commission. In 1803 Chief Justice Marshall ruled that the section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that authorized the Court to issue such a writ was unconstitutional and that, although Marbury was entitled to his commission, the Supreme Court could not force Madison to give it to him. Thus Marshall established the doctrine of judicial review, whereby the Supreme Court has the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.

Assault on Judiciary

During his first term as president, Jefferson attempted to replace Federalist officeholders with Republicans. He especially wanted to end the Federalists' control of the judiciary. In 1804 John Pickering, a district judge from New Hampshire, was impeached and removed from office because of insanity. A more formidable opponent was Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. An outspoken Federalist, Chase often made scathing attacks from the bench on Jefferson and the Republican Party. In 1805 he was impeached and tried before the Senate. Just before Jefferson began his second term, Chase was acquitted. Thereafter, Jefferson resigned himself to an unelected and independent judiciary controlled by the Federalists.

War with Tripoli

Jefferson had long opposed paying tribute to protect American shipping from the pirates who operated from the Barbary states on the coast of northern Africa. As diplomatic representative to France he had tried but failed to persuade European countries to join with the United States in an attack on the pirate bases.

In 1801 the pasha (ruler) of Tripoli, one of the Barbary states (in what is now Libya), demanded tribute money beyond the amount fixed by treaty. When Jefferson refused the demand, war ensued. Jefferson sent warships to blockade Tripoli, and Stephen Decatur, a young naval officer, distinguished himself in several daring actions. However, the war with Tripoli did not end until 1805, when Captain William Eaton captured the Tripolitan town of Darnah and the pasha agreed to make peace. The payment of tribute to Tripoli came to an end. However, the United States continued to have trouble with pirates from other Barbary states.

Louisiana Purchase

Jefferson's chief accomplishment as president was the Louisiana Purchase. The huge territory of Louisiane (in English, Louisiana), stretching from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, was claimed as a possession by France in 1682. Because Louisiana was so large, its resources—although as yet mostly undiscovered—were thought to be of great value.

In the early years of the United States, Louisiana was of concern chiefly because it bordered the Mississippi River, which was vital to U.S. trade. In 1762 France had ceded Louisiana to Spain, which was too weak to offer a serious threat to American commerce. In 1800, however, rumors spread that Spain was about to cede Louisiana back to France. Jefferson was alarmed. Relations between the United States and France were still unfriendly, and France had the power to cut off American shipping at Louisiana's capital, New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi. There was, said Jefferson, “one single spot” on the globe, “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.”

In 1802 the rumored cession was confirmed. Jefferson called the resulting crisis “the most important the United States have ever met since independence.” He sent James Monroe to help Robert R. Livingston, the American diplomatic representative to France, negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. Congress appropriated $2 million for the purchase.

In April 1803, one day before Monroe arrived in Paris, Talleyrand made Livingston a startling offer. The French emperor, Napoleon I, was willing to sell not only New Orleans, he said, but the whole of Louisiana as well. A treaty dated April 30, 1803, set the terms of the purchase: $15 million, which included $3.75 million to pay for American claims against France.

At the end of June, news of the treaty reached the United States. Jefferson was very eager to acquire the entire territory, but, viewing it from his strict-construction point of view, he questioned whether the Constitution permitted such a purchase. He wanted to amend the Constitution to make the transaction clearly legal.

Very soon, however, Jefferson changed his mind about waiting for an amendment. His envoys in France wrote that Napoleon already regretted his offer and might back out if given time. Furthermore, many Federalists opposed the purchase and were ready to seize on Jefferson's own doubts about its constitutionality to prevent its ratification. Jefferson therefore asked the Senate to ratify the treaty at once. The Senate did so on October 20, although every Federalist voted against it.

It then appeared that Spain, which had not yet actually turned over Louisiana to France, might challenge the purchase. Jefferson proceeded swiftly and firmly to establish American rights. He ordered out troops from the Mississippi Territory, Tennessee, and Kentucky. This show of force discouraged Spanish resistance, and Spain formally ceded Louisiana to France. On December 20, 1803, the flag of the United States flew over New Orleans.

