President John F. Kennedy once held a state dinner at the White House, in which he and Jacqueline Kennedy hosted an astounding group of intellectuals, scientists and research experts. Kennedy remarked that never had so much brainpower been assembled in the White House, with the possible exception of those times in which Thomas Jefferson dined alone. In trying to decipher whether the Revolution was blessed with the great luck of having tremendous minds working on its behalf, or whether God actually was involved, the best argument that God was involved indeed comes in the person of Jefferson.
Jefferson, like Washington, was a Virginian. Many people have dismissed the Southerners who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War as "dumb rednecks." The fact is that they fought for a proud heritage. Because the South allowed for slavery, some have equated them with the Nazis. The fact is, they were equated with men of the intellectual heft and moral weight of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. It was the very intellectual heft of men such as these that produced the Constitution that allowed for slavery to end, on our shores and, for all practical purposes, for all times.
The fact that Jefferson owned slaves is not disputed. Would he be a greater historical figure if he had not, particularly if he had been a major advocate of Abolition? Yes, he would. Of course, none of this reduces the fact that he is still one of the greatest figures in the history of Mankind.
Jefferson was a landowner and man of wealth. He was the recipient of a superior classical education, starting with private tutors and continuing at William and Mary College. He then apprenticed as a lawyer under George Wythe, and was admitted to the bar in 1767. His interests were widespread and included fine art, politics, sciences, and fluency in no less than six languages. He married in 1772 and had six children, but only two daughters lived to maturity. His wife was an invalid, and he reportedly had an affair with a slave named Sally Hemmings, who had his children, the line of descendancy alleged to still be in the U.S. In many ways, he was the "Father" of Our Country more so than Washington.
Like Washington, prior to the revolution, he planned to retire and devote himself to writing and farming. He was also an architect, and built the fabulous mansion at Monticello, on a hilltop overlooking Charlottesville. In 1770, he was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and the county lieutenant of Albemarle. He advocated freeing men from tyranny, a point of view his detractors say is hypocritical considering that he was a slave owner. However, all the facts point to Jefferson being a man who treated his slaves as employees and extended members of his family (which in some cases they actually were). He operated at a time in which slaves who lived on a benevolent plantation such as his were treated well. They were better off than they would be freed. It makes for a moral conundrum, but does not change the fact that those were the circumstances of his time and place. Jefferson was an early supporter of colonial politics and empathized with the cause of western farmers who were anti-British. He was not considered a great public speaker. His writings are his greatest legacy.
Jefferson helped to create the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, and published in 1774 “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”. The book argued that the Brits should relinquish virtually all powers of colonial government. This earned him a position as a colonial leader. He was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress of 1775. At the age of 33 he was chosen as chairman of the committee to draw up the Declaration of Independence. Much of it was based on Jefferson’s reading of John Locke, centering on natural rights. He went back to the Virginia legislature in 1776, where he dominated that body. He worked on laws that abolished entails and primogeniture, established religious freedom (he said the state could not coerce the individual mind), and created a more Democratic form of education. His own schooling with private tutors and private college education was, he knew, a great privilege. Jefferson wanted to create a society in which more people could be subject to such advantage. He revised the Virginia criminal code, and was elected Governor, succeeding Patrick Henry. His gubernatorial years were not effective, however. He failed to properly coalesce the Virginia militia. The English invaded with little opposition. Jefferson abdicated military duties to others.
Jefferson returned to Monticello, and his wife soon passed. He went into a state of depression, and in order to stay upbeat wrote “Notes on the State of Virginia”. In 1783 he returned to Congress, the year the war was officially won. He devised a plan for a decimal monetary system, drafted the Northwest Ordinance, and became the chief architect of Westward expansion. In 1784 Jefferson was sent to Paris to negotiate treaties with the Europeans. When Ben Franklin retired, he became Minister to France. He absorbed French culture and advised the French, albeit the royalists for the most part, on the revolution. Whether he meant to or not, his presence in France inspired many of the early revolutionaries, whose cause Jefferson tacitly agreed with. He never would have supported the outcome of the revolution, which of course was the "reign of terror." In the heady days of the mid-1780s, the American example was an intoxicating one. Regarding the formation of the American government, Jefferson advocated a strong national government and a newly adopted Constitution. In the1790s, he observed from afar the French Revolution, and despite its excesses mistakenly felt that in the long run it advanced the cause of humanity.
In 1790, Jefferson became Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Washington’s first Cabinet. He attempted to secure boundary questions with England and Spain, but it was an uphill battle and he was unsuccessful. France and Spain went to war. Washington remained neutral, which caused some internal friction in the Cabinet. This manifested itself in a disagreement with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, regarding neutrality rights. Jefferson opposed Hamilton’s plan for a Bank of the United States, calling it a monopoly and un-Constitutional. In this, history favors the Hamiltonian view. The feud with Hamilton became a personal one. Jefferson formed the Democratic-Republican political party in opposition to what he felt were Hamilton’s aristocratic tendencies. Washington supported Hamilton. Jefferson, who declined to run against Washington in the 1792 elections, resigned in protest in 1793. In many ways, party politics can be traced to Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
Back in Monticello, Jefferson became an outspoken critic of Washington’s administration. He was the candidate of his party for President in 1796, but lost to John Adams and was installed as Vice-President. In this capacity, he presided over the Senate. His greatest accomplishment was in fighting a wave of political support for the concept that criticism of the President should be outlawed. Jefferson was a free speech advocate of the first order. This period may come as some surprise to people who think of America as a place where dissent was always tolerated. It almost became something else. The reason dissent was saved for a future generation owes itself to Jefferson, who was himself a dissenter. He and James Madison were major advocates of states’ rights. Since they were Virginians, a study of the Confederacy, which made as its major plank the issue of states’ rights, can be traced to these two men. Hamilton, on the other hand, was a Federalist and may be seen as the spirit of Abe Lincoln’s Union. Jefferson ascended to the Presidency on the strength of his platform in 1800, in an election that he called a “revolution.” A crisis ensued around this election. When the Federalists gave up power peacefully, a major test of the young country had been passed. Jefferson held his government together through conciliation, keeping a number of Federalists in their offices. A war against Barbary pirates took up his attention. He negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon in 1803. Napoleon needed the money to finance his war campaigns. Jefferson felt a quandary about the expansion of land that the purchase meant for his country. The land included Indian territories. It was a major advancement in what would come to be known as Manifest Destiny, the advancement of the American government further and further west. The people, however, heartily agreed with the policy. It propelled Jefferson to a big electoral victory in 1804.
Jefferson’s second term was marked by growing pains. The trial of Aaron Burr, who had killed Hamilton in a duel, was very difficult for him. A dispute arose with Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. The question of the day regarded the power of the Court, and in 1803 it was decided that the Supreme Court was, indeed, the law of the land. Both France and England, engaged in Napoleonic wars, failed to heed to the rights of U.S. vessels engaged in the high seas. The situation had the virtual effect of making the U.S. the enemy of both England and France. It resulted in the Embargo Act of 1807.
Jefferson was pleased to see Madison elected as his successor in 1808. Madison and later James Monroe continued to seek the advice of Jefferson, who came to be known as the “Sage of Monticello.” He was instrumental in the charter of the University of Virginia in 1819, and became involved in a wide variety of interests. Unfortunately, his financial situation declined, because he had devoted his life to public service and not the accumulation of wealth. He died, ironically, on July 4, 1826. His tomb reads “Author of the Declaration of Independence; of the Statute for Religious Liberty in Virginia, and Founder of the University of Virginia.”
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism