Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

Figure 1.--.

Thomas Jefferson is one of the greatest of the American presidents. By a stoke of a pen he made America a continental power when he approved the Louisiana Purchase. That alone would have been sufficient to have placed him on the list of the greatest American presidents. He is, however, even better known for the force of his ideas and eloquence in expressing them. Jefferson was dedication to rooting out the established system of privilege that the new United States and inherited from Britain. In doing so, it was Jefferson much more than Washington who formulated the ethos for the new American Republic. Jefferson is perhaps also the most enigmatic of all presidents. No American president wrote so eloquently about liberty and yet relied on slave labor his entire life for his livelihood and unlike fellow Virginia planter George Washington--never freed them. Many American presidents owned slaves, but none wrote so eloquently about liberty and the natural rights of man. He has been described as the conceiving spirit of the American Republic.


Peter Jefferson, Thomas' father, was a planter and surveyor. Peter Jefferson was a self made man. He had land, but he was not a prestigious member of the Virginia landed gentry. He came from a family of modest origins. He built a small fortune through his skills as a sea captain, farmer, and surveyor. He taught his sons farming and surveying skills. He was of Welsh descent. He was both a ship’s captain and well as a planter who carved his estate out of the wilderness. His mother who Jane Randolph. She was was born in Virginia. The Randolph family, unlike the Jeffersons, with high social standing. The Randolphs claimed descent from the kings of both Scotland and England. Jane's cousin, Peyton Randolph, was an important leader in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was known throughout the n Colonies as an orator and political ability. Thus Jefferson inherited social standing from his mother. But there was radical strain in Jefferson that looked caskase at aristocracy. The tension between the two dogged him his entire life. He wanted to leave a comfortable life filled with wine, books, abnd luxuries and supported by slave labor, yet he a champion of liberty and republican against aristocratic Britain.


Thomas was born in in Shadwell, Virginia which became part of Albermarle County (1743). The family moved to Tuckahoe and tried to start up a plantation there. Seven years later they returned to their home in Albemarle. His father was appointer to the colonelcy of the county, meaning he commanded the local militia. Thomas was the third of eight children. Only five lived past the age of 30 years. At the time, Albermarle County was on the edge of the Virginia wilderness frontier. Thomas' first memory as a child was being carried on a pillow by a slave. He was a freckled and sandy-haired boy. A slave named Jupiter was also born in 1743. It is believed that they were boyhood companions. Little is written, but Jefferson's brother was several years older and thus could not have been a close companion. His father took Thomas for walks in the woods and gave him a love of both nature and liberty. The two becme connected in young Thomas' mind. His father died suddenly when Thomas was only 14 years old (1757). He acquired 5,000 acres of land and several slaves. Jefferson became the head of his family. A family friend helped run the farm while Thomas finished his education.


Thomas was the oldest son. His brother was quite a bit younger than him.


As a boy Jefferson was tutored. He began reading the books in his father's library. It is unclear just when Thomas fell in love with books. He learned to read six languages, including the classical languages ( Latin and Greek) as well as French, Italian, and Spanish. As an adult he preferred to read a book in its original language. As a boy he learned to play the violin and was a life long admirer of music. He was a serious student a might study for 14-15 hours daily. He studies the classics thoroughly, including Cicero, Seneca, and Epicruius. He came to agree with the Stoics that the highest good was for a being to act in accord with his nature. Thomas' began at his first school at about age 9 years. His first school was operated by William Douglas, a Scottish minister (1752). Jefferson taught at the school of the learned minister James Maury (1758-60). While there he also pursued classical education and studied science and history himself. Jefferson then attended the College of William and Mary at age 16 years. He was attended by his personal slave Jupiter. He then read law.


Jefferson was certainly the most talented of all American presidents. President Kennedy in addressing a dinner of luminaries the First Lady had helped assemble, told them that this was the greatest assemblage of talent in the White House--since the night Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Jefferson was notable for the breath of his enthusiasms and talents. He pursued agronomy, architecture, art, music, poetry, political science, science, and other disciplines.

Life Style

Jefferson loved fine things. He drank fine wines. He massed a huge collection of books which would become the foundation of the Library of Congress. He appreciated exquisite porcelains, fine art, beautifully crafted furnishings, elegant clothing and other expensive items. [Beran] It was his slaves which financed this life style. Even so, his luxurious life style brought with it a life of death.


