Jefferson was the third President of the United States (1801–1809),
principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and
one of the most influential founders of the United States. Major
events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase (1803),
the Embargo Act of 1807, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806).
political philosopher who promoted classical liberalism, republicanism,
and the separation of church and state, he was the author of the
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786), which was
the basis of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of
the United States Constitution. He was the eponym of Jeffersonian
democracy and the founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican
Party which dominated American politics for over a quarter-century
and was the precursor to today's Democratic Party. Jefferson also
served as the second Governor of Virginia (1779–1781), first
United States Secretary of State (1789–1795), and second
Vice President (1797–1801).
addition to his political career, Jefferson was also an agriculturalist,
horticulturist, architect, etymologist, archaeologist, mathematician,
cryptographer, surveyor, paleontologist, author, lawyer, inventor,
violinist, and the founder of the University of Virginia. Many
people consider Jefferson to be among the most brilliant men ever
to occupy the Presidency. President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine
Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962, saying, "I
think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of
human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House,
with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
was born on April 2, 1743 according to the Julian calendar ("old
style") used at the time, but under the Gregorian calendar
("new style") adopted during his lifetime, he was born
on April 13.
was born into a prosperous Virginia family.Third of ten children
(two of them were stillborn), his father was Peter Jefferson,
a planter and surveyor who owned a plantation in Albemarle County
called Shadwell. His mother was Jane Randolph – a cousin
of Peyton Randolph. Both parents were from families that had been
settled in Virginia for several generations.
1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by William
Douglas, a Scottish reverend. In 1757, when Jefferson was 14 years
old, his father died. Jefferson inherited about 5,000 acres (20
km²) of land and dozens of slaves, out of which he created
his home which would eventually be known as Monticello.
his father's death, he was taught at the school of the learned
James Maury, a reverend, from 1758 to 1760. The school was in
Fredericksburg parish, twelve miles from Shadwell, and Jefferson
boarded with Maury's family. There he received a classical education
and studied history and natural science. At the age of nine, Jefferson
began studying the classical languages of Latin and Greek as well
entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg at the
age of 16 and spent two years there, from 1760 to 1762. There
Jefferson studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under
professor William Small, who introduced the enthusiastic Jefferson
to the writings of British Empiricists, including John Locke,
Francis Bacon, and Sir Isaac Newton (Jefferson would later refer
to them as the "three greatest men the world had ever produced").
At William and Mary, he reportedly studied 15 hours a day, perfected
French, carried his Greek grammar book wherever he went, practiced
the violin, and favored Tacitus and Homer.
college, Jefferson was a member of the secret Flat Hat Club, now
the namesake of the William and Mary's daily student newspaper.
After graduating in 1762 with highest honors, Jefferson studied
law with his friend and mentor, George Wythe, and was admitted
to the Virginia bar in 1767.
1772 he married a widow, Martha Wayles Skelton (1748-82). They
had six children: Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836), Jane
Randolph (1774-1775), unnamed son (1777-1777), Mary Wayles (1778-1804),
Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781), and Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1785). Martha
Wayles Skelton died September 6, 1782, and Thomas Jefferson never
1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of
Knowledge" led to several academic reforms at his alma mater,
including an elective system of study – the first in an
American university. In 1779, at Jefferson's behest, William and
Mary appointed George Wythe to be the first Professor of Law in
an American university. Furthermore, as Governor, he oversaw the
transfer of the state capitol from Williamsburg to Richmond in
1780. In 1783, Jefferson was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor
of Laws by William and Mary.
Governor of Virginia, Jefferson continued to advocate educational
reforms at the College of William and Mary, including the nation's
first student-policed honor code. Dissatisfied with the rate of
changes he wanted to push through, he would go on later in life
to become the "father" and founder of the first university
at which higher education was completely separate from religious
doctrine, the University of Virginia.
