Thomas Jefferson

3rd president - 1801-1809

 

One of the most intellectually gifted of all statesmen, Jefferson was a major force in American politics long before becoming president. He was governor of Virginia during the Revolution, was principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and served as Secretary of State under George Washington and as Vice-President (though not a supportive one) under John Adams. His sympathy for the revolutionary cause in France saw him become leader of the nascent Democratic-Republican party, in opposition to the more conservative Federalists. He opposed a strong, centralised Government and championed the rights of individual states. A fervent opponent of slavery (although this did not stop him owning slaves), he was also a champion of tolerance - who was so proud of having enacted a statute establishing religious freedom in Virginia that he asked for this, rather than his presidencies, to be mentioned on his gravestone.

Tall, thin and freckled, Jefferson was an austere president. He reduced military expenditure, reduced the national debt, and presided with conspicuous lack of pomp. Several foreign ambassadors were offended by his habit of receiving them in his pyjamas. But he was also conscientious and effective, reversing the more repressive policies of his predecessor.

A highlight of his first term was the Louisiana Purchase (1803), whereby the US paid Napoleon $11.25m for the southern part of the French North American empire, doubling the size of the nation and creating what Jefferson called an "empire for liberty".

His second term was less successful, being overshadowed by the Napoleonic wars, which had led to both both Britain and France interfering with the neutral rights of American merchantmen. Jefferson's attempted solution, an embargo upon American shipping, was not only unpopular but proved harmful to the economy.

His personal life was complicated. His wife, Martha (née Skelton), had died in 1782, and his subsequent private life provoked several scandals – which may or may not have been justified. He was once challenged to a duel, by a neighbour, John Walker, who accused him of trying to seduce his wife. Jefferson met him privately and talked him out of it. Some years later, apparently trying to impress the wife of another friend (Richard Cosway), he tried to jump a fence and badly injured his wrist. It never entirely healed. Meanwhile, modern DNA evidence suggests (but not conclusively) that Jefferson did indeed father at least one child by his slave and mistress, Sally Hemings.

But it as a thinker that he is chiefly remembered. On relinquishing the presidency, he returned to his mountain home at Monticello, Virginia, which he had built himself several decades earlier. Here he occupied himself with his correspondence, his inventions, and such projects as the American Philosophical Society (of which he was president).

Like John Adams, he died on July 4, 1826.

In his own words

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

In others' words

"He lives and will live in the memory and gratitude of the wise and good, as a luminary of Science, as a votary of liberty, as a model of patriotism, and as a benefactor of human kind." James Madison

"A ridiculous affectation of simplicity... may have had a momentary effect with the few ignorant and unsuspecting, but have long ago excited the derision of the many, who know that under the assumed cloak of humility lurks the most ambitious spirit, the most overweening pride..." William Loughton Smith

Minutiae

Every morning, Jefferson would soak his feet in a bath of cold water.

He was a great believer in beer. "I wish to see this beverage become common, instead of the whiskey which kills one third of our citizens."

He is the only president to have a plant named after him: Jeffersonia (also known as rheumatism root).

Despite his opposition to slavery, Jefferson was one of America's biggest slave-owners. (He had inherited them.)

Jefferson died $107,000 in debt – equivalent to many millions today.

He risked the death penalty by smuggling rice samples out of Italy; descendants of the strain are still grown in the US today.

Jefferson was a prolific inventor; his more practical inventions included the swivel chair and the dumb waiter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?