Jefferson's father died when he was 21 years old [check?], leaving him 5,000 acres of land and 22 slaves. Jefferson began earning a living as a layer, but was soon drawn to politics and elected to the Virginia House of Burgess at age 25 years. He was, however, no orator. In the House of Burgesses and subsequently in the Continental Congress, it was his pen and writing skills that he contributed. He was known as the "silent member of Congress". One of his first efforts was a proposal to abolish slavery. It was roundly voted down. Supporters were vilified, although Jefferson was largely excused because of his youth.


Jefferson in 1772 married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow. He brought her to live in live in Monticello, at the time still under construction on a mountain top in his Virginia home overlooking Charlottesville. No portrait of her survives. She shivered at the dreariness of the small cottage that he had just begin to build. She was said to be very cultured and graceful. Bother Martha and her husband loved music. When Martha's father died, he inherited 11,000 acres and 135 slaves and her father's debts. He sold the land, but kept the slaves. This made him the second largest salve holder in Albermale County. When Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, Martha was in Monticello still recovering from the loss of a child. She never fully recovered. As her health declined, he tenderly cared for her. Martha died in 1782. Before she died she told her husband that she could not rest at peace knowing that her children would be raised under another woman. Jefferson promised her that she would never marry.


Martha bore six children. Only two survived childhood, both girls--Mary and Martha. Jefferson gave great attention to the education of his children and grandchildren. This meant primarily the children of his daughter Martha and Thomas Mann Randolph. His years after the presidency were enlivened by his 12 grand children which were a delight to him.

Martha (1772-1836)

Martha was the oldest child. Her father called her Patsy. She was 10 years old when her mother died. She became the feminine head of the household, fulfilling the duties of her mother as her father, keeping the pledge to his wife, never remarried. She was with her father in Philadelphia when the new country was born. She married Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., a scion from another famous Virginia family, when she was 18 years old. They had 12 children. She lost a son and daughter. Their son James Madison Randolph was the first child born in the White House. Martha acted as White House hostess when her husband served in Congress. Later he was elected Governor of Virginia. He had, however, a mental breakdown, apparently resenting a life in the shadow of his father-in- law. He died 2 years after Jefferson, leaving Martha huge debts. She had to be supported by her children.

Jane Randolph (1774-1775)

Jane Randolph died at about one and half years of age.

Son (1777)

Jefferson's son died with a few days of birth. We do not know his name.

Mary Maria (1778-1804)

Mary was known as Polly. Her early years were spent with her father away. She was only about 4 years old when her mother died. As a small child she felt a need to gain some recognition from him. While in Paris, her father sent for her. A household slave, Sally Hemmings, accompanied her on the journey to Paris. While there she began to be called Maria, French for Mary. Mary married John W. Eppes who became a Congressman and Senator. Mary died during Jefferson's first term as president from childbirth complications. For her son Francis, he built a beautiful home at Poplar Forest in Bedford county. He used it himself as a refuge from the large number of visitors at Monticello.

Lucy Elizabeth (1780-81)

Jefferson was Governor of Virginia when Lucy was born. The state capital had been moved to Richmond from Williamsburg because it was further inland and less vulnerable to raids by British naval forces. When British forces approached Richmond, Jefferson sent the children to safety, but it was cold and snowy. Lucy Elizabeth was only 5 weeks old and became ill. She died a few months later.

Lucy Elizabeth (1782-84)

Their last child was born in 1782. Her mother was not strong to begin with and died from the difficult birth. Lucy Elizabeth died while Jefferson was serving as Ambassador to France.


The English Parliament in 1765? passed the Stamp Act. Jefferson and many colonists objected to the idea that Parliament could levy a tax without the consent of the colonists ho had no representation in Parliament--the principle of taxation without representation. Many Virginians complained that this was slavery and those which complained loudest were mostly slave holders.

Continental Congress

Jefferson in 1775 was chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress--on of the youngest members. He was tall and rather gangly. He had a way with words, an eloquent correspondent. He was, however, no orator. Jefferson found himself as a small group of merchants, lawyers, and planters who met to determine whether they should govern themselves. The idea was at the time almost preposterous and certainly treasonous. The punishment for rebellion if they failed almost certainly would have been the noose--or worse. The chances of a successful rebellion were almost dismissed outside of the American colonies. Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution on independence.