Political career to 1800
Jefferson practiced law and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
In 1774, he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America
which was intended as instructions for the Virginia delegates
to a national congress. The pamphlet was a powerful argument of
American terms for a settlement with Britain, helped speed the
way to independence, and marked Jefferson as one of the most thoughtful
was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and
a source of many other contributions to American political and
civil culture. The Continental Congress delegated the task of
writing the Declaration to a committee that unanimously solicited
Jefferson to prepare the draft of the Declaration alone.
the American Revolution, Jefferson served as governor of Virginia
(1779-1781), and afterwards as minister to France (1785–1789).
He did not attend the Constitutional Convention. He did generally
support the new Constitution, although he thought the document
flawed for lack of a Bill of Rights.
returning from France, Jefferson served as the first Secretary
of State under George Washington (1790–1793). After battling
inside the cabinet with Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson and James
Madison founded and led the original Democratic-Republican Party
(then called the "Republican Party" and the precursor
of the modern Democratic Party).
worked with Madison and his campaign manager John J. Beckley to
build what historians call the First Party System. Jefferson strongly
supported France against Britain when war broke out between those
powerful nations in 1793. However, when the Jay Treaty proved
that Washington and Hamilton supported Britain, Jefferson retired
to Monticello. He was later elected Vice President (1797–1801)
With a Quasi-War with France underway (that is, an undeclared
naval war), the Federalists under John Adams started a navy, built
up the army, levied new taxes, readied for war and also enacted
the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Jefferson interpreted the
Alien and Sedition Acts as an attack on his party more than on
dangerous enemy aliens.
and Madison rallied support by anonymously writing the Kentucky
and Virginia Resolutions that declared that the Constitution only
established an agreement between the central government and the
states and that the federal government had no right to exercise
powers not specifically delegated to it. Should the federal government
assume such powers, its acts under them could be voided by a state.
The Resolutions' importance lies in being the first statements
of the states' rights theory that led to the later concepts of
nullification and interposition.
closely with Aaron Burr of New York, Jefferson rallied his party,
attacking the new taxes especially, and ran for the Presidency
in 1800. Federalists counterattacked Jefferson, a Deist, as an
atheist and enemy of Christianity. He tied with Burr for first
place in the Electoral College, leaving the House of Representatives
(where the Federalists still had some power) to decide the election.
convinced his Federalist friends that Jefferson would be much
less of a threat than Burr. The issue was resolved by the House,
on February 17, 1801, when Jefferson was elected President and
Burr Vice President.
Jefferson's Presidency, from 1801 to 1809, was the first to start
and end in the White House; it was also the first Democratic-Republican
Presidency. Jefferson is the only Vice President to later win
an election and serve two full terms as President of the United
term was marked by his belief in agrarianism, individual liberty,
and limited government, sparking the development of a distinct
American identity defined by republicanism. During this term,
Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase and commissioned the Lewis
and Clark Expedition. Jefferson was re-elected in the 1804 election.
His second term was dominated by foreign policy concerns, as American
neutrality was imperiled by war between Britain and France.
was a strict constructionist who compromised on his original principles
during his Presidency. He strayed from the principles of keeping
a small navy, agrarian economy, strict constructionalism, and
a small/weak government. A group called the tertium quids criticised
Jefferson for his abandonment of his early principles.
during his Presidency
1. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States.
2. First Barbary War (1801)
3. Louisiana Purchase (1803)
4. Marbury v. Madison (1803)
5. Creation of the Orleans Territory (1804)
6. Land Act of 1804
7. Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified
8. Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806)
9. Creation of the Louisiana Territory (later renamed the Missouri
Territory) in 1805
10. Tertium quids create a divide in the Democratic-Republican
11. Embargo Act of 1807, an attempt to force respect for U.S.
neutrality by ending trade with the belligerents in the Napoleonic
12. Abolition of the external slave trade in 1808
of a university
After leaving the Presidency, Jefferson continued to be active
in public affairs. He also became increasingly obsessed with founding
a new institution of higher learning, specifically one free of
church influences where one could specialize in many new areas
not offered at other universities. A letter to Joseph Priestley,
in January 1800, indicated that he had been planning the university
for decades before its establishment.
dream was realized in 1819, with the founding of the University
of Virginia. Upon its opening in 1825, it was then the first university
to offer a full slate of elective courses to its students. One
of the largest construction projects to that time in North America,
it was notable for being centered about a library, rather than
a church. In fact, no campus chapel was included in his original
plans. Until his death, he invited university students and faculty
of the school to his home, Edgar Allan Poe among them.
