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Useful Notes: Thomas Jefferson
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.note 

"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing."
Thomas Jefferson

"Thomas Jefferson survives."
John Adams' last words, July 4, 1826 note 

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 — July 4, 1826) was a Founding Father and the third President of the United States (1801-1809), right after John Adams and before James Madison. He is best known for being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776. The first President from the Democratic-Republican Party, Jefferson previously had a prominent career in politics, serving as George Washington's Secretary of State and John Adams' Vice President. A highly intelligent man skilled in several subjects, his other areas of expertise included theology, architecture, and earth sciences. While historically acclaimed as a great leader who fought for the liberty of the people, Jefferson's legacy has been scrutinized in recent years, and his possession of hundreds of slaves is widely controversial today. In spite of such criticisms, Thomas Jefferson is one of the most important men in American history, whose remarkable accomplishments extend to more than just his political career.

Politics Before the Presidency

One of the most important Founding Fathers, Jefferson was born to a very wealthy plantation family in Virginia. He initially served as a prominent lawyer before he became a Virginia state politician. Firmly in the radical wing of state politics, Jefferson was one of the earliest advocates for independence from Great Britain. Impressed, Virginia sent him to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. There, he was appointed head of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, with which the Thirteen Colonies declared independence. While the rest of the committee helped edit it (including two other major Founding Fathers, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) and the Congress would edit it a bit themselves, most of it is Jefferson's. He famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," the most important words in American history and possibly all of modern history. It's important to note that Jefferson was certainly not the first to say that we are born equally - what makes the Declaration a landmark is that he implied that we remain equal throughout all of our lives, and should be treated as such. It was ratified on July 4, which is celebrated as Independence Day in the United States. The Declaration, however, is not the actual official start of the Revolutionary War. Two days prior, the Lee Resolution, where the Congress voted to declare independence, was passed. The Declaration was technically just the letter officially sent to the King of Great Britain. However, most of the public received word of independence when the Declaration was printed in the newspapers, so that is why no one celebrates anything on the second. During the war, Jefferson served two years as the Governor of Virginia. At one point, British troops a few miles from his house forced him to flee, a humiliating incident which opponents would keep bringing up for the rest of his life.

Even before he became President, Jefferson was a major reformer - he helped abolish primogeniture in Virginia and put the United States on the decimal system. He was one of the earliest voices for a separation of church and state (a phrase coined from his writings), and he wrote the Virginia Stature for Religious Freedom, the first law guaranteeing freedom of religion. The fact that the 1st amendment guarantees freedom of religion is at least partially because of Jefferson's efforts. One of the first major advocates for free public education, Jefferson believed that all (white male) youths should be taught grammar, reading skills, arithmetic, and other basic levels of thought. The ones who showed huge promise should then go on to higher levels of education and be taught higher math, foreign languages, and law, and these men would grow up to be future scientists and leaders. He hated how many university students only got there because of their money. In 1817, he proposed a public school system for his state, though Virginia would not create one until Reconstruction. Jefferson was also one of the earliest supporters for universal suffrage (or rather, universal suffrage for white males), but believed that this should only come after public school systems were created. Uneducated people who know nothing of government shouldn't vote, after all. After the end of the Revolutionary War, Jefferson was sent to France as America's ambassador. While there, he met with several Enlightenment philosophers as well as the men who would lead the French Revolution in a few years. In fact, Jefferson helped the Marquis de Lafayette (the Frenchman who helped America during the Revolution) write the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which is essentially their Bill of Rights and still part of their current constitution. Jefferson continued to vocally support the French Revolution, even during the horrific Reign of Terror of Maximilien Robespierre.

He returned in 1790 to find President Washington asking him to be his Secretary of State. During his years in this position, Jefferson disagreed with Washington's Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, on pretty much everything. Most notably, Hamilton supported the creation of a National Bank and remaining neutral during the French Revolutionary Wars, while Jefferson opposed the Bank and wanted to aid the revolutionaries. Washington usually sided with Hamilton, and a frustrated Jefferson eventually resigned. He then created the Democratic-Republican Party, along with his close friend and political ally James Madison, to oppose Hamilton and his Federalist Party. Washington, never a fan of political parties, never spoke to Jefferson as a friend for the rest of his life. Jefferson ran for the presidency in 1796, but lost to his on-again-off-again friend John Adams and, because of the rules at the time, became Vice President. He still had his eyes on winning in 1800. Opposed to the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by Adams, Jefferson and Madison secretly wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in opposition to these laws. While Madison's Virginia Resolution only criticized the laws, Jefferson called on Virginia to nullify them. This put in place a radical position of states' rights which arguably helped cause The American Civil War; when an elderly Washington read the resolutions, he predicted that they would split the union. It's also known today that Jefferson held a few secret talks with French consul Joseph Letombe while he was Adams' Vice President. Exactly what was said will always remain a mystery, but the consensus among historians is that he told the French to make relations as difficult as possible with the American diplomats appointed by Adams. Relations with France deteriorated during the Adams presidency, which helped give Jefferson an edge in the upcoming election. Jefferson probably would have been tried for treason if these activities were known, and even if he wasn't convicted, he certainly would have lost the upcoming election.

