Who is Thomas Jefferson?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States. He is also notable for being the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of the Jeffersonian Republican party, the forerunner of today's Democratic Party. Jefferson was influenced by Enlightenment ideals such as democracy, states' rights, a limited Federal government, and separation of church and state.

Thomas Jefferson at Mount Rushmore.
Thomas Jefferson at Mount Rushmore.

The future president was born in Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia on 13 April 1743, the son of wealthy plantation owners. He inherited his father's estate upon the latter's death in 1757 and built his home, Monticello, on the property. He received an excellent education at local schools, studying Latin, Greek, French, history, and science. At the age of 16, he attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, graduating with highest honors after two years before continuing on to law school. He was admitted to the bar at the age of 24.

Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.
Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.

Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, and the couple had five daughters and one stillborn son. Martha died in 1782, and Jefferson never remarried, though DNA evidence has recently proven that he was the father of at least some of the six children of his slave, Sally Hemings. Though he owned slaves, he considered slavery immoral and often spoke out against it.

Thomas Jefferson sculpture inside Jefferson Memorial.
Thomas Jefferson sculpture inside Jefferson Memorial.

Thomas Jefferson served as a lawyer in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the colonial legislative body, and later in the newly formed Virginia House of Delegates. He wrote the Declaration of Independence with little, if any, help from others, though the ideas in it were determined by consensus of the Second Continental Congress. He was very prolific in drafting bills during his time in the House of Delegates and made many improvements to the judicial and educational systems in Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.

He also served as the governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781 and the United States minister to France from 1785 to 1789. He was also involved in the first two United States presidencies, serving as Secretary of State for George Washington and Vice President for John Adams. Thomas Jefferson was elected to the presidency in 1800 in a vote decided by the House of Representatives, after the Electoral College vote was tied between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Burr served as his Vice President until 1805, when Jefferson adopted George Clinton as his new running mate after Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

Thomas Jefferson on a two-dollar bill.
Thomas Jefferson on a two-dollar bill.

Notable events of Jefferson's presidency include the Louisiana Purchase, in which territory spanning 15 modern-day states was acquired, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, which explored the continent to the Pacific Coast. He also outlawed the external slave trade.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the powers of the Executive Branch had to be balanced by a responsive legislature.
Thomas Jefferson believed that the powers of the Executive Branch had to be balanced by a responsive legislature.

After his second term of presidency ended in 1809, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, the first university in the United States with no religious affiliation and the first to offer elective courses. It opened its doors in 1825. Jefferson died on 4 July 1826 and is buried at his Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virginia. He bequeathed Monticello to the United States government for use as a school for the orphans of those serving in the Navy.

America's third president was born in Virginia.
America's third president was born in Virginia.
Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States, serving from 1800 to 1809.
Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States, serving from 1800 to 1809.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

anon126105

Thomas Jefferson died of natural causes.

anon113291

In 1803 the United States President, Thomas Jefferson, sign a treaty with Napoleon, ruler of France, in which all the territory in the America’s that belonged to France now belonged to the United States. This was known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Although in the beginning the French wanted the territory to expand their empires in the Americas and Jefferson feared that New Orleans would be shut down to the Americas (New Orleans served as an important trade post). Jefferson came to the conclusion to buy New Orleans from France for $2 million. In 1803 Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to buy New Orleans for $2 million but Napoleon offered New Orleans and The Louisiana Territory for $15 million. Monroe accepted.

anon102172

Please correct that information on fathering "some" of Sally Hemming's children. The Jefferson DNA has only been linked to her last child. Meaning, it could have been his brother, who lived at the estate at the time, who fathered the child. You could be more concise and fair to the man.

anon89464

Why is he so famous?

anon71098

Why did he buy the louisiana purchase? I need to know this information.

anon56218

why did he send lewis and clark on their expedition?

anon34165

How did he die? (*need* To know for course work!)

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