Jefferson died on the Fourth of July, 1826, the 50th anniversary
of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the same day
as John Adams' death. Thomas Jefferson was in very high debt when
he died. His possessions were sold at an auction on Monticello.
In 1831 Jefferson's 552 acres were sold for $7,000 to James T.
Barclay. In 1836 Barclay sold the estate and 218 acres of land
to the United States Navy Lieutenant Uriah P. Levy for $2,700.
then bought the surrounding land and started to purchase original
furnishings. Lieutenant Levy is called "the Savior of Monticello"
because of this. Levy died in 1862 as a result of the Civil War.
In his will, he left the Monticello to the United States to be
used as a school for orphans of navy officers. Thomas Jefferson
is buried on his Monticello estate. His epitaph, written by him
with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more"
be inscribed, reads:
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia
Jefferson was six feet, two-and-one-half inches (189 cm) in height,
slender, erect and sinewy. He had angular features, a very ruddy
complexion, strawberry blond hair and hazel-flecked, grey eyes.
In later years, he was negligent in dress and loose in bearing.
He was a poor public speaker who mumbled through his most important
addresses. There was grace, nevertheless, in his manners; and
his frank and earnest address, his quick sympathy (though he seemed
cold to strangers), and his vivacious, desultory, informing talk
gave him an engaging charm. Beneath a quiet surface, he was fairly
aglow with intense convictions and a very emotional temperament.
Yet he seems to have acted habitually, in great and little things,
on system. He deliberately insulted the British minister in 1801--and
he responded by creating a center of intrigue in Washington.
it is a biographical tradition that he lacked wit, Don Quixote
and the works of Molière seem to have been his favorites;
and though the utilitarian wholly crowds romanticism out of his
writings, he had enough of that quality in youth to prepare to
learn Gaelic in order to translate Ossian, and sent to James Macpherson
for the originals.
President he discontinued the practice of delivering the State
of the Union Address in person, instead sending the address to
Congress in writing (the practice was eventually revived by Woodrow
Wilson); he ended up giving only two public speeches during his
Presidency. He burned all of his letters between himself and his
wife at her death, creating the portrait of a man who at times
could be very private.
Jefferson was an accomplished architect who was extremely influential
in bringing the Neo-Palladian style popular among the Whig aristocracy
of Britain to the United States. The style was associated with
Enlightenment ideas of republican civic virtue and political liberty.
Jefferson designed his famous home, Monticello, near Charlottesville,
Virginia; it included automatic doors, the first swivel chair,
and other convenient devices invented by Jefferson. Nearby is
the only university ever to have been founded by a President,
the University of Virginia, of which the original curriculum and
architecture Jefferson designed.
Monticello and the University of Virginia are together one of
only four man-made World Heritage Sites in the United States of
America. Jefferson is also credited with the architectural design
of the Virginia State Capitol building, which was modeled after
the Maison Carrée at Nîmes in southern France, an
ancient Roman temple. Jefferson's buildings helped initiate the
ensuing American fashion for Federal style architecture.
interests included archeology, a discipline then in its infancy.
He has sometimes been called the "father of archeology"
in recognition of his role in developing excavation techniques.
When exploring an Indian burial mound on his Virginia estate in
1784, Jefferson avoided the common practice of simply digging
downwards until something turned up. Instead, he cut a wedge out
of the mound so that he could walk into it, look at the layers
of occupation, and draw conclusions from them.