The election of 1800 was one of the weirdest in American history. The inflammatory language used by both sides is now legendary, which made today's attack ads feel positively genteel and polite by comparison. For instance, the Adams team went so far as to say that Jefferson winning the White House would cause murder and rape to be openly taught in schools. Jefferson portrayed this as a battle between aristocrats Adams and Hamilton from the North, who wanted to keep power in the hands of the rich, and himself, who stood for small government and power to the common man. In the end, Jefferson narrowly won thanks to the unpopularity of the Alien and Sedition Acts and because the slave population in the South gave him enough votes in the Electoral College. He was known as the "Negro President" because of this, which is so ironic given what we now know about him and his slaves. Due to a loophole in presidential elections at the time, where President and Vice President were counted on the same ballot, Jefferson tied in the Electoral College with his running mate, Aaron Burr, and the vote went to the House. Federalists in the House, angry that Jefferson cost him the presidency, kept voting for Burr, and neither of them had the majority needed to win the presidency. For months, Americans anxiously waited to see just who would be their next President. In the end, Hamilton, who hated Burr even more than Jefferson, told a few Federalists to vote for Jefferson. On the thirty-sixth ballot, Jefferson became the winner. Jefferson called the peaceful transfer of power from a losing head-of-state to the nominee of a different party the "Revolution of 1800." Adams and Jefferson had a falling out, though, and they wouldn't speak to each other until after Jefferson's presidency ended.

America's Third President

Unlike most other politicians who run on a platform of small government, Jefferson actually followed up on his word. The hated Alien and Sedition Acts were repealed, taxes were lowered and some even repealed, and lavish state dinners were put to a stop. After the economy stalled during Adams' presidency, prosperity returned to America. He decreased the number of federal employees and also the size of the military, saying that a strong standing military would lead to tyranny and that state militias were capable to defending the country until a temporary wartime army was formed. However, Jefferson also founded West Point, the United States military academy, in 1802, on the basis that it was still important that skilled military commanders are trained. During his presidency, there was a clash between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans over the judicial branch. Jefferson got rid of the "Midnight Judges" appointed during the final weeks of the Adams presidency, and the Democratic-Republicans impeached two federal judges appointed by the Federalists. The first, district court judge John Pickering, was removed on charges on alcoholism and insanity, but the second, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, was criticized for being highly partisan but was narrowly allowed to stay on the Court. It's the only time that a Supreme Court Justice was ever impeached. Nevertheless, Chief Justice John Marshall, nominated by Adams, delivered the landmark Marbury v. Madison ruling in 1803, which greatly expanded the powers of the Supreme Court. In effect, the Court gave itself the power of judicial review (i.e. the ability to declare laws "unconstitutional"). He ended the practice of the President personally delivering the State of the Union address before Congress, instead sending an aid to read it. It wasn't until Woodrow Wilson went before Congress in 1913 that this ended. He substantially lowered the national debt due to all the cuts he made. Also noteworthy is that Jefferson is the only two-term President who didn't veto a single bill - the Democratic-Republicans had majorities in both chambers of Congress for all of his eight years, so he didn't need to bother. Ohio was added to the Union during the Jefferson years.

The United States had its first war (not counting frontier fights with Native American tribes), the now-obscure First Barbary War, during his first term. America, like most other countries, was paying tribute to the Muslim states of North Africa to allow safe passage through the Mediterranean. When Jefferson refused to keep paying more tribute, one of the states, Tripoli, declared war in 1801. He sent the Navy built by Adams to blockade and attack them, and, since all of Europe was busy with the Napoleonic Wars, we had to defeat them almost single-handed. After a few years of fighting, their pirate ships were mostly defeated and American commanders captured some of their forts, the first time American flags were raised over captured foreign soil. Tripoli surrendered in 1805, proving that the young United States could win a war fought far away from home, and this also led to the end of the age of piracy in the Mediterranean. This is the origin of the "Shores of Tripoli" verse in the USMC anthem.