Declaration of Independence

A committee was needed to write a declaration. Benjamin Franklin was asked to write the draft. It fell to John Adams and Jefferson. Adams insisted on Jefferson writing it. Adams told him that there were three reasons why he must write it. First, was that Jefferson was a Virginian. The Revolution was born in Massachusetts. To succeed, the participation of Virginia, the most important southern colony, was crucial. Second, because Adams admitted that he was personally unpopular. Third, because Adams said Jefferson was a much better writer. Jefferson sat down to express the American mind and succeeded in a few days in writing perhaps the most important political document since the Magna Carta. Jefferson found the language to powerfully define the spirit of the American Revolution. Gore Vidal explains, he hurled these words at the world and to this day, they continue to inspire.

John Locke

The English philosopher which most influenced Jefferson was certainly John Locke (1632-1704). Locke's writings on government and education key works launching the Enlightenment. He viewed government as social contract with the governed designed to allow the population to enjoy their natural rights. He also wrote about the three branches of government. Locke believed that it was not rebellious for the population to enforce their will upon government. He wrote that people had the right to "life, liberty, and property". This was undoubtedly the source of the expression "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Many wonder about the elimination of the word "property". The concept of plagiarism was virtually unknown at the time. Jefferson himself never explained why he made that change. Some believe that he thought the association with slavery required that "property" not be used in these ringing words.


Jefferson more than any other founding father described the spirit of America. He was a scientist, a humanist, and a political philosopher. He eloquently spoke of freedom. Yet he was one of the delegates that owned the most slaves. When Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence there were over 0.5 million slaves--about 20 percent of the population. The first draft of the Declaration accused the English of promoting slavery. Delegates from the Southern states insisted that these references be deleted. Jefferson depended on slave labor to support him. Jefferson personally owned about 200 slaves. Available records show that he was a relatively benevolent slave holder--viewing his salves paternalistically as part of his family. Slavery was an inherently evil system and required brutal force to sustain it on even the most benevolent plantations. Jefferson's slave holding in sharp contrast to his eloquent writing on liberty and freedom are one of the most controversial aspects of his life. Some authors have been quite critical. One goes so far as to maintain that Jefferson used the presidency to serve the interests of slave owners. [Wills] This seems an overly harsh assessment and not supported by the information provided. Even so, Jefferson's slave holding must be included in any full assessment of the third president. Apologists for Jefferson say that he was a man of his times to excuse his slave holding. We can perhaps understand politically his decision to stop pursuing the idea of abolition in Virginia. What is more difficult to understand why unlike Washington and some other progressive Virginians--Jefferson never freed his slaves. Here his desire for a luxurious life style and obligations to his creditors outweighed any moral obligations he may have held for his slaves.

Sally Hemmings (c1763-1835)

Sally Hemmings, who was first called Sarah, was the daughter of Elizabeth ( Betty) Hemmings and, allegedly, John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law. Thomas Jefferson inherited inherited Sally and her mother as part of the Wayles estate in 1774. The two by 1776 were living on Monticello. Sally as a child was probably a "nurse" to Jefferson's daughter Mary. Slave girls from 6-8 years of age were commonly used as child minders and assistants to head nurses on plantations. They might also be assigned as playmates for the white children. Jefferson's wife died in 1782. She asked him never to remarry, primarily so that their daughter Mary would never have a stepmother. Jefferson was appointed Ambassador to France in 1785. Once there he asked Mary to Join him, which she did in 1787, accompanied by Sally. At the time, Sally was 14 and Mary 8 years olds. It was in Paris that the relationship between Jefferson and Sally is believed to have begun. Sally could have remained in Paris as a free person, but Jefferson promised her that he would ensure that she lived in comfort on Monticello and free her children, if she returned. [Andrews] Modern tests appear to indicate that Jefferson fathered Sally's youngest son. Some had thought he fathered Thomas Woodson (1790- ), Sally's oldest son. He may have fathered her other children as well: Hariet I (1795- ), Beverly (1798- ), Hariet II (1801), Madison (1805- ), and Eston (1808- ). The science of DNA evidence is very complicated, but clearly there was an intimate relationship between Jefferson and Sally. This is a good example of the evils of the slave system. In this case the relationship was surely consensual, but Sally was a child and a slave and thus her consent in the relationship has to be viewed in terms of not only her age, but the slave system itself. Of course there were countless such relationships between slave girls and their masters and most were neither consensual or loving. In many cases violence was used. Not only ones this highlight the evils of the slavery, but it points out how extensively the lives of slaves and masters were intertwined. In many cases the slaves were the sons and daughters and other relatives of their masters. Some fathers sent their slave off-spring north to live as free persons. Many did not.