Jefferson enjoyed his fish pond at Monticello. It was around three
feet deep and motar lined. He used the pond to keep fish that
were recently caught as well as to keep eels fresh. This pond
has been restored and can be seen from the west side of Monticello.
was also an avid wine lover and noted gourmet. During his years
in France (1784-1789) he took extensive trips through French and
other European wine regions and sent the best back home. He is
noted for the bold pronouncement: "We could in the United
States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe,
not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good." While
there were extensive vineyards planted at Monticello, a significant
portion were of the European wine grape Vitis vinifera and did
not survive the many vine diseases native to the Americas.
1812, he wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice that is still
the British burned Washington and the Library of Congress in August
1814, Jefferson offered his own collection to the nation. In January
1815, Congress accepted his offer, appropriating $23,950 for his
6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national
library. Today, the Library of Congress' website for federal legislative
information is named THOMAS, in honor of Jefferson. The range
of his interests is remarkable. For many years he was President
of the American Philosophical Society.
In his May 28, 1818 letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah, Jefferson
expresses his faith in humankind and views on the nature of democracy.Jefferson's
vision for America was that of an agricultural nation of yeoman
farmers minding their own affairs. It stood in contrast to the
vision of Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned a nation of commerce
and manufacturing. Jefferson was a great believer in the uniqueness
and the potential of America and can be seen as the father of
particular, he was confident that an underpopulated America could
avoid what he considered the horrors of class-divided, industrialized
Europe. Jefferson was influenced heavily by the ideas of many
European Enlightenment thinkers. His political principles were
heavily influenced by John Locke (particularly relating to the
principles of inalienable rights and popular sovereignty) and
Paine's Common Sense. Political theorists have also compared
Jefferson's thought to that of his French contemporary, Jean-Jacques
believed that each individual has "certain inalienable rights."
That is, these rights exist with or without government; man cannot
create, take, or give them away. It is the right of "liberty"
on which Jefferson is most notable for expounding. He defines
it by saying "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according
to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights
of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’,
because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so
when it violates the rights of the individual."
for Jefferson, though government cannot create a right to liberty,
it can indeed violate it. And, the limit of an individual's rightful
liberty is not what law says it is, but is simply a matter of
stopping short of prohibiting other individuals from having the
same liberty. A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that
not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the
liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing
commitment to equality was expressed in his successful efforts
to abolish primogeniture in Virginia, that is the rule by which
the first born son inherited all the land. He explained his views
in a October, 1785, letter to Madison:
am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable.
But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so
much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent
too many devices for sub-dividing property, only taking care to
let their subdivision go hand in hand with the natural affections
of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore
to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other
relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable
one. Another means of silently lessening the unequality of property
is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax
the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as
they rise. Whenever there is in any country uncultivated lands
and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have
been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is
given as a common stock to man to labour and live on. If, for
the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated,
we must take care that other employment be permitted to those
excluded from the appropriation. If we do not, the fundamental
right to labor the earth returns to the unemployed.... It is too
soon in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment
but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate
it, paying a moderate rent, but it is not too soon to provide
by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without
a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious
part of a state.
believed that individuals have an innate sense of morality that
prescribes right from wrong when dealing with other individuals
--that whether they choose to restrain themselves or not, they
have an innate sense of the natural rights of others. He even
believed that moral sense to be reliable enough that an anarchist
society could function well, provided that it was reasonably small.
On several occasions he expressed admiration for the government-less
society of the native American Indians:
said in a letter to Colonel Carrington: "I am convinced that
those societies (as the Indians) which live without government,
enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness
than those who live under the European governments." However,
Jefferson believed anarchism to be "inconsistent with any
great degree of population. Hence, he did advocate government
for the American expanse provided that it exists by "consent
of the governed."
the Preamble to his original draft of the Declaration of Independence,
hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men
are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation
they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are
the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of
happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted
among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the
governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive
of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish
it, & to institute new government, laying it's foundation
on such principles & organising it's powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety &
dedication to "consent of the governed" was so thorough
that he believed that individuals could not be morally bound by
the actions of preceding generations. This included debts as well
as law. He said that "no society can make a perpetual constitution
or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living
generation." He even calculated what he believed to be the
proper cycle of legal revolution: "Every constitution then,
and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it
is to be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right."
arrived at 19 years through calculations with expectancy of life
tables with taking into account what he believed to be the age
of "maturity" when an individual is able to reason for
himself. He also advocated that the National Debt should be eliminated.