Jefferson's presidency is most famous for the Louisiana Purchase. When Napoleon Bonaparte closed the port of New Orleans to American traders, the economy of the frontier was in serious danger. The President sent ambassadors to convince Napoleon to sell the city. However, this also coincided with the slave rebels in the French colony of Haiti winning their independence, ending Napoleon's dreams of creating a colonial empire. Napoleon was also in need to money to fund his wars as the loss of Haiti took away one of France's major source of income. He shocked the ambassadors by offering to sell the entire Louisiana Territory, which stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, for only $15 million - as in, three cents per acre. While Jefferson worried about the constitutionality of such a deal, since the men at the Constitutional Convention never considered that the United States may eventually wish to purchase more territory and never mentioned anything about it, Jefferson decided that the deal was too good to pass up. Thus, in 1803, the United States doubled in size overnight. The next year, he appointed an expedition, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore these new lands and make detailed records of the environment, the land and animals, and the tribes living there. It is one of the most remarkable expeditions in all of human history. Another expedition, led by Zebulon Pike, was later sent to explore what is now Texas; the exact borders of the Louisiana Territory were disputed, but these lands were actually controlled by Spanish Mexico at the time. Jefferson thought that the new lands was crucial to creating the Agrarian republic of liberity he so dreamed about, as the territories would guarantee all Americans lands for farming and be self-sufficient. Jefferson proposed sending the Native American tribes of the Southeast west of the Mississippi River, but we wouldn't do that yet. He also had plans to purchase Florida, but the Spanish rejected the idea.

Given all these policy successes, it's not surprising to see that Jefferson won reelection in 1804 by a huge landslide. Not counting how Washington and James Monroe ran unopposed, it was in fact the biggest popular vote landslide in American history - over 72%. Over 100 Democratic-Republican met in Washington to officially nominate the two of them, the first nominating caucus in the country's history. Ever a man of the people, Jefferson and his party criticized the dysfunctional Federalists for not having one themselves, saying that they were trying to keep power in the hands of aristocrats and not the actual voters. To make sure another debacle like the Electoral College mess of 1800 never happened again, he guided the 12th amendment through Congress and the states, which put the President and Vice President on separate ballots. He also had another man, George Clinton, run as his Vice President. Angered, Burr tried to run for Governor of New York, but Hamilton, a resident of the state, manipulated things behind the scenes to prevent this. Burr retaliated by challenging Hamilton to a duel; Hamilton showed up but purposefully missed, while Burr fatally shot his enemy. This was a huge scandal, and Burr was forced to flee to the Louisiana Territory. While there, he was raising a personal militia for mysterious reasons. The rumor, though, was that he was planning to create an empire in the plains and invade Spanish Texas. Worried, Jefferson had Burr captured and tried for treason, but he was narrowly acquitted because there were technically no witnesses to testify that he wanted to commit treason.

Trade became a major issue during his second term in office. Jefferson readily signed an act in 1807 which banned the further import of slaves into the country after 1 January 1808, and, although it did allow internal slave trade to continue, it's the first step the government took on the road to abolishing slavery.note  Additionally, the wars between the United Kingdom and Napoleonic France led to both countries attacking neutrals who traded with the enemy. Since France lost the naval theater after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, it was mostly the British who did this. They seized American ships in search of British deserters, impressed thousands of American sailors, and, in one outrageous incident, a British ship fired on an American ship which refused to be search, killing three Americans. Jefferson, who wanted America to have a self-sufficient economy, responded by passing the Embargo Act of 1807, which essentially banned all trade with other countries. Naturally, this backfired. Trade plummeted, ships rotted in the harbor, and unemployment rose, while the trade-based economy of New England resorted to smuggling. Seeing that this was not working, Jefferson decided not to run for office again in 1808 (which confirmed the practice of a President only serving two terms, which Washington helped put in place when he felt he was too old and unwell to run for a third term.) Instead, Secretary of State James Madison ran and won. In his last few days in office, he signed the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which only banned trade with the UK and France. Both the continued impressment and the attempted trade war led to the United States and the United Kingdom going to war in 1812. Contrary to popular knowledge, though, these policies actually ended up hurting the British trade too - they repealed their own trade barriers in 1812... just two days before an unaware Congress declared war.

Jefferson the Intellectual

Thomas Jefferson is by far the most intelligent man to have ever been the President. John F. Kennedy once addressed his dinner guests as the greatest collection of intelligence to ever eat in the White House, "except when Jefferson dined alone." If any President has been an Omnidisciplinary Scientist, it was Jefferson. Even from a young age, he showed an extraordinary ability to learn in a wide variety of areas. Starting at the age of nine, he was learning how to speak Latin, Greek, and French. By the end of his life, he was fluent in five languages, and he knew a bit in at least a few others. Jefferson even managed to teach himself Arabic from his own personal copy of the Quran. Here are several of the accomplishments of the man known as the Sage of Monticello.

