Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 and was the third President of the United States. Jefferson was a statesman and an ambassador to France. Many have said he was the first cultured President the United States every truly had – Jefferson’s predecessors were the combative Adams and the “for the people” Washington.
Jefferson, though, was a man of opposites. He loved archeology but also recognized that the United States had to move forward in order to survive. He was a philosopher in a time where action was supposedly louder than words. And he was a peacemaker in a time of war.
Born to Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph, both from Virginian families, he attended the College of William & Mary, where he was a member of the FHC Society. Later in life he founded the University of Virginia, largely as a result of attempting to reform the College of William & Mary – with little success.
Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and a leader in American culture. Jefferson pushed the frontiers of America through the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Jefferson once said: “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”
In his own life he stood by this statement, as he worked arduously to design his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. He included several of his inventions and innovations designed to make life easier, more convenient and to please his many guests. In fact, there were very few things he asked others to do that he wasn’t willing to do himself. He believed in leading by example –the first President to do so.
Jefferson’s hobby, and passion, was archeology – at a time when archeology was so young that it wasn’t even called a science. Many have said that Jefferson in many ways popularized and legitimized the “discipline.” For example, when he found an Indian burial mound on his Virginian estate, he made the unique approach of cutting a wedge deep into the mound so that he could visually explore each cross section and draw his own conclusions. The practice later became a standard in archeology, at a time when the common practice was to simply dig downwards and hope nothing was destroyed.
Jefferson’s political career began as the first Secretary of State of the United States, a post he served within for 6 years, from 1789 until 1795. Afterwards, he spent 4 years as John Adams’ Vice President – as a result of getting second place in the 1976 presidential elections.
In his next run for the Presidency in 1800, Jefferson and his opponent, Aaron Burr, tied for electoral votes. The impasse was resolved by the House of Representatives on February 17, 1801 when Jefferson was elected President, and Burr became the Vice President. Jefferson had the unique privilege of being the only Vice President who was elected President to serve two full terms. His profile current appears on the $2 bill and the 5 cent piece.
Jefferson applied the same discipline that had been visible in his personal life to his presidential career. He quickly slashed the military budgets, cut the overall federal budget, cut several taxes and worked hard to reduce the national debt. During his tenure, the debt was reduced by more than a third. Jefferson also oversaw the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Jefferson’s second term was overshadowed by the Napoleonic wars, a conflict in which Jefferson was loathe to involve himself and his country in spite of the continued interference of England and France in American affairs.
Like many of the founding fathers, Jefferson was a Deist. He believed that although God was real, he was distant and unconcerned with humanity. That God simply created, and then went somewhere else to play.
Further, Jefferson did not believe in miracles – to the point of writing his own accounting of the gospels, commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. He brought copies of his new bible to many of his most famous engagements, quoting from them religiously and driving home his belief that man was man’s own savior.
Jefferson’s faith in the non-intervention of God in daily life is displayed in his belief that the separation of church and state was an absolute requirement for a civilized society, to the point where he wrote “"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."
In spite of these things, though, Jefferson was a man who was completely for religious freedom. He simply didn’t want religion to be the basis for the founding – or running – of his country.
Thomas Jefferson’s stand for human liberty struck a chord that resounds even today. But in the end, Jefferson's own appraisal of his life, and the one that he wrote for use on his own tombstone, suffices: "Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”