However, he did not believe that living individuals had a moral
obligation to repay the debts of previous generations. He said
that repaying such debts was "a question of generosity and
not of right".
very strong defense of States' Rights, especially in the Kentucky
and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, set the tone for hostility to
expansion of federal powers down to 1860. However, some of his
foreign policies did in fact strengthen the government. Most important
was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when he used the implied powers
to annex a huge foreign territory and all its French and Indian
inhabitants. His enforcement of the Embargo Act, while it failed
in terms of foreign policy, demonstrated that the federal government
could intervene with great force at the local level, in controlling
on the judicary
Although trained as a lawyer, Jefferson was never comfortable
in court. He believed that judges should be technical specialists
but should not set policy. He denounced the 1801 Supreme Court
ruling in Marbury v. Madison as a violation of democracy, but
he did not have enough support in Congress to propose a Constitutional
amendment to overturn it. He continued to oppose the doctrine
of judicial review:
consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional
questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which
would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges
are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others
the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their
corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem
[good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more
dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible,
as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution
has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever
hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members
would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments
co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.
The Declaration of Independence incorporates concepts from Deism.On
matters of religion, Jefferson in 1800 was accused by his political
opponents of being an atheist and enemy of religion. But Jefferson
wrote at length on religion and most of his biographers agree
he was a deist, a common position held by European intellectuals
in the late 18th century. As Avery Cardinal Dulles, a leading
Roman Catholic theologian reports, "In his college years
at William and Mary he [Jefferson] came to admire Francis Bacon,
Isaac Newton, and John Locke as three great paragons of wisdom.
Under the influence of several professors he converted to the
deist philosophy." Dulles concludes:
summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one
God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards
and punishments after death, but did not believe in supernatural
revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity
as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an
incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian
because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus
was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson's
religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his
Peterson summarizes Jefferson's theology:
that the Christianity of the churches was unreasonable, therefore
unbelievable, but that stripped of priestly mystery, ritual, and
dogma, reinterpreted in the light of historical evidence and human
experience, and substituting the Newtonian cosmology for the discredited
Biblical one, Christianity could be conformed to reason. Second,
morality required no divine sanction or inspiration, no appeal
beyond reason and nature, perhaps not even the hope of heaven
or the fear of hell; and so the whole edifice of Christian revelation
came tumbling to the ground. "
the time the Baptists supported his effors to disestablish the
state church; thus D. James Kennedy, a prominent evangelical theologian,
says that Jefferson was "a true friend of the Christian faith."
But Kennedy concludes, "Jefferson was not, in my opinion,
a genuine Christian."
used deist terminology in repeatedly stating his belief in a creator,
and in the United States Declaration of Independence used the
terms "Creator", "Nature's God", and "Divine
Providence". Jefferson believed, furthermore, it was this
Creator that endowed humanity with a number of inalienable rights,
such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".
His experience in France just before the Revolution made him deeply
suspicious of (Catholic) priests and bishops as a force for reaction
was raised in the Church of England, at a time when it was the
established church in Virginia and only denomination funded by
Virginia tax money. Before the Revolution, Jefferson was a vestryman
in his local church, a lay position that was part of political
office at the time. Jefferson later expressed general agreement
with his friend Joseph Priestley's Unitarianism.
did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, but he had high esteem
for Jesus' moral teachings, which he viewed as the "principles
of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God,
to reform [prior Jewish] moral doctrines to the standard of reason,
justice & philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future
other deists, Jefferson did not believe in miracles. He made his
own condensed version of the Gospels, primarily leaving only Jesus'
moral philosophy, of which he approved. This compilation was published
after his death and became known as the Jefferson Bible.