His most famous contributions to world thought were as a philosopher and a political scientist. Famously, Jefferson advocated for small government and believed that all bigger governments would inevitably lead to tyranny. He believed that the federal government should not have authority over anything unless it was specifically mentioned in the Constitution (part of the reason why he hated Hamilton's National Bank), and that anything else should be designated to the states. If it came to the point that the federal government needed more powers, an amendment should be proposed and ratified by the states. Today, Jefferson has become a celebrated figure in libertarian communities for his belief in limited government. As the Louisiana Purchase shows, though, Jefferson was willing to violate these principles if national interests were at stake. His form of small-government republicanism is known as Jeffersonian democracy. Jefferson believed that America, the first country founded from the start on ideals of equality, freedom, and democracy, had a special destiny to spread these ideals around the world, similar to the beliefs of Woodrow Wilson, another very intelligent President and an admirer of Jefferson.

While Jefferson is noted as one of the greatest champions of small government, this was not all he wanted to keep small. He had an enemy in all institutions which he thought were a threat to individual liberty, really, as best shown when he said "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Jefferson opposed industrialization and the rise of the cities, believing that people should stick to the farms. In his eyes, city jobs like banking were corrupt or would lead to corruption, and farming was truly an honest day's work. Jefferson did not like the idea of wages, because he felt that no man who depended on payment from another could be truly free. His only full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia, proposes that Virginia was such an ideal society, since the economy was based on agrarianism and because it was a small-government republic with guaranteed freedoms. It was not just large government which he opposed, actually, it was large anything. He thought that rebellion was an appropriate way to defend these rights, once telling Madison "a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing." If the people stood up for themselves every now and then, rulers would tread carefully to make sure they were not becoming tyrannical. One of the reasons why he spoke in favor of universal education was to give people the tools to recognize when their rights were being invaded. Also worth mentioning, Jefferson was an early supporter of what we would today call a graduated income tax, and once even suggested that the poorest citizens should be exempt from having to pay taxes. Some have argued that Jefferson was a sort of ur-Marxist, seeing in his dream a parallel with Karl Marx's desire for social ownership of the means of production.

Which leads us to another institution he thought was corrupt and oppressive: religion. As noted above, he essentially came up with the now famous phrase "separation of church and state." In fact, he said this in a letter to a bunch of priests!note  The clergy, especially the Catholic Church, was very high on the list of things he didn't like - "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty." In his eyes, this was confirmed by his years in pre-revolutionary France, where he witnessed a shockingly corrupt clergy. He founded the University in Virginia in 1819, which opened one year before his death. It was the first American college designed around a library and not a church, a testimony to his belief in religious freedom. Like Adams, Jefferson also had very negative things to say about Calvinism. Jefferson's anti-clericalism has led some, such as Christopher Hitchens, to claim that he was in fact an atheist, or, if he was not, that he would have been were he alive today.

Speaking of that, Jefferson's religious views are highly debated today. Most agree that he was some type of deist, but to what extent, and whether he was also a Christian deist, is a matter of controversy. While any definitive statements about him and religion are at least somewhat based on speculation, he was likely not a Christian. Jefferson criticized the concept of virgin birth, the Holy Trinity (once calling it "masked atheism"), and the divinity of Jesus. In one of his letters, he once said that "Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God." For Jefferson, the idea that the Son of God (who was also God) was sent down to Earth to achieve salvation for humanity was ridiculous. During his presidency, he began a project to create an edit of The Bible, which he entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ, with which to teach Native Americans, but this eventually became a personal project to remove what he thought were corruptions of the faith. Yes, he also thought that Jesus' followers and the men who later wrote parts of the Bible lied about Jesus, calling St. Paul "the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus" and the Book of Revelations "merely the ravings of a maniac." The Jefferson Bible, as it is known, removed such things as the miracles of Jesus, the Resurrection, and anything supernatural. Still, Jefferson did think that Jesus was a great moral teacher, and he was still a man of faith, even if it was a "sect by myself." He thought that God existed in this world in a material sense (even if he was just some invisible dust cloud in space or something), and that all non-material religions were heretical. Jefferson insisted that Jesus was a deist who thought in God in material terms, too. While in the White House, Jefferson invited Thomas Paine, the Founding Father who wrote Common Sense and another famous Deist, back to America.