Lewis and Clark Expedition

Jefferson had dreamed of the exploration of the West from the time he was secretary of state. As a scientist he wanted to know about the land and its inhabitants. He realized the importance of such exploration for the future expansion of the United States.

In January 1803, half a year before the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson proposed his idea to Congress. In order to conceal its expansionist aims from England, France, and Spain, he suggested that the journey be presented as a “literary pursuit.” Congress gave its approval. Jefferson chose his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the expedition, and Lewis selected William Clark, a frontiersman, as his coleader. Jefferson instructed them to observe and note down the physical features, topography, soil, climate, and wildlife of the land and the language and customs of its inhabitants. In 1806 Lewis and Clark returned with their valuable journals. They had successfully breached the mountain barrier of the West, built a fort on the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River, and mapped and explored much of the American Northwest. Moreover, they had secured the friendship of a number of Native American peoples and given the United States a claim to the Oregon country.

Jefferson's interest in the new Western territory did not end with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1804 and 1806 he sent out expeditions to explore the Red River to its source. When these met with Spanish resistance, he shifted his interest to the north. In 1805 he sent Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike to discover the source of the Mississippi River, and in 1806, Pike was sent out to explore the Arkansas River to its source.

Merry Affair

Jefferson believed that the president's dress and manners should reflect the republican simplicity and informality of the country. Pomp and show reminded him too much of the European courts. In fact, Jefferson worked so hard to avoid ostentation that he began to dress not merely plainly, but sloppily. As for manners, he refused to observe the rules of protocol in seating his dinner guests. First come, first served was the rule in the presidential mansion, the White House. Jefferson explained:

In social circles, all are equal, whether in, or out, of office, foreign or domestic; and the same equality exists among ladies and gentlemen … “pell mell” and “next the door” form the basis of etiquette in the societies of this country.

The new British diplomatic representative to the United States, Anthony Merry, and his wife were shocked and insulted when the president received them in worn clothing and slippers. In December 1803 at a formal dinner in the White House, no one offered to escort Mrs. Merry to dinner. In the dining room, Merry and his wife had to scramble for places at the table in competition with the other guests. The Marquis d'Yrujo, the Spanish diplomat, had the same experience. He and Merry agreed that this treatment was an insult to them and to their countries. The two diplomats and their wives sought to retaliate. At their parties, for instance, no one escorted the wives of the Cabinet members to the dinner table. This social war greatly enlivened Washington. The president refused to retreat from his pell mell rule, and Merry and Yrujo became increasingly angry and receptive to the plottings of Jefferson's opponents, the Federalists and Aaron Burr.

Native American Policy

Jefferson's policy toward Native Americans reflected less his humanitarian instincts than it did his understanding of the needs of the settlers on the expanding western frontier. When, in 1803, the Choctaw nation was persuaded to sell its lands on the Mississippi, Jefferson wrote to General Henry Dearborn, his secretary of war, that the Choctaw “are poor and will probably sell … so as to be entitled to an annual pension, which is one of the best holds we can have on them.” Through Jefferson's efforts, 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of land were bought from the Native Americans for $142,000. As a result of this land grabbing, the Native Americans who remained east of the Mississippi River began to rally behind the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. Tecumseh, with his brother Tenskwatawa, who was known as the Shawnee Prophet, promised to rid the Native Americans of the white people forever.

Election of 1804

Jefferson was renominated for the presidency by a caucus (political meeting) of Republican senators and congressmen. However, Vice President Burr was dropped from the ticket in favor of George Clinton, who had served a record six terms as governor of New York. The Federalists chose Charles C. Pinckney to oppose Jefferson. This election was very different from the election of 1800, when many Federalists were convinced that Jefferson was the candidate of anarchy, atheism, and revolution. In the landslide of 1804, Jefferson polled 162 electoral votes to Pinckney's 14 and won every state but Connecticut and Delaware.

Second Term as President

On March 4, 1805, Jefferson again walked to the yet unfinished Capitol building for his second inaugural address, which was to be far different from his first. As he himself noted in the margin of the text:

The former one was an exposition of the principles on which I thought it my duty to administer the government. The second then should naturally be … a statement of facts showing that I have conformed to those principles. The former was promise: this is performance.

