Born on in April 1743 and died on the 4th of July 1826, Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). He was a spokesman for democracy, embraced the philosophy of republicanism and the rights of the individual with worldwide power.
His father Peter Jefferson was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families.
The third president of the United States, Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. In opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalism, Jefferson and his close friend, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and later resigned from Washington’s cabinet.
Elected Vice President in 1796, when he came in second to President John Adams of the Federalists, Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Throughout his life, Jefferson depended on books for his education. In 1770, Jefferson’s home as well as family library (consisting of 200 volumes) in Shadwell, Virginia was destroyed by fire. By 1773 he had collected 1,250 titles.
By 1815, his collection had grown to almost 6,500 volumes.He collected and accumulated thousands of books for his library at Monticello. When Jefferson’s father Peter died Thomas inherited, among other things, his hefty library.
Jefferson began building Monticello when he was twenty-six years old. Three years later, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he lived happily for ten years until her death. Their marriage produced six children, but only two survived to adulthood.
Having attended the College of William and Mary, Jefferson practiced law and served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses in his early professional life.
Jefferson was re-nominated by caucus in 1804 with George Clinton as his Vice President. He ran against Charles Pinckney from South Carolina. During the campaign, Jefferson easily won. The federalists were divided with radical elements leading to the party’s demise.
In 1807, Jefferson ended the foreign slave trade beginning January 1, 1808. He also established the precedent of Executive Privilege as explained above. Jefferson was succeeded as president in 1809 by his friend James Madison, and during the last seventeen years of his life, he remained at Monticello.
During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress. Jefferson embarked on his last great public service at the age of seventy-six, with the founding of the University of Virginia.
Jefferson retired after his second term as president and did not re-enter public life again. He spent time at Monticello. He was deeply in debt and in 1815 sold his library to form the Library of Congress and to help get him out of debt.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, just hours before his close friend John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone before his death.