Of course, Jefferson's mighty intellect extended beyond abstract studies. He was also an architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, botanist, astronomer, and much more! His accomplishments as an architect are especially noteworthy. The leading architectural mind in the days of Antebellum America, Jefferson designed his famous plantation estate Monticello, which he kept renovating his whole life. It even has revolving doors and secret passages! Other works by Jefferson include the main campus of the University of Virginia, the east and west porticos of the White House (added during his presidency), and the Virginia State Capitol. His work was highly influenced by the classical styles of the Greeks and Romans as well as the Renaissance architect Palladio. Monticello is also home to a number of inventions designed by Jefferson. He was probably the first inventor of the swivel chair (possibly the same type of chair which graces your butt right now!), using it while writing the Declaration of Independence. One has to imagine what Adams and Franklin thought him rolling around the room with it. He built a polygraph, a device with two pens which creates a copy of a letter while you are writing it. (Thanks to this, all of his letters have thankfully been preserved and scholars have access to Jefferson's personal thoughts on many matters.) Monticello also had a large clock whose pendulum was made of cannonballs.

Being a plantation owner, farming was a particular concern for him. His plantation was used as a laboratory for farming, so to speak. He had his slaves test new crops and soil conservation techniques, recording how all of this affected the soil and plant growth. Jefferson even invented a special plow specifically for the grounds around Monticello. Remember, he loved agrarianism for a reason. The gardens at his home were very beautiful. One genus of flower, the Jeffersonia, is named after him. He used his knowledge of plants to experiment with food, too - he invented macaroni and cheese and also America's first known ice cream recipe. One of the reasons why he funded the Lewis and Clark Expedition was to learn about the plants and animals in the Great Plains. An animal lover, his extensive list of pets included horses (which he rode every afternoon for exercise), birds (the first pet known to have been kept in the White House was a mockingbird he named Dick), and two bear cubs given to him by Lewis and Clark. Jefferson's study of soil also led him to study archaeology, and he came up with the idea of digging a wedge into the ground and reaching conclusions based on what he found in each layer, as opposed to simply digging in a random spot until he found something (which most people did back then). Jefferson reached conclusions about Native Americans who used to live in Virginia which future archaeologists have supported.

Some scholars have suggested that Jefferson may have suffered from Asperger's. The man was known for being very shy, socially awkward, and reclusive. Plagued by a stutter all his life, Jefferson's only two speeches ever were both of his inaugural addresses, where he spoke so softly that most of the audience could not hear him. To distract people from this, he would wear and mismatched clothes of the wrong sizes, and sometimes even met foreign dignitaries in his pajamas. He was obsessed with keeping track of every detail of everything, sometimes with obsession. One of the world's leading experts on autism and Asperger's, Norm Ledgin, has supported such theories. Either way, there is no ignoring the fact that Jefferson was at least a bit eccentric, doing odd things like randomly singing to himself in public.

Jefferson and Slavery

Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the most famous statement on human equality ever, was a slaveholder. Over 600 slaves worked for Jefferson at Monticello during his lifetime. This has remained a source of much controversy ever since the end of slavery in the US. Modern scholars, in a post Civil Rights Movement-world, have been especially critical of Jefferson over the issue of slavery. Early in his life, Jefferson's writings show an opposition to slavery. He wanted to ban slavery in the territories to the west, and he even once proposed a plan to automatically emancipate all slaves upon their 25th birthday. As he grew older, though, he started to quiet down about slavery. Jefferson became critical of emancipation (if not opposed to it), believing that if only a handful of slaves were freed, then those who remained enslaved would rebel. (This did actually happen, to be fair.) He proposed sending freed slaves back to Africa on the belief that freed slaves could never peacefully live side-by-side with their former masters. Still, at least he continued to oppose the slave trade for all of his life. In fact, the Declaration of Independence originally had a passage strongly critical of the Atlantic slave trade which was edited out by the Continental Congress.

The main reason for his change, though, was when he began to realize something. When his slaves had children, and these children grew up to work on his plantation, it meant that more people were working for him. Specifically, it meant that he acquired another slave without having to buy one, so he had more labor at no cost to him. Once he realized this at some point in the 1790's, his opposition to slavery started to fade away. He even began to ignore his overseers ignoring his orders not to whip slaves. During his later years, Jefferson's lavish lifestyle and scientific experiments were costing him loads of money. In debt by the time he died, an elderly Jefferson had already mortgaged most of his slaves, and thus he could only free a certain handful which he didn't mortgage (we'll get to that in a second). There is also no getting around the fact that Jefferson was totally a racist, and he had a "strong suspicion" that black people were naturally inferior to white people. Jefferson did believe that the end of slavery was inevitable, but that his own time was not the proper time to do this. Basically, he realized he was a hypocrite and tried to create an excuse. He also argued that slavery was too ingrained in the South's economy to simply remove all at once.

