Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 ‒ July 4, 1826) was a Founding Father and the third President of the United States (1801‒09), immediately succeeding John Adams and preceding 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 many subjects, his other areas of expertise included theology, history, music, architecture, and earth sciences.
Jefferson was the intellectual visionary of the Revolution, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and also a staunch critic of Christianity and upholder of the separation of Church and State. He has been tough for some historians to get a handle on, in how he claimed that "All Men Are Created Equal" and opposed slavery while also possessing hundreds of slaves, among other seemingly contradictory aspects of his life. This became even more complicated in the light of the validation of the long-denied rumor of his affair with Sally Hemings via a DNA test, accepted by a sizable consensus of American historians (and Jefferson's descendant, journalist Lucan Truscott IV) with a dissenting minority. Sally Hemings was a half-sister of his late wife, the daughter of a black slave and a Virginia landholder. Jefferson began a relationship with Sally and fathered several children with her, all of whom were born slaves. Several died in infancy and bondage, while those who lived were freed during Jefferson's life or upon his death. Sally however, was freed instead by Jefferson's daughter Martha after 'doing her time'.
Despite his contradictions, Thomas Jefferson is one of the most important men in American history, whose legacy endures even today for a variety of reasons. He made major antislavery moves like abolishing importation of slaves into America, which was done at the same time as England's abolition and the enforcement of the West Africa Squadron. This ended the international slave trade from Africa, but internal slavery within America continued until Abraham Lincoln abolished it. Jefferson also oversaw the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory into the United States and doubled America's territory overnight.
As a politician, he promoted democracy for the common man. Jefferson was highly skeptical of contemporary aristocrats and corporations, and he criticized the rule of the wealthiest classes and plutocracy numerous times, often including slavery as a great sin of the upper classes (his political rivals of the time would often accuse him of hypocrisy). He also supported the social goals of the The French Revolution, in contrast to his rival Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson's criticism of Christianity and promotion of Deism made him a consistent voice for the separation of Church and State among Americans, and indeed he would be denounced by contemporaries like Hamilton for this, but also cited by later religious freedom advocates like Christopher Hitchens as a role model. His writings are still of great value, and today defenders see his personal contradictions as evidence of a personality who was far more complex than previously believed. The man, as one of his latter day admirers said, contained multitudes. He was also responsible for founding the University of Virginia, which later became Edgar Allan Poe's alma mater.
Jefferson was quite the polymath: he spoke six different languages, held America's first archaeological dig, designed a new kind of plow, and served as President of the American Philosophical Society, which promoted many new scientific advancements during the period. He was also the inventor of two great features of modern America: the swivel chair (the kind you're probably sitting on, or sit on at work) and macaroni and cheese (the baked kind). If you're presently eating macaroni and cheese while sitting on a swivel chair, know that you owe your present condition to Jefferson.
It is without question that Jefferson was one of the most influential figures in American history. He created the political party which would later become today's Democratic Party, and his writings were very important to numerous later American political figures like Abraham Lincoln, who saw Jefferson's ideas as being "the definitions and axioms of a free society".
Appears in the following works:
- 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's 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.
- Mentioned as one of the ex-demigods filling in as a judge of the Underworld (as such implied to be a son of Zeus since as per agreement between Zeus and Hades, all the judges of the Underworld are sons of Zeus) in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
- His invention of the swivel chair gives us one of the most priceless and hilarious scenes from Series 1 of Downton Abbey (which takes place in 1913):
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?
- 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.
- Jefferson is one of the main antagonists in Hamilton. He was played by Daveed Diggs in the original Broadway cast.
- Jefferson squares off against Frederick Douglass in the 61st installment of Epic Rap Battles of History.
- Sleepy Hollow reveals that Jefferson was part of the secret supernatural war happening behind the scenes of the Revolutionary War. And he created a magical hologram of himself to safeguard a repository of magical lore.