Mos of the discussion concerning Jefferson and DNA has been about Sally Hemmings. There are, however, other interesting topics. DNA studies are going to provide a lot of historical information. A reader writes, "Reading "Egypt: Historical Background", it occurred to me that it wasn't just a matter of foreigners making their genetic contribution to the Egyptian population, but also the other way around. At Imoressions you can read how the Roman army that occupied pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain included soldiers from all over the Empire, including Syria and Egypt. The other day I read an article in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology that said that Thomas Jefferson's Y Chromosome is of a type that is rare in Britain, but is found most frequently in the region from Somalia to Iraq, and is most similar to those in Egypt. If Jefferson had known that his 60-fold great-grandfather may have been a Roman soldier from Egypt, I think with his interest in classical history that he might have been tickled by the idea."


Jefferson began his most famous work during a brief private interval (1781- 1783). It was at this time that he compiled Notes on the State of Virginia. He did not expect to widely disseminate the book, but it was published while he was Minister to France (1785). The book was seen at the time as "a most excellent natural history not merely of Virginia but of North America ." Jefferson began it in response to a series of queries by the secretary of the French legation who had made some absurd claims about America. Jefferson's answer was a detailed compilation on the resources, productions, government, and society for the area of America that he was familiar--Virginia. The book contained many frank comments on religion, slavery, blacks, and the Indians. It helped established Jefferson's reputation as a scientist. It also was to established his reputation as a racist. He commented on blacks that their memories were comparable to whites, but not their critical faculties. He stressed that these were his preliminary observations which need scientific study to substantiate. Southern proponents of slavery in the 19th century often refereed to Notes.


Jefferson rarely commented publicly on his religious beliefs--expalining that he considered it private. Perhaps this was true, but the fact that it differed from prevalent religious beliefs made it advisable to keep his thoughts to himself. One of the most revolutionary aspects of Jeffersonian philosophy was the separation of church and state. Frustrated in efforts to address the issue of slavery, Jefferson did address the issue of religion. He authored a bill establishing religious freedom, although it was Madison who finally saw it enacted several years later in 1786.


Jefferson after 1776 left Congress, desiring to be closer to his family and hoped to promote his philosophy of human rights in Virginia. During the early phase of the Revolution the British after leaving Boston focused on the central colonies, hoping to divide New England from the southern colonies. Virginia as a result was relatively unscathed. Jefferson served in the House of Burgess until being elected governor in 1779. This period probably shows Jefferson fertile mind and social attitudes far more than his presidency. He achieved some major successes and failed on other issues. Efforts to broaden the electorate and make electoral representation more equitable failed. Action on slavery was not possible, but the foreign slave trade was suspended. He succeeded in ending feudal vestiges, such as entail and primogeniture. He began a campaign to disestablish the church. He promoted a Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, which was never adopted as he wrote it. Jefferson's fundamental principal was to destroy any artificial privilege. He desired a society where social mobility would allow a natural aristocracy of talent and virtue. As governor, Jefferson had little power, and his term was complicated by the fact that the British adopted a southern strategy which brought the War to Virginia. He had difficulty rising money and troops to oppose the British. The British also captured him at Monticello. Interestingly they did not burn Monticello. Some accused him of personal cowardice. His critics conducted an inquiry into his conduct as governor, but he was vindicated.

Articles of Confederation

Jefferson attended the Convention to adopt the Articles of Confederation as a delegate from Virginia. As part of the proceedings. He drafted a plan for the organization of new territories west of the Appalachian Mountains an their entrance into the union as new states. Slavery would be prohibited in the new states. The provision failed by one vote. It it had been passed , slavery would have probably gradually died out in the United States and there would have been no Civil War.