In more recent years, things have gotten much more complicated. Today, most scholars believe that Jefferson had sex with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and fathered children with her. Jefferson's wife, Martha, died in 1782, a few years before he became ambassador to France. When his daughters came to visit him in Paris, they brought along a few slaves, Sally Hemings included. Jefferson, still saddened over his wife's death, was struck by how much Hemings looked like Martha and how she was so light-skinned. This was because Hemings was Martha's half sister (and, thus, Jefferson's as well). Martha's father also had sex with one of his slaves, and Hemings was his daughter. Exactly when their affair began is not known, but it was probably during his years in Paris. She was only fifteen years old at this time, too. There is a lot of evidence which heavily supports the view that Jefferson fathered some or all of her six children. Jefferson kept records of every slave born on his estate and who the parents were, and Hemings' kids are the only ones whose father is not listed. Monticello also kept records of everyone who came to visit and when, and Jefferson was always there about nine months before the birth of each child. The kids who lived past childhood were very light-skinned and resembled him. DNA testing shows that a male member of the Jefferson family fathered them, and further tests show that it wasn't the other Jefferson men there around the same time. In 1802, while he was President, one of his political enemies published a newspaper article revealing the affair; Jefferson simply ignored it and the scandal quickly died. There's little room for doubt that Jefferson was the father of some, if not all, of her children. Today, the Jefferson family invites her descendants when they have family reunions now. When he died, Hemings and the slaves he fathered with her were the only ones he freed.

Legacy and Reputation

He spent the last few years of his life studying more about science, astronomy, and other topics. When the British burnt down the Library of Congress during the War of 1812, Jefferson donated all 6,487 books in his personal collection to Congress so they could build a new one. As mentioned before, he also founded the University of Virginia in his post-presidential years. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 - the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Adams also died on that date, his last words being "Jefferson lives!" Actually, he had died a few hours earlier. Jefferson wrote his own gravestone. It included a list of his favorite of his accomplishments and, surprisingly, he did not mention that he was President.

Thomas Jefferson is widely hailed to be one of America's greatest Presidents. His purchase of Louisiana peacefully doubled the size of the country and began America's process of expanding to the Pacific Coast. Victory in the First Barbary War proved the young nation's military strength. He was the first "man of the people" to become President, even if Andrew Jackson would be the first President from the people. An advocate of small government who successfully delivered, Jefferson also put the country on the eventual path towards ending slavery. Scholarly rankings of the Presidents almost always place him in the Top 5, alongside George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. One public poll showed that 89% of the American public thought he was a good President, with only Washington and Lincoln having better results. His face is also on Mount Rushmore, alongside all of those previous men except FDR.

As an spokesperson of republicanism and liberty, Jefferson is revered worldwide, and the Declaration of Independence remains an iconic statement of equality. People have always invoked Jefferson when they talk about ideals such as freedom. Conservatives cite his belief in small government as an influence on their own platforms, while liberals speak of his defense of the common people from the aristocracy and the rich. His intellectual and scientific accomplishments have also endeared him to many. He is portrayed on the nickel (the five-cent coin) and the $2 bill, which is rarely ever used. A lot of people think that they are actually counterfeit. The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated in 1943, the 200th anniversary of his birth, but the statue of him was not added for another four years. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, which includes the legendary Gateway Arch, commemorates the place where Lewis and Clark began their expedition. Additionally, the main building of the Library of Congress, the Thomas Jefferson Building, is named in honor of its most important patron.

In more recent years, however, historians and scholars have taken a much more critical view of the Founding Father. While the early view after the Civil War was that Jefferson was a benevolent slaveholder who personally opposed the practice but kept them only out for financial reasons, this has changed to a portrayal of a man who failed to live up to the ideals which he brilliantly articulated. His relationship with Sally Hemings is today criticized by almost every biographer. In hindsight, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions are seen as having been worse than the Alien and Sedition Acts, since they helped cause the Civil War and put in place a very extreme practice of states' rights (as in, Southern states used it as an excuse to do whatever they felt like doing with slaves, leading to other states using the same argument to defend anything bad they do) which is still a bit of a problem. Now that the truth is out about his probably treasonous activities as Vice President, people paint a picture of Jefferson being a scheming politician willing to do anything to have his way. Some, noting his vocal support of the French Revolution, have seen Jefferson as too radical and too revolutionary. Jefferson's belief in small government has also been criticized as being too naive, and many historians today side with Hamilton.

It is inarguable, however, that Jefferson left a large and profound legacy for the United States and even the world, and that his influence can still be felt today.