[the Jefferson Bible] is a document in proof that I am a real
Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus,
very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves
Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their
characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw."
During the Revolution, Jefferson played a leading role in implementing
the separation of church and state in Virginia. Previously the
Anglican Church had tax support. As he wrote in his Notes on Virginia,
a law was in effect in Virginia that "if a person brought
up a Christian denies the being of a God, or the Trinity …he
is punishable on the first offense by incapacity to hold any office
…; on the second by a disability to sue, to take any gift
or legacy …, and by three year' imprisonment." Prospective
officer-holders, presumably including Jefferson, were required
to swear that they did not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine
of transubstantiation. In 1779 Jefferson drafted "A Bill
for Establishing Religious Freedom," and he regarded passage
of this bill as a high achievement. For Jefferson, separation
of church and state was not an abstract right, but a necessary
reform of the religious "tyranny" of one Christian sect
over many other Christians.
1784 to 1786, Jefferson and James Madison worked together to oppose
Patrick Henry's attempts to again assess taxes in Virginia to
support churches. Instead, in 1786, the Virginia General Assembly
passed Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom, which he had first
submitted in 1779, and was one of only three accomplishments he
put in his own epitaph. The law read:
man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship,
place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained,
molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise
suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that
all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain,
their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall
in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
sought what he called a "wall of separation between Church
and State", which he believed was a principle expressed by
the First Amendment. This phrase has been cited several times
by the Supreme Court in its interpretation of the Establishment
Clause. In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association,
with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man
and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith
or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach
actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence
that act of the whole American people which declared that their
legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus
building a wall of separation between church and State"
used the phrase "wall of separation" again in an 1808
letter to Virginia Baptists:
religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of
every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual.
State churches that use government power to support themselves
and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all
our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends
to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption
within religion. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church
and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.
have solved ... the great and interesting question whether freedom
of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience
to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the
comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely
and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions
of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries."
his Presidency, Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling
for days of prayer and thanksgiving. Moreover, his private letters
indicate he was skeptical of too much interference by clergy in
matters of civil government. His letters contain the following
observations: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of
a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government"
(Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813), and, "In
every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to
liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his
abuses in return for protection to his own." "May it
be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner,
to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men
to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition
had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings
and security of self-government". Jefferson's harshest comments
however, seemed to have been directed toward the spiritual descendants
of John Calvin:
serious enemies are the priests of the different religious sects,
to whose spells on the human mind it's improvement is ominous.
Their pulpits are now resounding with denunciations against the
appointment of Dr. Cooper whom they charge as Monarchist in opposition
to their tritheism. Hostile as these sects are in every other
point, to one another, they unite in maintaining their mystical
theology against those who believe there is one God only. The
Presbyterian clergy are the loudest. The most intolerant of all
sects, the most tyrannical, and ambitious; ready at the word of
the lawgiver, if such a word could be now obtained, to put the
torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere,
the flames in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus
desire to erect a "wall of separation" did not include
a desire to inhibit the personal religious lives of public officials.
Jefferson himself attended certain public Christian services,
including at times the weekly church services held in the House
of Representatives, during his Presidency. He also had friends
who were clergy, and he supported some churches financially. Moreover,
he personally believed, as did Deist John Locke, that human rights
were endowed by a God: "Can the liberties of a nation be
thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction
in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of
God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is
just; that His justice cannot sleep forever".
