10 Things to Know About Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the third president of the United States. He had been the head writer of the Declaration of Independence. As president, he presided over the Louisiana Purchase.

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Excellent Student

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by John Trumbull (American, 1756 - 1843); oil on panel, 1788, from the White House collection, Washington DC
GraphicArtis / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson was a wonderful student and gifted learner from a young age. Tutored at home, Jefferson's formal education began when he was between the ages of nine and 11 when he boarded with his teacher Reverand James Maury and studied Latin, Greek, French, history, science, and the classics. in 1760, he was accepted at the College of William and Mary, where he studied philosophy and mathematics, graduating with highest honors in 1762. He was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

While at William and Mary, he became close friends Governor Francis Fauquier, William Small, and George Wythe, the first American law professor.

02
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Bachelor President

Leaders Of The Continental Congress
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Jefferson married the widow Martha Wayles Skelton when he was 29. Her holdings doubled Jefferson's wealth. Although they had six children, only two of them lived to maturity. Martha Jefferson died in 1782, 10 years before Jefferson became the president.

While president, his two surviving daughters Martha (called "Patsy") and Mary ("Polly") along with James Madison's wife Dolley served as the unofficial hostesses for the White House.

03
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Relationship With Sally Hemings

Most scholars believe that Jefferson was the father to all six of his slave Sally Hemings' children, four of whom survived to adulthood: Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings. DNA tests conducted in 1998, documentary evidence, and oral history of the Hemings family support this contention.

Genetic testing has shown that a descendant of the youngest son carried a Jefferson gene. Further, Jefferson had the opportunity to be the father for each of the children. The nature of their relationship is still debated: Sally Hemings was his property and apparently his mistress. The Hemings' children were the only enslaved persons to be freed either formally or informally after Jefferson's death.

04
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Author of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration Committee
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Jefferson was sent to the Second Continental Congress as a representative of Virginia. He was one of the five-man committee chosen in June 1776 to write the Declaration of Independence, including Jefferson, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and John Adams of Massachusetts.

Jefferson thought John Adams was the best choice to write it, an argument between the two men that was captured in a letter from Adams to his friend Timothy Pickering. Despite his misgivings, Jefferson was selected to write the first draft. His draft was written in 17 days, heavily revised by the committee and then the Continental Congress, and the final version ratified on July 4, 1776.

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Staunch Anti-Federalist

Thomas Jefferson
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Jefferson was a strong believer in state's rights. As George Washington's Secretary of State, he was often at odds with Washington's Secretary of the Treasury ​Alexander Hamilton.

The sharpest disagreement between them was that Jefferson felt that Hamilton's creation of the Bank of the United States was unconstitutional as this power was not specifically granted in the Constitution. Due to this and other issues, Jefferson eventually resigned from his post in 1793.

06
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Opposed American Neutrality

Revolution on city street
Nastasic / Getty Images

Jefferson had served as the Minister to France from 1785-1789. He returned home when the French Revolution began. However, he felt that America owed its loyalty to France who had supported it during the ​American Revolution.

In contrast, President Washington felt that in order for America to survive, it had to remain neutral during France's war with England. Jefferson opposed this, and the conflict helped lead to his resignation as Secretary of State.

07
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Co-Authored the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

John Adams

 United States Navy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

During John Adams' presidency, the four Alien and Sedition Acts were passed to curtail some types of political speech. These were the Naturalization Act, which increased residency requirements for new immigrants from five years to 14; the Alien Enemies Act, which permitted the government to arrest and deport all male citizens of nations identified as enemies in time of war; the Alien Friends Act, which allowed the president to deport any non-citizen suspected of plotting against the government; and the Sedition Act, which outlawed any “false, scandalous and malicious writing” against Congress or the president, and made it illegal to conspire “to oppose any measure or measures of the government.”

Thomas Jefferson worked with James Madison to create the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in opposition to these acts, in which they argued that the government as a compact among the states, and the states had the right to "nullify" any that they felt exceeded the power of the Federal government.

To a large extent, Jefferson's presidency was won on this point, and, once he became president, he allowed Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts to expire.

08
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Tied With Aaron Burr in the Election of 1800

Duel Between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

 J. Mund/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 1800, Jefferson ran against John Adams with Aaron Burr as his Vice Presidential candidate. Even though Jefferson and Burr were both a part of the same party, they tied. At the time, whoever received the most votes won. This would not change until the passage of the twelfth amendment.

Burr would not concede, so the election to the House of Representatives. It took thirty-six ballots before Jefferson was named the winner. Jefferson would run for and win reelection in 1804.

09
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Completed the Louisiana Purchase

Map Of The Louisiana Purchase

GraphicaArtis /Getty Images

Due to Jefferson's strict constructionist beliefs, he was faced with a quandary when Napoleon offered the Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15 million. Jefferson wanted the land but did not feel that the Constitution gave him the authority to buy it.

The purchase had been owned by the Spanish, but in October 1802, Spain's King Charles V signed over the territory to France, and American access to the port of New Orleans was blocked. With some Federalists calling for war to fight France for the territory, and recognizing that ownership and occupation of the land by the French was a huge impediment to American westward expansion, Jefferson got Congress to agree to the Louisiana Purchase, adding 529 million acres of land to the United States.

10
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America's Renaissance Man

Monticello - Home of Thomas Jefferson
Chris Parker / Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson is often called the "Last Renaissance Man." He was certainly one of the most accomplished presidents in American History: a president, politician, inventor, archaeologist, naturalist, author, educator, lawyer, architect, violinist, and philosopher. He spoke six languages, conducted archaeological investigations on Native American mounds on his property, founded the University of Virginia, and assembled a library which eventually served as the foundation for the Library of Congress. And over the length of his life he "owned" over 600 people of African and African-American descent.

Visitors to his home in Monticello can still see some of his inventions today.