Thomas Jefferson's Legacy

Updated on January 30, 2018
harrynielsen profile image

New World history is a rich field that is constantly being analyzed for new material. The complexity of these tales never fails to amaze me.

Thomas Jefferson in London

Mather Brown painted this portrait of Thomas Jefferson in 1786, while he was in England
Mather Brown painted this portrait of Thomas Jefferson in 1786, while he was in England

Who Was Thomas Jefferson?

Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia on April 13, 1743 and died on Independence Day in 1826, after serving two terms as the third president of the United States. His place of birth was Shadwell, Virginia, which is located near Chancellorsville. Jefferson attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg, where he studied mathematics and philosophy. Then at age 21, he inherited a sizable tract of land that included the Monticello estate.

During his lifetime, Jefferson held many important political offices that included delegate to the 2nd Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, first Secretary of State (under Washington), vice president (under John Adams) and president of the United States from 1800-1808.

Who was Thomas Jefferson?

Jefferson Becomes a Lawyer

After graduating from college, Thomas Jefferson apprenticed with an established lawyer by the name of George Wythe. After two years of serving as a law clerk under Wythe, Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. As a young lawyer, Jefferson sometimes defended freed black slaves, even though he was one of the largest landholders in Virginia.

A True Renaissance Man

Thomas Jefferson was an extraordinary gifted individual, especially for his day and age. Not only was he widely read, but also the Virginia aristocrat could speak five languages besides his native English. These included French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish. Over his lifetime, Jefferson penned over 19,000 letters, but wrote only a few books including his autobiography, which was published in 1821 and is still in print, today.

As an architect he was quite talented also, for besides designing his own mansion at Monticello, he also laid out the blueprint for the Virginia State Capital and the rotunda at the University of Virginia. So influential, were his building designs that a whole school of architectural style is named after the third president. Not surprisingly, it is called the the Jeffersonian school (or style) of architecture and it can be found in many public buildings, constructed during the 19th century..

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson designed several buildings, besides the Rotunda at the University of Virginia that is pictured here. His distinct style would become known as the Jeffersonian style
Thomas Jefferson designed several buildings, besides the Rotunda at the University of Virginia that is pictured here. His distinct style would become known as the Jeffersonian style

Jefferson's Friendship With John Adams

Thomas Jefferson first met John Adams when he went to Philadelphia to serve in the Second Continental Congress in 1775. On the other hand, John Adams had been hanging around Philadelphia since the first days of the Continental Congress. During that time he had gained enough influence to pick Jefferson to serve on a small committee that would take on the responsibility of writing a Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation for the new republic.

The two men's friendship would grow even stronger as they both shipped out for Europe, as American diplomats in the 1780s and then would turn sour, as Jefferson challenged Adams for the presidency in 1796. By this time, Adams had become a distinct Federalists, while Jefferson commandeered the newly formed, Republican opposition. Adams would win the 1796 election, but Jefferson would secede Adams to the White House in 1800, when he narrowly defeated Aaron Burr.

Strangely enough, the two formidable statesmen, both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, which was exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

A Painting of the Signing

This painting of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence was done by John Trumbull in 1818. Even though tha canvas painting is 18' X 12', it does not include all the signers because images of some of the men were not available at the time.
This painting of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence was done by John Trumbull in 1818. Even though tha canvas painting is 18' X 12', it does not include all the signers because images of some of the men were not available at the time.

The Pen Behind the Constitution

Thomas Jefferson arrived at the Second Continental Congress in 1774, as one of the youngest members of the 56 member body. As it turned out, the Virginia planter would also become one of the most influential members of the group of dissidents. Jefferson's skill, as both a writer and orator, got him placed on one very important committee. Simply put, it was the committee charged with the writing a workable Constitution for the new nation.

Thomas Jefferson Lampooned

This 1804 Federalist cartoon makes fun of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemmings,
This 1804 Federalist cartoon makes fun of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemmings,

Jefferson the Book Collector

"I cannot live without books," Thomas Jefferson

During his lifetime Thomas Jefferson was an avid collector of books. It is estimated that over the course of his life, Jefferson acquired somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 manuscripts. A fire at his Shadwell home in 1770 was a major setback to Jefferson's book collecting efforts, but Jefferson continued with his literary activities, nonetheless.

In 1815, after the British had burned much of Washington, including the Library of Congress, Jefferson sold a good portion of his continuously growing library to the Washington institution. All total almost 7,000 different books exchanged hands, helping to insure that the national library remained an important institution.

Then towards the end of his life Jefferson sold a similar amount of his books to the University of Virginia, for which he was paid $24,000.

The Duality of Thomas Jefferson

Sources

Thomas Jefferson, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson

Biography of Thomas Jefferson, http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/thomas-jefferson

Thomas Jefferson Facts, https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/thomas-jefferson-facts

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams,http://www.history.com/news/jefferson-adams-founding-frenemies

Thomas Jefferson and Books, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Jefferson_Thomas_and_Books



Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Harry Nielsen

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working