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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is imprinted in U.S. history as a spokesman for democracy, American Founding Father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. As a public official, historian, philosopher and plantation owner, he served his country for over five decades, voicing the aspirations of new America like no other individual of his era.

As the “silent member” of Congress, Jefferson, was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence at 33-years-old. Throughout his life, he worked to implement the words of the document in Virginia. Most notably, he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a statement of both freedom of conscience and the principle of separation of church and state, which was eventually passed by the Virginia General Assembly.

After leaving congress, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781 and succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785. His sympathy for the French Revolution led him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when Jefferson was Secretary of State in President George Washington’s Cabinet from which he resigned in 1793.

Severe political conflict developed causing the formation of two separate parties: The Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. As a reluctant candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson was within three votes of winning the election. Through a flaw in the Constitution, he became Vice President, although he was an opponent of President John Adams, a Federalist. In 1800, Republican electors attempted to name both a President and a Vice President from their own party and cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives settled the tie and Jefferson took office in 1801.

When Jefferson assumed the Presidency, the crisis in France had passed. He slashed Army and Navy expenditures, cut the budget, eliminated the tax on whiskey, and reduced the national debt by a third. During Jefferson’s second term, he was increasingly preoccupied with keeping the Nation from involvement in the Napoleonic wars, though both England and France interfered with the neutral rights of American merchantmen. Jefferson’s attempted solution was an embargo upon American shipping, which did not work well and was unpopular amongst Americans.

After his two terms, Jefferson retired to his Virginia plantation, Monticello, to consider projects such as his grand designs for the establishment of the University of Virginia. According to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, it was Jefferson’s wish that his tomb stone reflect the things that he had given the people, not the things that the people had given to him. It is for this reason that his epitaph reads:

BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826

The Mercury One artifact shown below is an arrangement of leaves from Jefferson’s seat at Monticello, VA, picked in the spring of 1863. Also special to this artifact is a lock of Thomas Jefferson’s hair attached in the bottom right quadrant. It was common place to keep a lock of hair as a sentimental reminder following the death of a loved one and became popular during the Civil War.


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