Jefferson's personal records show he owned more than 650 slaves
in his lifetime, some of whom were inherited from his parents
and through his wife. Some find it hypocritical that he both owned
slaves and yet was publicly outspoken in his belief that slavery
was immoral. Many of his slaves were considered property that
was held as a lien for his many accumulated debts.
ambivalence regarding slavery can be seen, for example, in the
first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson
wrote, in which he condemned the British crown for sponsoring
the importation of slavery to the colonies, charging that the
crown "has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating
its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a
distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying
them into slavery in another hemisphere..."
language was dropped from the Declaration at the request of delegates
from South Carolina and Georgia. In 1769, as a member of the Virginia
state legislature, Jefferson proposed for that body to emancipate
slaves in Virginia, but he was unsuccessful. In 1778, the legislature
passed a bill he proposed to ban further importation of slaves
into Virginia; although this did not bring complete emancipation,
in his words, it "stopped the increase of the evil by importation,
leaving to future efforts its final eradication."
Sally Hemings controversy
A subject of considerable controversy since Jefferson's time was
whether he was the father of any of the children of his slave
Sally Hemings. Hemings, the daughter of John Wayles, Jefferson's
former father-in-law, was the half sister of Jefferson's deceased
wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. A full account of the Hemings
controversy, including discussion of DNA findings, can be found
in the Sally Hemings article.
studies were released in the early 2000s, following the publication
of the DNA evidence. A study by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
which runs Monticello states that "it is very unlikely that...any
Jefferson other than Thomas Jefferson was the father of her children."
A study commissioned by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society
concludes that the Jefferson paternity thesis is not persuasive.
The National Genealogical Society Quarterly then published articles
reviewing the evidence from a genealogical perspective and concluding
that the link between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was valid.
N. Mayer, a member of the Scholars Commission, says in his own
writings that there is "the possibility that Jefferson's
brother Randolph or one of Randolph Jefferson's five sons could
have fathered one or more of Sally Hemings' children." He
states that "eight of these 25 Jefferson males lived within
20 miles (a half-day's ride) of Monticello—including Thomas
Jefferson's younger brother, Randolph Jefferson, and Randolph's
five sons, who ranged in age from about 17 to 26 at the time of
of these men could have passed down the Y chromosome that links
patrilineal descendants of Eston Hemings to the Jefferson family.
However, only Thomas Jefferson is documented as having been at
Monticello at the time Eston Hemings and all of his siblings were
conceived; only Thomas Jefferson exercised ownership control over
Sally Hemings and her children; and only Thomas Jefferson was
described in print as the father of those children before the
is less evidence to support the allegation, published by James
Callender in 1802, that Jefferson and Sally Hemings conceived
a son named "Tom." That son was reportedly conceived
in France. Madison Hemings stated that his mother and Thomas Jefferson
did conceive a child in France, but that it "lived but a
short time." The descendants of Thomas Woodson continue to
publish arguments that he was the reported "Tom," sent
away from Monticello to avoid scandal, but there is no DNA link
between that family and Jefferson.
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.
Jefferson on Mount Rushmore.On April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary
of Jefferson's birth, the Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in
Washington, D.C. The memorial combines a low neo-classical saucer
dome with a portico. The interior includes a 19 foot statue of
Jefferson and engravings of passages from his writings. Most prominent
are the words which are inscribed around the monument near the
roof: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility
against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Jefferson, together with George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt
and Abraham Lincoln, was chosen by President Calvin Coolidge to
be depicted in stone at the Mount Rushmore Memorial.
Jefferson's portrait appears on the U.S. $2 bill, nickel, and
the $100 Series EE Savings Bond.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church (Unitarian Universalist)
is located in Charlottesville, Virginia.
July 8, 2003, the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson was commissioned
in Norfolk, Virginia. This was done in commemoration of his establishment
of a Survey of the Coast, the predecessor to NOAA's National Ocean
Jefferson and John Adams were the only signers of the Declaration
of Independence to become Presidents.
of the most famous quotations attributed to Thomas Jefferson,
"That government is best which governs least", didn't
come from Jefferson at all. The quotation actually came from Henry
David Thoreau in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Thoreau was
paraphrasing the motto of The United States Magazine and Democratic
Review, “The best government is that which governs least.”
was a vegetarian for the most part and used meat only as a condiment.
Peas were his favorite food.