Jefferson was appointed minister to France in 1785. He was at once appalled by the poverty he saw. He considered royalist France as politically decadent. He was also drawn to the culture and sophistication of the upper class. Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. It was a hard act to follow. Lucy Elizabeth died in 1786. Only Patsy (who he had placed in a French convent school) and Polly living with relatives in Virginia survived. He sent for Polly. Finally Polly arrived accompanied by 4 year old Sally Hemmings in 1788. In the interim Jefferson fell in love with Maria Cosway who swept him off is feet. She was Catholic and married. There was thus no possibility of marriage. This was Jefferson's last romantic fling. The French Revolution broke out while Jefferson was still in Paris (July 1789). Jefferson in October 1789 returned home to Virginia. He had been in France during the Constitutional Convention. Before reaching Monticello, however, Jefferson received a letter from George Washington who wanted him to his Secretary of State. Jefferson's sympathy for the French Revolution led to conflict with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton when the two served in President Washington's Cabinet.

The Constitution

The Constitutional Convention approved a draft in 1787. Future president James Madison, a Jefferson protégé, played a key role at the convention. A great debate over ratification followed. The Fedralist Papers promoting ratification is one of the great documents in American history. Jefferson was not involved in the Convention, as he was serving as the American Ambassador in Paris. He had serious reservations about the document that emerged from the Convention, despite the fact that Madison had played such a key role..

President Washington

Adams had no special relationship with Washington, although Adams in the Continental Congress had played a major role in his selection as the Commander of the Continental Army. Washington's presidency because of his leadership and the precedents he set as the first president it the most important in American history. Most historians rank Washington as the greatest president. President Washington was set against political parties. Washington regarded himself as president of the entire nation and looked upon partisan dissension as a very unwelcome development. Washington with his enemies prestige could govern without political parties. He is probably the only American president who could. Despite Washington's attitude, it was in his own cabinet that the American political party system, which began to develop during the debates over the Constitution, first manifested itself.

Political Parties

Perhaps the most significant steps taken by vice-president John Adams were his role in the development of the political party system in America. Adam's failure to master developing party politics was the principal reason that he became the first one-term president. As political conflicts developed in America, two separate parties, the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans, began to coalesce. The Democratic Republicans gradually began to look on Jefferson as a leader. The Democratic Republicans tended to sympathized with the revolutionary cause in France where republicans were also deposing a king. The Democratic Republicans attacked Federalist policies, opposed a strong centralized Government, and favored states rights.

The Federalists

The Federalists had been the major supporters of the new Federal Constitution. They were led by the brilliant Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton, and favored a strong central government run by the established elite. The Federalists attempted to keep the suffrage limited and restrict free speech. Adams generally supported the Federalist cause, but was not the party leader.

The Anti-Federalists

The opposition was first called Anti Federalists. (The name eventually changed to Republicans, Democratic Republicans, and eventually Democrats.) They had at first been wary of the Constitution. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson emerged as the party leader. They believed in programs emphasizing the power and prerogatives of the individual states and an expanded role for individual citizens. Leaving aside the validity of their views, it was Jefferson that was to master partisan politics, especially the manipulation of journalism. There are different assessments of the impact of party politics. One author writes that Jefferson's "ward republicanism" would come to address many future problems, including voter apathy, failing school systems, excessive federal oversight, maldistribution of wealth, and other concerns. [Hart] While these were future concerns, Jefferson's commitment to war republicanism was very important from an early stage in his political life. Jefferson as a young legislator and later a retired president proposed a Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge which would have provided for public support of education. He was in this respect ahead of his times and it was consistently voted down. [Hart]