Randolph's Rebellion

The accomplishments of Jefferson's first term in office and the resounding Republican victory in the election of 1804 greatly weakened the Federalist Party. During his second term, opposition within his own party, led by Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, proved to be Jefferson's major problem.

Randolph first split with the administration over its handling of the Yazoo fraud. In 1795 a group of land speculators, many of them from the North, bribed the Georgia legislature into selling them the greater part of its western land claims, in what is now Alabama and Mississippi, for only $500,000. The area was called the Yazoo tract because the Yazoo River runs through it. The next year the citizens of Georgia elected a new legislature, which promptly invalidated the sale. In 1802 Georgia relinquished its western land claims to the federal government. In 1804 and again in 1805 Jefferson recommended that Congress pass a law to reimburse the original speculators out of receipts from land sales on the Yazoo tract. Both times, Randolph, who felt Jefferson was unduly considerate of the corrupt land speculators, successfully led the opposition against the bill.

Randolph's complete break with the administration came in the winter of 1805 and 1806, when Jefferson asked Congress to appropriate $2 million for an unspecified diplomatic purpose. This purpose, as Randolph construed it from a private conversation with Jefferson, was to bribe Napoleon into forcing Spain to sell Florida to the United States. Randolph did not approve of secret diplomacy and denounced these “backstairs” negotiations to acquire Florida. Randolph was unable to block the appropriation, although nothing ever came of the proposed deal with Napoleon. However, Randolph gathered around him a group of Federalists and dissident Republicans, called Quids. This group was able to prevent Jefferson from accomplishing much of his legislative program during his second term.

Burr Conspiracy

In 1804 Aaron Burr was defeated for the governorship of New York. His failure was due primarily to the opposition of Alexander Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, killed him, and was forced to flee to the frontier. His political career was ruined.

Burr next became involved in a plot, the purpose of which is still unclear. He seems to have intended either to separate the Louisiana Territory from the United States or to seize Mexico from Spain. Indeed, his story seems to have varied with his audience. However, his plan was betrayed by his accomplice, General James Wilkinson. In a letter to Jefferson, Wilkinson revealed Burr's “deep, dark, wicked” plot to seize Louisiana. Burr was captured and brought to Richmond for trial in 1807. Jefferson, who had long distrusted his former vice president, was anxious to see him convicted of treason. However, he was again thwarted by Chief Justice Marshall, who presided at the trial. Marshall, intent on establishing the independence of the judiciary, excluded much of the evidence that did not meet the constitutional definition of treason, and to Jefferson's disgust Burr was acquitted.

Chesapeake Affair

As the European war continued, the United States found it increasingly difficult to maintain its neutrality. Napoleon blockaded Great Britain, trying to stop its sea trade, and Britain issued orders that prohibited trade with the rest of Europe. Also, the British, badly in need of sailors, stopped American vessels and removed sailors they claimed were British deserters. Often the sailors were British, but occasionally Americans were also forcibly enlisted, or impressed, into the British service (see Impressment).

In June 1807 the United States frigate Chesapeake was stopped by the British ship Leopard. When the Chesapeake refused to permit a search, the Leopard fired upon it. The helpless American ship was thereupon forced to surrender four of its men. One was a British deserter, but three were Americans. Many Americans wanted to go to war against Britain over this incident. However, Jefferson was determined to avoid war, feeling he could bring Britain to terms by applying economic pressure.

Embargo

In December 1807 the Embargo Act was put into effect. American ships were forbidden to sail from American ports to any European port. Jefferson believed that England and France could not survive without American trade. However, he had greatly underestimated the effect of the embargo on the United States itself. All parts of the country were affected, especially the industrial and commercial North. Shipbuilders, sailors, manufacturers, and merchants denounced the embargo. The Southern planters also suffered financially. Exports stopped, and produce prices fell. U.S. revenue at the time was derived almost entirely from customs duties. With the stoppage of international trade the national income dropped from $16 million in 1807 to a little more than $7 million in 1809. Indeed, the embargo did more damage to the American economy than to England's or France's.