This President provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: One current theory is that Jefferson was somewhere on the Autism spectrum, possibly Asperger's Syndrome. Contemporary accounts of his behavior are in line with commonly-recognized symptoms of the condition: above-average intelligence, highly knowledgeable in a wide range of scientific and intellectual disciplines. Also socially awkward, by all accounts a poor public speaker, had difficulty maintaining close personal relationships. And possessed one glaring hole in his otherwise all-encompassing genius: economics. He was so bad at managing his own finances that he died many thousands of dollars in debt (And this is 1826 dollars we're talking about; adjusted for inflation we're talking a couple of million). One of the reasons he never freed his own slaves was because financially he was never in a position where he could afford to run his estate without slave labor.
  • Arcadia: He believed that the ideal world would be a society of farmers living in tune with nature.
  • Arch-Enemy: Alexander Hamilton, to the point that if the two were in agreement, it was pointless to argue against them.
    • Irony abounded when Jefferson used Hamiltonian inclinations during his presidency.
    • Aaron Burr joined the enemies' list when he tried usurping the ticket for President in the 1800 Election: it was the first time parties nominated separate candidates for President and Vice President... but the Electoral College wasn't yet set up to handle such a ticket split, and Jefferson and Burr ended up tied with electoral votes. Rules had the results sent to the House where Federalists were still in charge and were keen on humiliating Jefferson by voting instead for Burr, and Burr subtlety encouraged it. It took Hamilton of all people - he disliked Jefferson but hated Burr - to get his Federalist allies to vote for Jefferson. This is why Jefferson went with another Vice President for the 1804 election, and Jefferson had a huge hand setting up the treason trial against Burr years later.
      • This was also one of the reasons - the other was a scandalous insult Hamilton made against Burr - Burr challenged Hamilton to that infamous duel.
  • Badass Boast: "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
  • Badass Bookworm: Up to Eleven. His personal library formed the core of the University of Virginia's library when it was founded — over 6000 books.
    • He also donated a substantial library to Congress after the War of 1812 when the invading British burned their original collection. That became the basis for the current Library Of Congress.
    John F. Kennedy: [speaking to a room full of Nobel Prize laureates] I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
  • Big Fancy House: Monticello. For bonus Renaissance Man points, Jefferson designed it himself, integrating many of his own ideas about great architecture. For even more points, the mansion housed many of Jefferson's household inventions.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Had a reputation for wearing wacky, mismatched outfits. He also often received visitors while he was still in his pajamas. To be fair, he seemed to do this as a way of distracting people from his poor speaking skills.
  • Commander Contrarian: As Vice-President to John Adams. So much so that his term highlighted a flaw in the American electoral process: that having the Vice-President be the candidate with the second-most votes in the Electoral College would likely lead to the President and the VP being from ideologically opposed parties, as the second-place candidate would almost certainly be the opposing party's presidential candidate. This flaw was quickly corrected in 1804 through the Twelfth Amendment.
    • He would suffer this with his first Vice-President Aaron Burr.
  • Creator Backlash: Hated being President and even had it left off his tombstone.
  • Deism: Thomas Jefferson is to Deism what Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens is to atheism.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ever the ardent revolutionary, Jefferson was one of the most passionate of the Founding Fathers. He also was extremely excited to hear about the beginning of the French Revolution. Jefferson famously wrote that "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing" and "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
  • Freudian Excuse: For his (possible) affair with Sally Hemmings. Sally was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife Martha, child of an affair between her father and one of his plantation slaves. According to contemporary accounts, Sally was fair-skinned enough to pass for white, and had a close physical resemblance to Martha. Following Martha's death in childbirth, it's not impossible to imagine a lonely and depressed Jefferson seeking solace with a woman that reminded him of her...a woman who was technically his property and had no say in the matter.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: In addition to all his other skills, Jefferson also had several inventions, many of which he used around the house at Monticello.
  • Genius Sweet Tooth: Ice cream was one of the most common foods served at Monticello.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With John Adams. Their friendship was interrupted for a long time when they ran against each other for the presidency in 1797 but by 1812 they had reconciled and remained good friends for the rest of their lives...which coincidentally ended on the same day, on 4th of July, 1826!
  • Hypocritical Humor: When he first moved into The White House, he said it was "big enough for two emperors, the pope, and the grand lama in the bargain." He then proceeded to order the first expansion of the White House, constructing colonnades on either side of the building (originally to disguise the laundry and stables, today they connect the original building to the East and West Wings, which are 20th-century additions).
  • Magnum Opus: The Declaration of Independence and The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom.
  • Nature Lover: Totally. He studied crops, animals, and nature for fun, and one of the reasons why he okayed the Lewis & Clark Expedition was so that they could record information about the environment of Louisiana. While true environmentalism did not really sprout until the Industrial Revolution really took over the American economy, in a sense Jefferson is the first environmental President.
  • No Social Skills
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: By far the most intelligent man to ever be elected to the White House.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Thought that blacks were inferior to whites, but despite this, Jefferson was a lot better than most others of his time, believing in freeing Africans from slavery, though this didn't stop him from still owning slaves.
  • Pride: He displayed supervillain-esque overconfidence regarding Canada "The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us the experience for the attack on Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent". Oh, do you bloody think so?
  • Questionable Consent: Now that it is mostly agreed that he did have sex with Sally Hemings, the question is whether or not it was consensual between them. The consensus leans significantly toward no it was not.
  • Red-Headed Hero
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The Red to Madison's Blue. Also, the Blue to Adams' Red.
  • Renaissance Man: Philosopher, author, lawyer, architect, musician, naturalist, botanist, inventor, engineer, statesman, diplomat, and political theorist.
  • Sex Slave: Sally.
  • Sweet Tooth
  • Tempting Fate: "Conquering Canada shall be a mere matter of marching." 3 years of war later...
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: With John Adams.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Slavery, having sex with one of your slaves, supporting the French Revolution, secret talks with French leaders, proposing secession, poorly-thought-out embargo... man, Jefferson sure has a lot of baggage. Also, he was a lawyer.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Tied into his role as one of America's earliest examples of the Renaissance Man.