Election of 1796

The election of 1796 was one of the most unusual in American history. Washington had been unanimously elected in 1789 and 1792. He made the important decision in 1796 not to seek a third term. This precedent was not broken until President Franklin Roosevelt decided to run for a third term in 1940 dung the World War II crisis. Washington's decision meant that the 1796 election was the first contested campaign for president, establishing the partisan pattern for future presidential elections. The two most important candidates were Jefferson and Vice President John Adams. The party picture was more complicated. Federalist leader Hamilton did not support his party's strongest candidate Adams. Hamilton supported Thomas Pinckney, a diplomat. The Republicans were also split. Aaron Burr, a leader of the New York Tammy Society, contested Jefferson's leadership. Most of New England strongly supported Adams, but were idling to follow Hamilton and support Pinckney for vice president. Some New Englanders decided to vote for Adams but not for Pinckney to make sure Adams would defeat him. Hamilton warned that this might result in Jefferson becoming vice president. New England strongly supported Adams and many refused to support Pinckney. The final vote was very close: Adams, 71; Jefferson, 68; Pinckney, 59; and Burr, 30. Jefferson ws a reluctant candidate. Even so, through a flaw in the Constitution, Jefferson came within three votes of election and became Vice President. Thus Adams had as his vice-president his biggest critic. The result was notable in that a president and vice president from different political parties was elected.

Election of 1800

The election of 1800 was one of the most dangerous in American history. Two great men, Adams and Jefferson were candidates, but a very dangerous man--Aron Burr was almost elected. Hamilton by 1800 was completely estranged from President Adams and campaigned for another Federalist--Pinckney. Without the main Federalist support, Adams lost the election. Republican electors remained united and attempting to name both a President and a Vice President from their own party, cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr--73 electoral votes each. The tie breaking vote was decided by the House of Representatives, which eventually elected Jefferson as president. Hamilton, disliking both Jefferson and Burr, had a difficult decision. Finally he urged Jefferson's election, not because he liked Jefferson's ideas, but because he considered him a more honorable man. Adams was stunned by the outcome of the election. He felt repudiated and betrayed by the country he had served so long and so ardently. It was personally painful that the leaders of his own party had turned against him. On the day of Jefferson's inauguration, Adams was so embittered that he left the executive mansion in Washington, D.C., alone. He was too hurt to pay his former friend Thomas Jefferson the courtesy of attending his inauguration. The election was also important because it was the first of many peaceful transfers of power from competing political parties--a crucial test for republican government.


Jefferson as president left a profound mark on the new American Republic. He reduced taxes and cut the size of the Federal Government in part by limiting the number of legislative proposals submitted to Congress. Interestingly, the action for which Jefferson is known best was a significant expansion in the authority of the presidency. The Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the territory of the United States (1803). Jefferson was hostile toward Haiti where slaves successfully revolted from their French masters. Ironically the French army with which Napoleon planned to garrison Louisiana and make France a power in North America again was devastated by disease and Haitian rebels. This was the principal reason Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana. By the time that Jefferson had assumed the Presidency, the immediate crisis with France had passed. As a result, Jefferson slashed Army and Navy expenditures, cut the budget, and eliminated the tax on whiskey that had been so unpopular in the West. He reduced the national debt by a third. Even so, he initiated America's first foreign military adventure. He dispatched a naval squadron to fight the Barbary pirates that had been harassing American shipping in the Mediterranean. Jefferson easily won reelection in 1804. During his second term the 20 years period in which the Constitution prohibited action against the African slave trade passed. Jefferson signed a bill into law prohibiting the trade. He was increasingly preoccupied with preventing America from involvement in the Napoleonic War. He was provoked by both Britain and France who interfered with the neutral rights of American merchant vessels. It was the British actions that were the most harmful because the Royal Navy controlled the seas. Jefferson's alternative to war was an embargo upon American shipping, but the economic repercussions, especially in New England, made the embargo and thus Jefferson increasingly unpopular. This Jefferson like Adams defied public opinion to keep America out of the European war.

1804 Presidential Election

The hotly contested election of 1800 which Jefferson won established the critical precedent of a peaceful transfer of power. The 1804 election proved to be a formality. The Federalist Party was no longer string enough to seriously contest the presidency with the Republicans. The election process contiue to evolve. The campaign saw the first nominating caucus when 100 Republican Congressmen met to nominate President Jefferson by acclamation. The President's reelection was not in doubt. The Federalists were increasigly seen as too aristocratic and were not helped by radical elements. The Federalists weree only able to challenge the Republicans in a few states (Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland). President Jefferson swept the election with 162 electoral votes. Charles Pinckney garnered only 14 votes.