Americans did their best to evade the embargo. Smuggling flourished along the Atlantic coast and over the Canadian border in the Northeast. The harassed president wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin:

This embargo law is certainly the most embarrassing one we have ever had to execute. I did not expect a crop of so sudden and rank growth of fraud and open opposition by force could have grown up in the United States.

The Federalists assailed the Embargo Act as not only ruinous, but unconstitutional as well. According to Jefferson's own strict interpretation of the Constitution, the federal government did not have the power to impose such a restriction on commerce during peacetime. However, Jefferson ignored the constitutional aspects of the embargo and sought, instead, means to enforce it. Opposition continued to grow, even in his own Cabinet. Therefore, in March 1809, a few days before he left office, Jefferson had the Embargo Act repealed. The less stringent Non-Intercourse Act, pertaining only to England and France, was adopted in its place.

Election of 1808

Jefferson was again offered the Republican presidential nomination in 1808. Unwilling to see the presidency become “an inheritance,” he declined. He wanted, he said, to follow “the sound precedent set by an illustrious predecessor,” George Washington. The Republicans thereupon chose Jefferson's political protégé James Madison, who went on to win the presidential election of 1808. As Jefferson's term drew near its end, he wrote his old friend, French economist Pierre du Pont de Nemours:

 

Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power. Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived, have forced me to … commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions. I thank God for the opportunity of retiring from them without censure, and carrying with me the most consoling proofs of public approbation.

Later Life

At the age of 65, Jefferson was at last free to return to his beloved mountaintop estate in Virginia. He devoted much of his energy to repairing and rebuilding his estate, but he yet found time to design houses for his friends. He furnished Monticello with rare and beautiful objects and with his own remarkable inventions, so that the estate was much talked about and frequently visited. He also worked to advance agricultural science, and he filled his account books with observations of all kinds.

Jefferson's leisure time was spent in reading. Ancient history especially interested him, but he also continued his study of philosophy, religion, and law. In 1815 he sold his 6500-volume collection to the federal government as the nucleus of the restored Library of Congress, which was being built up again after its destruction in the British burning of Washington in the War of 1812. However, immediately afterward, Jefferson set about buying a new collection.

Political differences had long ago broken up the friendship between Jefferson and John Adams. Now, a mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, brought about a reconciliation. Jefferson and Adams began a lively correspondence that touched on many subjects. “I cannot write volumes on a single sheet,” Adams wrote plaintively, “but these letters of yours require volumes from me.”

University of Virginia

The founding of the University of Virginia was probably the most important work of Jefferson's later years. Architecturally designed by Jefferson and based on his plans and recommendations, the university opened its doors in 1825. It accepted not only wealthy students, but also capable students too poor to pay. Free public education had always been one of Jefferson's dreams, and he managed to accomplish it on the university level, although not on lower levels.

Missouri Compromise

Occupied as he was with private projects, Jefferson always remained interested in national affairs. Many years before, as a congressman, he had tried to outlaw slavery in new states. He failed, as did others who came after him, and the issue eventually became the main grievance between the slaveholding South and the antislavery North. In 1820 Congress tried to reconcile the opposing sides with the Missouri Compromise, which allowed slavery only in new states created south of a line at 36°30' north latitude. Jefferson clearly foresaw, during the debate in Congress, that a terrible struggle over slavery still lay ahead:

This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. My only comfort and confidence is, that I shall not live to see this; and I envy not the present generation the glory of throwing away the fruits of their father's sacrifices of life and fortune, and of rendering desperate the experiment which was to decide ultimately whether man is capable of self-government. This treason against human hope will signalize their epoch in future history.

Death of Jefferson

Jefferson and his friend Adams, both of whom had played such great parts in the winning of independence, died on Independence Day, July 4, 1826. Jefferson left detailed instructions for his burial in the graveyard of his estate. A simple monument was to mark his resting place. It specified that the monument was to be made of coarse stone so that “no one might be tempted hereafter to destroy it for the value of the materials.” He wrote his own epitaph:

Here was buried

Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

Of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom

And Father of the University of Virginia  

This was to be inscribed on the monument, and “not a word more … because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”

Jefferson's wishes were carried out, but vandals later overturned and broke the stone. A careful reproduction now marks Jefferson's grave.