Jefferson in fiction

  • Played by Ken Howard in 1776 and Independence.
    • Jefferson was also one of the several presidents Howard played in the musical flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • In HBO's miniseries about John Adams, he's played by Stephen Dillane.
  • In the Merchant-Ivory film Jefferson in Paris, Jefferson is played by Nick Nolte with Thandie Newton as Sally Hemings and Gwyneth Paltrow as Patsy Jefferson.
  • Briefly mentioned in the 90's Batman storyline "Dark Knight, Dark City", where he turns out to have been a demon-summoning cultist before becoming a politician.
  • Voiced by Ben Stiller(!) on the PBS show Liberty's Kids.
  • In an episode of 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan discovers that he is a descendant of Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Tracy then has a Dream Sequence in which Jefferson is played by Alec Baldwin.
    • Inspired by this, Tracy tries to self-finance a movie about Jefferson with him playing *all* the roles.
  • In The Simpsons episode Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington, Lisa goes to the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration, but it's too crowded, so she goes to the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson takes offense:
    Jefferson: No one ever comes to see me. I don't blame them. I never did anything important. Just the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the dumbwaiter... No, don't go! I'm so lonely...
  • An extremely negative portrayal of Jefferson as a hypocrite who trampled on the democratic principles he advocated appears in Gore Vidal's Burr. Since the book is from Burr's perspective (confirmed by Word of God to be an Unreliable Narrator), it also provides a very different portrayal of him than most Americans are familiar with.
  • Sort-of example: The Jefferson Memorial is the site of Project Purity in Fallout 3. After activating it, the muddy, irradiated water clears to show his statue standing proudly.
  • The film Almost Heroes is set in his administration. The protagonists meet Aaron Burr at a party.
  • In the Married... with Children episode "Here's Looking at You, Kid", Bud is supposed to help Kelly study history; instead, he tells her that Jefferson's wife was black, he was "a real Renaissance man [...] an architect and a dry-cleaner" and he wrote "Movin' On Up" (the Theme Song for The Jeffersons).
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja briefly depicts Jefferson as a time-traveler. With a jetpack.
  • Jefferson's early death in 1809 is the Point Of Divergence for the Alternate History Decades of Darkness.
  • In an episode of Family Ties while working on a term paper about Thomas Jefferson, Alex falls asleep and dreams of being at the Continental Congress in 1776 where Thomas Jefferson looks like Alex' dad Steven. Alex gets a job as Jefferson's house boy and ends up helping him decide to write the Declaration of Independence.
  • Jefferson appears in More Information Than You Require, where his cosmopolitan interests - specifically, his friendship with the mole-men prove instrumental in the development of American democracy. The book also features an extremely alternate universe version of Sally Hemings.
  • A Cahill from the Janus Branch of The 39 Clues.
  • His invention of the swivel chair gives us one of the most priceless and hilarious scenes from Series 1 of Downton Abbey
    Lady Grantham: Good heavens, what am I sitting on!?
    Matthew Crawley: Er..swivel..chair.
    Lady Grantham: Another modern brainwave?
    Matthew Crawley: Hardly. They were invented by Thomas Jefferson.
    Lady Grantham: Why does every day involve a fight with an American?
    • This takes place in 1913.
  • Jefferson appears as the leader of La Résistance in the Alternate History Tyranny of King Washington DLC for Assassin's Creed III.
  • He inexplicably shows up as a Big Bad in Mountain Time.

Benjamin FranklinAuthors Of QuoteOscar Wilde
John AdamsThe PresidentsJames Madison
Alexander HamiltonAuthorsThomas Paine

alternative title(s): Thomas Jefferson
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