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Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is remembered in history not only for the

offices he held, but also for his belief in the natural rights of man

as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and his faith in the

people's ability to govern themselves. He left an impact on his times

equaled by few others in American history. Born on April 13, 1743,

Jefferson was the third child in the family and grew up with six

sisters and one brother. Though he opposed slavery, his family

had owned slaves. From his father and his environment he developed an

interest in botany, geology, cartography, and North American

exploration, and from his childhood teacher developed a love for Greek

and Latin. In 1760, at the age of 16, Jefferson entered the College of

William and Mary and studied under William Small and George Wythe.

Through Small, he got his first views of the expansion of science and

of the system of things in which we are placed. Through Small and

Wythe, Jefferson became acquainted with Governor Francis Fauquier.

After finishing college in 1762, Jefferson studied law with Wythe and

noticed growing tension between America and Great Britain.

Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767. He successfully practiced

law until public service occupied most of his time. At his home in

Shadwell, he designed and supervised the building of his home,

Monticello, on a nearby hill. He was elected to the Virginia House of

Burgesses in 1769. Jefferson met Martha Wayles Skelton, a wealthy

widow of 23, in 1770 and married her in 1772. They settled in

Monticello and had one son and five daughters. Only two of his

children, Martha and Mary, survived until maturity. Mrs. Martha

Jefferson died in 1782, leaving Thomas to take care of his two

remaining children.

Though not very articulate, Jefferson proved to be an able

writer of laws and resolutions he was very concise and straight to the

point. Jefferson soon became a member in a group which opposed and

took action in the disputes between Britain and the colonies.

Together with other patriots, the group met in the Apollo Room of

Williamsburg's famous Raleigh Tavern in 1769 and formed a

nonimportation agreement against Britain, vowing not to pay import

duties imposed by the Townshend Acts. After a period of calmness,

problems faced the colonists again, forcing Jefferson to organize

another nonimportation agreement and calling the colonies together to

protest. He was chosen to represent Albermarle County at the First

Virginia Convention, where delegates were elected to the First

Continental Congress. He became ill and was unable to attend the

meeting, but forwarded a message arguing that the British Parliament

had no control over the colonies. He also mentioned the Saxons who

had settled in England hundred of years before from Germany and how

Parliament had no more right to govern the colonies than the Germans

had to govern the English. Most Virginians saw this as too extreme,

though. His views were printed in a pamphlet called A Summary of the

Rights of British America (1774). Jefferson attended the Second

Virginia Convention in 1775 and was chosen as one of the delegates to

the Second Continental Congress, but before he left for Philadelphia,

he was asked by the Virginia Assembly to reply to Lord North's message

of peace, proposing that Parliament would not try to tax the

settlers if they would tax themselves. Jefferson's "Reply to Lord

North" was more moderate that the Summary View. Instead of agreeing

with Lord North, Jefferson insisted that a government had been set up

for the Americans and not for the British.

The Declaration of Independence was primarily written by

Jefferson in June 1776. Congress felt that the Declaration was too

strong and gave Dickinson the responsibility of redrafting the

document, but the new version included much of Jefferson's original

text and ideas. In 1779, Jefferson became governor of Virginia,

guiding Virginians through the final years of the Revolutionary War.

As a member of the Second Continental Congress, he drafted a plan for

decimal coinage and composed an ordinance for the Northwest Territory

that formed the foundation for the Ordinance of 1787. In 1785, he

became minister to France. Appointed secretary of state in President

Washington's Cabinet in 1790, Jefferson defended local interests

against

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