Shift in American Politics

Major shifts in American life took place during the Jefferson presidency and issues emerged that are still with us today. One major issue was settled and another was brought to the fore. The major issue of the 1800 election had been the nature of American society and government. The Federalists had sought to limit the suffrage and the political participation of the ordinary man. As a result, these men flocked to Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans. Jefferson after his victory, delivered to his supporters. He reduced taxes and the size of government, ended assaults on the free press, and opened up Western land sales. The results were overwhelming in the 1802 Congressional election and the 1804 presidential election. The Federalists and the privileged elates that supported them were astonished at their electoral demise. Another group was also astonished. Northern states by 1801 had abolished slavery. Thus the Southern states found themselves within a country where slavery had been successfully challenged. Slavery was not an issue in the 1800 or 1804 elections, but it was soon to emerge as a major issue in American politics. The controversies associated with these two developments led to debates over democracy and slavery/racism that are still with us today.

Vision of America

Jefferson was dedicated to creating an egalitarian new Republic and rooting out the established system of privilege that the new United States and inherited from Britain. In doing so, it was Jefferson much more than Washington who formulated the ethos for the new American Republic. Other central principles of America, including free speech, religious toleration, and expanding political participation were promoted by Jefferson. Jefferson's also had a concept of America as an agrarian society of small independent farmers. This differed sharply from Hamilton's Federalist vision of commerce and industry. Hamilton has proven to be the more accurate visionary. One author maintains, however, that nothing Hamilton did or said compares with Jefferson's impact on American economic values, primarily because of Jefferson's focus on expanding the private realm of individual initiative. [Hart]

Westward Expansion

America's emergence as a superpower in the 20th century was not pre-ordained. America in 1800 did not have New Orleans which was key to the economy of the entire Mississippi Valley. Most of North America was controlled by European powers, England, France, Spain, and Russia. It was Jefferson, in a major expansion of presidential power, who decided to accept Napoleon's offer to sell Louisiana. This decesion was to make the United States the dominate power in the North American continent. Jefferson's concern was freedom of navigation on the Mississippi River which in practical terms meant the acquisition of New Orleans. The treaty that Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe sent back to President Jefferson involved a huge expanse of territory beyond the Mississippi. Such a vast acquisition of new territory could not help but change the character of the new American Republic. Although the Constitution had no provision authorizing the President to aquaria further territory, Jefferson despite his commitment to limited government decided to accept the French offer and acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803 in part because he thought Napoleon might withdraw their offer if a slower expedient such as a constitutional ammendment was pursued. It was also Jefferson who authorized the Louis and Clark Expedition that led America's exploration and settlement of the West. The St. Louis Arch today is located at the Jefferson Memorial Westward Expansion Park.


James Madison succeeded his mentor as president in 1809. Madison was Jefferson's closet political associate. Jefferson retired to Monticello where he pondered such projects as his grand design for the University of Virginian. He was to view the University as one of his great achievements. His failures were forgiven and the vicious press attacks ceased. He stopped reading newspapers for the classics. He was forced to sell his extensive collection of books to the government to cover his debts making him essentially the founder of the Library of Congress. He maintained charts of temperature. He continued efforts to improve agriculture. His last important contribution to Virginia was the founding of the University of Virginia in 1819. He organized the legislative campaign for the University, designed the buildings, and even served as the first rector. He was appalled by the Missouri Compromise "like a fire bell in the night", fearing that the creation of new slave states signaled disaster for the country that he helped found.

Reconciliation with Adams

After Jefferson left office in 1809 and as the years passed, the bitterness that had developed between Adams and Jefferson gradually spent itself. The American people came to view both men as icons and both were held in high esteem. Adams and Jefferson in 1812 were reconciled. They began a long and fruitful correspondence, covering their favorite subjects of history, philosophy, and religion, that continued for the remainder of their lives.


Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His friend, colleague, and adversary, John Adams died the same day.


Andrews, Tina. Salley Hemmings: An American Scandal.

Beran, Michael Knox. Jefferson's Demons: Portrait of a Restlessmind (Free Press, 2003), 265p.

Boorstin, Daniel J. The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948; reprinted, University of Chicago Press 1981).

Commager, Henry Steele. Jefferson, Nationalism, and the Enlightenment (Braziller 1975).

Hart, Gary. Restoration of the Republic: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st Century America (Oxford University Press: 2002), 273p.

Wills, Garry. "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power (Houfgton Mifflin, 2003), 274p.


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Created: September 1, 2002
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